Onshape! A View from the Clouds

As a seasoned 3D CAD designer I don't care if the CAD system is in the Clouds or local. I am only interested in easily designing my parts and assemblies. Document control is no problem for most single designers.

2-4-16 Update

Onshape moved out of beta and now is a production product. There is no file format for an Onshape document. They only reside on a server that is maintained by Onshape. I thought about this and decided I would feel much more comfortable having my native engineering information stored locally and completely under my control. I cannot imagine any company putting their native engineering in the hands of a 3rd party. This is the main reason I would not move to Onshape as my design solution.

BUT.. yes there is a huge but. Onshape is the most incredible collaboration and engineering documentation tool. It does offer direct edit functionality to make small modifications when in the conceptual design stage. This is worth the incredibly reasonable $100 per month. If you are a large corporation I am sure Oshape would do a custom install. If you are a small company this is truly the most cost effective and flexible PDM solution available. It virtually has no limitations.

You do not need a complex PDM or PLM system. You create a special deliverable. Upload the native or neutral file to Onshape, include any documents you like. You can duplicate any of the information and store on your local system. Probably less maintenance would be required than your existing PDM or PLM system. I am sure it would be much, much easier. We will not get into the incredibly high costs and complications of PLM.

Remember, this information can be made available to the user at any level of accessibility. This is the released documentation, not the native CAD data (even though a native file could be included). It is maintained by a special document control group who is the only one that can modify the document. You just create an Onshape Account. It is available from anywhere with access to a browser.

This is the best of both worlds. Your native 3D CAD data safely stored and available locally. Your engineering deliverable are easily available to the departments in your company, purchasing, marketing, tech pubs, sales, engineering, analysis, manufacturing, materials and to your approved suppliers. Easy to control access, permissions and tracking. It, of course, will take some paradigm shifts to make this happen since this area is heavily controlled by the vested interests of the popular 3D CAD companies. But the potential cost savings are enormous, rivaling the "in stone" drawing as the sole authority.

There is a bit more on this subject in this article:

The Secret of Part Numbers

Back to the Article

When I review a CAD system I do not look at what works I look for what doesn’t work and I have been doing this for decades. I was never in the Autocad world of electronic drawings. I started with 3D Computervision CADDS 4 in 1982. Then in 1986 I was introduced to PC based 3D CADKEY. I quickly became a dealer and founded TECH-NET. I was introduced to Trispectives, which became IronCAD in the early 1990’s. IronCAD is the best conceptual design CAD program and is still far ahead of any CAD system today. I was selling IronCAD in the mid 1990's and was offered Solidworks and after reviewing it, asked the fellow "Who would buy this??" How was I to know that Dassault was around the corner with a couple hundred million dollars? I still think they just bought it to scavenge the parametric history based technology for their Catia 5. Boeing had horrible Pro/e envy!! I tried to sell Pro/e and Solid Edge. But my experience was with much more productive systems and found these system just too complicated with their sketch, sketch, constrain, constrain, design process with the separate part, assembly and drawings. Just too much work.

So where would Onshape fit in the following article. Even in the beta, I would put it better than Inventor. Even though at this time it does not equal the functionality, we can be sure it will offer much more design flexibility in the future and it is FREE!!

Ref: The Worst to Best CAD System and Why

The reason why Autocad and Solidworks are the most popular CAD programs is not because of their quality, but because they didn’t have copy protection for a decade using what I call "Perpetual Evaluation" marketing. Making them virtually free!!! Both IronCAD and CADKEY put strict licensing over my objections. If they would have listened to me, the CAD world would have looked much different and not stuck in the convoluted Pro/e paradigm for over 25 years.

Ref: 25 years of CAD Incompatibility

Update 5-5-15

Onshape is a work in progress and will always be. As long as it is free it will be of interest to all those that are in engineering and graphic design either as a CAD or collaboration tool.

I have been accepted as a consultant and am looking forward to helping bring this incredible tool to our industry.

Ease of Use: I have learned a few things as I have been using Onshape. I have been collaborating with customers that have never used CAD. With a few instructions they can view and control their CAD information.

I have been selling CAD/CAM for 28 years. For awhile many of the systems did not have copy protection and software was passed on to friends and associates who would use the software and soon purchase it or convinced their companies to purchase it. That was how Autocad and Solidworks got popular, but even they eventually put on strict copy protection. This became a problem for the user. They could not easily put the software on both their home or laptop computer.

With Onshape, being on the cloud, now any system can be your workstation, work, home, laptop, grandma's computer, anywhere. Now for many this is not a problem since they only do their work at the office. But just think of the telecommuting possibilities. Sales people have access to the latest information no matter where they are, even using their tablets. Manufacturing, planning, purchasing, tech pubs, marketing, sales, etc all have access to the latest information in one place in one "easy to use" format.

