The Next CAD Revolution, Part 1: Onshape Is Favored but Challenger Emerges from Budapest

Shapr3D has sparked a CAD revolution with its ease of use, but will it succeed?

As we have reported, Shapr3D, the latest professional MCAD software to hit the market—with its thoroughly modern look and feel and its embrace of modern computing devices—is poised to be at the forefront of the next revolution in computer-aided design (CAD). But before this Hungarian-based application can take the engineering world by storm, it might be worth listening to what has worked in previous revolutions—and what has not.

The CAD revolutions so far:

  1. CAD
  2. AutoCAD

Revolutions in CAD can be counted on one hand with one finger left over. Who will get the remaining finger? Most of the bets are on Onshape. That should come as no surprise. The winner of the Kentucky Derby is the betting favorite for the Preakness. Onshape, created by the same team that successfully engineered the last CAD revolution with SOLIDWORKS, is the odds-on favorite. Now with the substantial backing of PTC, Onshape is looking even more a sure thing.

But revolutions, even those that are well funded, have not been entirely predictable. A successful revolution takes more than just funding. Timing and luck are critical. A good product provides a spark. A critical need must be met. An economic advantage should be clear. Once the revolution is underway, sales and marketing take on an outsized role.

In a series of articles, we will take what we have observed in the short history of CAD on Earth, and of successful CAD revolutions—the ones where most engineers have ditched their established design method for a revolutionary application and come up with the most important factors in a successful revolution.

Why We Need the Next Revolution

The maturity of CAD is offered as a reason for the recent lack of innovation, but as we have pointed out, mechanical CAD (MCAD), and CAD in general, is still far from perfect. It is not easy to use, it cannot model real-world shapes, it lacks a common format, and it clings to archaic file structures. Perhaps most significantly, it has a fundamental inability to creatively design, having succeed at no more than giving precise geometric form to a design we have already created in our heads (the still unfulfilled promise of generative design).

A revolutionary gang from Hungary. István Csanády (in the purple shirt) in 2019 after announcing a $6 million series A funding round from European venture capitalists at Point Nine Capital and Creandum. (Picture courtesy of

A revolutionary gang from Hungary. István Csanády (in the purple shirt) in 2019 after announcing a $6 million series A funding round from European venture capitalists at Point Nine Capital and Creandum. (Picture courtesy of

Shapr3D Gets Ease of Use

It was three years ago that István Csanády debuted Shapr3D to CAD insiders and leaders at a Tech Soft 3D event on San Francisco’s waterfront in May in a most unusual manner: standing with an iPad. He was making a point. Why use a keyboard and mouse—don’t you just want to interact with design? Using the Apple Pencil like a wand, István sketched and constructed with the Parasolid-based application directly on his tablet. A part was made as if by magic.

But we had seen too many magic tricks, too many “a miracle occurs,” and voilà results.  I met with István the next morning in a Starbucks, requesting a closer look. István pulled out his iPad Pro. The bright 12.9-inch screen filled with the minimalist Shapr3D interface—hardly an interface at all. There are no menus or icons. I am reminded of a saying popular with UI designers—“the best interface is no interface”—but this is the first working example I’ve seen in a CAD program. Up close, István whipped through the part-making exercise again. No smoke, no mirrors, no prerecorded playback. No keyboard, no mouse. And no sweat.

The ground shook that day (May 10, 2018) in San Francisco. Was that a paradigm shift?

What’s in Shapr3D’s Future?

The years since we met István have been kind to Shapr3D. Shortly after our San Francisco meeting, the company completed a $6 million series A round from European venture capitalists at Point Nine Capital and Creandum, brings its total funding to $12 million. 

Shapr3D seems to have used the funds to fill in a product gap by adding drawing tools. As much as 2D drawing may seem anathema to a modern, 3D modeling vendor—a backward and unnecessary step—the need to address 2D documentation persists. Even progressive manufacturers continue to have legacy product designs in 2D, whether in stacks of prints, digitized into raster images or converted into a 2D CAD format—usually AutoCAD’s. Not being able to read or modify 2D, or even create 2D drawings, will be an infuriating but surefire deal breaker when selling 3D to an enterprise. Like the steak restaurant  with a vegetarian entrée, Shapr3D wisely added drawing tools to its software.

Adding drawings has also allowed Shapr3D to offer a premium product for $499/year. The company says it is now “making good revenue.”

It is normal for engineering software companies coming out of the gate to focus on having a full toolbox. But while it is important to not compete with big tools missing—like drawing tools—chasing the established, mature market leaders by checking off every feature and capability and expecting market penetration has never worked. It hasn’t worked even when startups have better features, more capabilities or are easier to use. Competing on the basis of a lower price, even when market-leading software can cost thousands of dollars, either up front or annually, hasn’t worked either — much to the consternation of a host of AutoCAD competitors, domestic, European an Chinese.

Shapr3D, Poised for Success

We have kept up with Shapr3D through the years and recently talked to István in his new, very modern Budapest offices. I told him of a venture capital firm that was enquiring about Shapr3D and he said he’s not interested. Apparently, business is good and there’s still money in the bank.

“Let me show you around our office,” he said, proceeding to walk around the company’s new digs laptop in hand. “Soon, we’ll have over a hundred and forty people working here.”

We are reminded of Onshape, with a similarly sized office in Cambridge, Mass., before it was acquired by PTC.

Shapr3D has progressed to a point where comparisons to Onshape are obvious. However, in terms of how the software works, there is an important differentiator. Shapr3D is downloaded and installed on an iPad (and soon will run on Windows devices), so it can continue working even without a connection, whereas Onshape, is totally Internet reliant,  accessed on cloud-based servers. Shapr3D, residing locally, has none of the latency you can get from software as a service (SaaS) applications, or the downtime associated with a loss of an Internet connection—although, we must commend Onshape for the technology it has in place to make latency surprisingly not much of an issue.

“Being installed also let us do this in real time,” said István, as he showed us something very cool—but then swore us to secrecy because “it has not been announced yet.”

The Next CAD Revolution, Part 2
– Autodesk