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Surprising Things We Learned About Cloud CAD Software (Survey Results)

Nov 25, 2015   //   by Bob Warfield   //   Blog, Products, Software  //  6 Comments

We just finished our big survey on Cloud CAD Software, and the results are fascinating.

One thing before we start.  The survey was worded to encourage responses only from people who had actually tried a Cloud CAD Software package.  There are plenty of folks that have preconceived notions about what they think, but I really wanted to get feedback from folks who had actual experience with Cloud CAD–even just folks who had tried it but not used it an awful lot.

The response we got was excellent–well over 200 participated.  Here’s what they had to say:

Which Cloud CAD Packages have you tried?

WhichPackage

Responses are nearly evenly split between Fusion 360 and Onshape…

The responses are nearly evenly split between Fusion 360 and Onshape.  I also tallied how many had tried both F360 and Onshape and that number was about half, which is excellent.  Our audience has considerable familiarity with both products.

If you haven’t tried a Cloud CAD package, when do you plan to try one?

As I said, the wording of the survey discourages those who have never tried Cloud CAD, but we did get about a 15% response that had never tried it.  Here is their response about when they expect to try Cloud CAD:

WhenToTry

Nearly half expect to try Cloud CAD in the next year or less, so it is definitely top of mind.  A few are down to try it much further out, and a vocal minority says “Never.”  There were two that gave some reasoning about their time frame.  In one case, they wanted connection costs to be lower and in the other they wanted Fusion 360 to include a GCode Editor/Simulator so they could check their gcode before running it on a machine.  Given that we make a product for that purpose (G-Wizard Editor), it’s certainly a practice we recommend and a very common use people have for the product.

Which Cloud CAD Packages are you using in Production?

This is a very pivotal question–just because you tried Cloud CAD doesn’t mean you liked it.  The numbers were really good here, though.  Out of the audience that had tried Cloud CAD, 41% of them had decided to go ahead and use the package in production.  That shows very solid support for the concept rather than folks just dabbling around.  We’ll get to some of the things holding people back from adoption shortly, but most are entirely correctable by the vendors and likely already on their road maps.

Here’s the breakdown on which Cloud CAD Packages are actually being used in production:

CloudCADProduction

Surprisingly strong adoption of Fusion 360 for production…

I was surprised to see how much stronger the production support was for Fusion 360 than Onshape.  I will have more to say about why I think it is, but for now, let’s just say Autodesk was smart to have built such a fine CAM package into Fusion 360 from the get go.

Do you have an Internet connection in your shop?

Here at CNCCookbook, we sell Hybrid Cloud Software–we want to deliver the advantages of the Cloud without the disadvantages.  You can get the best of both worlds–subscription pricing or perpetual license, automatic updates but you can choose not to take them all, performance from an app on your desktop, and so on.  Since we offer so much of the best of both worlds, the most common objection we hear to our software is, “We don’t have an Internet connection in the shop.”  I expected this to be a huge obstacle for Cloud CAD as a result, so I broke it out as a question all its own.  But it seems that folks without an Internet connection are only 5% of those surveyed, and 95% have a connection.  Talk about your vocal minorities!

What are your biggest objections to Cloud CAD?

I really wanted to understand the objections to Cloud CAD, given that the Cloud is a major paradigm shift that has swept much of the software world and is currently hitting the CAD world.  Here are the objections from the folks who have actually used it, which for me are more valuable than all the theoretical objections one often hears.  I actually asked this in two different ways using a second question, “What’s holding you back from Cloud CAD?” to double check and get the highest possible data quality in the responses.  Here’s what you told us:

CloudCADObjections

Top Objections to Cloud CAD…

The Top 3 objections stand way above the others:

  1.  I need access without the Internet.  This was expressed in many ways:
    1. “I can’t start a new job without uploading”
    2. “My DSL has been down for a full day 3 times this year.  I can’t afford to stop work that long.”
    3. “Our Internet is too slow”
    4. “I want to be able to look through local files fast and only upload in background when I go to edit them.”
    5. “It takes too long to load local files into the Internet”
    6. And many more…
  2. Cloud CAD is Too Slow!  This looks to be very dependent on the quality of the Internet connection.  There was some complaint about overall “feel” being too slow, but a much more common complaint was file uploads were just too slow.
  3. Security and IP Protection.  Another very common issue.  Folks were concerned about what could happen if the Cloud CAD vendor was hacked, especially when the system was used overseas.

The next tier of objections included:

4. Lack of functionality compared to Desktop CAD.  Comments here included lack of G-Code Editor, and especially poor support for drawings and 2D sketching.

