GrabCAD + 3D Viewer = ?

GrabCAD + 3D Viewer = ?

Social, Community, Website, Engineers, Challenges, CAD, MCAD, 3D Viewer… Everybody in CAD/PLM business understand, viewer is an important component of design collaboration.

So, what happened? Read yesterday announcement made by GrabCAD here. GrabCAD is going to 3D by adding viewing capabilities to their website. Here are few passages from GrabCAD blog about new functionality.

Share your models with anyone in 3 dimensions? Check. Pin annotations right on the surface of a model to share advice and ideas with other engineers? Check. GrabCAD’s new in-browser 3D viewer is a huge step toward seamless collaboration and sharing for mechanical engineers and designers.

According to SolidSmack publication, GrabCAD developed their own viewer. I didn’t find a confirmation for that on GrabCAD website. Josh Mings of SolidSmack compared it with Web 3D:

Wow, when I said Web 3D was heating up, I wasn’t kidding. You know GrabCAD is always cooking up new features, but this is a delightful surprise. Today, they launch their own web-based 3D Viewer available right inside the GrabCAD interface to view 3D files and collaborate with others. Here’s the sneak peak.

Actually, I thought Web 3D was branded by Bernard Charles of DS as part of 3DVIA introduction. However, it won’t decrease the importance of 3D viewing for engineers and other people handling 3D models.

What is “in the box”?

In a nutshell, GrabCAD provides the ability to view and annotate CAD models you uploaded to GrabCAD website. Viewer supports STL files and runs in any WebGL enabled browser. GrabCAD automatically converts files to STL (15’000 files already converted according to GrabCAD). Here is what GrabCAD viewer supposed to do:

Collaborate with engineers on projects you’re working on by annotating pins right on the model
Share your models securely with clients, manufacturers, or anybody without CAD software
Check out all public models on GrabCAD without downloading them

Few limitations that may disappoint some users. IE explorer is not supported, for the moment. Automatic conversion of file STL can go wrong and you will be requested to make a manual STL file upload. Speed can be vary and depend on STL file size and connection speed.

From “Facebook” to 3D collaboration business

GrabCAD expansion from community website sharing CAD models to 3D collaboration confirms that company is searching how to provide more services to monetize website performance. Couple of weeks ago, Hardi Meybaum, GrabCAD CEO stated that collaboration service becomes one of the most important one – …the company now plans to launch what could become the focal point of its business: a service that aims to change the way engineers and their customers collaborate on designs….

In my view, GrabCAD is challenged by how to monetize the tremendous success in making 200K engineers to register on their website and upload 40K free CAD models. Funded by few institutional investors, GrabCAD has an access to money that allows them to experiment with different directions.


By stepping into 3D Collaboration, GrabCAD will face more competition. Nobody has a vision for Facebook for engineers. However, to collaborate and share models in 3D is less unique value proposition, in my view. Autodesk 360, SolidWorks n!Fuze, CADFaster, etc. This is a short list of public cloud-based collaboration tools. When you turn to “on premise” solutions, the number of tools will only increase. What will be GrabCAD differentiation among all these products? Usability? Price? Community? It is an interesting question to ask.

What is my conclusion? Viewer is a cool feature. By adding it, GrabCAD will “grab” people to spend more time on the website. However, pivoting is the name of the game. GrabCAD + 3D Viewer = Pivoting. The question of GrabCAD business model is still not answered, in my mind. If GrabCAD focus is on helping engineers in manufacturing companies to collaborate, GrabCAD will be clearly moving closer to PLM trajectory and compete with other cloud-based PLM offerings. Otherwise, Hardi Meybaum and his team have more surprises in the box to come later. Time will show…

Best, Oleg


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