CAD Software / Setup Thoughts

A bit of background.

Our rookie year, our CAD experience was me playing with Fusion 360 trying to keep up with the bot as it was built using the KoP models and some simple cut operations. Useful for measuring things and looking at ideas, but far from ideal.

This year we really wanted to up our CAD game a bit as some of our members have now had a DDP class (which used Solidworks 2013). Thanks to a sponsorship from Solidworks we had aimed to do more design pre-construction with CAD this year, working toward a CAD-first strategy for perhaps next year.

Unfortunately due to some poor planning on our part, things didn’t go so well, and we’re trying to find something that’ll work for us next year, given our situation. We’re thinking we’re stuck between a rock and a hard-CAD place, but would love to hear any other ideas.

Constraints: Our school is 1:1 computer to student. Each year a new batch of notebooks are ordered, and older ones phased out to loaners/backups etc. The hardware spec is rather good drive/processor/RAM wise, but graphics are hit and miss. (Mix of AMD discrete + Intel on-CPU, Intel on-CPU only, and some few discrete only.) Some students use their own personal devices, most run Windows, some are Macs.

Ideally we’d like to readily export models to STL for 3D printing, and the ability to CAM to our Shopbot would be nice. Collaboration (cloud-storage of some sort) and versioning for project files would be a necessity as our students are spread out considerably (some drive over 90m each way to our school) and often CAD from home. Finally we need it to work on the hardware we have, and may be getting.

We’d also need to be able to use the KoP CAD files released on kickoff as we build up our CAD skills.

That said, the school computers have Solidworks 2013. Our sponsorship from Solidworks gave us 2016, but we can’t install that on the school computers. We also have several students who prefer Fusion 360 (either preference, or hardware - eg Macs). Unfortunately, about 1/2 to 2/3rds of the school computers can’t run Solidworks 2016, or Fusion 360 (black data pane) because of the on-CPU graphics. (And because they’re locked down, they can’t force discrete either.)

We had some crazy times moving parts around between the three programs, and the import/export dance was getting… well… nuts. Eventually I just make the F360 version master, and updated parts as imports from the students as-needed, acting as gatekeeper.

To top it all off, we found the school is considering going to Chromebooks next year, probably as a pilot program with a full replacement the next year if it goes well. (Sadly, for what they spend on notebooks each year they can replace almost every computer in the school every year. I can’t argue the economics of the idea.) Finally, if that happens, because we’re a 1:1 school, there is no “computer lab” space (or space to add one), and we’d need to think outside the box.

One last stat - our team of about 30 had almost 1/3rd of the team contributing or directly using the CAD models this year. If we’re forced to set up / buy our own CAD notebooks (again, no space for a lab), it’s going to be a significant cost, or we’re going to severely curtail their use (only getting a few, if that).

So to sum up, Solidworks 2013+2016+F360 = import/export nightmare. School computers we have run SW2013, some can run F360/SW2016, some can’t. We have a mix of Macs and Windows student computers in there too, most of which can run SW2016/F360. We need cloud sync of some sort (version control), STL export and ideally CAM to a Shopbot, and hopefully we won’t get stuck w/ Chromebooks.

We are struggling to find the best way forward, and would rather not flounder around next year. Any suggestions?

So 4513 used HP laptops with an 4th gen I5 with 4gb of RAM to do all of our CAD in whatever the latest year of Inventor is. If all else fails you can do a similar setup with solidworks (helped a friend on another team who uses solidworks with a 6th gen I5 and 8gb RAM refurb, says it works beautifully with SW) and that laptop retailed for about $600.

Don’t be afraid to look outside the “brand new” laptops. While it won’t be perfect, it’s definitely beating having nothing at all.

F360 has sharing+version control, CAM and stl export. It also runs on Macs. I’d stick to it if you know it. Are the students unable to use their personal computers?

Thanks for the replies.

If we go with purchasing CAD computers we’re looking at having to support at least a half-dozen of them, based on our CAD user count from this season. Even if we can get pricing down to, say, $400/ea, we’re talking a non-trivial amount.

We’d like to allow/encourage students to use their individual/home computers for CAD. When it comes to individual student notebooks, not all students can get permission to connect to the school’s WiFi, making collaboration difficult (again). (Most upperclassmen with personal notebooks have access, but it’s not universal, or guaranteed. We’ve managed to get access for some underclassmen, but it’s a process…)

I guess what I’m looking for is to see if there’s anything we’ve missed?

You might want to look into Onshape. I haven’t used it personally, but from what I’ve read, it’s web based and could work across platforms pretty easily. For CAM, it would be possible to export to a STEP file and use Fusion 360 or the HSM plugin for Inventor or Solidworks (free for educational use).

I know that 319 used Onshape last year. You could probably contact them if you wanted more information.

YUP! We used Onshape this year and loved it. No more syncing files, no more dedicated CAD computers, multiple people can work on the same file at once, easy importing and exporting, and some INCREDIBLY powerful tools that just flat out don’t exist in other platforms. All of that in a completely cloud based system with NO installs.

