You have to start somewhere. Even the most successful companies in the world started as an idea. So what separates the smart kids who built their dream businesses in their college dorms from those who keep on dreaming and never act on their ideas?

There are countless factors behind why a hardware startup thrives or dies (check out the new “Think Like a Startup” webinar series with Onshape founder Jon Hirschtick!). But out of the starting gate, they all minimally need the professional product design tools to execute their vision.

Starting a company costs money. Lots of it. After paying rent, utilities, shoestring salaries and other overhead, entrepreneurs often have little left over to invest in design software, let alone industrial equipment and upfront manufacturing costs. To use a Major League Baseball analogy, startups have to spend like the thrifty Tampa Bay Rays versus the cash-rich Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, and Padres.

And just as the innovative Rays have discovered, the best tools and processes are not necessarily the most expensive ones.

Why Onshape is the CAD of Choice for Startups

Although cloud-native Onshape’s SaaS business model is aimed at making companies of all sizes more productive, the accounting especially works in favor of startups – saving considerable time and money in ways that might not be immediately obvious. Here’s why:

1. CAD Cannot Live Alone

No hardware engineer just uses CAD. That’s why Onshape’s next-generation product development platform includes CAD, built-in PDM, release management and workflows, collaboration, analytics, ECAD/MCAD integration, simulation, rendering, admin tools, and an API with more than 50 engineering applications. When Onshape was started from scratch using a cloud database architecture, data management was built in at the core.  

2. No Huge Upfront CAD Investment

With its $1,500 (Standard) to $2,500 (Professional) annual subscription model, Onshape has enabled companies to start designing right away, without the need for spending $5,000-$6,000 per seat upfront (not to mention annual upgrade and maintenance fees). For the first year, nearly three engineers can be up and running for roughly the price of one. But even more substantial savings are realized by reducing the need for high-performance workstations (see #3).

3. No Need for Super-Duper Computers

Traditional desktop-installed CAD systems are very compute-intensive and often require the latest souped-up computers to run quickly and smoothly. Because Onshape runs in your web browser, with computations offloaded to the cloud versus done on a local machine, you can even design products from an inexpensive Chromebook.  

4. Built-In PDM

With cloud-native Onshape, product development teams always work on the latest version of a design. There are no copies, period. No more confusion and potential risk of team members overwriting each other’s work. Every minute is precious. Why spend it reworking avoidable mistakes? Because data management is not a clunky afterthought, there is no need to buy a cumbersome and expensive external PDM system. And Onshape’s built-in PDM requires no restrictive check-in/check-out workflows, meaning you can keep on working with no worries about “breaking the rules.”

5. Real-Time Collaboration

For the first time, multiple people can simultaneously work on the same CAD model. Designers and engineers can instantly see other contributors’ changes in real time. No more wasted time with delays (or the heightened security risk) from sharing files by email or Dropbox.

6. Better Protect Your Intellectual Property

Your IP is precious. Otherwise, why are you starting a company in the first place? Onshape’s Sharing feature 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 revoke outside access to your designs when a project is completed, reducing the risk of unintentionally leaking your intellectual property. 

7. Freedom to Work Anywhere

Onshape subscriptions are tied to individuals rather than specific computers. CAD users can work anytime on any computer or mobile device, Android or iOS. No more fighting for a shared computer with a CAD license.

8. More Time Designing, Less Time Managing

Onshape eliminates the traditional CAD administration hassles of installation, registration, licenses, copying files, and other IT headaches. Instead of worrying about managing their CAD system, your engineers and designers can actually be doing what they are paid to do. Do you really want your most productive engineers to be bogged down by IT problems?

9. Quicker Time to Market

Just like with filming a movie, the perfect product is rarely achieved in one take. A product launch usually comes after multiple design iterations and prototypes. Onshape’s Branching and Merging feature is invaluable when experimenting with design changes. Multiple variations, or branches, of a design can be quickly made without impacting the original model.

Snapshots of Onshape-Powered Startups

From robotic prosthetics and experimental aircraft to innovative consumer goods, Onshape is proving its value as the product development platform of choice for hardware startups. Let’s take a closer look…

Open Bionics Leverages Onshape’s Real-Time Collaboration Tools

Image of a child drawing with an Open Bionics Hero ArmThe Open Bionics Hero Arm, shown here with a Star Wars-themed magnetic cover, can be programmed with up to six different grips to help users perform a variety of daily tasks.

