Onshape is one step closer to realization of Carl Bass’ machine learning vision

Onshape is one step closer to realization of Carl Bass’ machine learning vision

CAD industry has its own rock-stars. And both Carl Bass (former CEO of Autodesk) and Jon Hirschtick  (CEO of Onshape and founder of Solidworks) are part of the rock start CAD group. They are incredibly interesting individuals to meet and talk. I had a privilege to have conversations with both and enjoyed every moment of these meetings. You can see how Jon and Carl are sharing their opinion in  public. Check Solid Smack three years ago – Carl Bass + Jon Hirschtick = CAD Interview of the Year. I also had an opportunity to capture and share their visions and my comments earlier – Jon Hirschtick and Carl Bass are in agreement about future of CAD and Autodesk and Onshape disagree about cloud technology and focus.

Two articles incidentally came at the same day – Onshape Enterprise announcement and CAD Insider blog – Carl Bass disses Onshape. And it made me think the power of engineering data.

Onsahpe article by Dave Corcoran speaks about new Onsahpe Enterprise capabilities to help larger teams and complex organizations. It brings many interesting things, but my favorite passage is about Visibility:

Visibility. Over the past decade, the amount of data flowing in large companies has increased dramatically in every department except engineering. The finance, HR, marketing, sales, manufacturing, and software development team managers have real-time access to incredible amounts of data on every aspect of their operations with tools that help them make use of it efficiently. But not the engineering team. They struggle to answer even the most basic questions: How much of our engineering time has been spent on which aspect of the product? How long was that contractor actually working on the design? Has the manufacturing partner even opened the design yet? Who has access to what? Is this the latest version? Who knows?

Onshape makes lot of data and analytics about engineering activities available for an entire organization. If your CAD data stuck in files on the hard drives or servers, you’re loosing an opportunity to understand how your organization actually performing.


Onshape Document network is an interesting visualization of data relationships. You can think about machine learning opportunity to leverage this network and data.

Onshape is not alone in their focus on data, analytics and performance improvement.  Bombs Drop in San Francisco: Carl Bass Disses Onshape article put lot of focus and emotions around Onshape business and traction. I will leave it to CAD journalists.Here is a passage about what Carl Bass thinks is important. However, my favorite part is Carl Bass’ comments about machine learning.

Bass was critical of the CAD industry for not having done much of anything new in 25 years—though he had led the CAD market leader for 11 of those years. He talked about asking a group of designers what CAD software they use and remarked that their CAD applications were “older than they are. “According to Bass, the last interesting thing that happened to CAD was SOLIDWORKS—and that was 25 years ago.

Bass has a lot of respect for what the founders (including Hirschtick) did with SOLIDWORKS, offering a big chunk of what Pro/ENGINEER could do at the price of AutoCAD, which ran on $3,000 computers. That mattered. This [Onshape] doesn’t matter. Bass wants to talk about more interesting things, like machine learning,and said, “Onshape is not one of them.”

I can see a disconnect between seeing Onshape as “Solidworks in the browser”. It is the same mistake as to see cloud PLM as the same PLM  system just running on Amazon servers. Both mistakes are coming from not recognizing an element of data connectivity, analytics, machine learning and decision support.

It reminded me that Autodesk back few years ago was making an effort for data analytics and machine learning. It was a project to create “design graph” and finding 3D parts. Check my article – Finding 3D parts is  sweet sport for search, machine learning and analytics:

Here is an article where Mike Haley of Autodesk speaks about machine learning and intelligence. I found this passage interesting:

The introduction of Design Graph and related search interface by Autodesk can demonstrate a continuous interest into collecting and analyzing data.

Introduced last summer, Autodesk’s Design Graph is another machine learning system that helps users manage 3D content, offering Google search-like functionality for 3D models, says Mike Haley, who leads the machine intelligence group at Autodesk. “Machine learning and artificial intelligence are starting to make the first inroads into daily life, but to our knowledge this is its very first application for industrial design and mechanical engineering,” Haley says.

Design Graph algorithms extract large amounts of 3D design data from an engineering company’s designs. It then creates a catalog by categorizing each component and design using a classification and relationship system. Designers and engineers search across all of their files for a part type, such as a bolt or a bike seat, with the tool returning dozens or hundreds of pertinent options. So how does machine learning come into play? The system teaches computers to identify and understand designs based on their inherent characteristics–their shape and structure–rather than by tags or metadata, Haley says.

Few years ago, I’ve been listening to Carl Bass at AU talks about talks about the power of new ideas, disruption caused by machine learning technology and how Autodesk is finding opportunities from the disruption of his own business. Watch the video and it will help you to connect dots about Carl’s view on cloud and emerging trends in manufacturing.

What is my conclusion? It is interesting to see cloud trajectories for the last 5-7 years in CAD and PLM industry. It started in one place like browser-based CAD, then moved into evolution of business models, collaboration, hidden data management and now slowly, but surely moving to a place to leverage data for better decision making and analytics. In my view, Onshape is making steps in the direction of using more data for better user experience and supporting organizational processes. Data is the most important IP asset companies have. I’d be happy to discuss how CAD and PLM companies will be able to leverage data in the future and invite both Carl and Jon to join me in this conversation on Beyond PLM.

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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  • Scott Reese

    As you suggest, we have always believed that data centric workflows have been the key missing ingredient from the tools of the past. Good to see Onshape agreeing with us.

  • beyondplm

    Scott, Yes- whoever will unlock the power of data in engineering software will become “Google for manufacturing”.