Thingiverse is an indispensable tool for many desktop 3D printing users today. This hasn’t stopped owner Stratasys from creating a very similar tool for engineers and business users. GrabCAD is Stratasys’ community, platform, and tool that connects engineers with files and each other. If you’re unfamiliar, its kind of a combination between Stack Overflow and Thingiverse. The GrabCAD community is extensive and has over 4 million CAD files that can be exchanged between users as well as forums and challenges. Abe Gladstone is the Software Marketing Manager at Stratasys and the Product Manager of GrabCAD. I interviewed Gladstone to learn more about the quiet giant that is GrabCAD.
He explained, “GrabCAD is the Stratasys community for professional engineering and manufacturing people,” focused on people such as “engineers, product developers, and product designers.” “The centerpiece of GrabCAD is the library of over 7 million members with 4 million CAD files…engineers can take bits and pieces from others and bring in their own CAD.” The community is there so people can “learn, improve, exchange information, and work together.” GrabCAD “is CAD agnostic. It lets you see an exploded view of a CAD file”, “upload any CAD file and collaborate.”
The site hosts regular challenges to motivate and engage the community and are paid for by sponsors. “A company can pose a challenge, help judge and award prize money.” Usually there are about 20 finalists and three to four winners. Subjects range from COVID-19 to NASA regolith and the Grundfos Challenge, in which entrants were invited to design and integrate a gear unit for a hydronic valve into an enclosure box. In other words, not a lot of Yodas and the like.
According to Gladstone, GrabCAD has around 13 to 15 million pageviews per month with 300,000 of those views going to the Q&A Questions section, where users can find many answers to broad and specific questions from engineers on all manner of topics. There is also a tutorial section with guides for different concepts, skills, and CAD packages at different levels. Additionally, the site hosts groups, where members can get together according to skill, location, or shared interest.
Workbench is the user’s primary interface in GrabCAD and a collaborative tool with versioning that lets you create and use a common CAD library, share files, share BOM lists, and work with others. You can also sync desktop files with Workbench, lock files so only you can edit them, and add markup to annotate files. In a distributed world, Workbench is a tool that can let remote teams work together. GrabCAD Print also allows you to slice and nest files for Stratasys printers, as well as queue files, control settings, and monitor prints.
Gladstone sees his job as “talking to customers, listening to feedback..always making improvements” and “streamlining the CAD to 3D Print workflow.” Going forward, Gladstone hopes to support more file types, increase community engagement further, and generate a more tailored experience. More customized offerings “tailored toward STEM” and more specialized features like “tutorials with only CATIA files” for example, are in the pipeline.
In terms of a business model, GrabCAD should remain free, “as long as I’m here”, Gladstone said, but “private versions and private spaces may be paid.” Take GrabCAD Shop, for instance. This tool helps users queue, track, and print work orders for print farms. It is meant to be a solution for centralized or distributed 3D printing in offices or universities. Shop has a paid version and it is hoped that revenue from this will support the wider GrabCAD community.
The company isn’t looking to develop a fully-fledged CAD tool with Gladstone stating, “We’re not in the CAD business.” He hopes to partner with CAD companies to do drive the site forward.
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