The Second Wave of Browser-based CAD Programs

Arcol, Infurnia, Snaptrude, Qonic

Reprinted by permission, from
UpFronteZine, 25 April 2022

User interface of Arcol, which is not yet shipping

User interface of Arcol, which is not yet shipping

Arcol is certain it will change the way AEC is done, advancing the discipline from “20-year-old Autodesk” to a modern architectural modeler: edit a sketch in a Web browser to change the 3D model. The software is not yet in alpha, but it hopes to ship by year’s end. More info at

The problem for Arcol is that other similar browser-based AEC design programs are already available, such as Infurnia and Snaptrude, which also are meant for collaborative BIM, interior design and kitchen work. Pricing of them is in the range of $50-$120/user/month. A limited-function free version of each is available:

These three join Qonic (also in pre-alpha mode) being developed by former Bricsys employees like Erik de Keyser, Dmitry Ushakov, and Sander Scheiris. Qonic hopes to automate the conversion of design intent into construction models — to fill in missing parts and data using, I suspect, an intelligent search and replace system not too dissimilar from that found in BricsCAD BIM.

There Was A First Wave

This splurge in Web-based CAD is a second wave, coming a decade or so after an initial wave of independent browser-based CAD programs with names like, TinkerCAD, To3D and Onshape. (In addition, desktop CAD vendors like Graebert and Autodesk developed their own browser-based CAD programs.)

The first wave was made possible by the then-new technology in Web browsers, which made it easier to run CAD on remote servers and interact with drawings and models locally.

While doing CAD on the cloud is fabulous in theory, it’s not so much in practice. We saw what it took for Onshape to produce a Web-based MCAD program: $100 million or so. Eventually, all four first wavers were acquired, some at the brink of death.

The second wave, for now, largely operates on funding to cover the cost of free plans.

Infurnia is looking to go public (getting funding through shareholders) while Arcol is running on $5 million from investors, One of Arcol’a investors is former Autodesk co-CEO Amar Hanspal. Snaptrude has taken in at least $600 thousand from investors. Qonic, I believe, is self-funded.

Catching Up, Frantically

Sun study by Snaptrude

Sun study by Snaptrude

AEC CAD is a much tougher problem to solve than MCAD. As Martyn Day points out, these new companies not only have to catch up function-wise with the ArchiCADs and Vectorworks of the world, but also attempt to displace existing seats. They have a tough moat to leap.

We see the dire need to catch-up feature-wise in Snaptude’s what’s-next list for 2022, most of which we take for granted in “20-year-old Autodesk”:

  • 2D drawings
  •  Parametric objects
  • NURBSs and splines
  • Advanced Booleans
  • Live link to Revit
  • Quick costing and quantity bills
  • Switch between massing and BIM
  • Sustainability analysis and climate studies

Onshape in its early years issued updates every six weeks to catch up with SOLIDWORKS, even as SOLIDWORKS continued to stride ahead. The pace for these four new firms needs to be just as frenetic.

Still, browser-based CAD has functions that for the most part escape desktop CAD, such as these ones offered by Infurnia, some of which was pioneered by Onshape:

  • Models and changes saved to the cloud; no files to store drawings and models
  • Access to design data through APIs; models shared through links
  • Browsable change history; reversion to earlier versions of models; branched designs

The thing these newcomers have easy is that the road forward has been surveyed and graded by the earlier firms. The end game is known: all of desktop CAD + all of browser-based CAD.

What Ralph Grabowski Thinks

Qonic is still in stealth mode

Qonic is still in stealth mode

Like the first wave of browser-based CAD companies, these four will, in the end, most likely survive through acquisitions. That, perhaps, is a game plan for them and their investors. One suitor, I expect, will be Autodesk; my pick for it is Snaptrude.

So, why the new flurry of browser-based CAD programs? The last several years have seen central banks flood too much money into the Western economies of the world and so investors are floundering, looking for something, anything in which to invest and make more $$$.

Each founder of these new CAD systems speaks of his passion, which enabled him to land funding. In turn, investors have something in which to invest, and then hope to profit from later, after someone else pays big bucks to acquire the firms.

What Others Think

Two industry insiders have opinions contrary to mine.

Robert Graebert, CTO, Graebert GmbH:

“I get the skepticism with respect to the viability of these new market entrants. I think Onshape is a great example when industry veterans + tons of cash were not enough to stay independent. In our market, a great product still needs a [dealer] channel to realize its full potential.

“But I have to say, I am excited about the new batch of market entrants. Even if that just means that some of the market leaders change their posture to meet this challenge. I think there is real frustration in AEC about the lack of evolution.”

Grabowski replies: We saw changes in MCAD posture in the past decade with new entrants like SpaceClaim (direct editing is possible) and Onshape (serious MCAD on remote servers is possible).

Architect (name withheld):

“I doubt that [these firms] will eat the dinosaurs in the AEC industry. But the one thing I do know, is that the leaders in AEC have grown content and are ripe for disruption. Some more than others.

“I see the TestFits of the world and tools like Arcol, having great promise to address the redistribution of scarce resources so that architects can afford the new demands on them.”

Grabowski replies: Someone could become pretty rich figuring out how to disrupt legacy BIM packages. In the meantime, the second wave could find its place alongside big CAD in Rhino-like fashion.