Product Design

CAD Manager: Managing the 2D/3D MultiCAD Office

1 Sep, 2006 By: Robert Green

Assign 2D and 3D programs to the jobs they do best.


Last month, I talked about how to know when you're ready to move to 3D CAD. One of the unintended consequences of moving to 3D CAD is the multiCAD office environment where multiple CAD systems, both 3D and 2D, are in use. In fact, my CAD manager surveys during the last five years show that these 2D/3D multiCAD environments are now the norm. It seems the question isn't whether you'll have to manage a multiCAD office, but how best to do so.

In this column, I'll offer a mixture of perspectives, tips and watch-out items for CAD managers who find themselves in need of a multiCAD management strategy.

Economic and Workplace Realities

So why do we have multiCAD offices in the first place? Why not just go totally 3D and be done with it? The principal reason I see is that most companies simply can't take the time to switch everyone to 3D at once, and delaying the cost of implementation runs a close second. By delaying full 3D implementation, a company keeps using the 2D tools it already knows while transitioning to 3D gradually, thus reducing costs but creating the multiCAD office in the process.

Either way, it's interesting to note that nobody sets out to have a multiCAD office—it just happens due to economic realities. Accepting the multiCAD reality means you'll spend more time managing the scenario and less time fighting it.

Map Your Needs and Processes

Managing CAD tools is all about meeting business objectives and getting the job done. Therefore, mapping out the tasks you need to accomplish and considering which CAD tools will best help you do so are the first steps in organizing the multiCAD office. Simply put, management wants you to get the job done and really doesn't care which tool accomplishes which task, so long as it happens quickly, seamlessly and profitably. However, your users will care about the CAD tools they use and how those tools affect their day-to-day lives.

In my mind, balancing users' CAD needs with a company's business needs is the trickiest part of dealing with the multiCAD office. To accomplish this balancing act, you must analyze your existing needs and processes from both managerial and user perspectives. Only after mapping things can you learn which tool is correct for each purpose and how to manage the tools effectively. Here are a few questions that will give you a handle on what processes you perform daily and what software tool is right for each task. The key adage here is, "Manage your software, don't let your software manage you!"

What processes should you use 2D for? You may still use 2D to handle routine tasks such as drafting or DWG-based collaboration. You may also find it more logical to keep legacy projects in 2D to avoid the cost of 3D modeling. The key here is to determine where 2D should still be used so you can concentrate your 3D resources in the places they can pay you back quickly.

What processes should you use 3D for? 3D design tools will now assume a high-profile design role within your company, so be sure to use your 3D resources in the places they can give you the best possible payback. The bias here is not where can you use 3D, but where can you best use 3D? Take into account parameters such as user training time and software and hardware costs when making your decision.

Where does 3D leave off and 2D kick in? After you've decided where 2D and 3D tools can be used most optimally, you must tackle the topic of linking them together. Ask yourself questions such as: How can I get 2D output for my 3D system? How can my 3D systems accept 2D input? What will be the overhead in accomplishing these tasks? Depending on what you find, you may want to alter your perceptions of where 2D and 3D tools fit best in your company. This thought process is iterative, and it pays to reconsider the options frequently.

What are your external interface points? Do you work in an environment where you have to provide computer files to external vendors? If so, you must understand where your points of interface will be and define what computer formats you will need to support them. When you understand these interface points, you may need to reconsider your internal 2D and 3D processes yet again. After all, it makes no sense to use 2D/3D tools in a way that hinders working with partners outside your company.

What about non-CAD tools? When 3D design packages take hold, it's inevitable that advanced visualization will follow. Advanced visualization may comprise things such as animations, walkthroughs, flyovers or even rendered still images. It logically follows that CAD managers will assume control of these types of software products because they work in conjunction with CAD tools. What will your game plan be for managing these additional software tools?

Power-User Panel

After you've analyzed your processes, it's time to put your analysis into action, right? Before you leap into action, take a moment to think about the benefit of subjecting yourself to peer review. You may not have been able to think about everything or keep all the variables for different software titles straight. This sort of nagging doubt can be a big reality check for CAD managers who are used to knowing everything about their CAD installations.

Try as you might, there will always be a power user who knows more about a specific topic than you do. I encourage you to embrace your power users' knowledge as a source of strength, not a weakness. So why not convene a power-user panel to help you review your multiCAD analysis? Remember that a CAD manager's job is to make things work, and peer review from a panel of power users is the best way I know to make sure things work.

Your focus should be to get power users from your company into a cohesive group that understands each other's needs, interface points, file requirements and external collaboration needs. By putting everyone in the same boat, you all face the same set of problems together and are all motivated to solve those problems. You'll find that when people are made responsible for the total work product of the company, they start to see concepts in a much different way. Your job as CAD manager is to facilitate this power-user panel by mediating and functioning as the conduit to company management so that everybody understands what everyone else expects.

Document What You've Found

It's critical that you write down what you learn as you outline your processes, review your outline with your power-user panel, and make decisions about 2D and 3D tools. In fact, I recommend writing down your findings as meeting minutes of the power-user panel and distributing them. By doing so, you'll get an additional level of checking and build political acceptance for your ideas as you circulate them to a wider audience.

I think you'll find that your CAD standards will be in need of a rewrite, and as CAD manager that responsibility will fall to you. I recommend that you combine your existing CAD standards with some of the new power-user findings to create a multiCAD standards document. As you do so, consider the following ideas.

Standards should support needs. Your new CAD standards should support the new 2D and 3D processes and software tools you've discussed with your power-user panel. It's not the time to create new standards or complexities; simply write the minimal standards required to support your needs.

Standards should address 2D and 3D tools. Be specific about which tasks will use what software tools and make this part of your standards. It's pointless to decide what software tool is best suited for which process if you don't standardize the procedures for doing so.

Control 3D just as you would 2D. Just because you've got a cool new 3D software tool doesn't mean your users should be able to run roughshod over you and model things however they like. Write your 3D CAD standards the same way you would for 2D.

Make it simple. Although a multiCAD environment may seem complicated, your standards should make it seem simple. Period.

Keep management in the loop. Your senior management probably doesn't need to read every paragraph of your multiCAD standard, but they should see an executive-level summary of what you're doing.

MultiCAD Management

In my experience, managing the multiCAD office is more about aligning software tools to business needs than it is about software management. Think more about what you're doing and what software tools will help achieve your goals, and you'll automatically focus on the right parameters of your job. By thinking more about process and consulting your power users to optimize software performance, you'll arrive at a great compromise between business management and technology management while getting more done. And that, in a nutshell, is what CAD management is all about.

Robert Green performs CAD programming and consulting throughout the United States and Canada. Reach him at rgreeen@greenconsulting.com.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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