We all know the problem.  Engineers spend a lot of time sharing files with non-CAD users and with customers and suppliers who operate outside their PDM system.

Many vendors offer collaboration solutions.  Design teams can choose from the tools in their CAD packages; or they can access stand-alone viewers like like Actify or eDrawings; or use popular file sharing services like Dropbox.  For a lot of engineers, email and ftp still gets the job done.

So why has GrabCAD put their 25 developers to work on a CAD collaboration tool?  We asked Rob Stevens, VP Sales & Marketing for GrabCAD.  

In case you don’t know GrabCAD, they have built built a community of around 550,000 mechanical engineers who respond to design challenges and use their CAD library.  Their corporate goal is to help engineers design great products faster.  When they asked their community what problems they had to overcome to reach that objective, the community said that they needed to share files in a secure environment.  In fact, 60% of them said they shared files with non-engineers every month. 

We got a demo of the Beta of Workbench, but not a hands-on test drive.  Here’s the feature set:·    

View drawings from any major CAD system, plus standard documents

  • Select and view assemblies or parts in a BOM
  • Section, rotate, zoom, pan, explode
  • Annotate on the 3D model
  • Comment on a drawing or thread and push comments
  • Version control
  • Access by invitation only from the project/workbench leader

The unique feature about GrabCAD Workbench as opposed to say, eDrawings, is that it maintains the comments with the drawings so that you don’t have to look in your email for comments on a file.  This is all in a project Workbench that has all project comments and revisions.  Workbench also has a nice, although a bit sparse, UI that’s accessible to non-CAD users.

We can see how tools like Workbench can be useful for engineering design firms when doing design reviews for clients.  And it can be helpful to small to mid-sized manufacturers who collaborate with overseas suppliers for component manufacturing, particularly where there are time zone and language barriers.  

Our concern is not with the solution, but rather with adoption.  There are always going to be people who aren’t willing to use a new tool, or who are running an antique browser that won’t let them log on.  That means the design engineer will still be forced to take  pictures and collect comments via email.

And of course, uploading any large assembly to the cloud is going to be time consuming.  Workbench addresses this by allowing uploads to run in the background, but it pretty much means that any collaboration isn’t going to be instant.


The product vision for Workbench is an open engineering platform that goes beyond CAD viewing and communications.  GrabCAD wants this platform to be the glue to keep teams working seamlessly together as engineering design becomes more open and collaborative.  They’ve chosen viewing and communications as places to start.  Next up is more file management features, although they plan to stop short of full blown PDM. 

The product is available in Beta starting today, April 17th at www.grabcad.com.  The pricing will be announced in May.  Rob told us there will be tiered pricing, starting at zero for small design teams with only few projects on the go.   

GrabCAD Workbench is designed to run well on Chrome, Safari, and Firefox, but requires a free plugin to run in Internet Explorer. 

So give it a try.  We’d love to hear what you think.


 

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