February 3, 2014
Hardi Meybaum, founder and CEO of GrabCAD, now has a new job title. In a few weeks, when his first book The Art of Product Design (Wiley, 2014) goes on sale, he’ll proudly add “author” to his list of professional descriptions.
Most people know him as the man behind the popular 3D content exchange community GrabCAD. Since its birth in 2010, the online portal has grown at a remarkable pace. At last count (today), it houses 374,000 files from more than 1,066,000 members. But Hardi’s journey began in Estonia, a Baltic state that broke free from Soviet Russia in 1991. His brainchild GrabCAD is an immigrant success story for the era of Facebook and iPhone.
Hardi said he was prompted to write The Art of Product Design to “tell the story of how we think the world is going to change.”
According to early press announcements of the book, The Art of Product Design “explains the rise of Open Engineering, a way of breaking down barriers and taking advantage of web-based communities, knowledge, and tools to accelerate the design and manufacturing processes.”
Hardi said, “You might ask, who is this immigrant Hardi Meybaum, [who claims to] know the world of design and manufacturing is changing? What we’ve seen is people using design tools differently, manufacturing things differently, running their business differently. We think this is the future.”
Hardi’s insights come from partly observing the way GrabCAD members use online collaboration tools, form ad-hoc project teams, and employ digital prototypes to pitch their concepts. He describes the trend as “open engineering.”
Feeling that mechanical engineers don’t demand or receive enough recognition for their contribution, Hardi included a chapter titled “Gearheads Get No Respect.” He explained, “They’re not driven by fame. They don’t really ask for it. They just do their job. But I do think they need respect. Compare mechanical engineers to software engineers.”
He’s thinking about the celebrated software developers in the Silicon Valley: They drive good cars, everyone knows them, and they’re not bashful about their personality cult, he noted.
“I want people to go study mechanical engineering,” Hardi said. “I want it to be popular. With this book, I want to give respect to the gearheads.”
Another chapter in the book, “Breaking Down the Monastery Door,” has nothing to Franciscan and Gregorian friars, he assured. He meant to urge people to break out of the old ways. The monasteries he’s thinking of are the old institutions where “Everything is done in-house. You design everything in-house. You have engineers in-house. You do manufacturing in the same place. You use one CAD tool to do everything. This is how people did things 20 years ago,” he said.
The new way, as exemplified by GrabCAD users, involves globally dispersed teams connected by virtual meetings, using photo-realistic renderings instead of physical mockups to make critical decisions. Based on this vision, GrabCAD recently began offering GrabCAD Workbench, a browser-based collaboration platform.
“Everything has become so much more distributed,” Hardi said. “You have a designer in San Francisco, an engineer in Boston, manufacturing in Michigan, tooling in China ... but when you look at the software they’re using, they’re using what was developed for the old paradigm.”
The monastery doors are in fact slowly opening, as evident in the partnership between GE, an established manufacturing titan, and Quirky.com, a startup that facilitates crowd-sourced innovation; or in DARPA’s adoption of online collaboration to host and manage the FANG (nickname for a fast, adaptable ground vehicle) design challenge.
In the book, Hardi points out that “big organizations like GE and Nokia are jumping in with both feet, by issuing an open ‘Challenge’ seeking novel engineering solutions to their hardest problems.”
The Art of Product Design is now available for preorders online at Amazon.com.
For the complete interview with Hardi, listen to the podcast audio below: