How different is Onshape PDM? 

How different is Onshape PDM? article A Solidworks user look at Onshape brought my PDM twisted mind again to what I call CAD version of Turgenev’s novel “Faters an Sons. Modern CAD Onshape is competing with once modern CAD Solidworks created almost by the same group of people, but 20 years later.

Read the article and draw your opinion. The article was sponsored by Onshape. However, I found the story to be balanced – licenses, installation, geometry, import, rendering, 3rd part support, conclusion. These are highlights of the story. Each system has its high and low moments. Well established Solidworks has more features, but Onshape is uniquely developed using modern cloud technologies, so Onshape has something Solidworks doesn’t have by definition.

I found the story is not giving enough attention to PDM side of the story.  Especially if you watch Onshape webinar – 5 Reasons Why PDM is More Important then CAD. The article is spending quite a bit of time on discussing data sharing and collaboration. It is right that cloud is a special part Onshape. The article leaves one question open – how Onshape embedded PDM functions is coming compared to Solidworks equipped with PDM software (integrated and sold by Solidworks) as a single package?

Onshape online comparison gives a simple answer on this question. Check this link of Onshape vs Solidworks comparison and you can find Onshape story.

I like Onshape technology and a very unique feature set provided by embedded Onshape PDM. However, if I’d like to compare Onshape data management, to the way I can manage data using Solidworks PDM, what would be the practical difference in the way data is managed? Here are few thoughts to give you an idea.

1. Files vs Documents

Onshape doesn’t have files in a traditional sense. There is nothing you can save in your pocket and there is nothing you can put on the disk and USB drive. But, Onshape gives you very similar logical abstraction – documents. You store data (parts and assemblies) in Onshape documents. You can search for them, tag them and access from everywhere. So, conceptually you will be thinking the same, but you won’t need to do any file management work. At the same time, you cannot say that you will forget about logical breakdown. Still need to do so. Watch Best Practices for Data Management webinar from Onshape to get a better understanding of what I’m talking about.

2. Workspace/Vault vs. Online access

This is a thing that probably introduces the biggest difference between Solidworks PDM and Onshape. Traditional PDM (eg. Solidworks PDM standard) keeps data in 2 places- vault (central storage) and workspaces (for local access and edits). The work is usually done with files copied to a local workspace and then returned back after the work is done.

3. Check-In, Check-out, Revisions, Release vs Versions and Release

This is an interesting topic. Onshape is eliminating check-in and check-out mechanism. It is obvious – no files! But at the same time, Onshape has documents with versions, parts and assemblies. It is different and similar at the same time. Onshape is clearly offering an easier way to get access to information and eliminate your chance to get data messed up in a local workspace. However, concept of Release is similar, while implementation is different.

So, overall experience of working with Onshape is simpler because you don’t need to worry about local files, saving data and overriding wrong revisions. This is can happen a lot with Solidworks PDM, but not with Onshape. However, working with linked document can get you to a very similar workflow to PDM with releases and updating links to the latest version. Although, you have no chance to get wrong file (by copy wrong file to a workspace), but still you need to remember what version linked to what and in large assemblies and can get complicated. Release management logic in Onshape on a high level is similar to release logic in many PDM/PLM products in the market. None of these PDM/PLM products are on the cloud like Onshape, but logically will give you very similar workflow of data (except of files located in the cloud).

What is my conclusion? So, how to choose between  Onshape vs Solidworks/PDM bundle? There is no simple answer. However, if I will abstract from modeling and other CAD-related factors, what would be the choice for a better PDM systems? Here are some thoughts… I think both solutions are focusing on how to manage CAD data. Onshape is clearly modern cloud-based approach giving you lot of advanced features. The technology is beautiful and features are stunning. When you need to share data online and collaborate, you cannot beat Onshape with any PDM package because of vertical integration. Conservative CAD/IT buyer might not be comfortable with going Onshape. On the other side Solidworks bundled with PDM is proven product with relatively high price tag if you go to Professional package, but free if you decide for PDM standard. It is of course not including installation and IT services, which you don’t need to worry if you choose Onshape. However, sometimes PDM buyer is IT person. Is there a path between Onsahpe in the cloud and Solidworks PDM installed on your corporate servers? I guess yes – look on companies that hosting Solidworks PDM solutions in the cloud. I don’t want to promote specific vendors, so I will leave it at this point. Getting back to my original question… Onshape is a different technology, which is the future. But for immediate buyer, there is no obvious decision here. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PS. Next week, I’m in Dallas, TX to attend SOLIDWORKS World 2019. I’m sure Dassault Systemes will talk about xDesign – a long awaited child of SOLIDWORKS and CATIA marriage. Look forward to share my thoughts from SWW 2019.

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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