Design and Manufacturing solutions through Digital Prototyping and Interoperability

Tag Archives: GrabCAD

Small Business Design Management Vendors and 2015

In recent articles, we’ve been discussing the design data management needs of design firms in the SMB space (Small-to-Medium Sized Businesses). I touched on what Autodesk has been planning as well. Now I’d like to go beyond Autodesk, and look at some other options that we have been reviewing, and how all of the factors I’ve discussed may affect your future.

Management Software Vendors Offer More Flexibility

GrabCAD

GrabCAD started off as a great place to showcase your designs, developed by Hardi Meybaum and Indrek Narusk. It began to change into a collaborative workspace and enabler, ultimately becoming their recent launch of GrabCAD Workbench.

GrabCAD WorkBench Project File Version

The funny thing is that while many have discounted the new service as a novelty, the company is very aggressively developing far more robust capabilities to fill the needs of exactly who we are talking about, the SMB design companies. GrabCAD has already licensed the Parasolid model in order to better develop their viewing and inspection capabilities. Now they are adding useful Bill of Materials (BOM) features, engineering workflows, and much more. Have you checked it out recently? Their CAD viewer is off the hook. It’s worth a look to see just how useful the storage and collaborative space is at this point before all the changes begin to form.

GrabCAD CAD Viewer exploded in section

CADAC Organice

Cadac Group specializes in providing IT solutions to create, manage and share digital design information. That sounds pretty close to what we are talking about.

This team has been aggregating CAD storage and data for some time on SharePoint, and are leveraging that on their hosted SharePoint Cloud. They have vast knowledge and experience in dealing with CAD model data management and have already been involved in Inventor upload add-ins. I am very much hoping for a design and manufacturing specific SharePoint app release for Office 365 Small and Medium business in the near future.

SharePoint and Office 365

SharePoint as part of Office 365 is emerging as a real contender for the small design market. How is that? SharePoint sucks right?

Well, yes and no.

The SharePoint interface itself is clunky, not really design component or process related, and it is still a collection of poorly joined resources, but let’s look at it as a Platform instead.

SharePoint Site Image with Database

Every purchase of Office 365 Small and Medium Business gets you a SharePoint cloud site and a large amount of storage. The current version is 2013 and has been substantially cleaned up which makes it reasonably functional.

* Easy to use and pre-configured collaborative and project management spaces

* Document versioning and control

* Smooth Outlook and Office integration are valuable tools as well

* Pre-configured, streamlined Exchange servers on Microsoft’s Azure server

* Tons of storage with triple redundancy backups

…at no additional cost to your Office licenses. That means that almost every licensed user will have access to a SharePoint cloud site, all their collaboration and records, and their versioned data files in a controlled and secured environment.

Get this: as one Microsoft engineer told me, you can license only the in-house seats you need, but invite the entire world to collaborate with no additional cost. This is hugely significant considering that other services require each invited collaborator to occupy one of your paid seats. Microsoft is pushing collaboration on SharePoint hard.

Also Microsoft is heavily investing in the SharePoint App approach, where companies can develop custom apps that run inside the SharePoint team-site envelope. This means that 3rd-party vendors van develop well-customized data, forms UI, and workflows that can leverage the existing data structures, managed storage, and collaborative spaces, and provide design firms with a powerful well rounded solution.

All the SMB design industry needs is a solid 3rd-3rd party SharePoint application and it’ll be on like Donkey-Kong.

Why is 2015 Significant?

I believe that 2015 will be the baseline for the SMB data management service. Companies are racing to develop useful tools that are reasonably CAD Agnostic, and meets the collaborative, aggregate, storage, discoverability, and accessibility needs that have become so evident in the last few years.

What is more important is that the company that delivers a complete, easy to use, extremely configurable deep-search tool that stores, catalogues, aggregates, and secures design models and data, with customizable form UI, and accessible storage and delivery pipeline by the end of 2015 will set the stage for how small companies will collaborate, and will shape the way we work in the near future.

