Cloud based CAD is becoming a popular alternative to on-premise CAD, and Onshape is a pioneer in this space. Onshape is a full cloud software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution that integrates computer-aided design (CAD), data management, real-time collaboration, and analytics inside a single product development platform. It runs on a web browser, so engineers can use Onshape anywhere, on any device.

In 2019, PTC acquired Onshape. Since then, PTC has positioned the product development platform as a mainstream CAD solution, while marketing Creo as an enterprise CAD offering. But over the past few years, PTC has integrated Onshape’s core technology into many of its products—and the roadmap shows many more integrations planned for the future.

Onshape in 2022

Attendees at Onshape’s annual user conference, Onshape Live 22, got a sneak peek at new capabilities that will be released this year. 

Many of these features will make collaboration easier and more efficient. These tools will offer design engineers more power and speed. They will also help design engineers work more effectively with all stakeholders throughout the product development lifecycle, and will allow them to incorporate reverse-engineered components in their designs.

This post highlights the three key features that will be released this year in Onshape. 

Document Sharing via Publication 

In Onshape, the technical containers that hold all parts, assemblies and drawings for a design are called “documents.” Users can share documents, which also keep track of the versions of a particular design, with other stakeholders. Doing so allows them to both collaborate and communicate with other team members during the entire product design lifecycle. 

Modern product development demands that engineers have the ability to easily share the most up-to-date documents. They need to collaborate with remote teams of both internal and external stakeholders, as well as with suppliers, contractors, regulatory authorities, and consultants. But they must do this without compromising any of the company’s intellectual property.

Engineers want to share their design data with external stakeholders. This helps them come up with innovative and optimized designs. But companies want to be selective about the information they share with outsiders. 

Consider a designer sharing the drawing of a single part with a machine shop. Or perhaps sharing a few different parts with a contractor for simulation purposes. This isn’t currently possible with Onshape. Users have to share the entire document. This can be a major issue for executives, as external stakeholders can see all associated items in the document: all parts, assemblies, and drawings. They can also review the design’s progress: all the versions and comments made on each iteration of the design. All of this can put the organization’s intellectual property at risk.

To overcome this challenge, Onshape will soon offer engineering organizations a publication container. A publication is a shareable collection of specific versions of parts, assemblies, or drawings. The publication container allows users to limit what an external stakeholder can access. What’s more, the entities in any particular publication container can come from more than one Onshape document. Thus, the publication offers a powerful, yet secure, means of sharing data outside the company. 

With Onshape’s new capabilities, external stakeholders will now be able to communicate with one another with messages and markups on the CAD model contained inside the publication container – just as they currently do using Onshape documents.  In addition, those communications within the container will be managed in the same way as they are in any other Onshape document, making it easy to share information securely and track feedback throughout the entirety of the design process.

Variable Studio

Engineers perform calculations all the time as part of their job. They commonly use variables in their formulas to perform those calculations. Onshape already allows engineers to create and use variables for individual parts. But suppose design engineers want to use those same variables across multiple parts in the assembly, or across multiple documents. In that case, the onus is on them to add these variables to every associated component. This process is cumbersome, time-consuming, and error-prone.

For example, in a design where two flanges with the same diameter are attached using bolts, engineers would have to manually input the diameter and the number of holes for each part. They would have to input two global variables in the variable studio: one for the hole diameter and the other for the number of holes.

Yet, if users had access to a global variable table, which could be applied to any part or assembly in a document, as well as any document created by engineers working on the product, they could manage these variables much more easily. One of Onshape’s newest features is a variable studio that offers this exact capability.

With the variable studio, design engineers can define global variables for their design project and apply them to all necessary parts and assemblies. There is no need to repeat variables locally in each component or assembly. Furthermore, when the value of a global variable is edited, all parts and assemblies in all the documents using that variable will be automatically updated and rebuilt. This saves time and reduces the likelihood of inadvertent errors.

Working with Mesh Geometry Using Mixed Modeling

Engineers also commonly use mesh models in their design work. These models are often the product of 3D scanning, a convenient technology that allows the design team to reverse-engineer different parts and components. Other sources of these models are a deformed finite element model from structural simulation or those generated by a topology optimization algorithm. Whatever the case, using 3D scanning, engineers can create a digital version of legacy and purchased parts to help inform the design.

Onshape already reads mesh files, but there are limits to the geometry that can be integrated from them. Today, engineers cannot modify the geometry that comes from scanned data. They use it mainly for visualization purposes.

The latest addition to Onshape, mixed modeling, extends the usefulness of scanned data. This capability allows users to work with scan data as though it had been directly created in Onshape. For example, scan geometry can be used to create the core and cavity part of a mold design. The surfaces of the mesh data are accessible, and engineers can manipulate them as needed, just as they would on any surface they had created in Onshape.

Mixed models are a great way to incorporate reverse-engineered parts, topology-optimized parts, and deformed geometries into designs. Engineers can integrate the features and surfaces of these parts into their designs. They can also easily edit them to modify existing designs or to create completely new ones.  


Onshape’s upcoming capabilities will empower engineers with more tools to help them create innovative, optimized designs. The addition of publication containers, variable studio, and mixed modeling will make it easier for Onshape users to collaborate on designs, include global variables, and integrate reverse-engineered components in their designs. Ultimately engineering design teams will be positioned to create better products, faster.