It’s been a forest of quiet chirps, gentle rains and hidden high fives in Cambridge, MA, headquarters of Onshape. The company launched quietly in 2012 as Belmont Technology Inc. and started turning heads with an all-star roster of CAD industry elite. Now with a shapely new name and a team of nearly 100, you can expect they’re working on something big. From the crew they have amassed, licensing the Parasolid kernel, and website copy that reveals they are indeed “applying cloud, web and mobile technologies to CAD”, it’s evident a new 3D modeling platform is set to emerge. And, with a pre-production version already in the hands of design teams, set to emerge soon. We’re certain it could change the landscape of product development and everyone we’ve talk with is anxious to learn more.

Last week that happened.

Onshape published their first blog post, their first tweet and their first Facebook post. Why break the silence? Well, we suspect it’s leading up to the highly anticipated product launch, but also to ask one question.


Jon Hirschtick, founder and Chairman at Onshape, provides the answer. What does he say after 50 years of CAD development history and 30 years of personal experience in the industry?

“Today is still the beginning. Today, we’re still just getting started.”

Now, if you’ve just turned into an old lady, crossed your arms and started shaking your head at that, flatten out that scowl. He breaks down why he views today as the beginning, addressing the desire to start completely fresh with five reasons.

The Design World Has Changed – The way that design and manufacturing teams work together has dramatically changed. Teams that used to be under one roof are now fragmented and globally distributed. And teams are also changing faster, with people coming on and off projects all the time. Traditional CAD was never built for this new model of distributed design – we know because we’re the ones who built it.

The Computing World Has Changed – We are in the midst of the biggest change ever in computing platform technology, from the old world of desktop PCs to the new world of cloud, web and mobile computing. Younger people have grown up in a post-desktop world and have different expectations about computers. They don’t even think about having “a computer.” They walk in with their laptops and their tablets and their mobile phones. They expect computing to be modern and available anywhere, anytime on any device. Cloud, web and mobile technologies are our exciting new raw materials for creating CAD – they are like carbon fiber is to Boeing or battery chemistry is to Tesla. And if used properly, they have tremendous potential to solve many of the problems faced by today’s CAD users.

I Feel an Obligation to My Customers – I feel a strong connection to the countless designers and engineers who have bought CAD systems that I’ve helped build. I can’t walk away from them now. I’m an engineer, too. At Onshape, we truly think we have an obligation to try to improve the way our fellow engineers design products. Personally, I’ve also dreamed of eliminating the everyday hassles of traditional CAD. I just love the idea of not having to install software and never having to worry about backing up my stuff.

Nobody Else is Meeting the Challenge – We’re not alone in realizing it’s time to move CAD to the cloud. Others in the CAD industry are now enhancing their file-based installed software with some kind of cloud storage. This is a step in the right direction, but it is not really a complete cloud solution. You cannot fully take advantage of the latest cloud, web and mobile technologies unless you architect your CAD system from scratch specifically for the cloud, web and mobile. That’s what we are doing here at Onshape. The cloud is not an afterthought — it’s our primary thought.

I Want to Make CAD Fun Again – I visit CAD users all the time. Years ago, we’d talk about all the fun stuff in CAD: how to design cool shapes, cool products, cool machines. But recently, users mostly tell me about the hassles of sharing files and using different versions of CAD, the prohibitive cost of software licenses, and the challenges of PDM. Sigh.

Those are some potent arguments. Number five, let’s just say it, Make CAD Fun = Disrupt Things, because yeah, those hassles make us sigh too, Jon. Number one may seem a stretch if working collaboratively for you means shouting over a cubicle wall, just as it did 20 years ago. However, nothing is more true that number two. If you have kids, you’ve probably experienced them jabbing their fingers into your desktop monitor or asking you to see what’s on the ‘screen’ of anything you’re holding in your hand. I’m convinced there will be a surge of rebellious, young 8th grade Onshape users with ‘This ain’t your grandpappy’s CAD’ spray-painted on the back of their tablets.

Jon’s reasons reveal the foundation of why they’re starting fresh and why we may look back at this as when CAD software really took shape, but you’ll have to request early access to actually see how they plan to disrupt things with the new software. Of course, the comments of a blog post always reveal a little more.

First, Jon addresses some questions about platform…

“We let you run on pretty much anything: Mac, Chromebook, Windows, Linux, phones, tablets, etc. The goal of pure-cloud systems like Onshape is that you do not to even have to think anymore about whether we run on this-or-that computer or OS or version of an OS. Any device, anywhere.”

Then addresses PDM…

“We tried with traditional PDM, but fundamentally the architecture of copying files around, to and from servers and desktops, is just not a good basis for solving version control and collaboration problems. We think we have a better way to solve the problems, and no PDM system is needed.”

In addressing current CAD user interface design and “too many buttons on buttons,” he replies…

“We think we have some true strategies to solve that. And we definitely have a different UI look.”

Mac, Windows, phone or tablet. No PDM system needed. The files stay in one place. Different UI look. Now those sound like interesting and wonderful things. We’ll continue to anxiously anticipate what they have planned and what you have to say about it.


Josh is founder and editor at, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.