October News


“Without you, this would just be another practice” — Barry Laubsch, to audience at Lobethal Harmony Club, 23rd Oct, 2010.

The Changing CAD Market

Mechanical CAD

We used to place more emphasis on CAD and spent a small fortune on various packages. As our target market shifted more to embedded software, our desire to pay a ransom on maintenance decreased rapidly.

In October, 2014, we wrote on our CAD page that perhaps a “pay per use” model will work in the future. Obviously enough other folk were thinking along the same track, and even large players like Adobe have radically changed their usage and pricing structures. Mechanical CAD is about to be shaken up by Onshape.

We have created an OnShape account and are impressed by how they managed to provide a web based interface that works across various devices. For quick sketches on something like a tablet (new tablets like the iPad Pro will be excellent for starting some exploration during a commute), and then completing the finer details on a desktop. This is bound to gather a following.

There is no evaluation version of OnShape — even the free version is a fully functional package. The professional version is US$100 a month. SolidWorks have said they will waive the rejoining fee to get back into maintenance this year (by end 2015), but their normal policy is to charge for the gap “out of maintenance per year up to the price of a new package”. What if you have not used the package for a year or changed to another package? We'll leave those questions for others to find the answers, as on principal, we don't charge people for something they did not use. When initially purchasing SolidWorks, we were charged annual maintenance upfront, and that annual maintenance is getting to be almost 20% of the purchase price of something that has no resale value. We welcome the OnShape challenge. We also like the fact that you do not get charged more for being in some location outside the USA, particularly in Australia where markups for downloaded packages are significantly higher than in the USA.


Electronic CAD

Electronic CAD will not be immune to a market shakeup. There are several packages available for schematic capture as well as layout. We have looked at some PCB vendors, particularly, OrderPCBs.com. They have a free PCB design tool and according to their website, they are actively integrating native Altium file support.

OrderPCBs provide pricing on their website, which is a welcome change to the problems we experienced in trying to get quotes for items as diverse as wood, stainless steel, laser cutting, and yes — PCBs.

Just as people complain about unfair pricing (not forced to buy), markets open up to a challenger with a fairer proposal. The private TV channels who charged enough to attract the likes of Apple TV, or the Woolworths retailers in Australia who charged more than the UK retailers, have themselves to thank for the arrival of Aldi and company.

What are the barriers to entry for mechanical and electronic CAD? If you want to make something rather than just generate a sketch, the interface to the machinery for additive or subtractive manufacturing is important. Electronic schematic capture has little value without a layout tool, which needs to be able to photoplot. The board manufacturers take care of the drilling and stackup, but population of surface mounted parts for higher volumes requires another interface. The likes of Digi-Key, Farnel (element14) and large distributors provide schematic capture in the hope of selling components. There is even a Mentor Graphics bundle available from Digi-Key.

Altium has joined in with a free offering — CircuitMaker, and various other (incompatible?) offerings like CircuitStudio and PCBWorks. Not sure why they added in so many distractions for their developers, but someone had a convincing PowerPoint presentation with bigger and bigger slices of the pie or increasing bar charts. Certainly good enough to corner a budget.

What's in it for them?

What incentives are there for mechanical vendors? Laser cutting seems more prevalent than PCB manufacturers, with plenty still in expensive locations. For them, the incentive looks like the migration from a free package to a “pay-per-use” model. The cloud has made this possible, and tablets plus phones have a web interface. Apps are bound to follow, particularly when not connected to the cloud or internet access. Initial design could start on a tablet, but my guess is that eventually it would have to move to a GPU based workstation for model rotation. These are also no longer expensive.

We have been to the SolidWorks 2016 launch and are about to go to Altium's product update. Our Altium package is in maintenance through to June 2016, but not SolidWorks. Will that change? 2016 promises to be a very interesting year in the CAD market.

Tales from the Woods

The end of this format

We mentioned that the “Tales from the Woods’ was about to retire. What happened? There is a tree in the City Botanical Gardens (Brisbane) along Alice Street defying all OHS regulations and climbing over a sharp pointed fence. It is even trying to escape from the park and taking over a little bit of paving. Did this happen overnight? Have budgets for making park fences safe for trees been scraped with the political revolving doors? Who knows, but this poor tree is slowly trying to find water and digest the fence that is a pain in its side.

Large tree in Brisbane City Botanical Gardens

Large tree in Brisbane City Botanical Gardens

A little further back. It is certaily a magnificent tree. Maybe someone can remove the fence?

Xilinx tests quad A53 based FPGA

There are several videos at Xilinx.com showing the silicon bring-up for the new 64-bit ARM based FPGAs. It looks like they beat Altera to finally produce silicon for the 64-bit ARM cores. It promises to be very interesting technology in the months ahead. Well done!


The mechanical CAD market looks like it is about to change. A large portion of the SolidWorks team have formed a new venture after raising $80 million. We wish them well, and have joined up for an account. The startup was formed a while back, but the email campaign has reached the likes of us. It is also time to consider upgrading or getting back into subscription with SolidWorks, but the launch on 20th October in Brisbane was not groundbreaking enough to take our money, and the threat of $750 penalty to get back into maintenance usually turns us away from a company completely. Apparently, the “rejoining” fee will be waived. The 3D printer market and their tools might also determine any future directions, and honestly, we want something that runs on a Unix-like platform or file system.

A little delving reveals that one of the cofounders previously started SolidWorks and four years later sold it to Dassault for $316 million. The total raised by Onshape was $144 million, according to Onshape Raises $80 Million Led By Andreessen Horowitz, dated 24th Sep, 2015. Now why would you go to venture capitalists when you previously made so much on a sale? The potential market is indeed huge, as are the stakes.

NXP Payments

MasterCard and NXP Partner to Bring Payments to Any Device, dated 26th Oct, 2015.

Qualcomm 24 Core device

See Qualcomm Technologies announces new specs for ARM-based data-center SoC, dated 10th Oct, 2015. They have provided demonstrations to customers with a pre-production device, however, it is sure to shake up the server market. If you look at their financials, they gave $14 billion back to shareholders! ( Nov 5 press statement). So they look like they can fund the development. They are also shipping 64-bit mobile devices, so 2016 may finally see some ARM activity in the data centres.