In new independent industry research sponsored by Onshape, a majority of 850 product development professionals reported that improving their design processes was a much higher priority this year than improving their design tools – such as CAD or engineering applications – and was also far more important than exploring the use of additive manufacturing or generative design. (You can read the full 26-page “State of Product Development & Hardware Design 2019” research report here.)

So why would a company that develops CAD software, albeit a more powerful version of parametric modeling, trumpet a study that doesn’t put design tools front and center?

“It sounds counterintuitive coming from a CAD vendor, doesn’t it?” says Onshape co-founder John McEleney. “Every product development team needs CAD, of course, but it’s not top-of-mind compared to having the ability to monitor your team’s progress, being able to quickly and efficiently share critical information, and figuring out how to improve the overall process. The big question is how do you actually do that?”

The reality is that there is no contradiction between this latest research and Onshape’s mission to help our customers build better products faster. CAD is only one component – make no mistake, an important one – of Onshape’s cloud product development platform, which also includes release management, workflow, real-time collaboration tools, business analytics and an API with more than 50 engineering applications.

Let’s take a closer look at the research findings and see how Onshape fares with various product development challenges.

Improving Communication Within an Extended Design Team

Graphic that says 89% of product developers want earlier and better communication between members of their extended design team.

We asked product development professionals to identify the most important areas of improvement to boost productivity. For individual contributors at larger companies (defined as having more than 10 people involved in the design process), the top priority was improving internal communication between members of their extended design team – and starting that communication much earlier in the process.

This goal refers to reducing overall miscommunication, increasing the amount of communication between internal teams or with external partners, and reclaiming missed opportunities to get design feedback from outlier contributors who could have game-changing ideas.

“Communication” seems like an empty buzzword from a marriage counselor, but ignoring it in the design world comes with costly and lasting consequences.

Let’s say you are a tier-1 supplier for the auto industry and you are supplying turbochargers to both Mercedes and Chrysler for their next-generation vehicles. If Mercedes uses design platform A and Chrysler uses design platform B, you have to purchase both systems. Maybe there’s a third system in the mix, and in addition to that, the car companies might be using different versions of the design platform that you’ve installed. The incompatibility of different CAD systems makes it very difficult for design partners to share data early and easily.

Not being able to read each other’s data causes frustrating delays with both parties focusing on software issues rather than the product design itself. Factor in that suppliers have multiple customers and the auto companies have multiple suppliers, and communication becomes one big mess.

Montage of media headlines talking about the production delays of Boeing and Airbus airliners due to communication problems.

Media headlines relay the problems of major airlines which could not get their multiple design and manufacturing partners on the same page.

Communication problems have paralyzed some of the world’s most successful companies. Two of the more famous examples are Boeing and Airbus, the biggest rivals in the aircraft industry. The double-decker Airbus A380 superjumbo jet, the world’s largest passenger plane, began its development with massive production delays because different factories were using incompatible design software.

Similarly, one of the many reasons the Boeing 787 Dreamliner went billions of dollars over budget and fell years behind schedule was because its 17 design teams in 10 countries had problems communicating effectively.

Software incompatibility has been made obsolete by Onshape’s cloud platform. Every Onshape user in the world is always using the latest version of the software, with automatic upgrades being added every three weeks.

In addition, sharing a CAD model with a design partner is as easy as sending a link. Onshape Sharing allows you to securely and instantly collaborate with a colleague, vendor, customer or partner by granting them editing, commenting or view-only access rights to a CAD model. Equally valuable is the ability to instantly withdraw outside access to your designs when a project is over, reducing the risk of unintentionally leaking your intellectual property.

Photo of a prototype XING Mobility supercar used to test the company's electric motors and batteries. XING Mobility uses Onshape's real-time data management to prevent version control problems with their designs.

XING Mobility, which builds its own supercars to test its electric motors and batteries, says Onshape improves communication between its different internal engineering teams. The typical XING battery pack involves a complex assembly of 7,000 to 8,000 components.

