For as long as I can remember, cloud storage and computing have offered two things – endless (unrealistic) promises and perpetual (unrealistic) growth. For some time that was true, but several things have occurred in the past couple of years that temper those claims and portend what may happen in the future for technology providers that become increasingly reliant on the cloud – reliability, accessibility, and security.
Cloud computing, or internet-based computing provide shared processing resources and data to computers and other devices on demand. From the beginning, it was intended as a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort.
Proponents have always claimed that cloud computing allows companies to avoid upfront infrastructure costs, and focus on projects that differentiate their businesses instead of on infrastructure. Proponents have also claimed that cloud computing allows enterprises to get their applications up and running faster, with improved manageability and less maintenance, and enables IT to more rapidly adjust resources to meet fluctuating and unpredictable business demand. Cloud providers typically use a “pay as you go” model. This can lead to unexpectedly high charges if administrators do not adapt to the cloud pricing model. Even so, the potential for premium MCAD with minimal computing hardware cost make the prospect attractive and compelling.
To a large extent most of these claims have proven true, and I have been a proponent for many aspects of cloud computing, but there is also a downside – generally, you just don’t need as many people to run and maintain a cloud-based organization.
Almost all of today’s CAD products are pretty capable right out of the box, but I’ve often wanted them to do more to suit my particular needs and workflow. Over the years I’ve created macros and used Visual Basic and AutoLISP for defining, customizing, and automating functions and processes not found in CAD products out of the box. My results varied widely – some were good, some were OK, and some were downright unpredictable and bad.
Several years passed and I didn’t really do too much with CAD programming, so my interest waned. That all changed, though, when cloud-based Onshape’s FeatureScript came along earlier this summer.
FeatureScript is a programming language designed by Onshape for building and working with 3D parametric models. The language is built into Onshape and provides the foundation of Part Studio modeling, including geometric references, parametric tools, and a type system with types built for math in three dimensions.
The standard feature types in Onshape, such as Extrude, Fillet, and Helix are already written as FeatureScript functions. Using FeatureScript, custom feature types extend this same function mechanism to Onshape.
Is FeatureScript the first specific programming language to be released for a CAD product? No, not exactly, but it is unique in many ways and adds to Onshape’s positive differentiation in the crowded CAD marketplace.
With all the fanfare that took place a couple years ago with the launch of cloud-based Onshape, we thought we’d weigh in with partner Geometric’s announcement of its STL Workshop.
Onshape is by no means the first cloud-based/mobile CAD application. It was and still is, however, a unique true cloud-based technology and not a desktop/cloud hybrid.
Onshape began with what was one of the best and worst kept secrets in the engineering software arena. Worst, because even early on, it was evident that the technology would be cloud based, even if virtually no details were disclosed. Best, because virtually no details were disclosed, and that just added to the anticipation for the official launch of Onshape.
One of the inherent advantages that Onshape has always had is the fact that it was created from scratch by a team used to creating things from scratch with no legacy baggage to overcome and work around. Of course, the development team has not done everything themselves, because Onshape includes software components from Siemens PLM (Parasolid; ironically the same modeling kernel used by SolidWorks) and D-Cubed. This component licensing has let the Onshape team focus its efforts on what it does best.
As a first-year Denver Math Fellow (I assist math teachers and tutor in small groups), last week I was give a reprieve from my daily grind of lesson plans and teaching by participating in what my school calls Explore Week. This is a week where I was partnered with a teacher, chose a topic to explore with students, made a video promoting our explore class, and had students sign up to join us.
The topic my teaching partner and I decided on was “Creating Furniture Using Non-Traditional Methods and Materials.” Our course included designing and creating furniture models from cardboard, as well as 3D printing simple models. It was a lot of fun, and as I said, a nice change of pace, not to mention I really felt I was in my comfort zone.
