A Huge Mistake!
But is there a Silver Lining?

Engineering productivity is not based on collaboration or coordination but the act of designing parts and assemblies. 

I read through most of the announcements and most give a glowing future for this decision. But I disagree I think they bought a pig in a poke!

First let’s look at PTC.

I have predicted that PTC will be the first of the major CAD companies to downsize since they are a CAD only company based on one product. They will never go out of business they have huge companies stuck in their convoluted system. I have two old jobshopping (contract engineers) friends, one works for Raytheon and the other for Lockheed Martin. Engineering of both are in chaos due to the decade use of Pro/e, now Creo with their PLM system. This is a 30-year-old concept. Doesn’t it ever bother anyone besides me that there has been no advancement in the 3D CAD Systems for 31 years? Well there has been, but for some reason every major CAD company made this incredibly convoluted system the de facto standard.

31 Years of 3D MCAD Incompatibility

There are a few subjects that make up this situation.


The first sign of a slowdown in the software innovation and resulting sales is the move to subscription only. This eliminates the huge upfront costs of getting into the software, but also reduces the profit for the company. They could have just offered a rental option along with the perpetual solution. But that is not enough, they had to completely lock-in the customer. They followed Autodesk. Now, we must admit that this maybe the future of CAD and many software products which is called SAAS (Software As A Service). I personally use Microsoft Office 365, for $150.00 a year it offers an incredible value.

Viable Options to Replace Subscription Only CAD software

It looks like the sweet spot for CAD rental or subscription is between $1500 and $2500. Now this price may be reduced as the CAD companies downsize, since there will be no reason to continue enhancing the product, so research costs will go down. The benefits will move beyond the CAD system to keep the users on board. I would think a much more friendly support department.

Now the problem with subscriptions is that you are now dependent on the CAD systems. Without at least one perpetual system you are locked out of your engineering information or Intellectual property without staying current. But like I have said even with the more innovative CAD products that still have a few years of enhancement left, they may all move to subscription.

Enter Onshape

Onshape is the ultimate subscription CAD software.

Onshape! A View from the Clouds

Onshape! The Party is over! 

It is truly a cloud-based SaaS system. You can access it with a browser on a PC or Mac. While this accessibility looks hugely productive it has too many problems to make it a viable system.

The basic reason this product cannot be used in a production environment is that they take complete control of your engineering documentation and intellectual property. If you quit paying the subscription your information goes public. There is no way to store your information locally and be in complete control or take ownership. There is no viable native file to work with. It is a huge step backward in interoperability!

Also, it is only a marginal CAD system. I gave them a demonstration of IronCAD which is a much more productive and innovative 3D CAD design system and not a Pro/e (Creo) clone. I was excited to see what they did with it and I was hugely disappointed when I found out they released just another constrained sketching and strict history based system.

Five Functions that Increase 3D CAD Productivity!!

The Ultimate 3D CAD System

Here are a couple comparisons showing that Onshape is nothing but another tedious sketch based modeling system!

IronCAD vs Onshape Lesson 1

ZW3D vs Onshape Lesson 1

But they were looking to replace Solidworks.  Jon Hirschtick, founder of both Onshape and Solidworks, has always been a bit ethically challenged. They made sure they could read the native Solidworks files, but only the part files could be read directly, the assemblies had to be packed with "Pack and Go", which I found mysterious. They were obviously hoping to have a much more intimate relationship with the Solidworks community. They are the only system I know of that writes Solidworks compatible dumb files. (This is sort of cool if you are working with Solidworks customers and are using another system, you can import your model into Onshape and export it as a native Solidworks file).

Onshape - A Solidworks Competitor

I use Onshape occasionally to check healed part files. It is free to anyone if you are willing to have your files public.

The Cloud

PTC and many in the industry think the cloud is the future.

Solidworks released a cloud version and I found it usable. But there are many user access management problems with both a locally loaded and cloud-based system. I define the problems in this article. Solidworks on the cloud is not available except for product evaluation.

Solidworks on the Cloud?

Engineering is not going to change much. Cloud really doesn’t add much to telecommuting. So, it is more fluff than value. You really want tight control of your engineering documentation. You have more flexible collaboration and coordination functionality with Skype.

All About Telecommuting With 3D CAD

You really want to get the released documentation out of the CAD system. All major CAD systems want to keep you tied to their system. The problem with the PTC paradigm is all of the information is associative and has to stay live in the system. I sell a single model environment where the information can be isolated and can be archived with parts and sub-assemblies in a single file or two files: model and documentation.

Now to the purchase.

I see that Onshape has 5000 current paid subscriptions. PTC paid almost half a billion dollars, that's around $90,000 per each subscription. It is interesting Onshape has been in business for 4 years with a huge amount of hype and this is all they could convince to sign up. This is not a trend in the industry, why does PTC think they could make it so?

Jon Hirschtick could not deliver more than 5000 paid users in 4 years, how in the world does PTC think they can do better? He sold SW to Dassault with only 6000 seats, many of which were educational. Trust me Onshape is no SW!

But we should all realize they must have millions of “free” users. It has its purpose. I think most of the colleges are using it for training. It introduces the students to the convoluted way to design that they will face when they enter the working world with all the major 3D CAD systems.

