GrabCAD and Open Engineering Source: Dream or Reality?

Everybody knows about open source software (OSS). The model of OSS skyrocketed for the last decade and made lots projects on the web very successful. The evolution of open source wasn’t simple. It evolved from just making software source code available to quite complicated system of open software licensing. Open source inspired lots of new initiatives. One of them is open source hardware. There are some others as well.

There are many examples of open source initiatives and products. CAD systems never been perceived as an open tools. CAD vendors are well known by protecting CAD file formats and tendency to create closed ecosystems. Similar happened in PLM with probably exclusion of open source enterprise PLM Aras. From time to time, I can hear debates about open source CAD. Here is one of them – Open Source CAD. No. Free CAD. Yes.

GrabCAD is one of the companies that innovating on the edge of open and closed. I’ve been reading VentureFizz article about GrabCAD called – GrabCAD – The Most Buzzed About Company in Boston. Make a read and form your opinion. GrabCAD was started as a community of designers and engineers. According to the vision of GrabCAD founders, website supposed to fill CAD information sharing gap in the era of free internet communication.

These days GrabCAD is a community of more than 800K engineers. GrabCAD is address one of the interesting problems – open design reuse. Here is how GrabCAD VP Marketing Rob Stevens explains that:

"If you are a designer and are designing a new bicycle," he said, "you probably don’t make wheels, you make the bicycle frame. But when you show your bicycle frame to a potential buyer, you need to put wheels on it so that they can figure out what it is."

"So, if you are using 3D CAD and have designed this elegant bike frame," Stevens continued, "you then would have to spend hours and days designing wheels just so the bike makes sense. Not that you are going to make wheels or sell wheels, [you just need them in the design] so that you can show the bike in a manner that makes sense."

With GrabCAD, Meybaum, and fellow co-founder Indrek Narusk, built a way to solve this CAD conundrum by building an open, crowdsourced library of 3D CAD models that engineers or designers could easily download and then upload to their own design and use.

As Stevens said, "So if you need bicycle wheels, you go to GrabCAD, search bicycle wheels, and up pop hundreds of different models of wheels. You ‘grab’ the one you need, add it to your own design, and then you have a fully functioning model."

The question you can scream about now – what about intellectual property? GrabCAD provided an interesting answer. Here is the passage from the article:

The projects in the vast library are only for non-commercial use. "You can’t sell a bicycle wheel that someone else has designed," said Stevens. "If you do want to produce/manufacture something, you can connect with the designer in the community and try to work together."

So, you can share designs and re-use designs, but you cannot sell it. It reminded me very well known GPL open source licenses. The same idea. By using of this GPL licensed software, you supposed not to sell your software and distribute it using the same open source license. However, if you want to sell software, you can engage with software engineers for services or alternative license engagements. It made me think about the concept of Open Engineering Source, which can regulate IP of engineers and manufacturing companies.

GrabCAD is not only thinking about open and free CAD file sharing. As a commercial organization GrabCAD is thinking about how to monetize the community. The latest development done by GrabCAD is product called Workbench helping engineers and other people in product development and supply chain to collaborate.

What is my conclusion? Open source is a powerful idea. It created lots of success in software world and, in my view, it has a potential to create an innovation in other places as well. Hardware, engineering, manufacturing – these are potential fields to apply open source innovation. It might be dream today, but who know where it will come tomorrow. Just my thoughts..

Best, Oleg

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