Grayson co-founded Alibre in 1997 to incorporate the communications capabilities of the Internet into mechanical design and product development. Prior to founding Alibre, he was founder, chairman, and CEO of Micrografx, where he created the company's first product, PC-Draw. Micrografx shipped the industry's first Windows-compatible application in 1985. Grayson is also noted for his charity work. For 10 years, he led the Micrografx Chili for Children Cook-off at Fall Comdex. He currently serves on the CEO Advisory Board of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Price is a big barrier to the use of 3D solid modeling, says Grayson. He asserts that it's time to establish a new, lower price point that will enable more companies to purchase 3D CAD and start benefiting from the advantages it provides in product design.
Design News: What is the major trend in engineering software today?
Grayson: The major trend is making tools more available and broadening the market. For too long, 3D design has been restrictive. Now, it's available at a low price.
Q: Is price really a factor in the use of 3D solid modeling software?
A: It's a big inhibitor. Many people tell us they can't afford 3D. That's especially true for a small company. There are lots of other analogies where pricing has been important. AutoCAD Light is perhaps the largest-selling product for Autodesk. That shows a lot of people want to use CAD. 3D CAD is the last bastion of high price. SolidWorks established the mid-range price point when it first came out. Now, it's time to establish a new price point as we have done with Alibre Design. You can do solid modeling on a $500 PC. Why should you pay more for the software?
Q: What about ease of use? Isn't that a factor in the use of 3D?
A: Yes, ease of use is very important. Engineers are smart, but there are plenty who have been deterred by the learning-time barrier. It takes six months or more to become good at some software. Productivity tools like CAD need to be the kind that you can pick up quickly, put away, and pick up again later.
Q: Has 3D taken hold in engineering?
A: In the broad sense, it hasn't, though certainly in some key markets it has. The majority of small companies don't use it, and that opens an untapped market. 3D just hasn't reached its promise yet.
Q: What is the Internet's role in use of CAD?
A: The Internet has been playing a big role. Every company has a collaboration or Internet story. For example, Product Lifecycle Management is enabled by the Internet; it's the next-generation platform for engineering. The Internet has given developers like us more efficient ways and tools to work together, faster. And, it has enabled us to be more aggressive in price. We can distribute software, support it, and provide training over the Internet. It's actually a new distribution channel, and it allows us to offer a low price point.
Q: What do you think will be the next breakthrough in CAD?
A: I think the next breakthrough for other CAD vendors will be price, as Alibre has already illustrated. The industry is engaged in a battle over the high-end features of CAD programs. But all those features cost more—and many engineers don't want to pay for them because they don't use them or need them. I think another breakthrough will be in the area of interoperability. We need a standard way of exchanging 3D model data; proprietary data structures prohibit that exchange. STEP and other standards will help solve that exchange problem.