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Cloud-Based CAD?

Being the curious person that I am and the constant need to learn things; I dabbled in something that was very new to me today---Cloud based CAD. In a market that is controlled by a hand full of CAD programs such as the likes as Inventor, Solid Edge, and Solid Works that cost more than a used commuter car, cloud-based CAD is trying to make a name for itself in the marketplace.

Disclaimer: I am in no way or have ever been affiliated with OnShape. I make no point as being a professional in the program nor do I know how everything works in the program. I am just giving my honest opinion from a new user and how it compares it it's competitors. If I mispoke about a feature, please feel free to contact me and I will correct it.

I tried the new-guy-to-the-scene...OnShape out. OnShape is purely a cloud based 3D Modeling System. It was developed by former SolidWorks employees and various other people from the industry. Its free to join and sign up was easy. Basically, they have (2) versions--a free version, and a paid version. In the Free version, you get ten private models that you can create and up to 100 MB of storage for those models. However, you get unlimited "public" models, but you have to stay within a 5 GB cap space. So we see the caveat there to urge users to buy their paid version for $100/month. If you know anything about CAD systems, they are not cheap at all; $100/month is not a bad price. Here are a few things that I took away from using the program for a day or two.


If you know your way around a 3D modeler, then Onshape will be of no surprise to you. It has all of the familiar tools one would expect---Extrude, Revolve, Fillet, Chamfer, Sketch, Loft, etc... They are all conveniently located at the top of the workspace. However, unlike many of the current CAD systems, you will not find these in a "Ribbon" format. They are on a toolbar like the old-school AutoCad tools used to be. They do, however, have a nice modern look to them with almost a cartoonish feel to the icons; very SolidWorksesque.

They layout of the workspace is very Solid Edge/Autodesk like in that there is the accustomed 3D view cube in the top right-hand corner. Switching views will be no stranger to you. Then if you are accustomed to Solid Edge or SolidWorks and you try to orbit with the middle scroll wheel on your mouse, you will be in for a pleasant doesnt work. If you are used to Inventor then you will not be surprised...well because the middle scroll button does not work as orbit without the help of a modifier key. In OnShape, clicking and dragging the Right Mouse Button will give you the orbit command you are looking for.

Ease of use

The workflow for creating parts is "about" the same as it is in other programs. What I mean by about is that you still have to sketch on planes or faces to create extrudes/cuts, however, in order to use the "Extrude" or "Revolve" command, there already has to be a sketch in place. So the workflow will be that you need to always sketch your profiles first--THEN complete the Extrude of Revolve. In other modelers, the "Sketch" command can be a standalone command to draw just a sketch, or it is built into the "Features" commands where once the feature is activated, you are thrown into "Sketch:" mode.

For us Solid Edge Ordered/SolidWorks users, we will not find a familiar Cut/Extruded or Revolved Cut. DO NOT PANIC; the features are still there. OnShape actually made them apart of the Extrude and Revolve commands, but within them, you choose if you want to Add or Subtract Material. I believe Solid Edge Synchronous and Inventor does something similar (forgive me, I do not use Synchronous Technology often in Solid Edge, nor do I use Inventor on a daily basis).

Containing sketches is not a hard task either. If you are coming from Solid Edge, there are dedicated buttons on the toolbar in sketch mode for most constraints. If you are used to SolidWorks/Inventor, then you will not be multi-selecting sketch points first, then applying available mates to those points.

OnShape looks to have most of the basic features that you will need, even a few surfacing commands. You can Loft, make a helix, Boolean operations, import STEP files, etc... It is still relatively new to industry and is a work in progress. You may find certain aspects missing--for instance there is no sheet metal or frame design at this time. I'm sure OnShape has something up their sleeves though as they mature.


In my honest opinion, I felt that it could work a little faster. Maybe I'm just used to Solid Edge or SolidWorks workflow, or it could be my amateur status within the program; I was just slower at creating simple 3D shapes that I could easily hammer out in mere seconds in other software. We will chalk this up to my noobness.

Tabbed files can make quick work of switching to other open files. I love this feature as well.


Alright, lets give a big round of applause to Onshape on this category. They have managed to FINALLY create a 3D Modeler that can also be used on my phone, my table, or my computer. Since the files are all on the cloud, I can access them from any one of these devices. The mobile apps are nice and feel like I am using web-based version, just on a smaller scale. All of the features and commands are there. It does not lag (at least on my Galaxy S6 Edge). I had no issues downloading the app and immediately modifying one of my parts. They really have done well on this app. It has the same look and feel as the mobile site as well. I only wish I could edit and work with my SolidWorks or Solid Edge files on the cloud from anywhere, or any device.


Not much to say here other than it works. Pick your constraints and put parts together. Easy as that. It works as it should.


I think this is where having this free program excels. I have always said that drawings are king in the engineering world. We have to have them to capture valuable dimensioning, sizes, and tolerances. They also serve as a legal contract for vendors for meeting "spec" on a part.

Onshape does have a drawing environment and it too is easy to use. It has all of the basic drawing commands we should expect to see like Principle Views, Projected View, Section View, Detail View, Auxiliary View, Dimensioning, Tables, Text, Tolerencing, so on, and so forth. It is not lacking too much in this department as it has just about everything its competition does.

I was able to create a simple drawing with ease, print it out, and let someone review it.

Overall Impression

I have hit very quick on some points that I like about the program and how it compares to the competition. I think that OnShape has started something very revolutionary. I cannot wait to see the program evolve and add features. I would not say that in it's current state to run out and replace your Solid Edge/Solidworks/Inventor with Onshape, but I would try modeling a few parts on it and see what you think. Once it adds some of the missing features and works on it's workflow just a little bit to speed things up, I think that it will be a major competitor in the market. I also think that for small businesses in need of a CAD software that you do not want to spend thousands of dollars on and you just need to make quick models and drawings, OnShape is for you.

#CAD #OnShape #Drafter

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