Onshape might be on track to create an open engineering platform

Onshape might be on track to create an open engineering platform


Time is running fast. It has been almost 6 years since I met Hardi Meybaum co-founder of GrabCAD in one of Starbucks shops in Chestnut Hill, Mass. We’ve been talking about Marketplaces and Engineering Software. You can read my old blog here. Looking back, I think the idea of GrabCAD as a community place to share 3D data was great. To build a website that can help engineers to get out of local paces and to sell engineering services is an interesting opportunity. More about it in my another blog back in 2011 – The future of engineering communities.

GrabCAD has a good idea of community building around free 3D content. Even after acquisition of GrabCAD by Stratasys, it is still the best place for me to go and find some cool 3D CAD models for free.  But, is it enough to create a open engineering platform?

I’ve been thinking about it earlier this week when blogging about some controversy around what is actually can be considered as a platform  – Autodesk and Solidworks seem to have different views on what is “platform”. As discovered by CIMdata, platformization is an interesting trend these days. To create a engineering platform business is a challenge. But it looks like many companies in CAD and PLM domain are striving towards the “platform” opportunity. Some of them are developing new cloud software and others are hosting existing products and technologies using variety of IaaS platforms.

Although, engineering software community is very conservative, to start from a clean page can give you a competitive advantages. To take care of legacy is hard and expensive. This is especially important in cloud technologies. A new company in engineering software world, Onshape is demonstrating the combination of fresh start and full cloud vision. Onshape rolled out an impressive browser-based mechanical CAD system last year and introduced Onshape App Store recently. These two components together are already a very interesting combination. However, there is a 3rd element, which is in my view is important to realize a full potential of Onshape platform – public CAD documents.

My attention was caught by Onshape blog – Understanding of public document. It can give you a perspective on how Onshape business model plays together with Onshape cloud platform to create and manage CAD data. The interesting part is creation of public design data under Onshape free plan. Here is more details from Onshape blog:

Once a Document has been set to “Public,” it belongs in the public domain. This means that any Onshape user can copy, modify, and use your designs for any purpose. This is the intended use for Public Documents and one that we at Onshape want to encourage. Public Documents help build and grow the community and nurture sharing and open source design.

An alternative to allowing unlimited downstream use is to reserve rights in your work before posting it as public. For example, you can allow others to copy and modify your work as long as they give you credit or attach the same or a more restrictive license to any work they derive from it. To reserve rights, you must create a new tab called “LICENSE” and document the obligations you wish to impose on others within that tab in PDF or plain text format. Adding such a license as the very first tab of your Document will ensure that this is the first page a user sees, and thus will help clarify your intentions.

If you need to share your Private Documents and collaborate with others, then your partners only need a free account. A shared Document from you will only count against their Private Document limit and not against their private storage limit. Unlike traditional CAD, your entire design ecosystem, from contractors to suppliers and customers, do not have to purchase expensive desktop-installed software (with associated hardware and subscription costs) to ensure everyone is on the same release.

To create CAD design and share it under open source license is a fascinating opportunity that can turn Onshape in an ultimate place to create open source engineering projects. And this is an ideal place for open source innovation that is coming from software to hardware.

What is my conclusion? Onshape is an interesting cloud platform, which combines element of mechanical design, application development, cloud data management and open source ideas. It looks like something pretty unique if I compare it to everything else on the market. Engineering software is a very conservative domain – it takes sometimes many years to get a specific technology adopted by manufacturing companies.  It will be interesting to see the adoption speed of Onshape among different groups of engineers and manufacturing companies. Internet and cloud technologies are changing the way engineering software applications are developed, distributed and used. So, we might be surprised by the results. It is very interesting to see how such platform as Onshape will play into open engineering communities like Local Motors1B as well as wide range of open source hardware projects. Onshape is clearly one of the things to watch very closely these days. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

(c) Can Stock Photo


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  • Stan Przybylinski

    It will be interesting to watch as the App Store fills with product.

  • beyondplm

    Stan, this is indeed a very important criteria. Do you have an idea how to apply a comparable metrics from iTune and Google to measure Onshape App Store growth?

  • Stan Przybylinski

    To me it is difficult to apply lessons from iTunes to something like Onshape. What I am more interested in wrt Onshape is the breadth and depth of offerings covering what some of us call PLM. The other aspect of note is which of these solutions is actually running on the cloud too. Some of them just have integrations to be able to pull out Onshape data for their analysis.

  • beyondplm

    Do you see Onshape provides something unique compared to other cloud platforms such as A360 or 3DXPERIENCE? All of them can serve as a source of information that can be pulled for analysis.

  • Stan Przybylinski

    You spelled the Dassault Systemes platform name wrong. 🙂

    One of the (perceived) technical limitations of authoring on premise and managing on the cloud is getting the often large data up and down from the nimbus. If you have everything on the cloud you can eradicate that concern from the list. Design it there, analyze it there, only bring it down to Earth when it is absolutely necessary.

    This is consistent with Autodesk’s Forge initiative to get things built for their platform. Dassault Systemes says they want that too. Siemens has mentioned it, as has PTC. And that is something that we have talked about re platformization, i.e., platforms succeed best when there are third party applications on them. I don’t think we will get to iTunes or Google Play because not everyone can create something of value for PLM, but as you have noted Carl Bass said it will be increasingly difficult to distinguish between applications. Actually, the cloud makes the opposite possible, at least in the short term – you know precisely what people are using and how much they are using it (or not, as the case may be). Once we redesign the development process so that there are not distinct design, analysis, and other stages that have their own tools then it will become more difficult as Mr. Bass suggests.

  • beyondplm

    Stan, thanks for spelling correction – fixed!

    So, in that case the divide will be between platforms that 1-create and manage on the cloud; vs 2-manage only on the cloud.

    From that standpoint, Onshape is #1. DS is mixed and everyone else is #2. Would it be correct assumption. It was a beta version of Fusion360 that is running in the browser, but I never had a chance to touch it and understand what it does.

  • Stan Przybylinski

    I would not be so rigid about it.