Which CAD platform does your team use? Why?

My team has used AutoDesk Fusion 360 for the last 2 years. This past year, we very successfully used it with a great workflow, including part drawings, CNC files, simulations, the works. We had our first tangibly successful robot this season, and good CAD was a big part of it.

I teach engineering design classes at my high school as well as coach our team. All I hear from industry and colleges is that the students should be learning SolidWorks, and we’ve had a lot of discussions of switching, simply because “that’s what industry uses.” We only started using Fusion 360 because it was the strongest CAD software that was free and still worked on Macs. I have access to a cart of strong windows computers now, and am looking to steer the team towards SolidWorks for that reason.

My question is this… What CAD platform does your team use, and why? What benefits does it have? Here’s why we started using Fusion 360:

  1. It works well on Macs (our school is 1-1 with half of all students getting macbooks)
  2. It is free with education / hobbyist license
  3. Cloud based = easy sharing of parts, using different computers, and easily working from home
  4. Full suite - modeling, assemblies, drawing, simulations

And here’s why we’re thinking about switching to SolidWorks:

  1. Industry uses it
  2. Still free through FIRST
  3. I have windows machines in my classroom now, so I’m not restricted to Fusion 360 anymore
  4. Next year we have a pretty young team, with only 4 returning members being proficient with CAD, so re-training wouldn’t be too bad (I think)
  5. I have access to SolidWorks education certificates, so if kids are taking to it both in class and on the team, they can take a test to be a certified SolidWorks user, and can slap that on a resume.

What are your thoughts? I’m thinking both from an education standpoint as well as Making FRC as easy as possible.

My team switched from SolidWorks to OnShape this year, and we’re extremely happy we did. I wrote about it at length in this thread: OnShape Recommendation?, so I won’t rehash all of it.

But I will add that I don’t think teaching the industry-standard CAD is terribly important. My experienced CADers switched from SolidWorks to OnShape without missing a beat, after spending a week or so doing the tutorials they were nearly as proficient and by the time build season started you would’ve thought they’d been using OnShape for years. Even the freshman who learned SolidWorks from August to October with no prior CAD experience, raced through our OnShape workshops and did well during build season. I’ve never used Fusion, but if your students learn CAD best practices and get lots of practice exercising their spatial reasoning, it will be almost trivially easy for them to pick up SolidWorks in the future. Focus more on which software best meets your team’s needs for designing the robot and getting as many kids learning CAD as possible.

  1. I do use Solidworks at work every day, and with the students at 841.
  2. Not all industries use Solidworks. It’s great for low-barrier-to-entry, click-to-model mechanical design, but aircraft tend to be in Catia, and ProE is still very popular as well - much harder to use, but also forces the user to follow good modeling practices from the get-go.
  3. When you truly understand a CAD package, moving to another is like changing languages from Java to Python. Any competent professional should be expected to be able to retrain in <1 year.
  4. If I could change one thing about Solidworks, I would add cloud-based version handling & coworking so my students could use their computers to access from home and we wouldn’t have a pile of Conflicted Copies whenever we start trying to parallel-path the work
  5. Wow, that feature sounds a lot like F360! :wink:

[I personally found it frustrating to try to learn F360 in my downtime a couple years ago - my Solidworks habits were strong, and the Onshape UI is closer to SW than F360 is - but the only thing I was actually missing was real time investment in retraining.]

I would like to move the team to Onshape, but it’s not a good option right now because we do not have reliable school or home internet performance in our city.

my team also uses Onshape it is an online based cad program that u can even run on your phone it is great. You can copy in solidworks files into it as well

My team uses solidworks to cad and cam and we use grabcad for file management. We also use solidprofessor to train (solidprofessor has courses for almost every major cad software.)

One of the reasons we use it is because every student gets a windows laptop at our school, but realistically none of us use it to cad during build season. Team leads are allowed to install solidworks on their home computer with a team key, or we cad on the team “Cad cart.” Another is that we switched to solidworks around 4 years back from inventor (way before I joined the team) because it was the industry standard.

