What do you like about GrabCAD Workbench

With the announcement of GrabCAD Workbench retiring, my team at SOLIDWORKS Edu and Dassault Systemes is trying to come up with a solution to help FIRST teams.

What is your process in using Workbench for your team?

What do you like or don’t like about Workbench?

Thank you, Marie

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Not a GrabCAD Workbench user, just an interested party who would like to say

Thank. You.

Thank you for supporting teams, thank you for recognizing the impact that FIRST participants will have on the future of STEM, thank you for investing your company’s resources to help a niche program with what appears to be an infinite upside.

We appreciate you and your colleagues.

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On the very surface, Workbench is essentially google drive to any new students coming in. Very very very easy to understand/learn (our school board runs off Google, so students are familiar with those tools).

For someone that knows that Google Drive isn’t ideal for CAD files, workbench allowed for easy/seamless version control of CAD files, along with an easy method to “lock” files when being worked on. If you chose not to lock your files, and someone revised the part/assembly you’d been working on, you’d be warned that the file had been updated since you last “sync’d” your files.

All of this was achieved (from the end user’s perspective) by creating a simple account, downloading a single program, and directing that program to a specific folder location to start syncing/saving your files. Frankly, I’d say it was just about idiot proof, with about as small a learning curve as you could possibly get.

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Grabcad work bench offers a very easy to understand interface. The Local Folder and Workbench function as upload and download folders, both highly apparent that you have something outstanding to up or download. Not eating your bandwidth with a constant up or download. This also allows for fewer but very regimented and easy to track updates.

The updates page, the webpage that you are taken to to see which files have changed with each upload, is great for troubleshooting problems. Working with people (students and adults), with differing abilities and understanding of Grabcad, someone will inevitably move a part or change a name not realizing it may blow up the entire mating of an assembly. Additionally the notes feature (although rarely used by our students). The online viewer (although often slow) is great for troubleshooting this as well.

The local folder method of storage is intuitive and something we all already know, great for quickly jumping in as we are learning. I learned how to do Solidworks and GrabCad while i had covid. Grabcad took less than 30 minutes of my time to figure out.

Allowing different Grabcad Folders so people can download what they want when they want is also helpful.

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I am fortunate to work with a team of people that volunteer their time to help FIRST and me. We are trying to do all we can - within our capabilities of our commercial tools. Funny - today someone said to me, this isn’t your job as a senior director and I thought - no it really is… Thank you for your comment.

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Agree. It’s intuitive and easy for the students and mentors to understand. I also agree with his other points.

Our process:
Create a new project for the new robot or other new thing we are designing.
People create new parts/assemblies and sync those from local to the GrabCad repository and pull in part/assemblies created by others.

Note:
We also have some “reference” projects that contain common shared items like motors, gearboxes, bearings, etc., essentially parts that will be used in multiple projects. Each person starting on the CAD team pulls in the latest project they will be working in, plus the reference projects.

We also use GrabCad to store any type of SolidWorks files (drawings, pdf output files), and also our CNC gcode files.

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The biggest selling point to myself and any other low income team and or user is that it is free to use.

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Most PDM software is cumbersome with a lot of clicks and menus and options for part tracking - As others have stated GrabCAD stripped all of this away and just showed what’s different between the server and your local copy and gave you some easy options for upload / download. The appeal of this is that it’s easy to setup, easy to learn, and relatively intuitive.

Theoretically sharing your CAD with other teams was pretty easy too although I never really figured out an easy way to move stuff to partner spaces quickly.

Having a Common Parts Library that everyone automatically had access to was pretty helpful.

Ability to check out parts was helpful, albeit you had to go to the browser to do this so we rarely actually used it. Instead we just used Slack to say “I’m in intake assembly”.

Being able to revert versions was good, but it only saved 30 days worth of versions.

Ability to automatically open local folder or open on GrabCAD site was convenient.

