When SOLIDWORKS users are looking at alternative CAD solutions, there are a number of factors to consider – including cost, available features, vendor’s tech support, etc. – all of which and more are covered in this CAD Buyer’s Guide. However, what it all comes down to is business value.

The only question that really matters is: Does your current CAD system provide you with the optimal value for your business compared to the alternatives? Or, if you don’t have a CAD system yet, then which option provides the best business value?

When comparing CAD systems, most CAD shoppers only consider the simple variables, like the sticker-price of the CAD software. What’s the upfront cost? What are the maintenance costs?

Taking it a step further, some may consider the cost of the hardware required to run the software. How much does a CAD workstation cost? How many do I need? How long will they last before I need to buy new ones?

Although these fixed (and more obvious) expenses account for a good chunk of the cost burden of a CAD system, they aren’t the full picture. So what’s missing? What factors tend to get overlooked when evaluating a CAD system’s real cost?

Evaluating the True Cost of a CAD System

In addition to the price for software and hardware, a savvy CAD shopper must also consider the hidden costs of using CAD. For example, how often are software crashes interrupting your engineers? With old file-based CAD systems, it’s quite common to experience multiple crashes a week or even per day (take a quick glance at this Google search!)

If your engineers want to punch their computer screens multiple times a week – and have to waste time redoing lost work – what is THAT costing your company?

To help you determine the real cost of purchasing a CAD system, we’ve created a return on investment (ROI) calculator comparing Onshape to SOLIDWORKS.

Note: Much of this discussion boils down to Capital Expenditures (CAPEX) vs. Operating Expenses (OPEX). If you’re already enjoying Onshape’s advanced modeling tools and secure cloud workspace, but want to sell your Director of Engineering or CFO on the cost savings, this blog and the ROI calculator are your best starting points.

For your ROI analysis, we’ve broken down the costs of CAD into two categories and additional subcategories:

1) Tangible Expenses

  • CAD Software Costs: The upfront and annual costs of just the CAD software.

  • Hardware Costs: The computers required to run the software, as well as how long they will last before needing replacement.

  • PDM & View-Only User Costs: The upfront and annual costs of PDM software, the server(s) required to run it, the price to implement PDM, and the price of view-only PDM seats.

2) Indirect Costs

  • Engineer Downtime Costs: This is time wasted by engineers due to crashes, lost work, waiting for installs and upgrades, and time spent on IT, measured by the effective hourly rate multiplied by time wasted.

  • Ramp-Up Costs: Time lost by switching to Onshape due to training, getting up to speed, and importing CAD data, setting up templates, etc.

  • Efficiency Costs: Used to factor in how much time is saved on typical CAD operations for one system versus another.

We’ve built a mathematical model that allows for a couple of inputs, makes a few assumptions around the above categories, and computes the cost of Onshape versus alternatives over time. Let’s now make use of the model and walk through a few scenarios to compare the costs of Onshape Professional to SOLIDWORKS Professional.

Scenario 1: Switching from SOLIDWORKS to Onshape

Continuing to upgrade and pay maintenance for your current SOLIDWORKS seats may seem like a low-cost solution, but what is the status quo really costing your company?

To find out, let’s base our calculations on this typical company profile:

  • You have three seats of SOLIDWORKS Professional.
  • You’re about to hire one more engineer and need a fourth seat.
  • You’re facing the limits of using Dropbox to manage files and are considering a PDM solution.
  • Your maintenance renewal contract is coming up soon and you’re deciding whether to upgrade again.

With these inputs, the model predicts that Onshape Professional will save you $16,900 (61%) in the first year, and $20,100 (37%) over the first three years.

Here is the same data visualized over time, with the left-hand Y-axis representing yearly costs, and the right-hand Y-axis representing cumulative costs.


Did I mention this is only looking at the tangible expenses?

Once you factor in the indirect costs of crashes, lost work, an initial loss in productivity due to switching efforts, and an assumed long-term efficiency gain, the savings look even more dramatic. The savings are now $41,600 (71%) in the first year and $103,000 (72%) over the first three years.

Switching to Onshape from SOLIDWORKS provides many indirect savings

Old CAD systems come with easy-to-miss, but expensive, opportunity costs.

We calculate indirect costs by multiplying the effective hourly rate of the average mechanical engineer by the hours wasted due to crashes, lost work, and downtime.

Now let’s consider a second scenario that we commonly see.

Scenario 2: Starting With Onshape vs. SOLIDWORKS

Picking the right CAD system is even more important for a young company or startup, where you’re often stretched thin for resources and need to maximize the value of every tool used. For these companies, Onshape’s value proposition looks just as compelling.

Consider the following scenario:

  • You’re looking to initially invest in two CAD seats.
  • You need the hardware to run both seats.
  • PDM is not a concern yet.

Once again, just a straight-up comparison of tangible costs makes Onshape a great choice for any startup:


The dramatic upfront savings of Onshape Professional vs. SOLIDWORKS make modern CAD a smart investment for startups and young companies.

Onshape Professional customers pay drastically less upfront and only marginally more year over year. However, once you factor in the opportunity costs associated with SOLIDWORKS and all old CAD systems, it’s hard to ignore Onshape’s overall savings:

Starting with Onshape instead of SOLIDWORKS saves startups and small companies  major cash in the long term

When you’re running lean and every hour counts, the opportunity costs of old CAD systems quickly add up, making Onshape an attractive and more affordable alternative.

Can You Trust a CAD Cost Calculator?

Of course, every vendor-provided cost calculator has its own built-in biases and assumptions – and none of them can cover every specific circumstance. For example, Onshape’s ROI calculator assumes that a PDM server will cost you $1,000/year to maintain. Similarly, we generously assume it'll take you 6 weeks to ramp up fully in Onshape and 20% of engineering time during those weeks will go towards setting up templates, importing CAD data, etc. You very likely have your own unique scenarios where our assumptions either aren’t accurate or don’t apply to you.

As you’ll discover, Onshape won’t only modernize your entire design and manufacturing process. It’s also bound to make your CFO extremely happy, too!

Migration Station

Find everything you need to know about
transitioning from SOLIDWORKS to Onshape.