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Businesses process can be automated and optimized using digital technologies such as cloud computing architectures, real-time collaboration and advanced data analytics. As they directly enhance business value, digitization solutions are rightly considered ‘strategic’ assets. Engineering workflow is a type of business process, and by extension those digital technologies that improve engineering processes, and directly enhance business value, are themselves strategic enablers.
To further explore the relationship between digitalization, engineering workflow and strategic business value, Dan Kara, VP, Robotics at WTWH Media recently interviewed John McEleney, Corporate Vice President of Strategy at PTC. With more than 30 years of experience in mechanical design and software, McEleney is well suited to the task. He was Co-founder Onshape, a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product development platform (acquired by PTC in 2019), as well as CEO of CloudSwitch, a cloud enterprise software company (acquired by Verizon). McEleney was also CEO of SolidWorks (acquired by Dassault Systèmes).
Dan Kara – In broad strokes, and with respect to ‘business value’ (as opposed to technical features), how does Onshape compare to other 3D CAD modeling solutions?
John McEleney – Onshape is the only Software as a Service (SaaS) product development platform on the market. What this means for companies is that they can access their design data on any platform, anytime, anywhere. In addition, Onshape uses a database vs a file-based approach for the system – which means the data management functionality is built into that underlying application. There is no need for additional software packages to manage project files, there is no software to install and most importantly, we solve one of engineering’s biggest headaches — “where’s the latest version?”
With Onshape there is only one version. One version of the software, one version of the data – this is possible because we took a fundamentally different approach when we built this system. Taken together, all of these capabilities mean that businesses spend less money and less time on the “care and feeding of the system”, and doing more of what they get paid to do… building innovative products, fast.
Dan Kara – Onshape was cloud native from day one. Why did Onshape architect their solution to be cloud-connected and use a software-as-service business model? What are the advantages for the engineering community and companies standardizing on Onshape for Computer Aided Design (CAD)?
John McEleney – In our previous lives, when we built SolidWorks about 25 years ago, we used the latest and greatest technology that was available at that time. As we embarked on the Onshape journey and spoke with hundreds of users, we heard a consistent theme — we want a reliable system that does not crash, we need to be able to access our data anywhere and that does not have the CAD overhead, i.e. the expense of caring and feeding of the system, which includes CAD software, data management software and the dedicated, expensive hardware to run these systems.
We saw a full cloud architecture and a native mobile application as a way to help solve these problems – one CAD system and the data all hosted in the cloud. The benefits to the engineering world are that they do not have to worry about all of the overhead and system intricacies, and instead can focus on design and solving real engineering problems.
Once you start using Onshape, you will not want to return to your legacy, installed base system as they are temperamental, expensive and they inhibit your ability to work with other users. The native collaboration capabilities of Onshape allow you to work differently with other team members and remove the drudgery of sending files with different formats and versions.
Because Onshape is built on a modern, cloud-based, redundant system – you simply login to use it, from any device. It is robust and reliable, and most importantly, it works.
Dan Kara – The robotics sector is both highly competitive and notoriously slow to bring solutions to market. How can Onshape speed development and accelerate time-to-market?
John McEleney – By eliminating non-value-added steps, we allow the CAD system to get out of the way and empower engineers to get their job done. Surveys have shown that mechanical engineers waste more than 50% of their time looking for the right version of their design, working around the crashes and managing the various version of their software. We help you to re-capture that time.
Surveys have shown that mechanical engineers waste more than 50% of their time looking for the right version of their design, working around the crashes and managing the various version of their software.
In addition, we make it easier to work with sub-contractors or different vendors through innovative capabilities such as Follow mode (any user can simply click on a link) and have access to live data and see exactly what the other user is pointing at or discussing. Many robotics companies are becoming more and more proficient in software engineering and when they explore Onshape it will feel very familiar – the idea of branching and merging is a fundamental capability of Onshape, but applied to the mechanical design world.
All of these capabilities allow you to parallelize your workflows vs. being forced to do a singular, serial process dictated by installed based design software.