GC didn’t care about file type so we could store excel files with design calculations right in the same folders with the sub assembly

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Best things ranked in order of importance for our team:

  1. Free, unlimited scaling, we can store multiple years worth of robots

  2. Simple UI, big bright blue buttons saying you aren’t sync’d so the kids know where to click to sync everything up, examples below:


  3. Nested folder structure can be preserved, a good way to organize between seasons or subsystems

  4. Check in/out (lock) components, we can lock old robots we dont want to get accidentally changed (we hardly used this)

  5. Ability to store any file type (low priority, we use google sheets for calculations, but do store CAM files in GrabCAD which is nice but not necessary)

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Plenty of good responses already!
I will reiterate a few of the ones important to my team in no particular order

  1. Free (If there was a rather low cost equivalent alternative I am sure we could swing it, but free has been really nice)

  2. Unlimited data (at least we haven’t reached it yet) being able to pull in old robot models for reference or training is super useful

  3. No file type limitations, good for CAM files and not limiting the CAD software used

  4. Easy to use UI

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This. With the announcement that workbench will be gone as of June 2023, it’s brought to light just how much we take the software for granted. Investigating alternatives has already been headache inducing for me.

While it wouldn’t be a guarantee we’d still use it, if GrabCAD turned around today and announced they were starting to charge $50/year (totally random example cost) per workspace (not per project or user) to cover the cost of keeping their servers going, I’d be strongly urging my team to consider that cost.

Obviously if I was choosing between essentially equivalent software, but one was free, I’d take the free one. But in these instances, beggars can’t necessarily be choosers.

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After reading through the other GrabCAD thread I want to add that the ability to use CAD and view local copies offline and sync when you have internet is a huge benefit of GrabCAD. Some teams have terrible or no internet in their shop or mentor laptops can’t connect to school networks, that completely eliminates the ability of those teams to use OnShape or the 3DEXPERIENCE.

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Torrance laid out everything I was going to say, but it’s hard to underscore how EASY GrabCAD is to use for my students.

Need the latest updates? Click the download button.

Need to push your changes? Click the upload button.

Is there a file confliction? Highlight that with red text and caution icons.

The easy to understand icons for updated files, added files, and deleted files are intuitive.

We don’t need any complicated version control options beyond the ability to selectively upload or download certain files as needed, and the ability to restore to a previous version in rare circumstances.

It just works (when the server isn’t “busy” haha).

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As the admin of our Workbench, I had it set up such that I could generate a new project file every year that would contain all of the year-specific part, assembly, and drawing files. I would grant edit access to this new folder to the students and mentors that needed it and view only access to those who didn’t. We had issues in the past with someone with mild OCD moving files around that didn’t need to be in that folder causing headaches, so per-project write access is a must.

I also have the common parts library open to all who need it with the local folder set to ‘read only’ to prompt users to not edit the vendor components in that folder. I kind of wish this folder had a little more control like my last experience with Solidworks PDM, everything is locked but new parts can be pushed to the directory as needed (and locked automatically).

The other open folder is the Research and Development folder for those that want to tinker in the offseason or develop a project for the fall. It is more or less trust-based and anyone can dump files there.

After any given year I will typically remove write access to most users to effectively lock out that project and archive it. This also lessens the number of files any new user needs to download from the cloud to work on any single project (competition year). For the first few years with the Workbench, we used a single project folder along with a common parts library and an R&D folder and things started getting messy when a new user would have to download 3-4 years worth of robots just to modify a couple of parts on this year’s robot. Being able to segregate into project folders with simple admin controls was one of my favorite aspects of GrabCAD.

The one feature it lacked that I liked from my previous employer and our use of PDM was checking in and checking out of work. GrabCAD handled conflicts pretty well and would let you pick and choose which version you wanted to become official but this could have been avoided by effectively locking out access to associated files when someone checks out a subassembly. This feature used to work when GC had a SW plugin, but that was short-lived.

As someone who used Solidworks PDM for about three years and occasionally had access to to the admin panel, it is far too complex for what we need in FIRST. Far too cumbersome to set up (especially the networked server), a lot of workflow and acceptance tools, scripting for custom functions, etc. All nice features to have for a power user or someone who needs to show the ISO auditor that we keep to our workflow but very much overkill for FIRST robotics.

If you told me DS Solidworks had a cloud-based, simplified, PDM/Vault system that allowed us to not skip a beat in using the desktop version of SW and had an online viewer that kept up with the version changes I would switch yesterday.

GrabCAD just kind of ‘worked’, for my team and a lot of others.

Tl;dr Google Drive with CAD file recognition, a desktop app, and revision history, same Admin/Edit/View access as well. That is more or less what GC was for us.

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Great list by Torrance here!

Expanding on #5 - we used GrabCAD as the official repository for “production” STL files as well. With intelligent file structure, we have a record of every 3D print we ever physically made, which can be quite handy when dealing with 100s of unique printed parts each season.

