Alibre Grows As Others Slow
Alibre is a 3D CAD company that has been around since 1997. Primarily, Alibre’s product line has been designed for the manufacturing industry, but like competitors CoCreate, IronCAD, and Kubotek, it is a direct modeler rather than a parametric modeler.
Parametric modeling was the basis for Autodesk’s Inventor, PTC’s Pro/Engineer, Solid Works, and Solid Edge. It means that as a model is created, the relationships between all the components are built into the model. The model then has information about how the final product actually works. It’s brilliant technology, but it’s not for everyone. Parametric models are difficult to edit if you don’t understand how they were originally created, and they don’t allow much experimentation as the model is developed. A direct modeler is simpler--it’s just geometry. It’s easier to edit, and a designer can get to an idea much faster. For that reason, industrial designers tend to work more often with direct modelers.
Also, the new breed of hobbyist who builds digital models for manufacture, or maybe just for fun, gravitates toward direct modelers. Alibre is targeting these users and hopes to grow with the trend. The company has been monkeying around with pricing, trying to find the right fit for its unique market. Most recently, the company announced the availability of Alibre Personal Edition (PE), a basic 3D modeler for MCAD for $99. And, $99 isn’t the lowest price that Alibre has asked. In 2005, the company shook up the CAD world by offering a base product for free, and then it let users turns on features by paying for them. Over a million copies of the software have been downloaded, and the company can legitimately boast thousands of new users. But, it hasn’t made much money this way.
Most recently, the company’s founder and president, Paul Grayson, has taken a much higher profile in the company, and he’s been traveling the country and selling Alibre’s tools direct to people attending trade shows and festivals. Recognizing that CAD is truly not for everyone, Grayson has started to actively promote the PE product for $99, and he’s taking it to where interested consumers might be. They’re a regular on the Maker Faire circuit and most recently won the Maker Faire Editor’s Choice Award. Grayson says that when they go to conferences and fairs, their booth is mobbed, and they’re able to sell hundreds of copies of the product.
Right now, he notes, Alibre is the only company that’s working directly with these users. Not coincidentally, by the way, Blender, the free modeler developed by Ton Roosendahl, is often used in a complementary way with Alibre’s tools. Alibre offers more machining capabilities; Blender has rendering. In addition, Alibre has worked with Luxion to enable export of Alibre files to the Luxion Keyshot renderer.
Grayson has had considerable experience and success in the software market. He was the founder of Micrografix, the first drawing product for Windows. “My first company was a five-year overnight success, we’re hoping Alibre will turn out to be a 13-year overnight success,” jokes Grayson.
Grayson seems to be having a very good time these days. He enjoys tweaking the press, and he seems to love being face to face with his customers. Alibre is banking on the growth of a new breed of 3D enthusiast--the DIY engineer, if you will.
Kathleen Maher is a contributing editor to CGW, a senior analyst at Jon Peddie Research, a Tiburon, California-based consultancy specializing in graphics and multimedia, and editor in chief of JPR’s “TechWatch.” She can be reached at Kathleen@jonpeddie.com.