4 Best Free and Paid Tools for CAD Collaboration
April 12, 2023
CAD collaboration software is delivering substantial improvements for its users, such as quickly unlocking cost savings opportunities, improving project organization, and seamlessly enrolling global team members. A challenge, though, is that many small and mid-size industrial manufacturers are budget-constrained. While they would ideally adopt the newest and highest-capability collaboration software, they must prioritize value over absolute function when deciding on a collaborative CAD tool.
Fortunately, several CAD collaboration solutions have a spectrum of free and paid versions. The four best tools are reviewed and compared below.
GrabCAD Workbench (free)
Best for hobbyist and student teams who need to collaborate on designs
GrabCAD is a 3D printing software company that creates solutions to simplify additive manufacturing workflow, including steps to prepare, schedule, monitor, and report part construction. Its first product, Workbench, helped engineers share and collaborate on CAD files, though GrabCAD is replacing Workbench with the GrabCAD Shop platform in January. Shop pricing ranges from $2,000 for the Education Pack to $20,000 Unlimited Pack. Shop does offer a free trial.
What is GrabCAD used for?
This software aids in CAD design and streamlines workflow. In addition, it offers a viewer for non-CAD users and added markup and communication tools in a desktop app to help teams work together. Finally, Workbench lets you work inside CAD systems, set up common parts libraries, and search uploaded custom properties to repurpose past work as a data repository.
The collaboration tool can generate BOMs and maintains correspondence within the program. GrabCAD compares Workbench to Dropbox, FTP sites, and other cloud-based servers. In addition, the free tool does not limit data storage or the number of projects and users.
What’s happening to GrabCAD?
GrabCAD is a 3D printing software company that creates solutions to simplify additive manufacturing workflow, including steps to prepare, schedule, monitor, and report part construction. Its first product, Workbench, helped engineers share and collaborate on CAD files. In addition, it offered a viewer for non-CAD users and added markup and communication tools in a desktop app to help teams work together.
GrabCAD is sunsetting Workbench on Jan. 1, 2023, moving users to their comprehensive GrabCAD AM Platform and Shop to streamline workflows.
Onshape (free and paid)
Best for companies looking for or replacing the entire CAD system
Onshape is a cloud-based collaborative CAD tool for engineering and design teams. While it offers similar advantages to GrabCAD Workbench, Onshape offers version control, analytics, and reporting. When comparing its collaboration software to Solidworks, Onshape provides the following benefits:
- Improved collaboration with multiple users
- Does not require a high-powered system
- Integrates with the web browser
- Native revision tracking
The tool does require an internet connection and has limited analysis tools and functionality vs. Solidworks, but it operates like G-suite and enables faster access to parts and assemblies.
Is Onshape free?
Onshape has a free option, with pricing ranging from a $1,500/user/year Standard seat that includes simple collaboration and data management to $2,500/user/year for enhanced release and data management controls. In addition, they offer elaborate custom enterprise solutions that can add IP tracking, role-based access control, and support for multiple workforces. Pricing on custom solutions requires engaging them for a quotation. One drawback of the free version is that the data exists in the public domain.
Fusion360 (free and paid)
Is Fusion360 better than Onshape?
Best for small businesses that are not building complex products
Fusion360 is Autodesk’s collaborative CAD tool that combines mechanical design with CAM, CAE, and PCB capability, similar to Solidworks. As its name implies, it provides a comprehensive connection for end-to-end product development and design for manufacture. Fusion360 lives in the space between GrabCAD and Onshape and is ideal for small businesses that do not need the horsepower Onshape offers.
A user with full licenses to both platforms compared Fusion360 with Solidworks in a Reddit review, citing Fusion’s advantage for early-stage prototyping via CNC machining. In addition, they highlighted the benefit of browser-based file sharing and its affordability vs. Onshape. So for applications and businesses ready to step up from GrabCAD, Fusion360 is an excellent next step.
Autodesk prices the collaboration software at $1,555 for 3 years (or $545 annually), creating a low barrier to entry to adopt enhanced cloud collaboration. They do offer a “hobbyist” free version, with the criteria of making less than $1,000 in annual revenue. The free license expires after 3 years.
Best for enterprises that are building complex products
CoLab takes the advantages of the above platforms and applies them to large-scale enterprise collaboration. It offers desktop and cloud-based solutions, making it easy to work together in the most effective way possible for your team.
The collaborative CAD tool offers native integrations with most CAD and PLM providers while providing all of the efficiency advantages CAD-PLM integration offers, including revision control, metadata, and change tracking.
Collaborative CAD tools elevate the quality and speed of product development and design for manufacturing. Whether the ideal solution is cloud-based or desktop—or both, engaging a secure platform to contain all the aspects of CAD collaboration removes technology barriers from your technical team – letting them focus on the vital, specialized development work. There are free and paid options, depending on your needs. Knowing what you need from the platform is the best way to attain the most value for your collaborative software investment.