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Seconding all of the above. Ease of use (for high schoolers who don’t care to learn difficult interfaces) is huge.

And to add on to this, the biggest little feature for us was the small integration in SolidWorks that notified you of the Lock State of a file that you opened. It is an absolute pain teaching people (especially young people) to keep track of who has what file locked, to make sure to lock the file before making changes, and to unlock after you are done. The integration that gave you little notifications whenever you were editing a locked part (and who had locked it so you know who to bug), or a reminder to lock if you started making changes, were amazing. We CONSTANTLY had conflicts after GrabCAD removed this integration feature because we regularly had different people making slight changes to overlapping assemblies and parts. This is why we went to OnShape, because we never had to worry about proper locking again.

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I want to bring up price point, for a second. While everyone is saying free, I look to Google Drive, where accounts get 15GB for free by default, and can then have the option of upgrading to 100 GB for $2/month or 200 GB for $3/month, and so on. I think that’s incredibly fair. I would be more than happy to pay a reasonably small amount a year to get upgraded storage if it helps pay for running and upkeep costs of a GrabCAD replacement.

For reference, the GrabCAD folder for my previous team is about 46 GB, which spans a ~5 year period. If I were to guess, I’d say that’s on the heavier side of most GrabCAD workbench accounts, though I could be wrong. Either way, if Dassault Systemes is considering making their own GrabCAD replacement product, the cost of creating and running such a product is obviously going to be a major discussion point in their decision making. I think it’s only fair (and extremely doable by FIRST teams) to pay a small subscription cost for the service. Maybe even in the future if the system is up and running and somewhat self-sustaining it could be part of the SolidWorks sponsorship deal.

tl;dr: Putting my money where my mouth is because getting a good product that fills this gap is really important to me.

Edit: Should probably throw some feature suggestions in to help with the original post.

Torrance already listed most of them. Some extras that would be nice to have are:

  • Online viewer for parts and assemblies that allows markup and comments (I think eDrawings Viewer does this, but integrated into the grabcad replacement would be nice)
  • A mobile / tablet app that allows usage of the online viewer, markup, comments, etc. (It could just be a website, I really just wanna be able to provide feedback from my phone)
  • Ability to create groups that I can add accounts to (like Google Groups for email) separate from the partner spaces equivalent would be nice, so that way groups can be given permissions and people can be added or removed from groups (much easier than adding people individually and changing permissions every time)
  • If there is a lock / unlock or check-out / check-in feature, please make it optional or allow admins of the project to have full control over the status of files. I look back to the horror days at previous jobs when someone checks out a file and forgets to check back in, leaves work, and now nobody can access the file until they get back.
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One thing that hasn’t been mentioned much here is the ability to view and navigate CAD files in browser via the website.

It’s great for FRC teams because often times students have weaker laptops or chrome books that can’t handle running a CAD suite.

I’ve used this countless times when I’m on a weaker machine if all I need to do is make a measurement or check how something is assembled in the shop. This works for overall assemblies, but also subassemblies and parts.

It also works for non-CAD files such as pdfs and images. Great for viewing things like drawings and renders.

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Totally agree with this. TBH I wouldn’t mind at all if the base level had a cost as well if it helps make sure that bugs get fixed and makes it less likely to be shut down abruptly. Even if it had a cost I would honestly still pay for it for personal use as well. I use it to share cad files between multiple computers with my account and to share files/assemblies with friends.

If there is a cost I wonder if it would be better to have it be a yearly subscription cost instead of monthly. I know a few teams associated with schools have to get a lot of purchases checked if they are not with preapproved vendors and if Dassault ends up not being ones of those approved vendors then having to pay monthly might be a pita.

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Definitely should be a yearly price (or at least have that option, like Google Drive does). I feel like for most teams, adding a single <$100 line item in their annual budgets is a no-brainer, and for those who may not be able to do so as easily, see below.

I believe a free tier is important for hobbiests, students, and low-budget education programs / teams that don’t need a lot of storage (maybe they store previous years’ work on a local drive and only have the current year’s work on the cloud drive). It’s what gets people using the software, and the more people that use it the more they will get their future companies to use it. Also some people just have no money to spend on a service like this. Been there, done that. Having the free option was almost always a deciding factor, so it’s worth it for those people.

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