Onshape is the future of CAD for FRC. We haven’t touched another CAD since.

Also, it’s free for anyone in FIRST:

I’d consider purchasing a 2-3 CAD workstations (preferably desktops) and supplementing them with personal computers and home computers. On 865 we rarely did any CAD at all at the school as shop time was too valuable when we could just work at home in a google hangout. One of the really nice things about Fusion is that it’s far less resource intensive, I’ve been able to use it comfortably on computers that would normally slow down to a crawl when running solidworks.

Hi Ty - thank you for the summary of OnShape! I am currently evaluating it for our team (#2530) as a potential replacement for Inventor 2016 + GrabCAD. With your experiences, especially with multi-person collaboration, are you still able to “lock” PartStudios & Assemblies in OnShape to prevent others from changing? Or, did you rely more on Document revisions to manage this?

Even though Ty already kinda covered it, I’ll bring out the resident Onshape supporter in me to give some advice. It seems that Onshape may be the solution to many of your problems. Onshape is web-based, meaning no downloaded software on specific computers, no file sharing issues because it autosaves and the same files can be accessed by multiple people at the same time, easy import/export of step, pack and go, stl for your 3d printers, and dxf’s for camming. A quick search in the Onshape app store tells me that you can cam within Onshape, but I can’t speak with any experience on that front as 1836 uses Mastercam. While typically Onshape can run a little slower than its alternatives, your team seems to be in a pretty similar situation to mine.

And if you’re worried about making the switch, it is really easy to pick up, especially with prior Cad experience (it was made by some of the original Solidworks team, and in many ways functions similarly).

Who knows, maybe in the next few days you’ll see the release of the (or a modified version of) the Onshape video series I created/am creating for my team, and that may help you and your team get a feel for the workflow and stuff :wink:

Most of my cad students (12-15 jumped from 1-3 in past years) call Onshape the equivalent Google Docs of cad software, and while it is still pretty new, it has a lot of room to grow and updates are coming out every week. I believe the latest one was some cool new sheet metal tools, maybe Ty or someone else can confirm cause I don’t use sheet metal.

Onshape is definetly worth a try, so is Fusion 360 and other alternatives because it runs on Mac OS and Windows, your best bet is to try out both with a collaborative mini-project and see which one the team likes better.

Hope this helps,


I’ve never tried to lock an Onshape document before. However, you can edit sharing permissions so people can only view. You can also save versions of the model that’ll allow you to continue editing and revert back if you don’t like it.

Careful use of verion control and proper organization within one shared file is how I’d do it, once a part is finished, just save a version. Then you can track iterations as well as have backups in case something happens accidentally to the part.

To follow up with Ty’s post, Onshape has been an invaluable tool for us. It allows multiple user’s to access and develop a CAD model. As part of some offseason research we have been investigating CNC and 3-D printing.
Onshape can easily export STL files that can then be used in your 3-D printer’s “slicer” software we use “Cura”.
I have tried a couple of CNC add on apps within onshape but haven’t had much success. Fusion 360’s CAM software has shown some initial success and we are leaning towards using it next year. Onshape can easily export parts into F360.

good luck!

Onshape all day long for Team 58.

Not much hardware requirements. Works on Ipads. Very colaborative. Learning curve is not too steep. Kids can use it at home…

It sounds like OnShape may be your best bet.

I’m a 2016 graduate. I started studying mechanical engineering, learned how to use Solidworks, and currently am teaching some of my high school team how to use CAD with OnShape; we’ve never really had anyone capable of using CAD during season. From what experience I’ve had with OnShape and teaching the students, I do suggest it, as it does assist in solving many of your difficulties, especially being cloud-based. I picked it up very quickly; it definitely resembles Solidworks. I actually found some aspects of it to be simpler, though that may be because it was my second time learning a CAD program.

A note on the Chromebooks: because it is cloud-based, OnShape does work on Chromebooks. However, be forewarned that if your school makes the switch and you end up using Chromebooks, they will likely frustrate you, especially if you try having multiple people working on a single document at a time. My high school also has a 1:1 computer policy, ours with Chromebooks (though there are also laptops available because of the graphic design and publications class), and when the team experimented with OnShape on them last fall (didn’t get very far for multiple reasons), the biggest complaint from the students who made any progress was it was too slow on the Chromebooks. It’s the only thing I know of that works on Chromebooks at all, but it’s annoyingly slow.

Perhaps there’s a way to buy some of the computers the school is phasing out. There’s some laws regarding school inventory (at least in Washington) that I don’t quite understand, but which allow you do that pretty cheaply. We considered it when we were attempting Solidworks but didn’t find anything not currently in use with good enough graphics. If students have their own computers or laptops, they will probably choose to use those when working from home.

Buying recent inventory from universities isn’t terrible, but there are also some good deals to be had on eBay, particularly with Z480s. You can also check out Dell’s small business outlet to get some Precision desktops with quadros.

Thanks for all the input everyone. As the school has elected to forgo Chromebooks this year, we’re looking at moving to Fusion 360 as it appears now that about 2/3rds of the notebooks in circulation will be able to run it successfully.