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collaboration in Onshape

Once upon a time we shoved pounds of paper into binders and carted them off to the conference rooms for design reviews, sifting through them under bad lighting and a hazy caffeine buzz from coffee that was clearly past the expiration date.

Things improved slightly when we realized our models could be smashed into .zip files and shot across the internet within a few minutes. This was so common in fact that SolidWorks built the ability to zip files up right into the software, keeping the file structure and references intact. Pack and Go. Most often, I use SolidWorks Pack and Go to duplicate models, but a lot of the time it’s how I ‘collaborate’ with other people and teams on a project. That way of working seems ancient now, so when I used Pack and Go again YESTERDAY, I thought, “I need to pack and go ON A VACATION,” then I thought, “There has got to be a smarter way to share these flippin’ files!”

So, here we are. We mindlessly Pack and Go assemblies. That’s how it’s done, it’s how we’ve always done it (a topic to kick in the face another time), it’s how others expect it — but then what?

Let’s attack the possibilities.


Email’s cockroach-like resilience is how we get so much done. It’s also how we get absolutely nothing done. It’s been there for us when we need to send Pack and Go attachment after Pack and Go attachment. But here’s the problem. It’s not secure–not in the slightest. It has file size limits–email rejected. It has attachment limits–email rejected again. Then if the recipients get it, SolidWorks version incompatibility–”SolidWorks cannot open future version”, yay teamwork. And they don’t even have SolidWorks–Fu…crying out loud. And how do you track changes? Nope, there has got to be a better way.

Dropbox (or equivalent)

I am such a fan of Dropbox, it’s borderline psychosis. This (and Box) are how I’ve kept organized for nearly a decade. The simplicity, the flexibility and the access just add up to a great solution to store and backup life. But for SolidWorks models? That’s where I hit a wall. We’re back to a lot of the same problems seen with email. They need SolidWorks. They need a compatible version of SolidWorks. And suddenly, there are multiple copies of the files–one on your computer, one in the cloud, and another on the computer(s) of the people you sent it to. How do you track changes in that scenario? Outside larger storage limits, it’s the exact same problem.


Onshape? How does a cloud-based 3D modeling system fit into this list? How about I show you?

View Publicly Shared Document

It was dead simple for me to upload and share that with you. You can open and see the model right away in all its 3D glory. As long as the zip file name is the name of the top-level assembly (which is automatically done in SolidWorks), it’s ready to upload and view. File compatibility–not an issue. I now have better control of the data. I can revoke access, change access or include others AT ANY TIME. Then there’s version control and the ability to do direct editing on the model. If I need to collaborate, like really collaborate together with someone, there’s follow mode for real time meetings, even chat if I like. Mobile? Yeah, people can access, view and interact with the model on a mobile phone, an iPad or any computer with an internet connection (PC, Mac, Linux, Chromebook). I can get it to a designer for review, manufacturing for comment or vendor for quote. I can get it to a buyer earlier to lock in agreements and to marketing teams earlier for screenshots and media prep.


And best of all, this is just one more way to stop using email. So, let’s break this down in a fancy matrix.

Email vs. Dropbox vs. Onshape

  Email Dropbox Onshape
Share without copies
File Size Restrictions *
Control access to model (Edit and Share, Edit, View and comment, View Only)
See when someone accesses the model
Revoke access to model
Track changes to model
Follow mode (Share your screen)
Share with public (open source design)
View model in 3D
Translate on-demand (IGES, STEP, SAT, Parasolid, Older SW)
Direct Editing
Version Control

*File size restrictions do exist when a free Onshape user is sharing large data with another free Onshape user.

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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.