Is Cloud CAD Ready to Take Over?
It has been over 50 years since Sketchpad, the forefather of modern Computer Aided Design, CAD, first infiltrated design studios. Since then CAD capabilities have expanded exponentially, and packages such as Solidworks, Creo and Autodesk have long been utilised across the globe in design and engineering studios of all types. This software helps designers to iterate, visualise, detail and analyse form and function far more rapidly and precisely than they were ever able to do by hand.
As we delve deeper into a sharing economy, moving more and more of our lives, data and processing into the cloud, from email servers (Gmail, Live) to document production (Office 365, Google Docs), it seems only natural that there would come a time where cloud CAD would enter the marketplace.
A New Player
Onshape is one of the most exciting new entrants to the cloud CAD world, promising a strong feature list including cloud processing (allowing access to models on low-powered devices such as tablets), elimination of versioning issues, and unique sharing opportunities with clients and production partners around the world. We decided to delve a little deeper into Onshape, and over the last few months have been testing the capabilities of the package to see if it can be of benefit to Bayly and our customers.
CAD Sharing With Onshape
One of the most successful features of Onshape is the ability to present 3D models to clients remotely. Up until recently, presenting a 3D model to a client in order to discuss features or details has been possible in 3 ways:
Onshape offers a more interactive alternative to traditional screen sharing, allowing multiple users to log into the same file at once and see what each other are doing. Single user can control the screen with others adding notes, or all users can simultaneously view, edit, and markup the design. When working with clients with an understanding of CAD functions and modelling, this package definitely offers benefits for collaborative work, however for less CAD savvy clients it offers limited benefits beyond a more traditional screen sharing.
CAD Design With Onshape
Designing models from scratch in Onshape is a mixed bag. The basics are well covered. Sketches, planes, extrudes, lofts, drafts, sweeps and edge detailing features are all covered well enough for most purposes. Where Onshape falls short of more established CAD packages, is in more complex modelling and model analysis. On the detail side, surface modelling is also a little limited, which makes it difficult to produce complex surface forms and organic shapes.
The greatest concern is the lack of analysis available in the package. When modelling parts for production, especially moulded components, it is essential to ensure adequate and correctly oriented draft to allow easy removal from moulds. Without a method for checking draft degree or orientation of a finished part, Onshape lags well behind the established competition in design assessment, greatly reducing its current viability as a serious design-for-manufacture tool. Likewise the program currently lacks other dimension and detail checking features that are a standard part of traditional CAD packages.
Given the greatly reduced licensing fees for Onshape when compared with more established players, it is no real surprise that it does not match up entirely in features. Third parties offer solutions to some of the limitations, however their third party nature leaves question-marks over their long term availability, in a professional design studio relying on a myriad of third party add-ons can be risky when dealing with projects over extended time periods.
It is great to see creativity in design tools, from CAD to prototyping. Faster, easier, more efficient ways to communicate, design, prototype, and produce have allowed us to design and develop products with a level of detail and complexity which would have been unfathomable in decades past.
As a leader in Product Design here in Melbourne, Bayly is always keeping an eye on the latest innovations in our field, in order to be able to offer the best possible results and solutions to our clients. While cloud based CAD may not be the best solution for now for the reasons outlined above, we look forward to what the future may bring.