Onshape sponsored a night of industry insights and networking opportunities on September 14 at the PTC Corporate Experience Center in Boston. The event was organized and hosted by Boston Hardware Meetup, a group dedicated to bringing together like-minded people in the hardware startup ecosystem.

Hardware Meetups happen across 20-plus cities monthly and help bring together different professionals with a shared interest in building companies that make tangible products. The Boston Hardware Meetup gathers at corporate venues in and around the city and features a speaker program, refreshments, an “open mic” time for members, and a chance to network. 

Before the scheduled program began, people dipped in and out of informal discussions about new technologies, evolving business plans, funding, and the ubiquitous pressure to do more with limited time and money. 

Attendees eat and chat.Conversations around the sandwich buffet.

For the 45th Boston Hardware Meetup, speakers included:

  • Dr. David Anderson, CEO and founder of Engora, gave a talk called Compute-First Engineering Design. 

  • Jon Hirschtick, Onshape co-founder and chief evangelist, and Michael “the Professor” LaFleche, Onshape director of technical content, held a fireside chat on Hirschtick’s 42-year CAD journey and what he’d recently learned about how product developers work today.

  • Attendees took to the open mic and shared ideas.

Finding the Correct Part

Dr. David Anderson asked listeners to imagine that they’d designed their product, done all the simulation, and now needed to find parts. Harder than it looks, he says. He said that unless you can locate or manufacture what you need, your product is at a standstill. Worse, you’ll waste time fruitlessly leafing through part catalogs. Anderson’s startup is working to solve this problem by automating industrial component selection and sourcing.

A speaker on the stageDr. David Anderson talks about developing Engora’s AI-powered industrial sourcing platform.

How Product Designers Work Today

Michael LaFleche spoke with Jon Hirschtick of Onshape for a fireside chat about his 42-year journey in CAD and PDM software as a co-founder of both SOLIDWORKS and Onshape. Hirschtick is now Onshape’s chief evangelist. 

Jon and Michael on stage.On stage from left: Jon Hirschtick, Onshape’s Chief Evangelist, and Michael “The Professor” LaFleche, Onshape's Director of Technical Content, in a fireside chat.

Hirschtick said that a large part of his current role is returning to the field. He decided he’d visit one user site a week (33 this year) to continue learning about product developers and how they worked. 

He observed that product developers remained focused on what they’ve always cared about – speed, innovation, cost-effectiveness, and the ability to respond to change – but how they addressed these challenges had changed.  

Hirschtick talked about the types of technology making an impact and made a more extensive observation about the increasing presence of a social component in new businesses.

Using Agile Hardware Development Methods

Product developers have adopted practices from agile software development in part because they had to, Hirschtick said. Companies now face people cycling on and off teams, changing regulations, and broken supply chains – to name only a few challenges. 

Hirschtick spread his arms as he invited audience members to imagine the large paper stacks of 18-month project plans he encountered earlier in his career. Now, such “waterfall” project planning methods are often irrelevant. 

To nail in his point, Hirschtick then quizzed the audience on how many attended a daily huddle or used systems such as JIRA – all part of agile methodology.  

Additive Manufacturing 

Another change Hirschtick noticed over the last few years has been the increased use of additive manufacturing at volume. 

“Every year, it’s reinvented. Every year, what you can do with it evolves,” he said. 

Hirschtick described facilities he’d walked into recently that were filled with baskets of spare parts and hundreds of printers, including those dedicated to producing complex parts for internal use.  

“None of this was happening with additive a few years ago, and if you had even three or four printers, most of them were usually broken. Now people can print complex parts for internal use, so additive isn’t just about tools and fixtures,” he said. 

Augmented Reality

“I think the A in AR stands for awesomeness,” Hirschtick said, noting it’s essential for product designers to see their product in the physical world and to do it quickly as part of their everyday workflows.

LaFleche demoed Onshape’s AR capabilities, pointing out the functions available to every user via a live app (as opposed to a viewer) on a mobile device. 

AR demo
Get on your bike and ride: Onshape’s Michael LaFleche demos Onshape’s AR capabilities.

A Social Component 

Hirschtick closed by saying that during his time as Onshape’s Chief Evangelist, he’d also seen a rise in for-profit businesses with a social component wired in, such as the UK-based startup OX Delivers

“Think of it as an Uber for potatoes,” he said. 

The company’s technology – the electrified OX truck – serves as a lifeline for those globally, especially for sub-Saharan African residents who lack access to motorized transport to take goods to market. OX Delivers is currently conducting a pilot with small rural farmers in Rwanda. 

Hirschtick and LaFleche told the audience of entrepreneurs and product designers that, in business conditions “where the ground is shifting under our feet,” Onshape was perfect for startups.  

Don’t Miss Out on the Onshape Startup Program

LaFleche and Hirschtick encouraged listeners to apply to the Onshape Startup Program. For those who qualify, Onshape offers free professional licenses subject to certain terms and conditions. Hundreds of companies are now active program participants. 

The meeting concluded with the popular “open mic” portion, where attendees who had founded or worked in startups stood up to discuss their businesses, ideas, and open jobs. 

Your Next Step    

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