6 ways Onshape helps you dump your Laptop!


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Phil Foley, guest blogger

1.   You no longer have to travel with a laptop

Engineers, designers and other users of Solidworks, Inventor, Creo and Rhino, it’s time to dump your laptops. Onshape is the first web-based 3D Computer-aided-design package.
Can a web-based package handle or even compete with your custom built, rock solid Workstation? Yes.

For the short time I’ve been using Onshape I have seen several updates and new videos added to their site. The site also boasts a Learning Center that offers self-paced learning videos that I found to be very good. You can also obtain Instructor led training videos that range from $150, $250 to $500 USD. Their free video offerings will get you up to speed.

Solidworks and Inventor users will feel at home with this product due to its similar workflow and terminology. The learning curve is not steep at all. I was up and running in an hour, and after two weeks I was teaching students how to design using Onshape.

2.   Free and easy signup

I went to Onshape and it was a simple free signup. They offer Student, Teacher and Hobbyist accounts that are free. The only catch here is that your files are part of their Public library. For professional users, Onshape offers only a flat $125 per month, paid annually, which equates to $1,500 per year in a single payment.

The six founders of Onshape helped build Solidworks into a world leader in 3D design software. So, Solidworks users will feel a similar work flow. You can find info on the founders here.

The image in Figure 1 shows the login screen.

You will be happy with the intuitive User Interface mixed with CSS stylings and talented java scripting.

3.   The interface is smooth and quick

I surfed in the Public folder for a file that looked interesting and found a Nvidia Geforce GTX-980 Ti Video Card designed and uploaded by Zoran Simeonov. I could not find any meta data on the file so I decided to test the Export functions. I exported this file by Right Clicking (RC) on the Assembly tab located at the bottom of your screen and then selecting Export in the options menu as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 2-Nvidia GTX 980

Figure 3- Nvidia GTX 980

Exporting to Solidworks format creates a 13 Mb file, exporting to an STL file created a smaller 6.18 Mb file and Rhino created a whopping 38.32 Mb file size. Just for fun I imported the files into Rhino and they came in clean and with no noticeable data loss.

I wanted to add some stress to Onshape to see what it could handle so I created an assembly file and added 12 GTX Video Cards. Based on the file sizes I mentioned, a Solidworks assembly file with 12 video cards would be in the neighborhood of 163 Mb, STL roughly 74.16 Mb and Rhino bloating out at around 459.6 Mb. I closed the assembly and reopened it. It took a long 15+ seconds to open, however, it seemed to do all the heavy lifting upon opening.

After the assembly file loaded I was able to rotate it as if it was a single Socket Cap Screw. By Right Clicking and holding, I was able to rotate the entire assembly without any video pixilation, video drag or delay; it was smooth.

Figure 4- RC on the Assembly Tab

Figure 5- Export Options

4.   Sheet Metal Modeling is intuitive, quick, and fun to use

Sheet Metal Modeling in Onshape couldn’t be easier.   I sketched a quick Center Point Rectangle, clicked OK, then selected the Sheet Medal Model button. The following image shows the 2D sketch on the top plane with two edges selected. The two selected edges are new Sheet Metal flanges.

Figure 6- Sheet Metal Tool Bar

Figure 7 – Two edges selected to create the first Sheet Metal Flanges

The real power of the Sheet Metal Modeling comes when you want to look at multiple views. Selecting the Sheet Metal mode, two new Icons appear.

Figure 8 – Two new Tabs appear when you enter Sheet Metal Model mode

The Tab and Flat View bring up a LIVE 3 view display (Fig. 10)

Figure 10- Sheet Metal Table and Flat View

The image in Figure 10 shows the multi view layout. You can interact or modify any view. Let’s assume for a moment that I wanted to change the Bend Radius of Joints A through D. When bent, these four bends represent the base of this chassis. I have typically gone back into the 3D model to make this edit. I know Solidworks and other Parametric Modelers also show bend tables, and they can be edited. I do however, feel this visual interface allows for rapid edits and updates. Looking at Figure 10, notice when I select Joint C in the Bend Radius Table, the actual bend is highlighted in all three views as well.

One of my favorite features in Sheet Metal modeling is the Automatic Mitering. You can toggle this feature on/off by selecting or deselecting the checkbox Automatic Miter box. See Figure 9.

Figure 9 – Adding Flanges and Automatic Miters

Figure 11- Live Editing with Bend Radius Table

5.   Creating Drawings with all associated data at your fingertips

I was pleased when I started to add drawings. The typical dimensioning tools were available including the ability to add your BOM, Insert a DXF/DWG or Image files too. The presentation of information was done well. As you can see in Figure 13, I had more than ten files open. My entire design was displayed nicely using Tabs located across the bottom of my screen. My entire design was at my fingertips.

Figure 12- Onshape offers a robust set of Drawing tools

Figure 13- Highlights of all the information at your fingertips

The Feature Tree showed all parts, assemblies and drawings associated with my design. I was dimensioning the Sheet Metal Frame and located just below the feature tree was a nice rendered view of my chassis. In, all, the amount of information I found at my fingertips was surprising and efficient. I quickly forgot I was using a web based Parametric Modeler, as it had the feel of any 3D package I’ve used during my career.

Onshape felt powerful during part modeling, even though as the assemblies grew I noticed a slight delay of roughly 9-14 second. However, it was clear they spent a lot of design cycles to handle the video buffering up front, hence, the user experience and workflow didn’t suffer. Drawings also offered a slim list of Export options. You have the choice to export out to PDF, DXF, DWG and DWT. I would like to see them add an option that allows users to select multiple formats for export out at one time.   You will find the typical line weight options, hidden lines, centerlines and a host of other standard CAD features within Onshape’s Drawing module.

Figure 14 – Drawing Export Options

6.   Inserting new elements

My final exploration into Onshape was using the Inserting New Elements option.

By selecting the Plus sign located at the bottom of the screen you will see the menu shown in figure 15. Select the Go to App Store and browse around for some goodies. They had apps for rendering, simulation, manufacturing, data management, CAM, utilities and import and export apps too. There is a large selection of free apps so I decided to download Power Surfacing, One Render, 3DX Certified Models and Onshape Explode Sample Utility.

Figure 15 – insert New Elements Dialog Box

In testing the One Reader app, I found the integration was seamless, the user Interface was simple to navigate, and I was happy to see the app didn’t come along with annoying advertising billboards. The rendering tools let me create my own materials, lights, and cameras. This app also had the option to create video. Throughout my career I’ve been called upon to create assets for Sales and Marketing so I was happy to see a full set of tools in a free app.

My experience learning Onshape has been positive and I hope this quick introduction ignites your curiosity. I see this product as a game changer or a market disrupter that will challenge the pragmatic design and require all major 3D software companies to roll out their own web-based product.

Only time will tell.


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