Thursday, April 2, 2015

Onshape - Is it the beginning of a new CAD era?

SolidWorks and Solid Edge have been rolled out in 1996, Microsoft was then in the midst of taking over the world of computing with Windows 95 operating system. For the pioneers CAD systems it was an opportunity to run, for the first time a modern looking, robust and easy to use 3D CAD system on a cheap home PC. Twenty years later, and Windows is no longer the dominant operating system it was  , Android, iOS, Linux, etc. are everywhere and the keyword in recent years is cloud computing.  Most of us are already using cloud computing every day. Google services, Facebook, LinkedIn and most email services are cloud.

3D CAD cloud computing is not a new thing, Autodesk offers many services in the cloud for several years. AutoCAD 2D cloud platform (AutoCAD 360) and Fusion 360 offers impressive capabilities. SolidWorks has at least two active Cloud Computing projects and SOLIDWORKS Mechanical Conceptual is at the market for over a year now.

Six months ago, I have been asked by Onshape to try the early version and give feedback on the performance in Israel, a relatively remote location for the servers. I will try here to answer some intriguing questions about the program. Since this is still in beta and because the company ensures they will add new capabilities very soon, I cannot still find it appropriate to compare it to other programs in terms of capabilities.

Why Onshape so interesting?
Two main reasons:
A. Onshape is the first new history base CAD system since Autodesk Inventor from 2000!
B. The team behind Onshape is the same team that built the most successful solid modeler ever - SolidWorks.

What is Onshape?
In short - a combination of Google Docs and SolidWorks in the cloud.
And in a few sentences:
A 3D CAD design cloud software for parts and assemblies, a history base solid modeler with direct editing capabilities. The software runs on cloud servers without any local installation on the user's machine so it works from the web browser without using files.
Onshape came with PDM capabilities (product management). The system can open, edit and save-to the most common CAD files including native files (without history)
Onshape allows several users access the same project simultaneously Online! And simultaneous changes are updated on all computers!

Who it is suitable?
Anyone who needs a 3D design engineering CAD for sharing and examination of .
engineering design, for those who want to learn to use a solid design program and to whom the current software are out of reach in terms of the time need to spend to master a CAD software or in terms of the initial investment for purchase
Anyone familiar with SolidWorks software, Inventor, Solid Edge, Creo etc., can use Onshape immediately and without difficulty. The interface is clear and simple and method of work is reminiscent of a mix between Inventor to SolidWorks. For example, to extrude sketch you can choose between add or remove material at the same command window (Inventor style). As in SolidWorks, the software is based on Parasolid kernel and D-cubed constrain manager, both from Siemens.
Users who are not experienced with Solid software will find that Onshape is a great way to start learning. The software does not require powerful and expensive computer, nor installation, and the UI is simple and clear. There are guides and detailed training videos and an active forums with employees happy to help and discuss on any topic.
Onshape would like to integrate near existing CAD systems at organization that already use 3D CAD and not necessarily replace them. For example, Onshape user can open Catia files, make changes and save to SolidWorks for detailing, documentation and so. Onshape can replace eDrawing and do a much better job in sharing projects with a client who has a  different CAD system.  

What is the price?
The business model is simple. The basic is free with 5GB limited storage and 5 active projects.
$ 100 Monthly payment will remove the limitations.

Can Onshape repeat the SolidWorks success?
Yes, because...
·       There is a need for a cloud CAD software. Autodesk Fusion 360 does not do it right, and no one else offer a professional solution today
·       It works.  SolidWroks been trying for seven years to come out with a cloud solution but just could not get acceptable performance. Onshape product works well from the start.
·       There is great demand to software among CAD users who do not want or cannot spend thousands of dollars to own a software.
·       There is a need  for real time sharing CAD information
·       The team behind the highly skilled and talented software already did it at least once.

No, because...
·       $ 100 a month for a software without drawing, simulation, Render, sheet metal and so?  INVENTOR and two SOLIDs cost the same (yearly subs) with a lot more proven capabilities developed over more than 15 years.
·       Not everyone can or are willing to entrust their precious CAD files on the cloud server of a foreign company.
·       When SolidWorks entered the market, the founders were in their early thirties, young, full of motivation and with a desire to kick the industry in the butt. They develop the software for the young engineers who could not afford to own the expensive Pro/e.  Now, 20 years later, the SolidWorks founder team is the veteran CAD industry. When SolidWorks came out with SW 95, it was a breath of fresh air. Jon Hirschtick and his team broke the barrier on how a professional CAD software should look and feel. Instead of black, SolidWorks background was white, like MS Word, the mouse indicator was a cross, It was an interactive indicator like any decent office software. The price was lower than a 2D AutoCAD, in a single package without additional charge for modules, the API was free and new version release cycle was 6 month. Onshape missed some of the free spirit SW had.
·       They do not have Mr. Vic Leventhal inboard! Vic, with tons of charm, arrived to SolidWorks from the largest Autodesk distributor and built the best distribution network in the industry! SolidWorks owes its success to the VAR channel around the world. Onshape was born to a different reality. It is almost impossible to build a new channel today and therefore, they waive mediation and sell directly over the Internet. But, with a price tag over $ 1,000 a year for an yet to be  prove solution, the customers may hesitate before purchasing. Competitor's skilled sales representative can take opportunity to make a sale over a passive Web site.

Never the less, the future belongs to CAD in the cloud. Onshape is not the first but, the first to get it right. The question is whether they can take the market or, maybe the future is up to a bunch of talented young entrepreneurs that are working right now on an innovative and advanced software. Or, maybe the CAD veterans, Dassault, PTC Autodesk can re-invented themselves?
In the meantime, if you've read this far you owe it to yourself to go and try the software. It's free, it's fun and it's the future.

Gal Raz


  1. Gal,

    Thanks for the review. A couple of comments:

    1. Free model: you can have as many private models as you would like, however you can only have 5 documents active at a time. Think of this like a library: all of the books are there, but with your card you can only take out 5 books at a time. If you want a sixth, you have to return a book. In Onshape parlance, this means you have to de-activate a document and then activate the document that you want to work with.

    2. Trust me when I say we're still young (ok maybe a little older), still full of energy and we're motivated to kick butt in this market!

    3. Vic: yes we miss him too! Luckily I get to see him pretty regularly : -) With respect to the VAR model, we do think we have an interesting way to work with SolidWorks and other VAR's - it's not about distribution, but rather about consulting, customization and support. Some of my best friends are VAR's and I believe we have found a way to work collaboratively to help customers.



  2. John,
    1. Thank you for the details about the free model plane. Actually, the first time you told me about Onshape pricing model I thought it is very cool and unique.
    2. Because we are the same age, I chose to trust you when you say you are still young :)
    3. Say hallo to Vic