We have had informal discussions here and there about switching to onshape but the way our team does things it wouldn’t make a huge difference. For each subsystem, we only have one studnet lead who pretty much cads the whole thing and so with grabcad as long as everyone is consistently uploading we are fine.

We use Inventor because that’s what the engineering classes use. If they’ve taken/are taking engineering classes, chances are they’ve got the hang of Inventor and there’s little to no training required from us. Plus, we get computers allocated from the school district for free with Inventor support in mind for our CAD needs.


We have switched from Creo (ProE) to Solidworks this year as it was easier to use for some members of our team as the local schools teach it. Also, we had mentors who joined and knew it.

1 Like

Interesting, I know 118 uses Creo and it might be because NASA/their mentors know it.

I used to use OnShape in my classroom, as it works on chrome books. I personally didn’t like the platform, the UI didn’t seem as intuitive as others. Although, that might’ve just been me being an old curmudgeon who wanted the kids to have “real” computers, not just chrome books.

I’ve used Inventor, F360 and a bit of SolidEdge. I’ve got colleagues who totally rock on SolidWorks. My current enthusiasm is drifting towards F360, particularly where distributed work teams are involved, but I don’t think any of the options presented here are ‘bad’.

One thing I do emphatically recommend… and caution you that once you get one at work, you’re going to NEED one at home (or vice-versa) is a 3D mouse. Seriously… it’s like going from playing a video game on the keyboard to using a gamepad… or something like that. If you haven’t used one you’ll be asking your mouse, “Where have you been all my life, you wonderful thing?” :slight_smile:
Okay… maybe that’s a bit over the top. But they are really useful and exceptionally cool. https://www.3dconnexion.com/products/spacemouse.html


1 Like

Funny you should mention that…

One of our sponsors just got all new space mouses for their work space and gave us all of their old ones… We have I think 50 of them. We’re all playing with them now, it’s like learning to ride a bicycle for the first time!


Funny enough, I can’t actually agree about the 3D mouse, or at least the smaller ones without good hotkeys. I’m too used to the mouse hand + hotkeys hand workflow now that the 3D mouse just doesn’t feel right.

Yes. It will be between 4 to 8 years before the high school students start a permanent job. This is plenty of time for all the CAD software packages to go through one or two major revisions. The coworkers I have talked to value that someone applying for a job has familiarity with some CAD package so they know the basic concepts and, more importantly, knows how to think about the design. Some places I have worked used both Solidworks and Pro-E because some products were designed in one package and the rest in another and it was too much trouble to migrate the designs from one package to another.

The team I mentored this past season switched from Solidworks to OnShape because all the mentors and students who knew Solidworks had left and there was no one who used 3D CAD in their day job to teach it. The students chose OnShape partly because a 3D CAD software package would probably require much more processing power than available from laptops they are given by the school adn OnShape just required a browser. I had used OnShape for a few small personal projects but I don’t think that was a major factor in their decision. We were also able to do some training where I and the students were all in our respective homes and talking on a Skype call. We did experience some issues because the WiFi at the school was slow. Some of us set up hotspots using our cellphones to get around that bottleneck.

1 Like

We use SolidWorks largely for legacy reasons. Back when the team started, the school had a CAD class teaching SolidWorks. The class is not longer available, but the team has an established workflow without a strong reason to change. Adding onto that, all of our ME mentors use SolidWorks professionally, and are easily able to teach and give SW advice. If we switched to OnShape, we would all have to re-learn.

TL;DR Aint broke, don’t fix it.

X-post from my post on reddit on the subject:

Our team (1403) uses Autodesk Inventor, with a local server to store our files on. However, personally I use Inventor + GrabCAD Workbench to store my files and easily add other people to contribute to it.

