Fanboys Rejoice, GrabCAD Gets Mechanically Engineered For Android

GrabCAD, the online community and cloud-based collaboration tool for mechanical engineers and other stakeholders involved in designing physical products, is adding Android to its arsenal today. Like the company’s existing iOS offering, the Android app enables users to view any of the 200,000 or so 3D Computer Aided Design (CAD) models shared by the GrabCAD community, as well as access files stored on GradCAD Workbench, a private space in the cloud for engineers and supply chain partners (and even customers) to share and collaborate on ‘work-in-progress’.

Interestingly, GrabCAD’s CEO Hardi Meybaum says that, despite the consumer mindshare of Apple’s iOS, not least amongst designer types, an Android app was the company’s most requested feature. It turns out, he says, that mechanical engineers tend to use mobile devices powered by Google’s OS, something that I get the impression took GrabCAD slightly by surprise.

However, no matter what version got out the door first, being present on both of the leading smartphone/tablet platforms would seem to be central to GradCAD’s mission to break down the walls of collaboration for those involved in the design of physical objects. Meybaum characterises the problem when he says that traditional CAD tools “are closed but the process is open”. By that he means that proprietary CAD systems traditionally make it difficult for mechanical engineers and other partners involved in the process, not least in manufacturing, to share 3D models and give feedback as the product develops — partly because everyone involved would need to have access to the originating CAD software, which Meybaum says can cost upwards of $4,000 per-seat.

“But with GrabCAD, anybody can view the work”, he says. In addition, building hardware — which Meybaum notes with a glint in his eye is seeing a renaissance at the moment — is inherently distributed, making remote collaboration a necessity. Moving to the cloud speeds up this process and potentially reduces time to market significantly.

Android commentIt may seem obvious to those of us who have seen the cloud disrupt other industries and software for the better, though Meybaum says that for CAD files it’s not technically trivial. Getting those 3D models and proprietary file-formats converted so that they are viewable in a web browser or on mobile devices takes some decent engineering chops. To that end, GrabCAD has opened an R&D office in Cambridge, UK, to be closer to some of the traditional CAD software companies, in addition to its Boston, U.S. HQ and an engineering base in Estonia. In fact, it employs 45 staff, including engineers, across all sites.

However, GrabCAD’s Workbench offering, which gets it general release next week, isn’t just about engineering teams being able to share and view 3D models via the cloud. It also supports other file types, such as images/sketches and PDFs, and — crucially — the ability to mark up designs and leave instant feedback. With something like GrabCAD, gone are the days when work is only presented at monthly or weekly team meetings, for example, but can be ongoing no matter where each stakeholder is physically based, including when they are mobile. Update a design, and a manufacturing partner in China could immediately suggest changes, ask questions, or explain any ramifications. That does sound like progress.

Talking of which, GrabCAD now boasts nearly 700,000 engineers registered for its community, up from 250,000 last October, many of which it will hope to turn into paying Workbench customers — although some already are. It’s currently growing at a clip of 2,000 new community members per day, while 240,000 3D models have been shared publicly. As well as Workbench, the startup makes money via crowdsourced ‘challenges’ sponsored by companies such as GE.

Late last year GrabCAD raised an $8.15 million series B round led by Charles River Ventures, with participation from new investor David Sacks (co-founder of Yammer and former chief operating officer of PayPal), and existing investors Atlas Venture, NextView Ventures, and Matrix Partners. This brought GrabCAD’s total funding to around $14 million, having previously disclosed a $1.1m seed round, followed by a $4m Series A.