5.  Poor Usability.  This audience felt the Cloud offerings were not as easy to use as their current desktop CAD.

6.  They Require a Local Data Copy.  This audience is not averse to having data in the Cloud, but they insist on keeping a local copy which current Cloud CAD does not do easily.

7.   Don’t Want to Learn a New Package.  Always a problem for anything new, and nothing Cloud-specific.  CAD is hard to learn and few enjoy a new package’s learning curve.

8.   Supplier Longevity.  What happens to my data if the supplier goes away?  What if the supplier changes their mind about this market or I don’t like a new version of their software?  What happens to all my data?  With desktop, at least I can keep using the old version I own.

9.  Version Stability.  This audience wants to switch to newer versions only after they’ve verified they are stable.  Sadly, the CADCAM industry can largely blame itself for this paranoia.  Most vendors have released a version they shouldn’t have at one time or another.

10.  Unstable and Buggy.  This audience feels the Cloud CAD offerings are still too unstable and buggy to adopt.

11.  Connectivity with other CAD packages.  Good connectivity is just not there, and these users were vocal about it.  They need connectivity to the packages their customers use.  They don’t want that connectivity to just be a “dumb model”–it has to include a live feature tree.

12.  Too Costly.  This was almost exclusively about what it would cost to get a better Internet connection to the shop.

13 Storage Costs.  This audience felt that given how cheap disk space was, the way some vendors charge made Storage seem way too expensive.

14.  Lack of Integrated CAM.  This is specifically directed at Onshape.

15.  Stability of Fee Structure.  This is another concern, and the phrase “Data Held Hostage” came up.  Apparently at least a small audience feels Onshape already made substantial changes in this area.

This list actually went on longer to include objections such as poor documentation, refusal to rent software, required to use same package as customers, didn’t see the benefits and some other obscure objections.

That’s a pretty comprehensive list, and there aren’t really any surprises to anyone familiar with Cloud Software.  Every market where Cloud has been introduced will be familiar with many of the same objections.  It is great to see it ranked and to hear some of the comments that add “color” to what’s going on.  In most cases, customers have real practical objections that are not just about religious dogma against the Cloud.

Differences in Objections for Fusion 360 versus Onshape

I took the time to analyze these objections separately.  In particular, I hoped to gain a better understanding of why more folks aren’t using Onshape in production.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Onshape gets more “Too Slow” objections.  F360 does more on the local machine while Onshape is more dependent on the speed of the Internet connection due to its architecture.  Once again, this is largely a function of your actual Internet connection.  If it is at least average, my sense is you will not have this objection.
  • Fusion 360 had many more usability objections than Onshape.
  • Onshape had more Supplier Longevity objections than F360.  Not surprising given it is a small company and Autodesk is huge.  What many forget is large companies can still change their minds and orphan products very suddenly.
  • In general there were more complaints about Version Stability (the desire to avoid buggy versions) and product stability for F360 than Onshape, but it was still a concern for both.
  • Onshape saw more objections related to learning a new package.  The comments basically suggested it wasn’t quite close enough to being a Solidworks clone to suit an audience that had expected it to be.  I don’t see that as a knock on Onshape.  Learning any CAD package is hard.

So far, there are some fair differences, but these don’t seem compelling enough to account for all of the difference in rate of adoption.  I think we need to look more for an absence of enough reasons to buy, which we will take a look at in a moment.

What Attracts You to Cloud CAD?

Objections are all very well, but let’s face it, the absence of negatives doesn’t create success.  People need good positive reasons to buy.  Here’s what you said were the positive reasons to buy Cloud CAD:

WhyBuy

Realtors are fond of saying that what makes a house valuable is, “Location, location, location.”

For Cloud CAD, it is “Price, price, price.”  Low cost was cited as a reason to buy close to 2x the next closest reason.

Access Anywhere was the next most popular.  This meant a variety of things to people based on comments, but the gist of it was:

  • People are tired of having to buy multiple licenses for multiple machines or deal with dongles.  The license needs to be tied to them and they need to be able to login to a variety of machines.  We believe strongly in this at CNCCookbook too.
  • Machines are distributed all over.  Keeping them in sync with thumb drives and the like is too painful.  The Cloud makes it easy.  Sit down at a machine, login, and everything you need is right there.
  • CNC’ers that have to travel to clients are worse, overseas, really love this Access Anywhere capability.

Data Sharing and Collaboration was next, and the last big response.  Businesses that have to collaborate value this capability.  Also mentioned was how handy these features are when it comes time to sell yourself to a new prospect.