XING Mobility, a Taiwan-based provider of electric motors and batteries for trucks, busses, boats and construction equipment, relies on Onshape to give its clients up-to-the-minute product design updates.

“Because we’re designing full powertrain systems for other companies, these customers really depend on us to design the heart of their vehicles,” says CTO Azizi Tucker. “Tight coordination between the XING team and our customers is essential, so being able to share CAD models in real time is very valuable. Our customers have been pleasantly surprised by the efficiency of our service as a result.”

“With our old CAD system, we had to email Zip files back and forth and it got quite messy with version control,” he adds. “As our company grows, Onshape has made it so much easier for me to manage our different engineering groups and review their progress in real time.”

The Consequences of Poor Version Control

Graphic that says that 86% of product developers say they need to reduce errors resulting from working on the wrong version of a design or receiving important information too late.

The second highest priority of product development professionals responding to the survey was reducing mistakes due to version control problems, i.e. confusion over which version of the product design is really the latest version.

These are preventable data management issues that result in costly manufacturing mistakes, and ultimately, a slower time to market.

Manufacturing the wrong part based on mistakenly working off an outdated design may result in poor aesthetics, assembly or functionality problems – or worst case scenario, product recalls and risks to people’s lives. It also could lead to purchasing the wrong kind or quantity of raw materials or even inaccurate marketing collateral.

Even if you’ve never been in the product development trenches, version control problems can easily drive you to madness. If you are collaborating on a written document with a partner making changes and sharing feedback, you’ll soon have multiple versions of that document. If they don’t use “track changes” (in Microsoft Word) or “Suggest Edit” mode (in Google Docs), you have no idea who made what changes and when. You may not even realize there are changes.

When I worked at a public relations firm a few years back, there was a militant version control protocol that required you to create and label a new version (i.e. “Doc-1,” “Doc-2,” “Doc-3,” etc.) even if only a comma was changed. But even that system had its flaws. After a document was “finalized” and approved by a client, it would be labeled “Doc-Final,” but inevitably, further changes would come and we’d wind up with file names like “Doc-Final-Final” and “Doc-FinalX.” The stakes of confusion were high. Just like with manufacturing a part, once a document was published, you couldn’t call it back.

With Onshape’s real-time data management, whenever one member of the team makes a design change, everyone else instantly sees it. Everyone on the design team is always looking at the latest version of the project, and a comprehensive Edit History tracks who made what changes and when. Similar to the automatic built-in versioning of Google Docs, Onshape users can always return to any prior state of the design at anytime.

Onshape users no longer ask “Which version is the latest version?” Ever.

Screenshot of an Onshape design of a quantum computer component

IonQ, developer of the “world’s most advanced quantum computer,” says Onshape’s real-time data management speeds up R&D and improves collaboration.

IonQ, the pioneer developer of the “world’s most advanced quantum computer,” values Onshape’s real-time data management for keeping track of its constant iterations.

“A quantum computer is an enormously complex device with thousands of individual parts,” says Jonathan Mizrahi, Director of Hardware at IonQ. “So it's of vital importance that this massive assembly have up-to-date parts, and we know what's final and what we’re still editing. I like that Onshape’s version control is automated. Everybody sees what everybody else is doing immediately.”

“Onshape gives us confidence that we always have the newest version and that everything is going to fit together as expected,” he adds.

Read the Full Research Report

Cover of the independent research report, the

Offering insights for small and large companies alike, “The State of Product Development & Hardware Design 2019” includes the input of a broad cross-section of executives, engineering managers, product designers, sales technicians, QA engineers, and CAD administrators.

The 26-page research report from Onshape answers questions such as:

  • What are companies identifying as their top priorities to boost productivity?
  • What obstacles are slowing down product development teams and what can be done to eliminate or reduce those obstacles?
  • What impact do cloud-based technologies have on a company's self-reported productivity and innovation?

To read the full report, download your copy here.