The latest marketing material from Onshape is rather interesting.
Onshape provides a very powerful 3D CAD tool for designers with a unique feature: it’s entirely online and requires no local installation. This is quite different from the traditional 3D CAD systems, which tend to be locally installed on licensed PCs.
The cloud-based approach enables Onshape to almost instantly deploy their solution to any computing device, including Windows, MacOS, Linux or even mobile devices. There is actually an iPad app for Onshape, and it works the same way as the desktop browser version.
Onshape’s most notable competitor is none other than Solidworks, the industry leader. Solidworks has been around for years and has developed a very large community that makes use of Solidworks’ general 3D and vertically specific tools. Solidworks is installed in the traditional manner – and it just happened to be founded by the same person who started Onshape many years later.
What happened? A Solidworks reseller posted notice of a seminar in which they would explain how to properly upgrade Solidworks to version 2018. The reseller suggested it would be possible to upgrade efficiently and “avoid crashes”, maintaining customized files, etc.
Onshape reacted by posting a story touting their product’s advantage over Solidworks in this area: because Onshape is entirely cloud based, users do not have to be concerned about upgrades. They simply happen within Onshape’s servers and are immediately reflected to clients who are using Onshape through web browsers. This concept is so powerful that Onshape actually upgrades their service regularly, sometimes weekly, with new features and bug fixes. That doesn’t happen with standalone products, where upgrades are a much bigger – and less frequent – event.
About this invitation, they say:
Imagine you’re buying a new car and dripping with anticipation to get behind the wheel. You love the style, you love the horsepower, you love the spacious glove compartment. But then the car dealer sends you an email urging you to take a one-hour class on how to avoid any “headaches that may pop up” while you’re cruising down the highway. So don’t worry about that grinding sound when you accelerate, the dealer says. You’ll learn how to deal with it at their free workshop.
From a customer service perspective, this email is smart. It proactively tackles problems before they happen and seeks to minimize engineers’ aggravation. However, from a product marketing perspective, the email is an unintentional checklist of old CAD’s most glaring weaknesses.
“Obtaining necessary files needed to complete the upgrade.” (Onshape has no files to keep track of. Upgrades happen automatically in the cloud. You do nothing.)
“Avoiding crashes/errors during the upgrade process.” (Onshape users never experience crashes. If a server goes down, a redundant server picks up the slack and the user never loses a keystroke.)
“Copying and customizing files and features for SOLIDWORKS 2018.” (Onshape’s unique database architecture puts your CAD system and CAD data in the same single secure cloud workspace. Onshape has no files and your design lives in only one place. In old CAD, uncontrolled file copies put the security of your intellectual property at greater risk.)
“Maximizing new features such as Online Licensing for standalone serial numbers.” (Onshape has no licenses. You can use it on any computer, tablet or phone. No need for CAD users to deal with any administrative hassles.)
So yes, these are all true. The cloud-based approach is vastly simpler than the traditional standalone software installation process.
But I think there could be more to the story here, in spite of Onshape’s marketing aggressiveness. (One commenter described their post as “Savage”.)
Many people do continue to use Solidworks – probably more than use Onshape – for reasons that may go beyond the cloud advantage.
The most significant no doubt is the tremendous investment in Solidworks, through training, add-ons, integration with other software, and file development. While Onshape may offer software maintenance advantages over Solidworks, for many it may not be worth the cost of conversion.
Another aspect is the breadth of capability. Solidworks is well known for having “something for everyone”. There usually is a module to do what you need to do, even in highly specific circumstances. That’s not (yet) the case with Onshape, which is still a somewhat generalized 3D CAD tool. That may change in the future as Onshape continues to add function, but for some users, it may not be as appropriate to use for their application as Solidworks.
The choice of 3D CAD tool is obviously up to the user or organization involved, and intelligent choices should be made based on the specific scenario.
Onshape does indeed have some advantages, but so does Solidworks. Perhaps in the future Onshape will gain capabilities as wide as Solidworks, but then Solidworks could also deploy an easy-to-use cloud version, too.
Nevertheless, it’s good to see Onshape competing here, as that will in the long run improve both products.