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GrabCAD, Alternatives, and the Cloud PDM Ecosystem

For several years, GrabCAD has offered a CAD storage platform called Workbench which is used by small hardware teams, university organizations, high school teams, and hobbyists. GrabCAD describes Workbench as “the CAD collaboration tool that works the way engineers do.” In light of GrabCAD announcing it is closing down the product in 2023, we are sharing an analysis of the great parts of GrabCAD which lived up to its description and the next steps we would recommend if it were to continue as a product.

GrabCAD Strengths

While GrabCAD Workbench does not offer all of the core PDM features, it is a great storage solution for hardware teams compared to Google Drive and Dropbox for several reasons. First, Workbench is also a cloud first solution. Being cloud first, GrabCAD is able to onboard new teams without the high costs associated with setting up traditional PDMs on premises. For this reason and due to GrabCAD’s 3D printing-focused business model since its acquisition by Stratasys, it was able to offer the product for free to the market. Second, GrabCAD leveraged its cloud first architecture to create an easy-to-use browser experience and desktop app. The browser version and the desktop app are both focused on file storage, saving changes, and straightforward collaboration. Workbench’s focus on the essential features makes it simple to do the most important workflows of PDM without long training sessions. For example, it is easy to save changes and see where your files are when using the Workbench desktop app. Even though it constantly syncs to the cloud, no files become difficult to track down or lost.

GrabCAD Opportunities for Improvement

While GrabCAD did have significant strengths, there are several key workflows that we would recommend to add to the platform if it were not closing down. First, GrabCAD does not offer a check out and check in workflow for files. As a result, engineers can overwrite each other’s changes if they are not in constant communication. This is a significant limitation of the product for every type of user. For students, these check out and check in practices are not only helpful but important to learn as part of the standard practice for engineering in industry. Second, GrabCAD does not enable revision messages after making a change to a file. Engineers find it helpful to provide a quick description of their edits to a part or an assembly. For example, version 2.2 of this bracket has a new hole radius of 1.2 mm. Third, GrabCAD does not offer a direct add-in for Solidworks. For teams that use Solidworks, an add-in is a large benefit. Certain design teams like primarily using the browser, others like using a desktop app, and many prefer to work directly out of Solidworks as much as possible.

With GrabCAD's file client, users were able to sync local files to to GrabCAD repositories seamlessly. Bild offers similar functionality with the Bild desktop application, enabling seamless workflows with existing design tools.

Future Alternatives to GrabCAD

Despite key limitations, GrabCAD Workbench includes many important features that make it a great product. We offer Bild to all of those who are looking for another cloud PDM which is straightforward, modern, and reasonably priced (contact us about our Education and Startup programs). Most importantly, Bild is made for your team’s preferred workflow - access through the browser, Bild desktop app, or Bild Solidworks Add-in.