Formlabs has discovered that the key to better hardware is... better software. 
The company that makes 3D printers and post-processing systems for production and rapid prototyping at some of the world’s top automotive, consumer products, and electronics companies has found that one software change shaves weeks and even months off development timelines by minimizing rework, enabling more real-time collaboration and design innovation, and gets new hires editing Computer-aided Design (CAD) files on their first day on the job—all without incurring additional  IT overhead.

That one change: Onshape and AWS

What’s made this crucial difference to Formlabs is the Onshape CAD and data management platform running on Amazon Web Services (AWS). Onshape’s solution uses a unique cloud database and architecture hosted in AWS and has no files, enabling its access-from-anywhere capability and eliminating the need to configure PCs for new employees or to manage and update on-prem servers. Because it’s based on AWS, Onshape can push out updates to Formlabs and other CAD customers every three weeks, getting new functionality to Formlabs and its other CAD customers faster and more reliably than those customers can see with on-prem updates.

Because the solution tracks every design change, team members can instantly revert to earlier designs if they wish. Executives overseeing multiple design projects can get up-to-date status reports without waiting for periodic design review meetings. 

This real-time collaboration-from-anywhere capability is possible thanks in part to the highly available, highly secure AWS services that address potential risks associated with broader data sharing. Those factors include AWS secure data centers, secure high-speed networking, and additional layered services, such as Virtual Private Clouds, Key Management Service and encryption. Formlabs gets the benefit of these security factors without having to deploy and manage them in its own environment.

Formlabs print and model in Onshape

A Formlabs printer as modeled in Onshape.

Real-time collaboration from anywhere

“With Onshape and AWS, we simply work differently than we used to,” says Adam Lebovitz, mechanical engineer at Formlabs, which has offices in the US, Europe, and Asia. “Designers and developers can look at each other’s progress and see changes they’re making to the design from wherever they are. They can explore those changes in real time and quickly provide feedback. That means smaller and more frequent review cycles.”

For example, when Lebovitz traveled recently to one of Formlabs’ outside manufacturers in Europe, he edited CAD files on the fly and shared the data with the manufacturer without needing to be  on his company’s network—and with designers back in Boston watching the changes in real time. When a colleague wants to see the most recent  progress on a current project, Lebovitz simply sends them a link.

Lebovitz and his colleagues also now have more confidence in their work because of Onshape’s reliability. “We catch and fix CAD mistakes more quickly, reducing our stress and increasing our confidence,” he says. “We’ve greatly reduced  the hassle and expense of receiving a manufactured part only to find that the part was manufactured based on out-of-date CAD files. I find myself doing much less re-ordering and reworking.” 

Eliminating the challenges of traditional CAD

Before turning to Onshape and AWS, Formlabs started out using a common on-premises CAD package—and encountered problems that are also all too common. If one designer changed specifications to a file, other designers couldn’t see them until the file was checked back into the system, delaying design cycles and inhibiting collaboration. Finding and fixing CAD file discrepancy  errors often took hours of Lebovitz’s time each week. 

The IT overhead for the solution was high and—as Formlabs continued to grow—getting higher, as the company had to manage and update servers, ensure the integrity of production data and backups, and configure desktops as new employees were onboarded. System updates needed to be on everyone’s machine at the same time to facilitate collaboration, and some annual updates were delayed or skipped because implementing them would slow product development cycles. And when  servers went down,  designers and others couldn’t access their data.

“We were at the whim of the servers,” says Lebovitz. “That’s not the case with Onshape and AWS.”

Quite the reverse. “It’s comforting to know that Onshape runs on AWS,” says Lebovitz. “AWS has always been reliable for us. It gives me a high level of confidence in what is for us a truly mission-critical solution.”

About Formlabs

Formlabs is expanding access to digital fabrication, so anyone can make anything. Headquartered in Somerville, Massachusetts with offices in Germany, Japan, China, Singapore, Hungary, and North Carolina, Formlabs is the professional 3D printer of choice for engineers, designers, manufacturers, and decision-makers around the globe.