It was also a horror show for a company with many systems to deploy a new version of their CAD software.

Years ago one of my Boeing suppliers called and said IronCAD could not read a native Catia 5 file. I said, no problem (they had a Catia 5 station which they never used) just read the file directly into Catia and export a STEP. To their surprise, Boeing had upgraded to a new version of Catia 5 and never informed the suppliers.

This could never happen on Onshape. The latest version is totally controlled by Onshape. Version compatibility is a problem of the past. No one cares what system you use, all systems have direct edit functionality except for Catia 5. You can quit paying that, what can only be called a rip off, annual maintenance fee. Stuck with SW 2012, Inventor 2014, Catia 5 R19, etc. no worry Onshape translates all the prior and latest versions. Onshape at $100 a month is a steal for all it offers.

Onsite training will be a cruise. Why would any college teach anything else? This opens the door to local training. Requirement: A laptop, Apple or Microsoft!!

I am looking forward to be part, of what only be called, "A Movement". It truly has changed the paradigm of CAD and given us a new "Standard" which can allow Engineering to take back Engineering!

So let’s take a look at Onshape!!

What is on the Cloud?

I was introduced to Autodesk Fusion in 2012. I found it a very easy and fun program to use . It was a separate module in those day, it is now integrated into Inventor. It was no SpaceClaim but then it was basically in beta.

I did take a look at Autodesk Fusion 360 a couple of years ago. I was expecting the user friendly program I played with. It was a bit obscure and after 15 minutes I just logged off never to return. After my look at Onshape, I thought I better give it another look. My license was long expired and I really wasn’t that interested.

The Onshape Experience

Within a couple of days I got my password for Onshape and quickly logged on. It was a much different experience as compared to Fusion 360. It is very straight forward. I was creating graphics in a few minutes. Now to do serious design, it would take a tutorial or two. I watched the presentation and saw it was basically just another generic sketch, sketch package and as an IronCAD user, I am not going to a less productive design process. I am sure many of us may feel that way. I really doubt if it offers much more productivity than most systems, except for Creo or Catia 5.

It does have robust integrated direct edit/modeling functionality with SpaceClaim like push/pull design. It is easy to use. I imported a very large parasolid assy with many parts and sub-assemblies and it came in relatively fast. But it had a couple of tabs on the bottom I didn’t understand. Like many of you, I purposely start ignorant to see how user friendly the program is. I had a hard time figuring how the assembly and part studio worked. Again a tutorial will clear this up.

I remember learning SpaceClaim and Siemens ST at the same time. Both had the new Microsoft Office Ribbon interface. It was probably the first time I had seen it implemented. I actually thought they were basically the same program. But after awhile I easily recognized that they were quite different. Siemens was very user friendly and much easier to use.

Putting it through its paces!! 

Here is one of my test files. It came in very fast and is easy to view and rotate. The view manipulation is the same as ZW3D with the right button to rotate the middle button to pan and a double click on the middle button autoscales. You can see the left has all of the parts and sub-assemblies available and on the bottom tabs were a few sub-assemblies. I was very impressed. I couldn't figure out how to work on the separate parts.


Update 6-15-15: I found if you import them with this options "Import file to Part Studios only (flatten)" it comes in as a well behaved model into an easy to manipulate space were you can turn parts on and off and modify them. Very, Very Productive!!!

I imported an assembly to share the final concept with my customer, I noticed that there  were a couple of holes I forgot to remove. I removed them with ease even after sharing the document.


I decided that assemblies were too big of a bite to start without tutorials, so I thought I would import a couple of native files from a variety of popular programs and they came in without a problem. They do not support PMI for the Catia 5 files. You can easily edit the parts. You can then export them without a problem.

Here is a Catia 5 file. Like many Catia 5 parts they usually misbehave. This is a part that was designed in aircraft position. It took a little while to figure out that you had to also hide the origin. The P key hides the planes.

As you can see I modified the blend in the pocket to .500. I actually failed to do this in a couple of my programs and the one that succeeded had to heal the part first then could edit and delete the blend. When I tried to delete the blend in Onshape it failed and gave no warning. 

A Solidworks part

I suppose I could go on but you get the picture!!! Direct edit/modeling is robust and can easily become part of your design process.

Ref: Are Solidworks Users Stupid?