It also is available to those that do not create proprietary information or anyone that wants to learn the basics of 3D CAD.

Now what will PTC get out of this. Engineering does not like change. Their job is filled with change, so they want stable tools to work. I suggest that PTC not change their software it has been stable for 20 years.

If they think they are going to move anyone from any other systems, they are kidding themselves. I have been trying to introduce much more productive 3D CAD solutions for 20 years and it is almost impossible to convince a company to move to another system. The reasons are apparent, information legacy and product familiarity.

So, there you go, it is very simple. Onshape is not a viable engineering production product and this is a huge mistake.

Solidworks (The PC Based Pro/e Killer)

Do not compare this purchase to Dassault's purchased of Solidworks. A different time a different place. Dassault was in the development of its own PC based Pro/e killer "CATIA 5". Who be more helpful to develop another Pro/e clone on a PC than the Pro/e plagiarizers of "Solidworks"?

Solidworks had no copy protection for 12 years and was passed around like hotcakes.  History parametric based design was the Buzz word of the decade sales soared!

The Two CAD Programs that Set the Path to 3D MCAD Chaos!

I will tell you, it is huge mistake to think that
Onshape is going to be a viable 3D CAD business solution.

The Silver Cloud! (No pun intended)

But there is one thing that PTC could do to make millions on Onshape.

Cloud Based Engineering Document Control.

Onshape is what you could call the perfect documentation bucket with a graphic display of the part or assembly. You can have any file stored there and have a 3D representation of a part or sub-assembly. This makes it the perfect cloud-based document control system. You can upload the major native CAD files, all of the neutral file formats, PDF, Word docs, Excel, .jpg, virtually any file. You could provide a single source for "current" engineering documentation. Today, they are emailing the model and associative documentation to the suppliers.

We can do it as simple as we did in the past with blueprints by creating an easily  accessible archive with the actual parts, assemblies and documentation in any format, native or neutral. PTC could develop and market it. You can easily store your data on your own servers, serviced by an Onshape like document control product, providing document control for the huge number of companies from the largest to the smallest manufacturers. This would eliminate the need for PLM in the CAD and engineering system.

Anyway, there you go. How Onshape as a product will fail and how to make this sows ear into a silk purse.

The Embedded Title Block!
A PLM Solution!

Standard Cloud Based
Engineering Document Control

Standard Cloud Based
Engineering Document Control Part II

Someone is going to do this, sooner or later, it might as well be PTC. But it would take something to get around the powerful failed PLM community. PTC would lead the way to a new era in the engineering process, sort of a back to future!

Hey PTC, give me a call I can help you make it happen.

The Benefits of "FREE" Onshape!!

Onshape must have a million free users, I am one!!! I think everyone in engineering should have a "FREE" Onshape account!

I use Onshape once in awhile for checking healed models, to share IronCAD and ZW3D examples and training models and to export to a Solidwork native dumb file.

Benefit number One

CAD training!

Even though this is a marginal system it does offer the constrained sketching and strict history a newbie engineers will face when they get into the industrial/mechanical engineering industry. A student does not have to invest in a good desktop, but can work anywhere that has access to a browser with either an Apple or PC (I use Chrome). If you are a budding engineer, inventor or just want to play with 3D printing and need access to a CAD system this is a great place to learn.

Educating the New 3D CAD Engineer

Note: If you are going to start a business you can't not use Onshape where you must pay to keep your engineering documentation or intellectual property available. If you don't pay your information goes public. Many times you put projects on hold and you "need" to keep your information safe under your control on a local server.

Both IronCAD and ZW3D have free student editions if you want to experience a more productive CAD solution.

Benefit number Two

If you work on models that may need to be healed, Onshape is a great added system to check your models. I have IronCAD, ZW3D and two other systems I used to validate the models. In this age of Model Based Engineering we can not afford corrupt files.

Corrupt 3D CAD Parts

Benefit Number Three

You can use Onshape to share non-proprietary files. I use it for training IronCAD and ZW3D. Here is an article that includes a link to Onshape for promotion.


Redback Spyder

 An Australian Supercar 




Benefit Number Four

You can use it for a translation tool. If you get major CAD system's native file in a version you can't read, you can import them in Onshape and save them in a neutral format, even a Solidworks native dumb file. But you have to delete them immediately after you do the translation if you want to keep them from being public.

Benefit Number Five

You can use it for design. Now you just have to realize your models are public.

There you go. Onshape is almost a public engineering service.

But as a viable business tool, it is highly flawed.

Here are a couple of comparisons lessons in modeling techniques.

IronCAD vs Onshape Lesson One

ZW3D vs Onshape Lesson One

Here are more lessons with all of the major and not so major CAD systems.

3D Modeling Techniques Defined

Please feel free to stop by our website below for a variety of articles on the State of our Industry, interesting articles on 3D CAD Productivity and a few of our projects!


Viewpoints on Today's 3D CAD and Engineering Industry

Here is a taste of what is there. This is my favorite and most popular article.

    The Worst to Best 3D CAD System and Why


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Joe Brouwer