Onshape vs Solidworks – a CAD version of “Fathers and Sons” novel?

Onshape vs Solidworks – a CAD version of “Fathers and Sons” novel?

A novel by Ivan Turgenev “Fathers and Sons” was a real landmark for his time. According to some sources it was the first Russian novel to gain prominence in the Western world. The image of the protagonist Eugene Bazarov was perceived by the youth as an example for imitation. Such ideals as uncompromising, lack of admiration for authorities and old truths, priority of useful over the beautiful, were perceived by people of that time and were reflected in Bazarov’s world view.

You can ask me, how is that related to CAD? Or even PLM? There is a topic in CAD world that drives my strong association with Trugenev’s novel. It is a story about Solidworks and Onshape. The story about Solidworks is written in many books about entrepreneurship. Here is the piece published by Babson college and you can find in few published books like this one – Technological Ventures.

Engineering.com article Is 3DEXPERIENCE the Right Path for SOLIDWORKS? Face to Face with CEO Gian Paolo Bassi – TV Report caught my attention by raising an issue of a potential difference between 2 generations of engineers.

According to the article, things are going very well for Solidworks. The company can look back on a sensational 2016. In what most analysts regard as a mature market, SOLIDWORKS’ CEO Gian Paolo Bassi has delivered great results over the past three years. However, one of the things according to Engineering.com article. Here is the passage:

There is still one big issue casting a shadow on Bassi’s leadership: the challenge of getting the SOLIDWORKS user community to adopt the tools and platforms that modern forms of product development require.

Articles brings lot of interesting points about Solidworks development trajectories, market, users and future Solidworks plans to bring new tools and platforms. Read the article and draw your opinion. Solidworks is a great example of mainstream success, customer loyalty and conservative engineering. My favorite passage is about Solidworks customers loyalty and conservative market.

Some 20-plus years after its debut, SOLIDWORKS may have the most loyal customers in the world. However, those who worked with it have done so for more than two decades. Changing tools and the way you work is hard, and breaking these learned patterns is a tough task.

“The manufacturing world is very conservative and what we provide right now with SOLIDWORKS is mission critical. This means that you don’t throw brand new platform technology at them and expect things to happen immediately. This is also related to the idea that ‘going platform’ implies business transformation. If you give a platform to a business that uses old workflows, a new technology doesn’t make any sense,” the SOLIDWORKS leader commented.

Solidworks user group lead Denny Bahl believes the future is cloud and tablets, but at the same time claims that if Solidworks won’t break, it will have customers for life:

Does 3DX have a future? “I think so,” said Bahl. “Especially in light of the popularity of tablets, on-the-go computing and mobile phones. Wherever you’re at, if you have access to internet and the Cloud, with Xdesign you can start collaborating and work on your design anywhere you want, on any tool you want. I think that has potential.”

For the moment, however, the number one priority is for SOLIDWORKS to remain a robust mechanical 3D CAD solution with ever-better performance. “Yes, the main two concerns of the community are still better performance and stability; a good quality software that doesn’t crash. As long as they keep concentrating on that, they will have customers for life,” Bahl said.

Can you see a nihilistic threat to remove lifetime dominance Solidworks? Onshape is a new brainchild of Jon Hirschtick and few ex-members of Solidworks team introduced the concept of full-cloud CAD and agile product design platform. Onshape has a goal to change the status quo in CAD business. Read more here – Why we started from scratch again in the CAD business.

Few days ago, I found a very interesting presentation published by Connor Shannon – Onshape vs Solidworks. Here is how Connor defines the reason to use Onshape:

I made this presentation for a student prototyping robotics course I am TAing. Solidworks was my first real CAD program, and I have all the respect for their software, but full cloud CAD is the future, and Onshape will lead the way.

The following 2 slides in Connor’s presentation are reflecting both sides – conservative behavior of SW users and future of full-cloud platform.