It looks like they did not go out of their way to add any innovation. These are the folk whose claim to fame was to create a PC based Pro/e clone. I gave them a demo of IronCAD. They didn't include some basic editable Boolean shapes, which is now available on many CAD systems, and even though they included a somewhat single model environment they still have separate parts and assemblies making it still a bit convoluted and just more hoops to jump through, at least for me. This is what I disliked most about the Pro/e clones, separate parts, assemblies and drawings.

Actually it looks like they purposely kept it a bit convoluted to make it familiar to the Solidworks and other Pro/e clone users. In doing this they do not offer any more productivity. But then, I doubt if many will move to Onshape as their only design solution at this time. But there are many situations in the future where this could change. 


Being on the cloud makes this much more than just a CAD system. From what I see you can do most anything that you can on your local CAD system. But it gives fully professional CAD access to so many more people by just opening a webpage. My fanboi Apple Computer only customers will be able to have all of my designs available, plus PDF’s of my documentation. But I am not sure how they will react to have all of their work on the cloud. I have to find out if you are on the pay plan can you freely share with those that are on the free plan.

Here is an assembly of a power strip I designed for one of my customers. These folks are Apple users. I have always had a difficult time communicating and collaborating with them. My CAD viewers only run in Windows and it is just too much trouble to get them to load and use them. You can see below how easy this will be with Onshape.

If you look close not only have I uploaded the assembly but the two drawings that make up the cover and base. It seems like the PDF controls are not yet working but this is the incredible collaboration tool we have been waiting for. What I have been sending in the past is 2D and 3D PDF's. Today I can send them all of the information in one easy accessible Onshape document to archive or for future use.

Collaboration? It is the ultimate CAD collaboration tool, especially if you use different CAD systems. Today, except for Catia 5, all offer direct edit functionality. So you can pass models back and forth with ease. If necessary you can modify the parts directly in Onshape concurrently. There are no limitations with the free or paid plan in operation.

This is a God send for the engineering student. 3D CAD is now the tool of the engineer. This offers them a robust CAD system that is instantly available. It can be used as a training tool for CAD design. I am not sure how customizable it can be, but even as a generic CAD system it is more than sufficient for the student. I would just add some drawings for examples the newbie could use to create the solid model.

Ref: Learning Mechanical CAD

Ref: All you want to know about CAD training!

Ref: Educating the New CAD Engineer - 2015

What did I leave out?

I did not show any modeling. I will probably never use Onshape for initial or conceptual design. Not that it cannot do the job, just that I have much better and more productive CAD tools. Most companies have their CAD system in place and like me will not use another package. Onshape offers an easily accessible professional CAD system that many may start utilizing on their own. Most annual maintenance contracts cost more than Onshape’s annual fee of $1,200.00 and many may just opt out and use Onshape to keep current with later versions of their CAD programs. With its robust direct editing capabilities it opens the door to being able to use a companies legacy CAD data without a problem. So again I say, in the future all of this may change. 


I did all of this without any formal training. I watched one webinar that I paid little attention since it mostly had to do with modeling. I have only scratched the surface on how this enterprise will be utilized. Onshape is truly a gift to design engineering and will change our CAD engineering world for the better.

I recommend anyone interested or associated in mechanical industrial engineering to get on board with Onshape. It truly is the gateway to reestablishing a functional standard in today’s broken engineering world.

Just an aside!

P.S. I have read Autodesks CEO, Carl Bass article "Setting the Record Straight". I was shocked that he would expose his fear of Onshape so blatantly. Should the current popular CAD systems be worried about Onshape? I have worked with Boeing and Catia for over 30 years. Dassault is responsible for keeping Boeing one of the most ignorant and isolated manufacturing companies. Their lack of interoperability is beyond belief. Onshape would instantly offer them a new level of operation and compatibility. But sadly I am sure that Dassault will not let them see the benefits and more than likely sabotage any grass root efforts to utilize Onshape. They will probably offer an overly costly and complex system and Boeing management won’t even question it. The CAD systems that believe their only claim to fame is their PLM capabilities may find themselves out in the cold.

The funny thing about Carl's letter is that it came out the same day Onshape was released.

Setting the Record Straight

By Carl Bass, Autodesk President and CEO

New Onshape articles:

Onshape! The Party is over!

OnShape: The Ultimate Document Control System

Why TECH-NET Sells IronCAD and ZW3D

With 50 years of experience in engineering, 17 years in manual board design as a contract engineer, 33 years in 3D CAD sales, support, training and providing engineering services, I have a high level of understanding of today's 3D CAD engineering world. For many it is in chaos. If you are having problems or just interested in this subject please feel free to call and we can discuss them. There are so many simpler solutions available that will save you time and money.

My First 17 Years or "How did we do it without 3D CAD!"

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Joe Brouwer
Skype: tech-net-inc