Onshape Gives Product Designers and Manufacturers the Gift of Time

The Fifth Annual NEVY Awards on May 17th are a celebration of the best people and teams building incredible products and services in New England. Our Nominee Spotlight Series showcases the work of our nominees and what drives them to continue innovating.

Today we’re telling the story of Onshape, a startup that does what we do best here in Boston: collaboration.

Onshape co-founders (from left to right) John McEleney, Scott Harris, Michael Lauer and Jon Hirschtick celebrate the first year of Onshape’s commercial release in December 2016. Not pictured are company co-founders Dave Corcoran and Tommy Li.

By John McEleney

It’s an honor for Onshape to be nominated for a NEVY Award in the “Next Pillar Tech Company” category! We certainly see ourselves that way and are proud to be recognized as an industry innovator so soon after the first birthday of Onshape’s commercial release.

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software is the backbone of the global economy. Nearly every manufactured product in the world begins its life as a 3D computer model. Onshape’s mission of moving the millions of professional CAD users to the cloud — where they can seamlessly collaborate and communicate with their teams in real-time — won’t happen overnight. But it’s worth pausing to celebrate some remarkable benchmarks:

  • Designers and engineers have created more than 1,000,000 Onshape Documents, project-specific containers that hold parts, assemblies and manufacturing drawings.
  • Onshape users have logged in from over 190 countries (depending on your politics, there are between 189 and 196 independent countries in the world). Over the past year, Onshape was made available in German, Korean, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese.
  • One of six Onshape logins is from an iOS or Android mobile device. Onshape customers truly value the ability to create and edit models on their phones and tablets, versus just using them as a mobile viewer.
  • Onshape users have received 20 updates with 167 features/enhancements over the past 16 months. Contrast this with traditional file-based CAD systems, which usually offer only one major software update each year.

What’s remarkable about Onshape’s international reach is that we are not currently doing any marketing in the vast majority of countries where people are logging in. Word of mouth is a powerful thing. Engineers and designers from every corner of the planet recognize that full-cloud CAD makes their companies more agile.

Like many tech companies, we have an open seating plan where executives and founders don’t hide in hermetically sealed offices. One of the benefits of sitting near the sales team is being able to get a real-time snapshot of how our product is resonating with customers.

The other day, I overheard a phone call that almost made my heart stop: A frustrated engineer reported that the traditional CAD system crashed on his computer 19 times in a day. Not in a month, not in a week, but 19 crashes in a day!

Granted, most engineers never experience this kind of misfortune at that scale. But almost everyone has crashed once and it usually seems to come at the worst time. Autosave isn’t always your savior. Whatever work you did since the last autosave is lost forever — and you’ll lose additional time recreating that work. Not to mention the time suck of rebooting from scratch if you see the ominous “Blue Screen of Death.”

Onshape doesn’t have a crashing problem. Because of its unique database architecture, all CAD data is stored instantaneously and redundantly. And every Onshape Document has a permanently saved Change History so you can always return to any earlier stage of your work. Consequently, many people think of us as the “Google Docs of CAD.”

We’re also giving CAD users the unprecedented freedom of being able to work on any computer, phone or tablet without the burden of restrictive licenses. By eliminating the administrative bureaucracy of product design, improving collaboration and making workflows faster, Onshape is giving engineers and manufacturers the gift of time. Reclaimed time from no longer worrying about system crashes and new time created by more efficient processes.

Product designers can now focus more on designing products and taking more creative risks. Innovation can’t be forced or ordered on demand. It takes a combination of talent, timing, circumstances, resources and often, a little luck. But innovation is far more likely to happen when you push the roadblocks out of the way. That’s what we’re striving to do for our customers and we look forward to seeing what else they create in 2017!


John McEleney is a co-founder of Onshape, the only full-cloud professional 3D CAD system that runs on any computer, phone or tablet. His 30-plus years of experience in the mechanical design/software industry includes being CEO of SolidWorks and CEO of CloudSwitch, a cloud enterprise software company acquired by Verizon. He is also currently a director of Stratasys, Inc., a publicly held 3D printing company. John holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Rochester, an MS in manufacturing systems engineering from Boston University, and an MBA from Northeastern University. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, golf, and adventure travel.

Meet Onshape’s team at the 2017 NEVYs on May 17th at House of Blues in Boston. Grab your tix here.

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