One of my favorite industry events of the year is DEVELOP3D Live, both the international CAD conference based in Coventry, England and the annual USA gathering in Boston. DEVELOP3D Live presents a unique opportunity for engineers and designers to hear from all the major CAD companies in one place, versus brand-centric trade shows that understandably include just one CAD company. Featuring back-to-back presentations from the top innovators in design software and 3D printing, the event is the CAD industry’s State of the Union address.

For those of you unable to join us at Boston University earlier this week, I’d like to share the highlights of my DEVELOP3D Live talk. As we approach 3 million user hours in Onshape and have thousands of Onshape Professional customers, I discussed how engineers are freeing themselves from the agony of what we call "design gridlock."

Design gridlock? Unfortunately, we all know what that is from bitter experience. How many of us have wasted too much time waiting – when we should be creating? How many of these comments make you instantly cringe?

  • “Do we have the right file?”
  • “Do we have the latest version of the file?”
  • “That file is from release 2015 of our CAD system, we have 2014. Sigh.”
  • “I forgot to save.”
  • “I forgot to back up.”
  • “You didn't check out so we both changed the same file.”
  • “You did check out -- now I can’t do my work.”
  • “I’m waiting for design feedback.”
  • “Didn’t you see my email?”
  • “Who made THOSE changes?”
  • “The file got corrupted. Need to start over!”
  • “The assembly blew up!”
  • “Anyone got a license code?”

Onshape is a modern CAD system built from scratch to let you focus on doing your best work – unlike old CAD systems that keep slowing you down with administrative hassles and restrictive workflows.

We built the CAD industry’s only full-cloud system -- a secure workspace that unites modeling tools, design data and data management in one place in the cloud. No software or files are ever copied anywhere. Every user is always on the same version of Onshape – the latest one. There’s no checkout, no locking, and no lost work. Version control and access control are built-in and effortless -- no PDM systems or PDM hassles. No design gridlock.

Our original mission was to give engineers and designers maximum CAD power with minimum CAD headaches. Are we achieving that? Well, here are 5 things we’ve learned since the birth of Onshape:

  1. Teams Work Faster With Cloud CAD – Customers report to us over and over that Onshape is helping them get their jobs done faster – even when there is only one CAD user. This speed factor is especially noticeable with teams, who frequently mention our sharing, collaboration and control features that cut out needless waiting and allow them to focus on getting things done. Coca-Cola, for example, credits Onshape’s instant access and deployment for saving their engineering team 6-10 weeks a year in design work for McDonald’s beverage equipment. Petrak Industries, which specializes in building systems to safely move fluids or gasses for factories, credits Onshape’s Sharing feature for saving them 5 weeks on a tight deadline for an oil company.

  2. Yes, Engineers Want to Model on Mobile – One out of every eight Onshape logins is from a phone or tablet. We had an ambitious agenda to put the full CAD system on mobile (iOS and Android) and not just build a viewer. Onshape users are editing geometry on their iPads and doing version control on the fly on their phones. It’s typical to hear a Cloud CAD user say “I never thought I’d need to use your mobile product, but then I was on the beach, on a train, in the airport, and I got an urgent message about a release of a part to manufacture. So I was able to quickly modify the part from my phone!”

  3. Full-Cloud CAD is Extremely Reliable – In all my years meeting with engineers and designers, CAD crashes have been one of their most common complaints (we recently heard from one guy who experienced 19 crashes in a single day!) We anticipated that building a full-cloud database architecture would be more reliable than file-based CAD. But it has proven to be even more reliable than we expected: Onshape has achieved a standard of virtually zero crashes and lost work. By putting both your CAD system and CAD data in one place in the cloud, having redundant servers, and capturing every edit in a database, we’ve ensured that you’ll never lose your work again.

  4. Designers Love Cloud-Based Support – Have you ever been ignored by a CAD vendor? Join the club. Members of the Onshape development team remember feeling neglected by tech support at other companies and they never want you to feel that same despair. In a recent survey, Onshape Tech Support outshined the competition 87% to 64% in terms of customers being happy with their service. The reason we have such great tech support is because of our built-in collaboration tools. Onshape uses the same powerful tools we built for our customers to collaborate with each other for our customers to also collaborate with us. People often tell us they’re surprised to get a response within 24 hours to their bug reports – and sometimes they’ll see a new feature they asked for delivered in a matter of weeks. Engineers love our Feedback tool and if they choose to share their model with us, our support staff can jump right in and collaborate in real-time to resolve the problem. This simply wasn’t possible in the old world of file-based CAD.

  5. Once You Try Onshape, You'll Never Want to Go Back – We can talk all day about the next generation of CAD and how designing in the cloud will help you build better products faster. But until you test it on a real project and compare it to your experience with your file-based system, you won’t really understand what Onshape is all about. Even though using Onshape will be intuitive to anyone with a parametric CAD background, there are also workflows and features that are new and unprecedented in the industry. For example, you can’t fully appreciate multipart modeling until you experience it and stop bouncing back and forth between individual part files. Similarly, Onshape’s unique Simultaneous Sheet Metal tools – which let you see synchronized flat, folded and tabular views of your model side by side – helps Cloud CAD users visualize errors sooner and reduce scrap and wasted time. The best projects to demonstrate Onshape’s impact involve multiple team members, multiple sites and collaboration with vendors or customers – but you’ll even notice a dramatic difference working solo. Take a look at Onshape’s customer reviews at Capterra, a software product review site, and you’ll read numerous testimonials from engineers who can’t imagine returning back to their old CAD systems.

As typically happens at industry events, some of the most memorable interactions occur during the Q&A period. A good-natured DEVELOP3D LIVE audience member asked me how Onshape users can “get around the latency and bandwidth issues” when designing online. At the risk of sounding flippant, I turned the question around. A few years from now, we’ll all be asking, “How do you get around the limitations of the desktop?”

I’d say that the desktop is the limited platform, not the cloud. We can put thousands of servers to work for you, so there is no latency problem. And internet speeds are only getting faster – much faster. At the University of Bristol in England, researchers say we’re on the verge of making data travel at the speed of light. As our competitors talk about their various cloud plans, it’s worth a reminder that you can’t take an old piece of CAD software, throw it on a server and expect to have a great experience. That’s not what we did. We built Onshape from the ground up.

I still marvel over how CAD is one of the last major industries to embrace the cloud revolution. But the future is finally here. If you’re ready to move on from the gridlock and hassles of old-generation, file-based CAD, your wait is over.


Mastering 3D Modeling