Explore Week was made possible by the efforts of several companies, including:
Today, Onshape for Android, claimed to be the first 3D CAD system to run on Android phones and tablets, was released. The new mobile release comes just five months after the launch of Onshape Beta, a full-cloud 3D CAD system that lets design teams simultaneously work together on the same model using a web browser, phone, or tablet.
This is big news because, as far as I know, Onshape for Android is the first 3D CAD app that lets you create designs on Android platforms, whereas other CAD companies have only a viewer.
“We founded Onshape with a vision to make CAD accessible on any device, anywhere,” says Onshape founder and Chairman of the Board, Jon Hirschtick. “We’re proud to be the first in the industry to run on Android. And by ‘run,’ I mean really run. You’re not just viewing models. You’re able to sketch, extrude, fillet, shell, create 3D models, edit their shape and size, and put them into assemblies.”
Editing An Assembly On A Nexus Android Tablet
3D CAD users are no longer restricted to one primary workstation, as their data is now readily available on practically any device. In addition to Android, Onshape also runs on iPhones and iPads – and in a web browser on Mac, Windows, and Linux.
“When we first started, a lot of people were skeptical that CAD could be done on such a small device,” explains Ravi Reddy, team lead for Onshape Mobile. “We solved the precision selection problem and made sketching easy with touch-based finger offset tools. We added intuitive lock and unlock modes to help with pan, zoom, and rotate operations for sketching and assemblies.”
“We rejected the standard notion of providing a view-only version of CAD on mobile or choosing a subset of features,” he adds. “We were determined to build a full CAD product that can be used anywhere and from any device.”
Keep in mind, though, the mobile app is not intended to replace Onshape’s use on desktops and laptops – it is meant to expand a CAD user’s access to their work outside the home or office.
As much as I have tried to resist the temptation to gush all over myself, I’ve had a tough time restraining my enthusiasm for the myriad cloud-based computing and storage options that have come online in the recent past and their potential. OK, it’s time for a reality check – facts, fallacies, myths, and risks.
Keep in mind, though, that Onshape is online only and always requires a Web connection to be functional. With connectivity so universally ubiquitous, this shouldn’t pose a problem for a majority of prospective users. At this time, the company has no plans for making Onshape available offfline, so if this is an issue or concern, then Onshape may not be a design tool for you. However, that said, I’d encourage you to check out Onshape.
Also, I pointed out that as interesting Onshape is, it is by no means the first or only cloud-based technical/design/engineering software offering. As a matter of fact, it turns out there are quite a few, including:
Admittedly, this is not an exhaustive list, and is not meant to be. I just wanted to provide some of the cloud-based tools currently available. I also realize that the above have different features and capabilities, so it’s not an “apples to apples” comparison.
While the following video is a few years old, and some of the technologies discussed have been superseded or retired, it provides a good overview for novices of what cloud computing is about.
With all the fanfare that took place earlier this week with the official launch of the Beta version of cloud-based Onshape, we thought we’d let the dust settle a bit before weighing in. That said, it’s actually a couple of days after the new dawn for 3D CAD.
Keep in mind, though, as impressive as it is out of the gate, Onshape is by no means the first cloud-based/mobile CAD application. It is, however, a unique true cloud-based technology and not a desktop/cloud hybrid.
Onshape began a couple of years ago and was one of the best and worst kept secrets in the engineering software arena. Worst, because even early on, it was evident that the technology would be cloud based, even if virtually no details were disclosed. Best, because virtually no details were disclosed (until relatively recently under NDA) that just added to the anticipation for the official launch of the Onshape Beta earlier this week.
About a year ago I asked Jon Hirschtick (Onshape’s founder and co-founder of SolidWorks) about Onshape and he said that it was indeed real, and would happen, but kept his cards close to the chest and just said the industry would be turned upside down with what he and his team were working on. Again, having experienced what I have with Onshape in its infancy, Hirschtick’s statement was an understatement.
The video clip that follows outlines the “why” behind building this new set of cloud-based Onshape technologies.