Onshape: Modern CAD That Lets Teams Design Together in a Secure Cloud Workspace


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Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Onshape is a venture-backed company that includes key members of the original SOLIDWORKS® team plus elite engineers from the cloud, data security and mobile industries.

A modern professional 3D CAD system, Onshape eliminates design gridlock − the constant waiting, distractions and hassles that prevent engineers from doing their best work. Onshape’s unique database architecture lets everyone on a design team work together using any web browser, phone, or tablet.

Onshape provides automatic CAD system upgrades in the cloud every three weeks,  adding new features, enhancements, and bug fixes without any need for installs or  other IT support. Onshape’s cloud infrastructure allows users to instantly share their CAD models and easily communicate with Tech Support inside the Document, saving the hassle of sending screenshots and emails back and forth.

Onshape users in 170+ countries have logged over 3 million hours modeling robotics, biomedical devices, industrial machinery, power turbines and many other products.

Benefits of Modern CAD

Design and manufacturing teams who use Onshape don’t need to deal with software management issues, freeing them to focus on doing their best work. The benefits of modern CAD include:

  • Multiple engineers can simultaneously work on the same design.
  • It requires no downloads, installs or IT support.
  • New team members have instant CAD access.
  • It includes built-in data management, preventing engineers from overwriting each other’s work.
  • Automatic upgrades to your CAD system every three weeks.
  • It eliminates software incompatibility problems. Every Onshape user in the world is always on the same software version – the latest one.

Jon Hirschtick, CAD Magician

CEO and co-founder Jon Hirschtick is also the original founder of SOLIDWORKS®, which disrupted the design world in the early 1990s with the first CAD system that ran on personal computers. The truth is that many engineers are still using the same file-based CAD technology that’s more than two decades old. These CAD systems were breakthroughs at the time, but they were never meant for teams.

Hirschtick was motivated to build a new cloud-based CAD system from scratch because he realized the old file-based technology was slowing companies down by blocking collaboration, creating multiple file versions that result in costly errors, and causing engineers headaches from system crashes and lost work.

His co-founders of Onshape – John McEleney, David Corcoran, Tommy Li, Scott Harris and Michael Lauer – were all also early key contributors to building SOLIDWORKS®. They all shared the vision of modernizing and reimagining CAD for the needs of today’s engineers.

Hirschtick says, “Although putting CAD in the cloud was a technological achievement for Onshape, it was not the reason for founding the company. Far more important is how using a cloud-based architecture enables Onshape to deliver a more powerful, user-friendly and collaborative CAD system. Onshape’s modern ‘Parametric Modeling 2.0’ approach, for example, fundamentally improves core modeling techniques that CAD users depend on everyday.”

“These improvements include how engineers use Multipart Design, Configurations, Managed In-Context Design, Simultaneous Sheet Metal Tools and Custom Features,” he adds. “Onshape didn’t invent these parametric tools, but has eliminated their most frustrating weaknesses present in older CAD systems.”

As Onshape delivers product improvements every three weeks, the development team is able to prioritize new features and enhancements based on customer needs.

Onshape co-founder John McEleney was previously the CEO of CloudSwitch, a cloud enterprise software company which was acquired by Verizon. He recommends that future entrepreneurs in the cloud space focus on two questions:

  1. What Problem Are You Solving?: “Focus on the problem, NOT the platform. Too often, entrepreneurs will immediately dive into the technology of their proposed solution and argue why they have a superior solution. They rarely talk about the problem they’re trying to solve. Try to personalize the story of who has the problem (create a persona) and explain how they are currently trying to deal with it. Then and only then should you discuss how your solution is the best solution to the problem. The cloud should primarily be thought of as a delivery mechanism for your solution.”
  1. Why Are You Creating This Solution? “Try and answer this question honestly and with a level of specificity. How many people have this problem and how important is it to solve? Are people running around with their “hair on fire” looking for a solution, or can they wait a while to solve the problem? If they can wait a year or two (or more), then you have an urgent problem.”

Onshape’s Future  Challenge

Onshape’s biggest challenge is overcoming inertia. Most engineers prefer to stick with the tools they have the most experience with, and are reluctant to invest time into learning a new system.

“However, this issue will soon fade,” says Hirschtick. “Onshape’s free Education Plan has been widely adopted at colleges and high schools around the world, as teachers value the ability for teams to simultaneously collaborate on CAD projects in real time and the freedom to design on any computer, tablet or phone.”

Onshape has a quick learning curve for engineers with previous CAD experience. Many CAD users who sign up for an Onshape Professional trial quickly recognize the benefits of modern cloud CAD and switch to Onshape as their primary CAD system.

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