Shapr3D: the little iPad product with plans to be a CAD contender

Shapr3D is a startup founded in 2015 in Budapest, Hungary. The company builds a CAD modeler originally introduced for iPads and Apple Pencil and has been optimized for the new Macs with the M1 processor. It’s causing a stir.

Shapr3D has the distinction of being a Mac-native direct modeler for CAD that is very fast on an iPad, but what it getting attention is the rapid pace of its development. The development team has been continuously iterating Shapr3D with the regular addition of new features. The product has been recognized with an Apple Design award and it has also just chalked up 20,000 iPad Pro customers.

In October, the company announced plans to support the iPad Pro for its added input support, which in addition to the Apple Pencil includes mouse, trackpad, and Lidar sensor.

Maybe that October news got a little lost in November when Apple introduced its new M1 processor and Shapr3D was included in the demo apps running on the new machines. The company says it will soon have a version of its 3D CAD tool for the new Apple Macs running on the Arm-based M1 processor.

Shapr3D founder István Csanády believes it’s time for a major shakeup in the CAD industry. He says every ten years or so, professional software sees a shakeup in which prices drop dramatically. He figures CAD software is long overdue for that shakeup.

Next-gen CAD

Shapr3D is an upstart company in every sense. Founder István Csanády says the introduction of the Apple Pencil for the iPad was partly an inspiration for the development of Shapr3D because of the naturalness of the interface. He says Shapr3D began as he began exploring the development of a CAD program using Open Cascade, an open-source modeling toolkit, which was famous in its day as CAS.CADE, the geometry engine for Euclid CAD by Matra Datavision. Csanády says Shapr3D really got its start when the team switched to the Parasolid engine that is the basis for many CAD programs including Solidworks and Siemens NX.

Csanády and his team think there’s a place in the industry for a brand new CAD program that doesn’t carry all the baggage of older software, is lightweight, and easy to use. It should be inexpensive and does not require a workstation to run. Rather, it should run on devices that everyone can afford and carry around with them, like an iPad.

New announcements from the company include 3D alignment, augmented reality, and plans to add support for MacOS by the end of the year.

3D alignment is pretty basic but an important feature. It enables Shapr3D users to select faces or edges of models to snap them together. Other recent updates include the ability to import SolidWorks parts and assemblies into Shapr3D.

The company has added support for USDZ output, which means models created in Shapr3D can be exported to Apple’s Reality Composer to put models into real world contexts.

The really big news, of course, is the support for MacOS and that news just got bigger with the introduction of Apple’s new M1 processors.

The next step

Up until now, the Shapr3D team has talked about the iPad as its primary platform, which gives the company an edge; since there are few CAD tools for the iPad. But, Csanády sees even more opportunity in Apple’s development of a line of creative tools, which span the mobile phone to professional workstations.

The workflow is primarily to draw a shape and then extrude it to create a 3D shape. In addition to extrude, it supports revolve, sweep, loft, and shell. It also supports Boolean operations—union, subtract, intersect. It supports fillets and chamfers. Dimensions can be added throughout the workflow to further define the object.

More tools are being added and the ones that are there are being refined. It relies on the Apple pencil, which gives Shapr3D an intuitive two-handed workflow. Users can move their model with touch commands and precisely pick the points, edges, and faces with the pencil. It’s a very intuitive workflow.

Shapr3D comes with a load of easy-to-follow tutorials to present its approach to modeling and enables users to get up and running very quickly, but it’s best for very simple design tasks. Alternatively, complex geometry can be imported into Shapr3D and edited. As stated at the outset, Shapr3D is well suited to the iPad as a product for industrial design, prototyping, parts, reviewing designs, etc. Many users use Shapr3D as a front end for additive manufacture, parts replacement, etc.

A limited version of the program is available for free. It’s also available for subscription for $20 a month paid upfront, or $25 a month on a month-to-month basis.

Some customers are already using Shapr3d for complex parts and for manufacture but the Shapr3D team have plans to continue adding features to build a competitive CAD product.

Shapr3D imports 2D CAD via DWG and DXF, and can import 3D models via X_T (Parasolid), STEP, IGES, STL (for reference), SHAPR, SolidWorks SLDPRT, and SolidWorks SLDASM (assembles). Shapr3D can also import image files to use as references.

The free version of Shapr3D exports low-quality STL. The pro version exports DWG, DXF, X_T, STEP, IGES, OBJ (with colors), STL, SHAPR, and USDZ. Designs can also be exported as Image files.

The Shapr3D team has described a workflow between SolidWorks and Shapr3D that allows files created in SolidWorks to be imported into Shapr3D for quick direct edits anywhere using an iPad through its support for SLDPRT and SLDASM. Shapr3D maintains the information in assemblies so the file can be sent back to SolidWorks. To go the other way, files created in Shapr3D can be saved as X_T files and imported into SolidWorks.

The company hopes to build in support for other workflows, add support for assemblies, and parametric assemblies all on the way to build Shapr3D as a powerful CAD tool in its own right.

Right now, the Shapr3D team sees its product as the missing link between creative design tools and more complex desktop CAD tools. István Csanády says Shapr3D meets the huge demand he sees for “next gen innovation and for new tools that are designed for the 21st century.”

The world changes

Shapr3D has already been turning heads as an iPad native tool for CAD design, but the company is really excited about the potential Apple has created with the introduction of its fast Arm-based M1 processor. There have already been benchmarks published using Cinebench to compare the Arm-based machines to their Intel counterparts. The performance capabilities of the M1 are significant. The new Macs are significantly outperforming their Intel counterparts. In addition, Apple has significantly improved single-core performance, which is where CAD software lives. Csanády notes that Apple is showing strength from the bottom of its new product line, so future developments will further up the ante in the computer sweepstakes.

“With the announcement this week, it felt like the final piece of the puzzle is there,” says Csanády. “All of our bets seem to be working.” By this, he means that the platform shift he saw coming Is happening as the Mac OS and the iOS converge. And, he notes, “the world is shifting to Arm.” Looking at the new Macs, Csanády says, given the performance they’re already getting it’s easy to extrapolate forward and see that in the future, “there will be no comparable computer in the world.”

There’s nothing but headroom for Shapr3D, which was developed to run in the iPad. As a clean sheet CAD program Csanády says Shapr3D does not have the baggage of legacy software like competitors Dassault Systèmes Solidworks, or Autodesk Fusion and that’s where the company plans to start building.

What do we think?

The product is on a long road but it has investors ($7 million, according to Crunchbase), and currently about 80 employees most of whom are developers. The company has an accelerating development schedule. The headcount has been growing steadily and so had development.

Apple also has very big plans and they’ve showcased Shapr3d in their presentation of the new M1-based machines. There is an interesting continuum developing between mobile and desktop over in the Mac world. As Apple moves to the Arm processor, the iPad Pro becomes a hybrid device that sits comfortably between tablet and computer. That’s a great enabler for CAD tools, which would let users use the desktop for heavy design and development tasks, but have access to their data in the field, at home, or by the pool for further work.

Looking ahead, the iPad Pro’s support for Lidar means that 3D models can be captured and brought into Shapr3D edited and exported for AR or 3D prints.

Creative people in this world need better tools for 3D conceptualization, design, and realization. Better options are speeding their way here from the future and they’ll include a combination of input options including Lidar, photogrammetry, pre-made shapes, easier reverse engineering tools, sculpting, etc. Above all, they should be easy to understand and use and that’s where Shapr3D is coming from.