In addition to providing emergency backup power for multiple industries, GenCell also builds off-grid charging stations for electric vehicles. The company’s fuel cells have minimal moving parts, redundant internal systems and are robust enough to withstand harsh environments.
To design their green energy generators, GenCell relies on Onshape, a cloud-native CAD platform with built-in PDM and real-time collaboration tools. The engineering team switched to Onshape from SOLIDWORKS in 2022, after experiencing significant bottlenecks related to not having a PDM system for version control.
Jonathan Schwartz, Senior Mechanical Engineer at GenCell, noted that manually tracking design versions is a process highly prone to human error. Not sharing a single source of truth across the department made it tougher to track the overall design history and stay on top of the latest changes to the many assemblies and subassemblies.
“Verifying the data manually to ensure models are up-to-date became a huge issue for us,” he recalls. “We were making a lot of errors. Something that happened a lot is we would make an update to a design, but the person ordering the parts would not get the update and would order old parts.”
Schwartz says he was frustrated by the amount of time his team was devoting to debugging and fixing CAD models in SOLIDWORKS instead of working on new designs. An audit of the 12 mechanical engineers in his department revealed they were losing six weeks of work annually dealing with these issues.
With Onshape’s built-in version control, any time an engineer makes a design change, everyone on the team can instantly see it. A comprehensive Edit History allows users to quickly revert back to any earlier stage of the design if desired.
In addition, GenCell’s engineers were experiencing nearly daily CAD crashes in SOLIDWORKS, resulting in needless rework and decreased productivity. Onshape users never lose work in the case of a software crash or hardware failure. All data is stored instantaneously and redundantly in the cloud.
“Onshape genuinely makes our lives a lot easier,” says Schwartz. “I’m a big fan of the platform as it eliminated some crazy headaches for our department, and as a bonus also made our management and finance teams happy because it saved us lots of time and money.”
“I’d estimate that Onshape helped speed up our product design process by a factor of 10,” he adds. “Because we no longer have to worry about version control, and now can work together more efficiently with built-in collaboration tools like Comments and Tasks.”
PDM Cost Savings and Reduced IT Overhead
Schwartz notes he was originally exploring add-on file-based PDM solutions for his team, but was convinced to try cloud-native Onshape after learning about it at a technology conference hosted by Arena, a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) platform also owned by Onshape’s parent company, PTC.
In a cost analysis, Schwartz determined that Onshape would save the company $33,000 in upfront software costs compared to SOLIDWORKS, plus an additional $70,000 of savings in maintenance fees and required hardware upgrades.
During a six-week pilot project, Schwartz also got a ringing endorsement from GenCell’s IT department. Cloud-native Onshape requires no downloads, installations, software upgrades, license codes, server maintenance or network infrastructure.
“With Onshape being online and in the cloud, in just a few clicks I had signed up for a free professional trial. It didn’t require any involvement from IT or any bureaucracy to start testing it out. As a curious engineer, I could immediately dive in and see how it works,” he says.
“Our IT department said that cloud computing was more reliable than our servers,” recalls Schwartz. “This was actually proven during the pilot project when all our servers went down for a whole morning. I hooked up to my smartphone’s network connection and just carried on working in Onshape while all my colleagues were stuck without anything to do.”
Better CAD Collaboration Across Departments