During the era of zero-interest rates, investors were desperate for returns. The desperation turned to the ridiculous, such as buying cartoons of anthropomorphized apes and believing in 20% annual returns from crypto-exchanges. Others invested in new companies that promised to deliver on buzzwords like AR, crypto, AI, carbon.
The passion to invest in anything-everything has now retreated, what with with banks paying as much as 4% on savings accounts. Nevertheless, Techcrunch* continues to document those who dream of making it big with the Next Big Thing, and one of those is a new online 2D CAD (computer-aided design) program, Rayon (not the wood-fiber-based fabric).
Enter the Rayon
Since 2021, Paris-based Rayon [pronounced ray-on] has received around $6 million in funding from people like
- Norman Foster
- Rasmus Andersson
- Adam Wiggins
- David Basulto
- David Apple
Some of the investors even understand CAD.
Rayon is focused on architectural design, primarily floor plans populated with their ready-made block (symbol) library, aka space design. It currently is in open beta, with free access when you have three or fewer drawings; more than that costs you about about $300 annually and allows up to five people to collaborate*.
It runs in most Web browsers, so it can operate on your desktop, laptop, phone, Chromebook, and so on. Start a drawing on one, continue on another device. I opened a drawing on one computer, and then opened it in a second, and edited it with both computers. A yellow tag with my name showed me where the cursor from my other computer was.
Rayon has many of the basic drawing and editing commands you would expect in a 2D CAD program. If you have familiarity with CAD, then you'll have no problem picking it up. It is being updated monthly with new functions and bug fixes*.
The program appears to be written in Rust, and saves files in its own format called RY. It import-exports other files in DWG, DXF, PDF, and a variety of image formats.
What Rayon Does Well
Rayon does some things really well.
UI. The user interface is lovely: very clean and most functions are easily accessible.
Onboarding. Starting a new drawing by neophytes is tough in CAD, partly because the paper is effectively infinite in size, and because there are so many options that ought to be set up first, so that they don't become a problem later. Think layer standards. Rayon has a wonderful feature where you drag a blue line to match a known dimension on a DWG or PDF file being imported. See figure below. You cannot edit the PDF, only use it as a reference.
Tables. Rayon creates tables effortlessly, but it does not take long to hit limits. Tables only tabulate walls, zones, and zone dividers -- no regular entities. I could not figure out how to keep it from including the length of a zone with the lengths of the walls making up the zone. You cannot drag columns to change the order; instead, you have to delete and then insert. You can have many tables, and the contents of tables can be exported in CSV [comma-separated values] and Excel format.
What Ralph Grabowski Thinks
So, why do we need yet another 2D CAD package? There are, after all, already dozens and dozens of them; you can even start selling a pre-packaged one from intellicad.org -- just add your name and logo (after paying $42,000 membership fee*).
Rayon is, however, a multi-user 2D CAD package that runs in your Web browser from their servers (well, Amazon's servers). There appears to be no plan to go 3D*, which would then add all kinds of complexity.
Of this kind of 2D CAD program, there are very few. I count one from Autodesk, Graebert, and ...? The list is short, because CAD in the cloud is not particularly popular with customers, as the industry has, over the last decade, to its dismay learned.
In some ways, writing a new online CAD program is easy; the pioneers (Graebert*, Onshape*, and so on) show you how. Look at their UIs, their commands, their database structures. Onshape, for instance, has said that the secret of their success (they bagged $168 million in funding) was to start by writing the database, and then perching a 3D multi-user CAD program on top.
So, Rayon's emphasis is on its multi-user function. TechCrunch's reporter wrote, "What makes Rayon better than legacy software from Autodesk and others is that it’s a multiplayer-first experience. You can send a link to other team members and they can have a look at what you’ve been working on in just a few seconds."
Not so unique, as recent releases of desktop (legacy) CAD programs like Autodesk AutoCAD and Graebert ARES do the exact some thing: send a link to view drawings. TechCrunch continues, "Rayon supports annotations, comments and revisions." So do AutoCAD and ARES.
I would argue that the sole reason to run CAD in the cloud is to make it multi-user: two or more people editing the same drawing at once. This is impossible within desktop CAD; it can be simulated by running an in-house server (a la Graphisoft's Bimcloud) that controls the parts of a drawing being worked on. Because cloudCAD systems run already run on servers, they can handle a multi-user environment more easily.
When I had that drawing open on two computers, Rayon allowed me to edit the same entity with both computers, with no lock-outs; this makes things easier but more volatile. There is Undo/Redo (appear to be unlimited), but no branching as in Onshape.
Thing is, CAD users don't want other people messing with their drawing. Sure, if someone else wants to have a look, or if a plan checker wants to mark it up with redlining, then sure, have a look. Otherwise, it's one drafter per drawing and that is how it usually works in the real world.