On top of that, I’ve played around with Solidworks a bit, and found that the biggest thing is Solidworks will work better for you if you tend to create parts using sketches that are heavily based on geometry and geometric constraints, whereas in Inventor it’s more about defining dimensions, and creating parts off of known dimensions. While you can also simulate an elevator and a 4-bar mechanism in Inventor, Solidworks is much more intuitive in allowing you to set up that situation, which makes it a lot easier when you’re trying to create a drivetrain plate or part based off a scenario you set up in a sketch.

I would definitely switch to Solidworks, but after spending 3 years in Inventor, we’re gonna stick with Inventor for now and learn Solidworks in the background.

The final program that you could use is OnShape. I actually really like OnShape because anyone can use it since it runs off a browser rather than your computer, and because it automatically stores all your files on the cloud, and allow you to do things like split a project into 2 different paths (useful when you reach a point where you have two different ideas moving forward, and want to try implementing each one), and isn’t very difficult to use. However, I haven’t switched because it’s not as functional as Inventor or Solidworks.

That’s my $0.02 on the situation.

Hope it helps!

P.S. I didn’t mention F360 because Inventor is basically a much more upgraded version of it. All we use F360 for is CAM, and we’re planning to integrate HSM (CAM add-on) into Inventor anyway to do CAM right in the same program we CAD in.

I have found that a Razer Nostromo allows a 3D Mouse to nest neatly into the right side so it is pretty easy to shift your hand from the 3D mouse to the keypad.

That said, i really think it takes a while to get used to the 3D mouse and while I do think it is a performance increase, it isn’t huge. I would say you need to commit to using it for a solid 2-3 months to get used to it. For the purposes of this thread I don’t think it’s worth having students spend any time using them when CADing. For those CAD professionals out there it may be worth trying for you, but you’re not missing a ton if you don’t want to bother. I think getting a gamepad or something and mapping a bunch of shortcuts to it will speed up your efficiency way more then a 3D mouse would.

1 Like

We had it split 50/50 (which I don’t recommend)

We did our chassis in Fusion 360 since the guy who cuts our chassis can use it with his router.

We did the elevator/claw/intakes in Inventor because we had it installed on all of our lab computers.

I like how Inventor is laid out, however:

  1. No cloud = no taking work home (easily)
  2. No Mac support = no working at home (for me)

I also like fusion, however it is very slow to use sometimes, I’m not quite sure what the separation between parts and components should be, and it seems a little buggy. Although you can use SVGs to cut out graphics which is very nice.

It’s a tossup for what we’re going to use next year.

The team is switching from Inventor to Fusion 360 over the summer. The engineering teachers at the schools the team pulls from (who are conveniently also the robotics coaches) will also be making the same switch in their classrooms. Fusion’s integration of CAD, simulation, and CAM is desirable as we’re working towards designing and manufacturing parts more rapidly and we have two Haas CNC mills that we could be using a lot more effectively. Since we got them in 2016, we only had a single mentor/coach/school shop teacher who knew how to operate them. He’s leaving the school building where our build space is so our productivity will drop through the roof if we don’t make some changes (we are). As I type this all the students on the team are in a summer school class which is essentially covering CAD, CAM, CNC, manual machining, and all that fun stuff. We hope Fusion will streamline our design process and get more people designing and manufacturing parts.

I have personally used Inventor, Onshape, and Fusion 360 for FRC things in that order. I won’t say I was an expert in any of them, but I found I developed the same level of proficiency I had in Inventor in the other two packages in about 12 or so hours. I haven’t had a chance to crack into the stuff that really makes Fusion and Onshape different but the solid modeling environment in both is superior to Inventor IMHO. Inventor seems cluttered because it does so much stuff that’s important for the industry, but not really for high schoolers or FRC. Onshape and Fusion can do a lot of that but place more emphasis on the basic tools that are more important.

166 used to use Creo 2013-2018. For the 2019 season and forward, we moved to Solidworks. We switched for 2 reasons:

  1. PTC stopped giving us money.

  2. Solidworks is taught in 2 classes at our school so recruitment would be a lot easier.

1989 use Inventor as the school teaches it