Requires Less Local Hardware.  This one was fascinating.  CNC’ers like being able to use their crappy old hardware with Cloud Software.  Or, even if it isn’t old, it may not be a high dollar CAD Workstation.  It might even be something very low end like a Chromebook as several mentioned.  They don’t hope to run high quality desktop CAD on such machines but seem quite content to run their Cloud CAD there.  So many selected this that together with the additional color provided by comments, it was made clear that any performance objections to Cloud were largely around file upload times and the quality of the Internet connection.

Automatic Updates.  Love ’em or hate ’em, and there are plenty in both camps, they matter.  If you love to get the latest innovations and bug fixes quick–they’re a great idea.  If the vendor is not careful about releasing buggy versions, you’re not going to like this.  Given the responses, I would say both Autodesk and Onshape are doing a good job showing their audiences continuous improvement.

Great CAM Included.  This one is clearly a thumbs up for Fusion 360.  While it looks low relative to the rest, consider that it’s rank doubles when you consider only those who have tried Fusion 360.  I will break it down by product shortly, but you get the idea.

Multi-platform.  The most common refrain here was, “I want to run it on my Mac.”  Only a few mentioned running on phones or tablets.

Automatic Backups.  Here is another Love It/Hate It.  Many worry about the security of their data.  But for those who have lost data even though they were backing up, they want to be able to trust in a third party to do a better job backing up.  BTW, this doesn’t release vendors for the desire many expressed to be able to keep a local copy as well.

Version Control.  Definitely something gained here.  These vendors have worked hard and customers indicate they’re doing a good job in this area.  One bit of color is that both vendors got complaints that the overall user experience managing lots of files is still not as good or easy as managing folders on a local machine.  This is totally fixable, but is an area the vendors need to keep after.

It’s the Future.  This was a sentiment that I saw expressed by several who took time to comment on it.  Clearly the handwriting is one the wall–Cloud is here to stay.  As one fellow put it, “Seems like it’s the future whether we want it or not, so why fight it?”

Difference Between Fusion 360 and Onshape

  • The #1 reason to buy both products is Cost, but the gap between #1 and #2 is much smaller for Onshape.  Cost is more than 2x the reason for F360 but only 15% more than the #2 reason for Onshape.  I read this as Onshape being a bargain, but less of a bargain than F360.
  • #2 for F360 was Access Anywhere, same for Onshape.  And #3 is sharing and collaboration.
  • #4 for F360 is Great Integrated CAM, but, that #4 is tied with #3.  So, it’s like 2 great features that are just as important versus just the 1 for Onshape.  Autodesk was very smart to bundle in HSMWorks.  #4 for Onshape is “Requires less local hardware.”  Just doesn’t seem as sexy as getting CAM in the same box.
  • The rest plays out about the same for both.

In summary, it looks like Fusion 360 appears to be a better value, particularly due to its Integrated CAM.  This is an issue Onshape will have to face.  They likely see themselves as a great deal versus Solidworks, but have to consider the economics versus Fusion 360 with its integrated CAM.  Getting together a first-class ecosystem complete with CAM soon has got to be a high priority for them.  Given that they’re not integrating CAM for the same price (you by it extra cost from another vendor), it seems to behoove them to find other ways of differentiating.  There are promising notes from the survey around usability, but there’s still a lot of work to do to really turn something like that into a powerful differentiator.

Conclusion and Thoughts for Vendors

I’ve already mentioned the importance of getting a healthy CAM ecosystem going for Onshape, as well as my thought that maybe they need to look for more ways to differentiate, such as around usability.  Several folks sent extremely positive notes about Onshape’s usability.  One called it the “easiest CAD package I have ever picked up.”  Certainly Apple has been able to do extremely well by focusing in this area despite the fact their machines are more expensive than equivalent PC’s.  I would also suggest that there is evidence in these results that Onshape might do well to offer a package that falls between their current full price and free offerings.  Splitting that difference I think would be very welcome to the “Prosumer” and Small Business CAD markets.

