CAD: The Next Generation
Michael Alba posted on September 02, 2020 |
Why forward thinking engineers are turning to cloud CAD.
PTC has sponsored this post.
Stirling Engine used in Global Cooling’s Stirling Ultracold ultra-low temperature freezers. (Image courtesy of Global Cooling.)
Stirling Engine used in Global Cooling’s Stirling Ultracold ultra-low temperature freezers. (Image courtesy of Global Cooling.)

“I've used various CAD systems in my life. I'm actually quite old-fashioned about these things. I still miss the smell of a sharpened HB pencil.”

Does this sound like an engineer you know? If you know Dave Berchowitz, founder and CTO of Global Cooling, the answer is yes. If you don’t know Berchowitz, you’re missing out. The quick-witted aeronautical engineer knows more about Stirling engines than Stirling himself, and his company puts them to novel use in deep temperature freezers used to store biological samples (including a certain virus by the name of SARS-CoV-2).

Despite his old-school disposition, Berchowitz is forward thinking about his CAD software. Global Cooling uses Onshape, a cloud CAD platform that works on any device with an internet connection. Unlike traditional CAD software that requires local servers, dedicated CAD workstations and ongoing client-side updates, Onshape runs directly in a web browser or smartphone app. Since it’s rooted in the cloud, Onshape ditches files completely and makes collaboration a breeze.

So why does a self-professed old-fashioned engineer like Berchowitz use this modern CAD platform?  “I was looking for something that was cloud-based,” he explained.

In this article, we’ll explore why forward-thinking engineers like Berchowitz are migrating to the cloud, and why the next generation of engineers won’t look anywhere else.

All the Computational Power You Could Possibly Need

A long-time user of traditional CAD, Berchowitz felt that there was a better way to handle the computational burden of design software.

“I fully recognized that the enormous computing power required by some design software made it necessary to lug around a very large computer all the time,” he said.

“Servers have all the computational power you could possibly need. When I came across Onshape, they allowed you to use a very simple portal to access the computational power, and you'd be able to do great things like run finite element analysis, flow modeling, all that sort of thing. So that got me intrigued in the beginning.”

Engineers: A Conservative Bunch

When his existing CAD software lost support, Berchowitz put Onshape to the test by including the CAD cloud platform in an evaluation against traditional heavyweights SOLIDWORKS and Creo. Onshape proved its mettle, and Global Cooling adopted the cloud CAD platform—but not without some initial pushback.

“Engineers are quite a conservative bunch,” Berchowitz admitted. “The biggest resistance to moving to Onshape were our consulting partners. They just want to stick with the old stuff, the SOLIDWORKS stuff that they know well.”

A reluctance to try out new ways of working can be self-defeating. In Berchowitz’s case, despite his partners’ objections, Global Cooling’s switch to Onshape has been nothing but beneficial.

“Onshape is a better platform for us, but we still have diehard SOLIDWORKS people in this company. They wouldn't change,” Berchowitz said. 

Some never will. But the world will change around them all the same.

My CAD Works Just Fine. Why Should I Change?

Change for the sake of change is pointless at best and infuriating at worst. We’ve all grumbled about software updates that shuffle buttons for no good reason. So, it’s fair to ask—is the cloud just a shiny new skin for the same type of CAD you already know how to use?

At a glance, Onshape does look awfully similar to the parametric CAD most users are already familiar with. But the devil is in the details. The most obvious is that for starters, to use Onshape, you don’t need to open the Onshape application and wait for it to load—you simply open your web browser and type in cad.onshape.com.

What this means is that you can use Onshape on any device with a web browser. Windows, Mac, Linux, Chromebook—take your pick. Not at your desk? Pull out your iPhone or Android and pop open the Onshape app—and if you think you’ll never use CAD on your phone, you may be surprised.

“I had a guy working at ten o'clock last night, and I pulled out my iPhone as I was lying in bed and started following what he was doing,” said Daen Simmat, managing director at Australian engineering firm Black Lab Design. “I realized that he was going down a direction that was going to impact our manufacturability of those items, and I could just tell him to stop and go to bed and we'll sort it out tomorrow.”

Onshape in a browser and on a phone. (Image courtesy of Onshape.)
Onshape in a browser and on a phone. (Image courtesy of Onshape.)

Another departure from legacy CAD is that Onshape doesn’t use traditional files. All Onshape data—every single change made to every single design—is diligently recorded in Onshape’s cloud database. That enables built-in PDM functionality, including the git-like ability to branch out new versions of a design. It also means multiple users can work on one file at the same time, no check-in or check-out required.

“It's unbelievable the benefit that you get in regards to that,” Simmat praised. “It’s not waiting until someone finishes so that someone else can get in and do their little bit. You just do it at the same time.”

But the best thing about having no files? You can’t lose what doesn’t exist.

“Once a month I'd have a guy sit in front of his screen for three hours and just forget to save, and he'd run out of memory on his computer, SOLIDWORKS would crash, and he’d lose everything. We've all done it,” Simmat recalled. “In the three years that we've used Onshape, we've never lost a file. We've never had a computer crash. It just works.”

There are no files in Onshape, which stores all design data in its cloud database. (Image courtesy of Onshape.)
There are no files in Onshape, which stores all design data in its cloud database. (Image courtesy of Onshape.)

Onshape also distinguishes itself from traditional CAD in how it gets updated. There’s no Onshape 2020, and no stopping work to update existing client software. There’s just Onshape. Every three weeks, Onshape updates itself behind the scenes, and users log in to discover a new feature that wasn’t there the day before.

“When we had SOLIDWORKS, we'd get updates constantly,” recalled Daniel Scoville, director of engineering at adventure tourism company OceanGate. “But without an IT group administering those updates, they pile up and you don't even use them because it's a pain. Updates from Onshape are seamless for me.”

OceanGate uses Onshape to design manned submersibles like the Titan, which will explore the wreckage of the Titanic next summer. (Image courtesy of OceanGate.)
OceanGate uses Onshape to design manned submersibles like the Titan, which will explore the wreckage of the Titanic next summer. (Image courtesy of OceanGate.)

The Real Question: Why Wouldn’t You Want the Cloud?

To long-time engineers like Berchowitz, the advantages of cloud CAD seem like a wonderful step forward. But to up-and-coming engineers, those who are more used to cloud software than local, these advantages are simply expected. To them, the question is not “Why should I use cloud CAD?” but “Why would I ever use anything else?”

There may still be one concern giving you pause: whatever will you do if the internet goes down? It’s a common worry, but Berchowitz has an answer.

“When the web goes down in this modern world, there's almost nothing you can do. Might as well pick up a book, and if you don't read, then you've got other problems,” he joked.

To learn more about Onshape and what its users have to say about it, read our articles covering collaboration in Onshape, Onshape’s built-in PDM, and the value of Onshape SaaS.  

To try Onshape for free, visit Onshape.com.


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