Will GrabCAD with its beautiful collaborative and viewing interface bring enough management tools to the party? Will Autodesk 360’s integration with Autodesk PLM really tie together all the parts we need in a useful, non-frustrating way? Will one of the fledgling data management vendors put together a comprehensive SharePoint Cloud app that better aggregates data and offers CAD model viewing?

If any of these things occur, D&M will likely be the first company to purchase seats.

GrabCAD Workbench just got a lot smarter…

Today was an exciting day. I’ve been following the development of grabcad.com over the past year or two and they keep impressing me.

I’ve always been excited by companies that diversify in unpredictable, but sensible directions. GrabCAD is one of these. Starting out as an online CAD file sharing platform, they broke the mold in the way they delivered their product, not only by using community sourced content, but also by creating a fun user experience with innovative features like point ranking systems for popular files and users. As their geometry-viewing technology improved, the site morphed into more of a web app with a lot more useful functionality and social media integration.

GrabCAD's content sharing portal, with social media integration

 

When GrabCAD first announced Workbench as a cloud based collaboration tool, I was keen to dive in and give it a go. It was fairly basic at that stage and I looked at it as “a good start.”

The real diversification started however, when they decided to become more than a content sharing tool, and add content creation/editing tools. In a somewhat timely fashion, Autodesk’s new 360 products, namely AutoCAD 360 and Fusion 360 arrived on the scene, and a partnership was set up which meant that GrabCAD users could now create and edit 2D and 3D geometry inside the GrabCAD environment. It should also be noted that Luxion added a GrabCAD integration for their very popular Keyshot, to allow rendered images to be sent directly from their application to GrabCAD. A GrabCAD app for mobile devices rounded out the sharing/viewing workflows to make an all-round pretty useful toolset.

There was something missing though……

Collaboration quite often means multiple users actively working on the same dataset, and when this happens, version control obviously becomes hugely important.

So coming back to why today was exciting. There was an announcement that GrabCAD had added a desktop sync client (think Dropbox for engineers), version control, and partner workspaces. I’ll go through these in a bit more detail below.

Desktop Client / Version Control:

The desktop client is the link between your GrabCAD workbench (in the cloud) and your computer (in your office). To set it up, you just download and install it, and then map a Workbench project to a local folder on your hard drive. It monitors differences between the local copy of the file and the cloud copy using Git (Wiki reference) technology which was developed for Software version control. This technology looks at file at a bit level and creates snapshots of the data which can be compared to see where differences have occurred. What this means, is that if someone that you are collaborating with, edits your files, the GrabCAD desktop client will detect that your local copy is no longer the latest, and it will give you the option of keeping your version, or getting the latest one from Workbench. The conflict resolution dialog is slick and the feedback is clear and concise. The application also provides quick links to your local folder.

 

GrabCAD Workbench desktop sync screen showing 408 changes that need to be uploaded to Workbench.

Figure 1 – Sync Screen showing 408 file differences that need to be uploaded

GrabCAD Workbench desktop sync details screen shows specific differences and status icons.

Figure 2 – Details Screen shows specific differences and status icons

The version control extends through to the Workbench cloud app, where a version history is kept, and features exist that allow you to compare differences between versions. Of particular note, is the cool little version compare slider, which lets you visualise the changes using a clever colorization key based on whether material has been added or removed.

GrabCAD Workbench version compare shows material removed (in purple) in web app.

Figure 3 – Version compare shows material removed (in purple)

Partner Workspaces

This is probably the feature I’m most excited about. A very common hassle for designers/engineers is getting their manufacturing data ready to be sent off, and then the actual process of sending it off, to the suppliers. While many tools exist for rapid creation of data such as profile cutting data, there aren’t many tight workflows for actually delivering this data. Most companies I have seen resort to sending it via email. Everybody knows the frustrations of following conversations by email. Let’s face it, it’s an old technology, and while it has its place, I think the delivery of manufacturing data can be done much better.

Enter Workbench Partner Spaces….

Right-click file in GrabCAD Workbench to add to a Partner Space.

Figure 4 – Right-click a file to add to a partner space

Partner spaces can be created and assigned to external teams / contractors / suppliers. Any files that you send to Partner Spaces will be accessible to the collaborators that you nominate for each one. The file doesn’t get moved from your original location, but what ends up in the Partner Space is effectively a link. This means that you can easily control who gets access to which data. The nice thing about this, is that your partners can review / comment on data in the workbench environment, and also visualise version changes and updates. Sure beats a long email trail.

