We’re still excited about the standing-room-only reception that Onshape received at last week’s Congress On the Future of Engineering Software (COFES) conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

Informally known as the “TED Talks for CAD,” the annual event is “a technology summit that promotes discussion and problem-solving among industry thought-leaders, analysts and customers.”

Because it is focused on industry insiders, the atmosphere at COFES is usually very casual and laid-back. As you can see from the picture above, our experience was anything but.

During our technical suite open houses, people arrived 30 minutes early to get seats. Every available space was packed. My colleague Joe Dunne had to stand on a table in order not to be squeezed out of the room. As Joe put it, the fire marshal would not have been pleased.


What was all the fuss about? Well, just five weeks after the launch of Onshape Beta, we gave our first public demonstrations of Onshape Drawings and shared prototypes of two new CAD applications integrated with Onshape.

I’ve been leading the development of the Onshape API for the past year. COFES was our team’s coming out party, marking the first public discussion of the API. The introduction of Onshape Drawings and our partnership with Graebert GmbH  is an important part of the story.

We decided to build Onshape Drawings on top of the same API that will be available to partners. In a classic case of “eating our own dog food,” we believe that using the API for a significant internal component validates the capability and performance of the API. This also provided a clean interface between Onshape and Graebert technology, allowing us to leverage the extensive technology available in Graebert’s core drawing engine.

As you can see in the screenshot below, Onshape Drawings run in a tab just like Parts and Assemblies, and use a native Onshape style toolbar and command structure:


Our vision for the Onshape API is to enable a full-cloud CAD ecosystem that includes a wide range of add-on technologies, ranging from high-end professional tools to useful small utilities built by our users. These applications will be shared for a small charge (or even free) through an Onshape App Store.  Along with our active Forums, the App Store will be a linchpin in continuing to build our strong community of Onshape CAD users.

COFES, attended by leaders of CAE, CAM, PLM – and a veritable alphabet soup of other related technologies – was the perfect place to introduce our vision.


We’ve built our browser-based CAD system to integrate with leading technology providers in several ways. The most immediate opportunity is based on sharing files in industry-standard formats. The diagram below shows many of the file types that Onshape can import and export, and we continue to evaluate new types and translators to make it easy for Onshape users to work with other products.


A second option is a hybrid desktop/cloud approach. We understand that many companies have made large investments in their desktop products. These desktop products can call directly into Onshape using the REST API interface, reading model information and even storing data back into the Onshape document. While not offering the “zero-install” experience of Onshape, this does enable some of the sharing and collaboration benefits of the cloud without incurring the cost of moving their platform to a complete client-server model.

The screen below shows a desktop version of early partner SolidCAM along with the corresponding Onshape model:


To gain the full benefit of the cloud, partners can build servers that use the Onshape API to create a fully integrated user experience. The Onshape platform provides integrated authentication and identity management, cloud storage, document management through branching and versioning, and direct access to modeling services.

Our partner Geometric Americas is developing a version of CAMWorks that uses the API to operate inside an Onshape tab:



The positive response from the COFES attendees was truly gratifying. Many understood that Onshape is more than just a cloud-based modeler. They appreciate our efforts to create a new platform for the next generation of design software, and make true design collaboration possible for a broad community of professional designers, students and makers.

Apologies to those attending COFES who could not join us because of space limitations. We did our best to try to schedule meetings with those waiting outside, but please get in touch if we were unable to connect.

We plan to make the Onshape API documentation and related resources available to a broader set of technology partners in May 2015. Interested in learning more?

New Call-to-action