Dan Kara – Digitalization can be broadly defined as the use of digital technologies to improve businesses, or more accurately business processes. How does Onshape’s solution support digitalization efforts? Why is this important?
John McEleney – Digital transformation is a key strategic imperative for most every company. The ability to apply digital technologies to automate and modify your workflow process is critical. Onshape allows for any stakeholder – engineer, supplier, manager or purchasing – to have access to the actual, live data controlled by the owner, without having any special software. This eliminates the need for people to take their live design and export it to some intermediate format so that it is consumable for other users.
This is important because as soon as you separate the data into multiple formats, you have a potential data management nightmare as any change needs to be replicated into the downstream system and into the multiple formats as well as notifying all users about the “new change.” You can imagine this exploding into a data management/revision nightmare. Sadly, this is what most companies are facing on a daily basis. We designed Onshape to solve this problem.
Kara – If we can drop into technology for a bit. Onshape is notable for its collaboration features. Can you comment on these capabilities and what benefits they confer?
John McEleney – Onshape is akin to Google Docs. Let’s say you are planning a Super Bowl potluck. You create and share a single Google Doc with your friends so they can fill out what they would be bringing to the party. You and your guests can see the complete list in real time, make changes on the same spreadsheet to avoid redundancy. This is how Onshape works.
Except, building products is a complex process. You are dealing with global teams, suppliers and partners. These individuals may be in different counties with different time zones, speak different languages and use different systems. The process can be hard to coordinate, time consuming and error prone. Onshape enables the innovators to design products and collaborate in real time, irrespective of their location or system.
Digital transformation is a key strategic imperative for most every company. The ability to apply digital technologies to automate and modify your workflow process is critical.
Dan Kara – On a similar note, can you speak to Onshape’s analytics features? What business value to analytics confer to engineering teams and engineering companies?
John McEleney – Since Onshape is a cloud-based platform, every user action is captured. Just to be clear, this is your data and we cannot see it, nor can anyone else. Users can be part of your team or part of a project, part of a supplier – in the end all of this information is captured by the platform. Like all good SaaS platforms, we have an analytics package that allows you to explore and monitor by user, by team, by project, by due date. You can use Onshape to identify things that are stuck in an ECO process waiting for approval, you can set alerts to find things that are taking longer than 48 hours for someone to respond or how long has a project taking. The ability to improve your design and manufacturing process is only limited by your imagination.
Dan Kara – In October 2019, Onshape agreed to be acquired by PTC, and that acquisition was finalized. What does this mean for Onshape and PTC. What is the advantage for Onshape and PTC customers?
John McEleney – It has been a little over a year since the acquisition and we are thrilled with the progress that we are making. PTC has invested heavily in Onshape and we have almost doubled our headcount and expanded our operations internationally
These investments are already paying dividends as we are experiencing great success with customers using Onshape. This can be measured by very high NPS (Net Promoter Scores), very low churn and increasing network effects of customers referring prospects to Onshape or by simply observing the innovative new products they are being designed, using our software.
In addition, we are using Onshape as the basis for the cloud operations for entire PTC SaaS product offering, including IoT (internet of things) and AR (augmented reality). The platform is called Atlas. The commercial and enterprise space are seeing very solid growth with Onshape, while the education market has seen explosive growth, especially due to COVID. We currently have over 800K educational users.
The benefit for existing Onshape and PTC customers as well as future customers is that we are broadening our portfolio of applications, our presence globally, and together we are changing how the world designs products.
Dan Kara is Vice President, Robotics at WTWH Media where he chartered with driving the company’s robotics initiatives including online and print publications, and in-person and digital events. Prior to joining WTWH, he was Practice Director, Robotics and Intelligent Systems at ABI Research and Chief Research Officer for Myria RAS, both research and advisory services firms focused on automation, robotics and intelligent systems. Dan also served as President of Robotics Trends, an integrated media and research firm serving the personal, service and industrial robotics markets. He holds an MS in Computer Science from Boston University. (Contact: dkara[AT]wtwhmedia.com, https://www.linkedin.com/in/dankara/).
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