Chad Jackson

Solidworks and Gräbert: The Promise of a New Engineering Tool?

May 2, 2011

Back in June 2010, Dassault Systèmes launched the beta version of DraftSight, which is actually developed by a german software provider called Gräbert. Then in February 2011, the beta ended and the general release of DraftSight was made available (press release). Of note is that this software is a free download. Also, Dassault Systèmes launched a social networking website based on their SwYm architecture to build up a community around DraftSight. And finally, Gräbert, the developers of DraftSight, announced in January 2011 the launch of a DraftSight app store (press release).

Solidworks and Gräbert: The Promise of a New Engineering Tool?

A little while ago, I wrote a post titled Every Engineer’s Dirty Little Secret: The Stigma of 2D. The basic premise of the post was that 2D modeling is a legitimate design tool for engineers, yet concerted efforts to push folks to 3D has cast 2D modeling in a very poor light. As a result, a real stigma has formed around the use of 2D. So when I saw that Solidworks was teaming with Gräbert on DraftSight, I was intrigued. Was this going to be just a drafting tool or an engineering tool? At Solidworks World in San Antonio, I had a chance to sit down separately with Aaron Kelly, Director of Product Management for DraftSight, and Wilfried Gräbert, CEO of Gräbert, to get some answers.

Background

Back in June 2010, Dassault Systèmes launched the beta version of DraftSight, which is actually developed by a german software provider called Gräbert. Then in February 2011, the beta ended and the general release of DraftSight was made available (press release). Of note is that this software is a free download. Also, Dassault Systèmes launched a social networking website based on their SwYm architecture to build up a community around DraftSight. And finally, Gräbert, the developers of DraftSight, announced in January 2011 the launch of a DraftSight app store.

Capabilities Provided by DraftSight, the Community Site and the App Store

If you look at DraftSight and the capabilities it provides, you won’t be too terribly surprised. It offers 2D drafting functionality to develop engineering detailed drawings along the same lines of what AutoCAD offers today. But in addition to generating those drawings, DraftSight can also be used to capture and mature 2D concept models. And in fact, DraftSight also supports the import of 3D wireframe models.

The community site includes a variety of functionality you would expect. You can build out a profile, post updates, participate in discussions and the like. The commonality for the participants on that site is that they use DraftSight. Many of the topics are technical nature and act as the backdrop for self-support within the community.

The App Store, titled the Gräbert Market for DraftSight, enables users to browse different add-ons to DraftSight offered by various 3rd party developers. Users can purchase these add-on apps which would then augment DraftSight’s functionality. It actually opens on May 17th.

Analysis and Commentary

From a capability perspective, there’s nothing too terribly surprising with Draftsight. But in the context of an engineer’s day-to-day job, this mix of capabilities offers something far more interesting. Some time ago, I asked a question that had been nagging me for some time: Who Builds 3D Model? Drafters? Designers? Engineers? After talking it over with quite a few engineers, I saw that there was a Subtle Distinction between Designing and Documenting Products. And in that context, I see 2D sketching tools as an entirely viable tool set for engineers to design products, despite the stigma. And it seems that others are increasingly sensitive to these facts. One of the most interesting quotes from the recent Cadalyst OTE CAD Smackdown was “by the time a design starts being build in CAD, all of the design decisions have been made.” So what do I see when I see DraftSight? I see a very feasible tool for engineers to capture product concepts but also to explore lots of design iterations.

I sat down with Wilfried Gräbert in San Antonio to get his perspective on it. Being from Germany, he saw distinct differences between the use of 2D in the United States and Europe. Essentially he said that there wasn’t nearly the stigma associated with 2D in Europe and that it was truly deemed a legitimate design tool.

All that was interesting but not necessarily differentiating in terms of capabilities. But here’s what is: the Gräbert Market for DraftSight. Opening up add-on apps is intriguing as many 3rd party software developers can offer engineering tools to augment DraftSight’s 2D sketching functionality. That could include instrumentation for measurements, analyses, sizing tools, industry standards checking and engineering calculations. Over time, DraftSight’s baseline of capabilities could be readily augmented to become a powerful engineering concept and design tool set. Personally, that’s the nugget I find most interesting.

With that said, however, it’s not perfect. If engineers are to use an augmented tool set like this earlier on in the development cycle prior to handing it off to CAD Specialists or Designers, what sort of artifact do they hand over that can be readily reused? Granted, according to what was said on the Cadalyst OTE debate, CAD Specialists or Designers pretty much start from scratch when they create these models anyway. But it would be advantageous to have the handoff from DraftSight to detailed 3D modeling tools be seamless.

Summary and Questions

Dassault Systèmes now offers a free 2D drafting tool called DraftSight, which is developed by a software company called Gräbert. It provides functionality to not only create 2D detailed drawings but also has the potential to enable engineers to capture concepts and explore design iterations before a detailed 3D model is created. This latter functionality to enable engineers could be augmented by the Gräbert Market for DraftSight, which could provide engineering specific tools inside DraftSight.

With all that said, it’s time for you to weigh in. For those using DraftSight, what do you think of its ability to capture concepts or explore design iterations? What do you expect from the App Store? Will you explore what it is capable of? Sound off and let us know what you think.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.

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