GrabCAD Print Makes Public Debut
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on November 17, 2016 |
Stratasys announces the public release of its GrabCAD Print management software.

Earlier this year, Stratasys announced the launch of a new software for streamlined print management called GrabCAD Print. The software was released to beta customers who, over the course of the past five months, tested the program and gave Stratasys their feedback. Now, at the formnext trade show, the 3D printing company announced that GrabCAD Print was available to the public.

ENGINEERING.com followed up with Paul Giaconia, vice president of software products and strategy at Stratasys, to hear what the public release means for Stratasys and what GrabCAD Print means for users of Stratasys products.

The Start of Stratasys’ Strategy

GrabCAD Print was launched as a means of updating Stratasys’ 3D printing technology for the emerging Industry 4.0 era, in which factories and offices will be smart and connected. To do so, Giaconia explained, the 3D printing company had to make its printers smarter and more connected, as well as able to produce the types of components required by the manufacturing industry. Therefore, Stratasys developed GrabCAD print as a cloud-based software solution capable of integrating 3D printing technology into a modern factory or office.

To produce more realistic, accurate parts demanded by industry, Stratasys aimed to avoid the issues associated with the widely used, but highly inadequate, STL files. Rather than implement a whole new file protocol, such as 3MF, Stratasys designed GrabCAD Print to read native CAD files from Creo, SOLIDWORKS, NX, CATIA and Inventor. By allowing designers and engineers to upload existing CAD files, all of the data associated with those files can be read by the software and printed on Stratasys machines.

Users can upload native CAD files to GrabCAD Print for direct 3D print management. (Image courtesy of Stratasys.)
Users can upload native CAD files to GrabCAD Print for direct 3D print management. (Image courtesy of Stratasys.)

The cloud functionality of GrabCAD Print makes this possible from just about anywhere. Multiple users within an office can upload CAD files for 3D printing, whether they’re at their desks, on a lunch break or at home. With remote monitoring capabilities, these users can even check the status of their prints or the prints that may be ahead of them in the printing schedule from anywhere as well.

Finally, all of the data that goes through a network of printers can be collected and used as actionable business intelligence. GrabCAD Print is able to provide reports on such data as material usage, job history and utilization so that a business can better understand how to use its printers efficiently.

GrabCAD Out of Beta

Stratasys has run its beta program for five months, with over 3,000 people downloading the software in North America and over 300 users printing over 3,200 jobs through GrabCAD Print. Using these users’ feedback, Stratasys has continued to improve the software.

As Giaconia explained, “In the five months since we launched, we added more than 40 customer-driven enhancements on top the original plan. These are things like improving the overall capabilities around laying out the print tray, optimizing for a model shop scenario (where you really care about machine utilization) and providing easy-to-use tools for scaling and locating parts on a tray.”

GrabCAD Print has data analytics tools for business intelligence purposes. (Image courtesy of Stratasys.)
GrabCAD Print has data analytics tools for business intelligence purposes. (Image courtesy of Stratasys.)

Giaconia pointed out several specific improvements that the company was making to the software before the official public release. For instance, the software will be available in nine different languages, including French, German, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and English. Users will also be able to implement business intelligence features like materials usage tracking “out of the box.”

“Over a period of a day, a week, a month or a quarter, I, as the user, can now understand, across my printer network, what the total volume of material consumed was by printer, by user or by whatever the filter is that’s relevant,” Giaconia said.

GrabCAD Print in Action

According to Giaconia, beta customers have already been satisfied with the product, specifically referring to 4moms and Joe Gibbs Racing, two firms that use GrabCAD Print and 3D printing in completely different ways.

4moms, which makes tech-enabled baby gear, has two Fortus 400mcs, three uPrints and an Objet 3D printer with which the company often validates designs and prototype products before going into mass production. Though the company has about 60 engineers that access those six printers, only 10 are actual 3D printing experts. As a result, those 10 are responsible for aggregating print requests and prep and schedule prints, using things like Microsoft Outlook and Calendar.

Users can manage GrabCAD Print from mobile devices. (Image courtesy of Stratasys.)

Users can manage GrabCAD Print from mobile devices. (Image courtesy of Stratasys.)

Giaconia explained that 4moms is able to use GrabCAD print as both a means of uploading files for remote printing and a place to manage print jobs throughout the office. “Because engineers can directly submit their CAD files in native form to GrabCAD Print for prototyping, they’ve opened their printers up to all of their engineers and designers. They no longer have to go through this cumbersome process for a shared office. It’s becoming a self-service shared office.”

Joe Gibbs Racing, on the other hand, is a shop environment in which a single specialized shop operator works with the engineers to design and create parts. Not only that, but the company has to make these designs quickly while preparing for upcoming races.

“The challenge with a racing team is, on a weekly basis, the tracks change, the driver might change and the conditions of the track might even change,” Giaconia said. “What they want is the ability to create interchangeable dashboard pieces that are optimized for those kinds of variables. Maybe you want to move an instrument from one place to another because of the layout of the track. Maybe the driver has a particular preference for how things are laid out. That’s sort of a classic scenario in which one needs to be able to configure lots of ideas quickly, pick the most optimal and then go out to the track and race. You don’t have the luxury of long lead times and things like that.”

Within the Joe Gibbs Racing model shop, the firm has a Fortus 400mc and 450mc as well as a Dimension 1200 3D printer. Using Siemens NX, engineers will design the dashboard configurations Giaconia mentioned and have them machined by a third party, something that can result in a three-week turnaround. With GrabCAD Print, however, engineers can upload native CAD files and the machine operator can optimize them for 3D printing. Turnaround time, according to Giaconia, was cut down to just two days as a result.

GrabCAD Print Now and Later

At launch, GrabCAD Print will be compatible with a number of Stratasys machines, including the uPrint, Dimension and Fortus 250mc, 450mc and 900mc 3D printers. The company is also launching a beta program for its full-color PolyJet 3D printer, the J750 3D printer released earlier this year.

GrabCAD Print is compatible with a range of Stratasys printers. (Image courtesy of Stratasys.)
GrabCAD Print is compatible with a range of Stratasys printers. (Image courtesy of Stratasys.)

Giaconia said that GrabCAD Print is free to all Stratasys customers, but he does envision value-added applications down the road, possibly targeting specific industries, such as life sciences. Non-Stratasys customers can continue to use the GrabCAD community, but GrabCAD Print is not yet compatible with third-party printers. Giaconia explained that Stratasys first wished to focus on its own systems but would let the market drive the possibility of expanding to third-party products. This goes, not just for printers, but CNC equipment and other manufacturing tools as well.

“We’re open to it,” Giaconia said. “We’ll work with the market to figure out the place to draw the line. There may be some standards to rely on for a heterogeneous environment like that, such as MTConnect or something that defines how Stratasys printers might plug into a broader ecosystem. Or we could build a layer in GrabCAD Print that sort of manages all of that. I think it’s a little bit earlier days to discuss what this might look like.”

To learn more, visit the GrabCAD Print website.

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