Any Cloud CAD vendor could make it’s audience happier by changing it’s file model to address:

  • The desire to keep local copies and backups of data.
  • The desire to increase security.  There are Cloud vendors that encrypt all incoming data so that they are unable to access without the user’s password which they don’t keep on hand.  Nobody on their staff can decrypt the data and if a customer loses their password, the data is unlockable.  This should be an optional level of security, but this together with some further education of customers would go a long ways towards addressing the security and IP (Intellectual Property) protection concerns.
  • Interoperability with other CAD and CAM packages.  This is a lesson I learned well competing back in the spreadsheet wars of my early days.  Quattro Pro had perfect file compatibility with the leading players.  It even had UI compatibility.  You could close your eyes and be unable to tell whether you were using Quattro Pro or Lotus 123.  It mattered a lot for the adoption of that product and was a big part of how we sold $150 million worth of it our first year at Borland.  Google Apps are nowhere close to that ideal and this is a key reason why Microsoft continues to own the Office market.  Autodesk certainly owns a bunch of CAD standards well enough it should be able to achieve interoperability there.  But there are other standards and Autodesk’s is not the largest.  Our 2015 CAD Survey reveals who the key players are.  First class support for at least the top 2-3 formats is key.  That means loading models with their feature trees and other information being intact.  Currently, we largely get an amorphous 3D shape that can’t really be worked on very successfully.  Workflows that allow seamless operation with any CAM program are also improtant.  Onshape, in particular, needs to foster a file model that makes it easy to interoperate with any CAM system whether said system is integrated with Onshape or not.  I have suggested in the past that GrabCAD does an excellent job of showing the way for how such a model should work.

It’s been a fascinating survey, but it is very early days yet for this market.  Nothing is cast in stone and both vendors are innovating extremely rapidly.  We ain’t seen nothin’ yet, and there’s no telling what other vendors might throw their hats in the ring too.  As we’ve shown here at CNCCookbook and Autodesk has shown with F360, it’s even possible for locally installed apps to deliver many Cloud benefits.  Let’s play “Blue Sky” with Desktop CAD for example and suggest what they could do to make it harder for new Cloud CAD entrants to encroach on their market share:

  • Change their pricing model.  Users are clearly tired of having to buy a license for every machine.  It should be possible to install on multiple (though not unlimited) machines and login to any of them.  This is probably the loudest objection I hear to desktop pricing.  It’s followed closely by the pricing for upgrades and maintenance, which can be bundled into a lower subscription price.
  • Add a Cloud Data Module, but do it right.  Being able to do both Cloud and Local data would be awesome.  As I have mentioned, GrabCAD does a fabulous job of this.
  • Do Automatic Updates and be kind to your users by keeping the quality of those updates high.  Most of the software world has moved on from monolithic giant once a year updates.  It’s high time Desktop CAD did too.  You will need to be more nimble to fend off the coming Cloud CAD Wars, trust me on that.

 I am very pleased to see so many trying Cloud CAD and am impressed with the number who have chosen to move on into production.  Exciting times ahead!

 

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6 Comments

  • Awesome! I’m sponsored by Autodesk and I pushed Fusion 360 pretty hard to my viewers, glad to see it’s doing so well!

    • Brad, we have an embarrassment of riches as both products are incredible values that are hard to beat. Can’t wait to see what comes next!

  • Re: cloud cad
    The main issues I see with the cloud are numerous. Security for a start. If you deal with sensitive work then how can you possibly ensure the server is secure ?? It`s bad enough keeping a Pc or onsite server safe , you have no control what so ever in the cloud.
    Your internet goes down …… So does your cad package !
    Data corruption , when the system crashes or there`s a power cut just as you are saving a file ! Where is the back up ??

    These are just a few issues that would negate any benefit of cloud cad.
    What`s wrong with the system thousands of us use now? It has it`s problems for sure but cloud cad will only add to it.

    Age old adage . “If it `aint broke , it don`t need fixing “

    • Neil, of course it is broken in so many ways. The advantages people are seeing in the Cloud speak for themselves. But beyond that, the objections you raise are not new. They’ve been raised in every category of software that’s gone Cloud, been addressed, and the markets have moved ahead to embrace the Cloud. CAD is not the first kind of data that is highly valuable sensitive information that needs protection. Yet today we find companies storing all sorts of sensitive data including their accounting information, sales leads, customer lists, and on and on. Cloud CAD is relatively new, but we’re seeing it gaining momentum extremely rapidly. There is more that they can do to answer these sorts of objections, and I have pointed some of it out in the article.

      Many of these objections are not unique to the Cloud either. Where security is concerned, the bet is whether people whose full time job it is to deal with it and be knowledgeable about it can do better than part timers in a small organization. Many Desktop packages are in trouble if power is cut in the middle of a save. The difference with the Cloud is there are technologies to prevent the power disappearing suddenly, to back up every single version of the file independently, and even to continously be saving.

      Quality of Internet service is something that came through as an important adoption factor in the survey. If you have lousy Internet, you’re not likely to be a fan of Cloud CAD. But there again, the Internet improves constantly.

  • Excellent survey Bob. Thank you. Hoping Autodesk will learn from these results and take the right direction.

    • Eric, both companies are both aware of the survey and listening hard to customers about how to make their products better.

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