When Onshape was first launched in 2015, our Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product development platform was not built with any crisis or extraordinary circumstances in mind. Our cloud-native collaboration tools were designed to improve teams’ regular everyday processes, speeding up communication and giving engineers the flexibility to work together online anywhere from any device.
But as our customers have navigated through the personal and professional challenges of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, we are proud of Onshape’s role in helping them achieve as much business continuity and stability as possible.
This has truly been a time when the engineering and manufacturing world has proven its centrality for protecting and improving our quality of life. Product development, of course, is related to nearly everything we touch, eat, hear or see outside of nature. Here’s a quick look at how much usage time Onshape customers have invested in their projects from late January (before the pandemic hit the United States) through early April:
The above chart shows the total day-to-day usage of Onshape’s Professional users over a 12-week period. The peaks represent weekdays and the valleys are the weekends. As a general observation, you can see that engineers are more likely to burn the candle at both ends on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and like to call it quits early on Fridays (don’t we all). The low Friday and Monday you see on the far right of the chart was Easter weekend.
At a quick glance, these weeks look pretty similar with slight variations in usage here and there. Without any context, you may even conclude that this is a boring chart. However, as you progress from left to right, you’re observing the work habits of engineers before the COVID-19 crisis forced businesses to send their employees home and after. What’s amazing to me is that during this drastic worldwide transition in everybody’s lives, our Professional customers continued using Onshape’s SaaS platform at relatively the same pace. When you consider that so many engineers’ lives have been severely impacted in so many ways outside of work, the fact Onshape customers have spent the same amount of time doing their design work from week to week is even more remarkable.
Needless to say, for engineers and product developers using installed on-premise software over the past few months, productivity has inevitably taken a huge hit. When teams are working remotely, there are more hurdles to jump over to get access to on-premise software. These obstacles include VPNs, network licenses, temporary licenses, data on computers you can no longer access – and not to mention the need for a high-performance computer at home powerful enough to run installed CAD software.
Whereas with cloud-native Onshape, engineers who transition to remote work face far fewer obstacles. Using a web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari) or mobile app (iOS or Android), product development teams can keep on working online from any computer, tablet or phone. Such is the nature of SaaS productivity tools, and this uninterrupted workflow is validated by the chart.
Helping Remote Engineering Teams Forge Ahead
Dixie Iron Works is a Texas-based manufacturer of valves, fittings and well service pumps for the oil and gas industry. In a recent panel discussion about “How Engineering Teams Can Adapt to Changing Work Environments,” Dixie’s Engineering Lead, Will Tiller noted that not every product development role can perfectly translate to remote work. So some improvisation is necessary.
“If an employee is working from home, clearly they can't run a CNC machine. But they can work on developing processes related to the parts they run on their machine,” he said. “You can focus on important, but not urgent, work. Things like quality assurance. Look at things that happen in your daily work activities that could be better, could be improved, that you have problems with – and spend this time just working on those processes. Try to fix the things that you normally don't have time to fix.”
Because Onshape allows teams to instantly share (and easily revoke access to) CAD models with colleagues and external partners, Tiller finds Onshape to be the ideal platform for including more perspectives earlier in the design process.
“I think you'll find that as you get more comfortable with having remote design reviews with your team, that you’ll realize you can take the same approach to involve your suppliers and customers,” he said. “That is something that we've used to really get more input at the beginning of a design phase from both ends of the chain, and we believe it helps us come up with a better product in the end.”
As Tiller eloquently put it in the panel discussion, “If there were any companies on the fence about how remote working could work out, these past few weeks have definitely pulled the band-aid off.”
But of course, companies aren’t alone in this giant social experiment. With most school systems shut down for the immediate future, the normal routines of students and teachers have been turned upside down, too.
Helping STEM Classrooms Forge Ahead
The Onshape Education chart above mirrors the same 12-week period measured earlier for Onshape Professional usage. You can see the same peaks and valleys for weekdays and weekends, although weekend use tends to be higher for students than professional engineers.
Student usage of Onshape hit an abrupt low in mid-March as instructors scrambled to find ways to continue teaching online, and college students had to move home. Students no longer had access to the computer labs where their traditional CAD software was installed, and thus had no access to their ongoing assignments.
However, the rise in educational usage after that sudden dropoff has been just as steep. As you can see, usage by teachers and students has been steadily climbing since and has reached record highs. Not only did Onshape engineering students get back to work, but many other instructors and students previously using installed CAD software switched to Onshape in the middle of the semester.
The rapid embracement of Onshape’s free Education Plan isn’t so surprising. For high school and college students who grew up using cloud education tools such as Google Docs – on PCs, Macs, and Chromebooks – using Onshape is just a natural extension of how they prefer to do their work. We are proud that Onshape has helped students and educators recover their almost-lost semester so effectively in record time.
Outside of the classroom, Onshape is also a popular choice for student FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) teams. The online platform’s real-time collaboration tools enable multiple students to simultaneously work together on the same design, seeing each other’s changes as they happen – and allow mentors to remotely observe team progress and provide instant feedback.
Responding to the cancelation of the 2020 FRC season, PTC has teamed up with the global FIRST organization to host “Robots to the Rescue,” a six-week virtual design competition that challenges teams to design a robot in Onshape that can solve a current world problem. Examples would include a robot that delivers emergency food and supplies to people living in remote areas, or a robot that cleans up pollution from the water and air.
So far, there are 380 student teams registered to compete in the “Robots to the Rescue” contest. FIRST participants are tomorrow’s engineers, business leaders and scientists. It’s exciting to see them get a headstart on brainstorming solutions to our biggest problems. (Attention FIRST teams: The entry deadline is May 15, 2020, so there is still time to sign up!)
Are You Designing a Project Related to COVID-19?
These are unprecedented times and the engineering and manufacturing community – from open-source projects and startup companies to the world’s biggest corporations – is stepping forward to help find solutions.
In that spirit, free time-limited subscriptions to Onshape will be considered for projects that:
- Provide a solution contributing to the treatment or research of COVID-19
- Address a coronavirus-related problem impacting a community
- Make their product design open-source (public) for the greater good
- Are not created for profit
Onshape may also provide consulting services, training and technical support for selected projects.
If you’d like to partner with Onshape on a qualifying project – or if you are a current Onshape customer who would like to be matched to a project – please get in touch with us here.