By Jane Kokernak
Paperless Parts, a Boston company founded in 2017, believes that, in manufacturing, geometry drives everything. With this belief, their team has created an advanced geometric analysis engines for 3D CAD models to serve as the foundation for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tools they provide to manufacturers and engineers. The tools focus on manufacturers’ ability to clearly communicate and collaborate with all stakeholders in the custom-parts manufacturing process.
The custom-parts ordering process, so important for machine shops, was a burden for many reasons. CEO and co-founder Jason Ray and his partner created a cloud-based set of tools that automates and streamlines the process. Ray explains, “This is a $20B market in the U.S., and a lot of custom-parts manufacturing is for government and military applications – it has to be precision.”
Paperless Parts gives engineers and manufacturers the ability to unlock the communication power of 3D CAD geometry at every step of the manufacturing process. They do it in a collaborative way that still meets the stringent security requirements needed for the production of defense-related items. These tools help manufacturers stay competitive.
In spring 2018, Paperless Parts hired Kaitlyn O’Donnell (Khoury ’20, computer science), their first Khoury College co-op student, in a software engineering role. In spring 2019, they hired Ryan Drew (Khoury ’22, computer science), on his first co-op, into a software engineering and development operations role. Co-founder and CTO Scott Sawyer says, “Ryan’s skill was beyond that of a typical first-time co-op seeker.”
Before joining Paperless Parts, Drew had two short-term internships in engineering and solutions architecture. He also served as a TA for Fundamentals of Computer Science I (“Fundies 1”). About his work, CEO Ray says, “Ryan is a champion, and the Northeastern co-op program has been great for us. Ryan is writing code that thousands of customers are using today.” He adds, “This is not your typical internship.”
Paperless Parts uses an agile sprint process, a combination of agile software development, focused on the customer, and deadline-driven or “sprint” time periods in which work must be completed and ready for review. CTO Sawyer, who supervises Drew, says that it “let’s you ship code frequently.” The process of getting and responding to feedback is constant, he explains.
About his experience at Paperless Parts, Drew says, “Being on a real development team is different from school.” As a member of the team, Drew “takes on tasks all across the product,” he says. He has enjoyed building the system by “turning code into what you see,” he explains, and making it more efficient, winnowing a 50-second operation to 13 or 14 seconds.
Co-founder Sawyer applauds Drew’s impact on the system. “The way he manages the Rainforest platform,” says Sawyer, “has improved our QA, or quality assurance – we now crowdsource the testing.” Drew, reports Sawyer, “created all these tests that run automatically.”
Paperless Parts has 15 employees, including the co-op position. In filling staff positions, they look for mechanical and software engineers, as well as physics majors.
Sawyer and Ray agree that they expect – and get – a lot from their co-ops: “Our approach is to throw them into a deep end and give them the help they need – they figure it out,” Sawyer says matter-of-factly.
In reflecting on his Paperless Parts co-op experience, Drew says, “I’m now at a much better place in my software engineering abilities than I expected to be at this point.” At the same time, he most values the lessons he has learned about communication. At the quickly growing startup, he has gained from the small, intimate environment and the feeling of commitment that comes from what he describes as being “dedicated to the team.” Also, he adds, “Delivering stuff on deadline is a great experience.”