Onshape Builds Its Standing as a SOLIDWORKS Competitor
Elise Moss posted on December 19, 2018 |

Both Onshape and SOLIDWORKS are the creations of Jon Hirschtick. He founded SolidWorks Corporation in 1993 using $1 million he made while a member of the MIT Blackjack Team. Under his leadership, SolidWorks revenue eventually grew to $100 million.When SolidWorks was acquired by Dassault Systèmes in 1997, Hirschtick continued on as a group executive for the next 14 years.

In October 2012, he left SolidWorks and founded Belmont Technology—later changed to Onshape—with other members of the original SolidWorks team. Hirschtick is currently chairman of the board.Joining him on the team is John McEleney, a former SolidWorks CEO, and Joe Dunne, who worked as a new product director at SolidWorks. It’s hard not to be enthusiastic about the future of Onshape once you are aware of the dream team working hard behind the scenes for its success.

When comparing Onshape to SOLIDWORKS, it’s important to consider who might be using the software.

In a survey of 1,000 small-business users, Onshape beat SOLIDWORKS by a mile in terms of meeting their needs.

In the same survey, large enterprise users—companies with multiple locations and more than 100 users—preferred SOLIDWORKS by a wide margin.

So, how do these markets differ? Small businesses want to collaborate with their vendors and clients. Onshape provides an easy platform that allows collaboration on the go. A small-business owner can bring their laptop, tablet or cellphone to a business meeting and pull up the model to review with their client or show a machinist asking questions.

Onshape runs entirely on the cloud. Users never have to worry about installing updates or service packs. Every time you launch the software online, you are using the latest release. This means you don’t need an IT team to help you manage a license server or handle the file storage. This is appealing to small- and medium-business users as they get to off-load the task and expense of a server to Onshape, which is included in the price of a subscription.

Before I get into evaluating how the two software are accessed and compare features, it is important to keep in mind that SOLIDWORKS is a mature software that has been around 25 years while Onshape is fairly young—it was launched six years ago.

While SOLIDWORKS expects to move to the cloud at some point, it currently is accessed like traditional software. You can download the installation files or install from a CD.The software takes up space on your hard drive. If you work in a large company, licenses are often floated between users using a network license server. If the server goes down or all the licenses are in use, you can’t work. You are basically stuck until the server is restored or someone releases a license.

Onshape resides entirely in the cloud.It is accessed through a browser. Onshape currently supports these tested and approved browsers:

  • Google Chrome
  • Mozilla Firefox
  • Safari (Mac OS only)
  • Opera
  • Microsoft Edge

Note that Onshape can’t be accessed using Internet Explorer.

Students and educators can get a limited free license for Onshape. Students are able to store their documents privately, ensuring that they are not publicly available for other students to see and potentially cheat with.Documents are not publicly available and are watermarked. The educational plan is not available for commercial use.

You can get a free trial that is good for a limited time, but with unlimited storage of private documents. A standard subscription for Onshape runs $1,500 per year. This is more than half the price of the $3,995 entry level seat of SOLIDWORKS, which allows you to save as many files as you like, limited only by the size of your hard drives. Additionally, the more expensive plans have increasingly advanced data management capabilities.

When it came to ease of use, small-business owners preferred Onshape. Even mid-market users preferred Onshape to SOLIDWORKS when it came to learning and using the software.

SOLIDWORKS won over the users of large companies. Why the difference? I think most small-business users, as well as mid-market users, are more likely to be designers and drafters. They might own a machine shop or small design studio. They don’t necessarily have the resources for training to learn a new software. Onshape has developed a rich library of on-line videos to support users and help them learn the software independently.

The Onshape graphical user interface (GUI) looks similar to SOLIDWORKS. There is a browser pane on the left side where you access planes, sketches and features. There are the standard three work planes and view cube, familiar to Autodesk users, in the upper right corner of the screen. It allows you to easily switch model orientations.

You can start a sketch by selecting a plane, and create a feature by selecting the tools at the top of the screen.

As you create features, they are listed in the browser. Sketches and features are parametric, so the model adapts when modifications are made.

When you are ready to create the drawing in Onshape, you simply select the menu at the lower left of the screen and select Create Drawing.

Onshape comes with standard templates, but you also have the ability to create a custom template with your company information and store it in your account, if you have a paid subscription.

Onshape has the same dimensioning tools as SOLIDWORKS. You can create the same professional-looking drawings in the same amount of time and with the same amount of ease as in SOLIDWORKS.

You can create basic sheet metal parts with flanges and tabs, but there are no tools available for more complex sheet metal features such as jogs, forming tools (like louvers and dimples) or hems.

Onshape is conspicuously missing rendering and motion studies. These can be replaced with applications available in Onshape’s App Store. The store is filled with all sorts of goodies. As a bonus, you don’t have to be an Onshape subscriber, or even an Onshape user, to take advantage of the freebies available.Joe Dunne has assured me that any of the apps in Onshape’s App Store have been fully vetted by staff members. They are guaranteed to, at a minimum, provide a free trial period so users can take them out for a test drive before pulling out a credit card.

Where Onshape really shines is in its portability. You can access Onshape on any device that connects to the internet and has access to a browser. This means your designs and drawings are available wherever you go.

It’s not unusual to see tweets from fellow CAD users bragging about the designs they made using Onshape on their iPhones during their morning commutes. SOLIDWORKS users can’t make the same claim. While they might be able to work on their laptop during their commute, SOLIDWORKS’ user interface just doesn’t support the ease of editing in a mobile environment the same way as Onshape.

Onshape is beginning to make inroads into SOLIDWORKS’ market share, but it has a way to go before it is truly competitive with SOLIDWORKS. I am not even sure if the 100 percent cloud-based model is viable for larger companies still concerned about the security of their proprietary data. Many of my employers won’t even allow me to work on their designs outside of the office, where my work station requires not only a login but also a USB key inserted with a two-step verification.

In the meantime, Onshape continues to impress and amaze small-business owners, sole proprietors, consultants, hobbyists and makers who finally are able to access the power of a 3D CAD software without the headaches of managing software updates and network servers. And, with the company's more robust data management tools and Onshape Enterprise this year, Onshape is making moves upmarket, as well.

Onshape has sponsored this post. They have had no editorial input to this post. Unless otherwise stated, all opinions are mine. —Elise Moss

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