Files shared in GrabCAD Workbench Partner Space.

Figure 5 – Files shared in a Partner Space

Here you can see files that have been assigned to Roy’s Router Room Partner Space. A short list of the files can be expanded in the browser, or full details viewed in the main window. On the right you can see the access control list. What I’d really like to see GrabCAD do now, is to make available some more property information, as well as filters, so that model files in the main Workbench project folder can be sorted and grouped by material, thickness. When this is possible, categorising your files to send to partner spaces will be a very very nice way to work.

Well done GrabCAD, keep up the good work and I look forward to hearing more exciting developments.

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3Dconnexion GrabCAD Video Challenge

3Dconnexion, manufacturer of the famous 3D mouse line of engineering products, has partnered with GrabCAD to give away cash and hardware worth $5400.

All you have to do is create a video, almost any way you like, showing designers and engineers who don’t use 3D mice, what they are missing out on.

If you don’t have one of these wonderful devices, just partner with someone who does, or borrow one.  It really is simple, just use your imagination and be original.

1st Prize

3DConnexion Free 3D Mouse ContestJust wanted everyone to know this wasn’t just 3D hardware. First prize is $2000 cash AND a SpacePilot Pro 3D mouse (SRP $399). That’s one awesome prize.

There are many more prizes…

Judges

Kaspar Kiis, chief engineer from GrabCAD

John Moseley, Director of Global Marketing at 3Dconnexion

and get this….

Al Dean, Editor-in-chief of Direct3D Magazine

This should be hilarious panel. Love to see the judges review these live.

Continue Reading

GrabCAD–Saare Deck Vent Contest Submittal

GrabCAD Saare Yacht Vent Design Contest - Autodesk Inventor 2012I just had to enter GrabCAD’s latest contest. I couldn’t let a $2000 cash prize just slip away without at least trying a little. After a really busy week, I ended up with two days left before the contest deadline, and no model. My awesome family tried like hell to avoid me over the weekend while I threw my idea at Autodesk Inventor 2012.

Saare Yacht Deck Vent Entry by John Evans

Focus

I based the entire design in Autodesk Inventor 2012 Assembly Layouts, where I could use constrained 2D sketches to prove out my mechanisms BEFORE I proceed on to the component builds. Using sketch layouts are a great way to develop the moving components in a design without wasting any time with modeling.

I spent more time on some things than others. This is quite evident when you review the overall design. These are areas I focused in on the most.Continue Reading

GrabCAD’s New Deck Vent Design Contest

Yep, GrabCAD has teamed up with Saare Yachts to present another contest. Design the best new Yacht Deck Vent.

GrabCAD Saare Yacht Deck Vent Contest DiagramIt’s the best kind of contest: Looking for the freshest new designs within existing design constraints. Waterproof, new mechanisms, the whole nine yards. While not necessary, they are promoting team entries.

Contest Entries

  • Use Autodesk Inventor or any other software to produce the 3D models, provided that STEP or IGES formats accompany the upload.
  • Post the model up to GrabCAD
  • Start Date: August 3rd, 2011
  • End Date: August 14th, 2011

The Prize

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,…what do we get? To hell with the iPod, they’re furnishing $2000 USD. That’s a fair chunk of a new workstation. Teams split the money. Get your ideas and team members ready, and head over to GrabCAD to get the rest of the details.

GrabCAD | Community Manager Change

GrabCad CommunitySiim Teller, the current GrabCAD Community Manager sent out an email to everyone stating that he was stepping down due to a change in life direction. Josh Mings, our one and only SolidSmack Guru will pick up the position.

I’m really pleased that Josh is picking taking the position. He’s a great guy who’s happy personality is loved by everyone. He loves to write, and has a very sharp perspective of what goes on in the design world. The change will not affect the performance of the GrabCAD community, but will keep it moving forward. (It might be a bit swanker though Winking smile)

I know I speak for most when I say that Siim will be missed.

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