In our first round-up of Develop3D Live, we covered talks from IKEA, RoboSynthesis and London startup Mayku… but, we felt that the announcements made by Onshape really deserved a post of their very own. Here it is.

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Onshape’s Jon Hirschtick


Designer & founder: Grant Riley with Jon Hirschtick.

Jon Hirschtick is a rockstar of the 3D CAD world. His original rise to fame came as a key player in MIT’s blackjack team – earning over $1 million during his time there – his story even features in the movie 21. With his winnings, he started a little company called SolidWorks, and in 1995, they launched the only windows-based 3D CAD software on the market. His team disrupted and democratised the industry: before SolidWorks came along, your CAD software had to be pre-loaded onto a ridiculously expensive purpose-built workstation…

Well, here we are in 2016, and he’s at it again. The original SolidWorks development dream-team got back together last year, and launched Onshape. Their initial product was really still in beta, with only a few basic tools and features – but if you focus on the tools, you miss the key points. Here are the most important things about Onshape:

  1. You don’t need an expensive CAD-optimised PC – hell, you don’t even need a PC! Onshape is completely cloud based, and all the heavy processing is taken care of by Amazon. You can use it in your browser, or in app-form on iOS and Android.
  2. Design revisions are automatically taken care of, as standard. Managing multiple versions of your files is usually an expensive afterthought for other CAD vendors, but in Onshape, file changes are constantly being tracked and quietly backed-up… you don’t even need a save button.
  3. Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. It’s like google docs, but 3D. Whilst you’re editing a sketch within the same part, someone else on your team can be changing the radius of a fillet… and updating the model at exactly the same time – no conflicts and no crashes. No other CAD company comes close to achieving this.


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Source: SolidSmack

At Develop3D Live this year, Jon had some exclusive news on new features… and entertained his audience with a treasure trove of quotable quips:

“Onshape is only useful if you are working to tight deadlines.”

Jon really wanted to highlight how often they update the software – things progress so quickly at Onshape, that Jon’s slideshow was out of date by the time he was presenting it. One slide proclaimed ’13 updates since we launched’ – but just before he arrived on stage, his team had launched version 14.

“We improve so quickly – If you haven’t seen us lately, you haven’t seen us.”

Here are our favourite Onshape talking points from the conference:

More partners, and more connectivity

Getting standard parts (like nuts and bolts) into your assembly can be a pain, unless you hand over more cash for a proprietary ‘toolbox’ that doesn’t come as standard with your traditional CAD package. Onshape and traceparts have partnered up: enabling you to search, drag and drop certified parts direct from manufacturers, right into your Onshape assembly, without even leaving your browser tab.

An app store for the more specialist stuff


Extra abilities like CFD analysis, and CAM tool path generation for CNC milling are now just a click away, thanks to the new Onshape App Store.

Finding fun in the big data

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As far as user-centred-design goes, Onshape are not only doing it well – they’re also reacting to new insights at the speed of data. Here are some key takeaways from data gathered in the last few months:

  • 1 in 6 Onshape sessions were on a mobile device: actually designing, not just viewing.
  • Full cloud CAD is very reliable – 99.9% uptime, and no crashes (yet)!
  • People were doing CAD work on Christmas day on their smartphones – get a life guys!

Conference Exclusive: Feature Script teaser

At this point in his talk, Jon did something no self respecting CAD representative would be caught dead doing… he flipped open the hood, and exposed the source code of Onshape’s features.

source code.jpg

As far as we know, all other CAD companies have embedded the code for ‘features’ (tools, like copy and paste for example) into the very core of their systems – which means that any new features added can cause huge problems. This is probably why we only see a small handful of software updates from traditional CAD developers each year.

From the outset, Onshape took the gamble of creating a whole new programming language just for its features – separate from their main body of code. New features can be added extremely quickly, without affecting the day-to-day running of your Onshape environment.

The biggest news of the day: Onshape are going open-source for new features

Yes, you read that right! Have you ever wished for a new kind of feature that would make your work so much easier? Well soon, you’ll be able to write the code for new features yourself, and publish them for others to benefit. Cabinet makers and steel fabricators have always made jigs and fixtures to speed up their work… Onshape is now giving the same power to everyday design engineers, and they’re calling it Feature Script.

With such great developments on the horizon, we’re sure Onshape can hold their own against the other CAD giants. Watch this space…


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