Based in Bristol, UK, Open Bionics is the developer of the Hero Arm, an advanced, lightweight, 3D-printed bionic prosthetic for people with a below-elbow amputation. The Hero Arm costs five times less than traditional bionic prosthetics, making the technology more accessible to people in need.

Jonathan Raines, Research and Development Manager at Open Bionics, recalls that he was initially attracted to Onshape because of its affordability to startups with tight budgets. The price of Onshape’s annual subscription, which includes regular software upgrades at no extra cost, was less than the competing vendor’s annual maintenance fee (on top of buying CAD). 

However, more importantly, it soon became apparent that Onshape’s real-time CAD collaboration tools could better streamline communication between the company’s mechanical, electrical, and firmware engineers.

“When we had (our old system), there were five people working on various bits,” recalls Raines. “And it was okay as long as we were working in different files – the finger in one file, the palm was in another, and the thumb was in another. As long as you divided up the work like that, it was great. But if two people needed to work on the palm, it was a disaster. That basically meant that they would both do their work, someone would save, and then the other person would have to sit and copy all their work into the same file.”

With Onshape’s Simultaneous Editing functionality, whenever one member of the team makes a design change, everyone else on the team instantly sees it. A comprehensive Edit History tracks who made which changes and when, allowing teams to revert to any earlier stage of design anytime if desired.

DarkAero Designers Value Onshape’s Part Studio

An image of an DarkAero airplane on the tarmacThe carbon fiber DarkAero 1 airplane is being designed in Onshape, the leading product development platform.

Based in Wisconsin, DarkAero is building an experimental kit aircraft that has a range of over 1,500 miles – about 50 percent further than the kit planes currently on the market. Its DarkAero 1 plane will require no complicated layups, jigs, or molds for assembly – nor will it require the hand carving or shaping work needed with traditional composite kit aircraft.

“As an aerospace engineer, I’ve worked with NX, Pro/E, and SOLIDWORKS in my career. I quickly realized the advantage Onshape provides for modeling aircraft,” says DarkAero CEO Ryley Karl. “For top-down design, the Multi-Part Part Studio felt much easier and more efficient to me. It makes sense to simultaneously work on the plane’s shell, ribs, and structure.” 

Initial taxi testing of the DarkAero1 has already begun and flight testing is expected by the end of 2023. The DarkAero team has been documenting its experimental aircraft development with Onshape on its YouTube channel, including how to minimize aircraft weight and why they designed their own retractable landing gear versus using commercially available parts.

Cirkul Engineers Save $50,000+ Annually on Reduced IT Overhead

A CAD model of CirkulThe Cirkul product development team uses cloud-native Onshape to design its products and streamline collaboration between its facilities in Massachusetts and Florida.

Cirkul is an all-natural, zero-calorie beverage company that makes proprietary flavored water bottle cartridges allowing users to control their own flavor intensity. In 2022, Cirkul water bottles were one of the Walmart home division’s fastest-selling products.  

Back in 2018, Cirkul was seeking a better way to manage version control of its designs between multiple locations, and also wanted a CAD system that didn’t require its engineers to manage servers and software installs/upgrades. Cirkul says 50 percent of one engineer’s design time was previously devoted to IT administrative tasks. 

Cirkul switched to Onshape from their file-based CAD system in 2018, after experiencing significant bottlenecks related to software and server maintenance, managing licenses and upgrades, and other IT administrative tasks.

According to Tom Urbanik, VP of Engineering, software maintenance and installs were eating up 50 percent of one mechanical engineer’s time – a tough-to-swallow efficiency loss for a small company. 

“The engineering bandwidth it took to support our old CAD system was so painful,” he recalls. “We experienced significant downtime managing servers just to keep them up and running. There’s no compelling reason to suck up engineering time to support something that’s not your core business.”

Based on reclaimed engineering time, Urbanik estimates that Onshape saves his team $50,000+ a year due to no longer having to manage servers, CAD licenses, and other IT administrative tasks.

Experience the Benefits Firsthand: Onshape’s Startup Program

Recognizing the invaluable role that startups play in moving the global economy, Onshape offers free Onshape Professional subscriptions to business incubators and accelerator programs, such as Techstars, Greentown Labs, and The Accelerator Centre.

Onshape is also pleased to work with startups and entrepreneurs directly, providing cloud-native CAD, PDM, real-time collaboration, simulation, and more at no cost to qualified companies. Interested in experiencing the transformational benefits of Onshape with your team? Reach out to the Onshape Startup Program today to discuss qualifying criteria!

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