A relatively recent newcomer to the CAD world, Onshape is riding the waves of Cloud computing and aims to set the standard of industrial and product design of the future.
It’s getting a lot of attention lately so I decided to take a quick look at it.
To sum up Onshape – It is a browser based 3D CAD program that has full integration with the cloud. It has intuitively designed collaboration tools to increase efficiency for teams. There is nothing to install, no updates to download and runs on all operating systems. Onshape is currently in public Beta, meaning you can request an invite.
Onshape has several plans available, the free option is limited to 5 private project files, but unlimited public designs. The free option does not limit the tools available to you. The professional option is USD$100/month and gives you as many private projects as you like. USD$100 a month is reasonably cheap for professionals and companies, but there might be some amateur/hobbyists who are looking for something in between.
What’s perhaps most interesting about Onshape is what the developers claim to be a fully cloud based CAD platform. There are a few existing programs like Autodesk Fusion 360 which relies heavily on the cloud, but not to the extent that Onshape does. So, what are these features? Firstly, everything you work on is not saved locally, so you can access it wherever you have Internet access.
Secondly it has fairly well developed collaboration tools designed for teams to work together on a project, including the ability to fork a design and for multiple people to view and edit a model at the same time. There is no saving, copying or locking, you just give access to other users and they can view/edit your work.
Onshape has been in development for around 3 years and was started by ex-Solidworks developers, so those of you familiar with Solidworks might feel comfortable here. It is still in Beta testing and receives updates often and is getting close to a finished product at this point, but the developers are still working on many new tools. As you can see from the images, Onshape is quite powerful software and plans to compete with Solidworks in the future.
Onshape is recommended to those who have the time and patience to learn a complex CAD tool. It does have a reasonably steep learning curve, but is not the most convoluted program. And there is a decent amount of learning resources to get you started, which are still being expanded.
To start building a new part, you would usually begin by using the sketch tools to create a plan or starting point, at which point you use the Extrude, Revolve or other tools to convert this to a 3 dimension model. Once you have a 3D model you can make use of the Chamfer, shell and other options to get your requirements as well as using direct editing to manipulate the model in small detail. As you would expect in a CAD program which aims to compete with the likes of Solidworks, all these tools are highly accurate. Another key part of the process is Versions and History – you can roll back to any point of the process, or fork the design to new variations.
Onshape is not specifically designed for 3D printing, however can export in STL meaning you can send your model straight to your slicer. And the tools it offers are perfectly adequate for use with 3D printing.
A surprising discovery was the Onshape app for iOS, Android and Windows Phone OS. It is a fully-fledged CAD tool for your phone or tablet, and is possibly the most powerful out of all mobile CAD apps.
There does appear to be slight performance issues when running Onshape in Chrome, even on a relatively powerful machine that has no issues running other CAD software, so it could possibly be a problem with Chrome. However these frame drops aren’t a big enough problem to really detract from the experience.
Ultimately, Onshape is ideal for teams of designers who could increase efficiency by using it, however right now there doesn’t seem to be anything to draw individual designers or small teams who are content with their current CAD software. The real strength of the software is its integration with the cloud, and even then there are other programs attempting similar things. No doubt Onshape will be around for a while and they are a very talented team of developers, so it will be very interesting to see if they can get ahead of the competition and fight for market share. The success of Onshape could have big implications for the future of CAD, in 15 years we might all be using browser based, cloud integrated CAD programs.
Marcus Rockcliffe is a 3D designer and 3D printing technical expert at Creative 3D, a UK based 3D printer retailer and 3D printing Service Bureau.