What is my conclusion? Solidworks vs Onshape. A grown up adult vs young startup. For me, it was a point I thought Turgenev’s novel is such a great analogy.  Eugene Bazarov was a symbol and an ideal for imitation. He was followed by new generation of people going against admiration of authorities and established norms. Onshape is very much a symbol of new development. However, technology is different from literature. Zero files strategy, Solidworks re-sellers, new full-cloud technology, existing Solidworks tools, bridge 3DX products and new teams interested to learn new products. CAD industry ecosystem has lots of moving parts. And the jury is still out. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing cloud-based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups, and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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  • Alfred Katzenbach

    Hi Oleg, great article with a lot of truth. Alfred

  • beyondplm

    Alfred, thank you!

  • Connor Shannon

    Very interesting, and thanks for the mention. I believe that Solidworks has its place, particularly in established industries and companies, but as the founder of a new startup I wouldn’t consider using Solidworks now that Onshape is a player.

  • Douglas Jones

    Solidworks needs to do more than “not crash” and ride legacy goodwill to survive as a client based tool. The cost and convenience arguments for cloud CAD are similarly effective (or even better) than other business systems. Now that Onshape has achieved this, the pressure will begin mounting quickly. Especially with Solidworks forcing expensive, limited-value PDM migrations in ’18.

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  • beyondplm

    Connor, thanks for sharing your point of view. Do you see established companies making their way from SW to Onshape? Is it human problem? Cost? Habits?

  • beyondplm

    Douglas, thanks for your comment! I can see you point of convenience arguments. Having system run in a browser is a big plus. What is PDM migration ’18? Is it a move from Workgroup PDM to Standard PDM?

  • Doug J

    Yes. SW ’18 will not be compatible with legacy Workgroup PDM. So companies on Workgroup now need to consider migration to the newer platform and server upgrades, which is a major investment. This will likely open the door to competitors offering more modern platforms or cheaper solutions.

  • Connor Shannon

    I do see it happening, but it will take time, and it will depend on the industry. Companies with more small projects can make the switch much more easily.

  • beyondplm

    Doug, from your experience, who will be a good candidate to compete with Workgroup PDM today on the market?

  • beyondplm

    Connor, I agree, small projects are low hanging fruits for technologies such as Onshape. But inertia is still one of the key competitive factors. Cost was a significant factor in the past when SW kicked out PTC.

    Inertia is a big deal in PLM. In case you missed, here is my article. http://beyondplm.com/2015/06/08/inertia-is-still-a-major-problem-in-plm-adoption/. I wonder if the same inertia will keep Solidworks users in Solidworks. The scale of company should make a difference IMO.

    What do you think?

  • Doug J

    I don’t see anything comparable to Onshape out there. Considering that basic vaulting is included with the Onshape CAD, justifying capital investments in traditional client/server PDM will be near impossible going forward for many companies. And PDM justification was already tough before a legit cloud tool arrived on the scene.

  • shooter7a

    Sorry but this is delusional nonsense. All these predictions about Cloud and Tablet come from so called tech gurus…etc…and not actual real users (ie small to medium sized mfg and engineering companies). Didn’t Solidworks float Cloud in about 2012…the response overwhelmingly very negative. Dassalt had a phenomenal 2016…and they did it by sticking to basics.

  • beyondplm

    Doug, I thought SW PDM standard is free. So, what capital investment are you talking about?

  • beyondplm

    You’re right, Dassault are marketing cloud and selling existing desktop products a
    lot. The slides above are from users and the point is clear – cloud, collaboration, embedded data management. It is just a matter of time.

  • Doug J

    Server upgrades and data migration. And once you are committed to those efforts, there is a strong push to upgrade to the paid PDM.

  • beyondplm

    Doug, got it. You mean push from SW side?

  • Doug J

    Yes. But really, once you commit to spend big $$ on the migration, it probably makes sense to spend the incremental $$ and roll it into the paid PDM version. Then, at least you’d have some new functionality to help “sell” the investment internally.

  • oops

    Betting on the cloud needs to be looked at in the context of the constant system breaches on what are thought to be some of the most secure systems there are and the threat of remote cyber warfare. Apps depend on the cloud is a step back to dependence on a mainframe.

  • beyondplm

    So, what is a step forward then?

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