GrabCAD Now In 3D, Sets Sights On Being The GitHub For Mechanical Engineers

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Whatever you think of Hollywood’s current preoccupation with all things three dimensional, in the world of mechanical engineering, 3D is definitely the way to go. But sharing those CAD-generated renders with clients is more often done Old Skool using print screens, drawings or the dreaded powerpoint presentation. That’s a pretty static way of doing things since those renders can’t be interacted with and the only way to level-up is a full physical model or 3D print out, adding unnecessary expense and friction at various stages of the design process.

Therefore, it seems rather remiss that mechanical engineering community GrabCAD doesn’t support a 3D view.

Until now, that is.

GrabCAD’s new-fangled 3D functionality, which is currently only supported in Firefox and Chrome and is in Beta (like, seriously – see example), brings the startup closer to realising its vision of making it easier for mechanical engineers to collaborate, both amongst themselves by sharing models in an ‘open source’ way and thus reducing duplication, but also with clients by making it infinitely quicker to get feedback.

“This is the first time a customer can actually see the 3D model on their computer”, says CEO Hardi Meybaum. “Our vision is that by doing that the engineer will get faster feedback from the customer and everyone will benefit from better physical products.”

Meanwhile, the Estonian startup (now headquartered in Boston) says that it’s reached a major milestone, growing its community to 250,000, equivalent to 10% of the world’s mechanical engineers based on published figures of CAD software ‘seats’ or user licences. And however fuzzy that logic may be, it certainly shows traction, up from 70,000 in January.

That said, GrabCad’s mission has some way to go yet.

“We believe that the process of building physical products is not efficient and [is] isolated. We are currently building a collaboration product that gathers engineers, customers and manufacturers in one place and makes the collaboration more efficient. Think of this as [similar to] what GitHub did for software engineering.”

So there you have it. GrabCad’s wants to be the GitHub for mechanical engineers. And on the surface it looks like it’s making good progress in terms of the product, traction and funding; the startup raised a healthy $4 Million series A at the start of the year, adding to its $1.1 million seed round from back in June 2011.

All that remains to ask then is how does the company plan to actually make any money? Part of the answer already exists in the form of GrabCad’s marketplace. “We currently monetize through Challenges where a customer pays a fee when they want to solve an engineering problem or want a lot of design input for their product”, says Meybaum. It’s early days though, with only 50 Challenges to date.

Going forward, however, GrabCAD plans to cash in on the collaboration aspect of the product too, which makes sense since that’s where most of the value is currently created but not always captured.