General Software

CAD Manager: CAD Manager Survey 2004, Part 2

15 Dec, 2004 By: Robert Green

Is the 3D software revolution under way yet?


In last month's edition of CAD Manager (http://management.cadalyst.com/2004survey1), I began to examine the CAD Manager 2004 survey by analyzing salary data, who's performing CAD management within the organization, machine and personnel support loads, and managerial parameters such as hiring and purchasing authority. This month, I'll wrap up the survey by examining trends in software and technology use.

CAD Software Overview

Because software trends shape CAD manager's careers so profoundly, I surveyed these trends again this year. I asked respondents to indicate both their primary and secondary (if applicable) CAD application. I asked about primary and secondary CAD systems because I've seen a growing trend toward multiple CAD packages being the norm in many offices. Most companies that use multiple CAD systems do so because both 2D and 3D designs are in use in different departments. This hybrid approach to CAD has increased support burdens on CAD managers as they struggle to support ever more complex software platforms.

As has been the case in all past surveys, AutoCAD (57%) shows up as the most frequently used CAD package, no change from last year's survey. Architectural and Land Desktop, at 15% and 9% respectively, round out the top three primary CAD systems reported. Table 1 shows where other systems rank. More companies are opting for industry-specific packages such as Autodesk's Desktop products, ArchiCAD, or mechanical CAD packages such as Inventor and SolidWorks for their primary CAD platform. The only change in the survey results is the increasing presence of MicroStation respondents, who have risen to nearly 4% in the last two surveys. Bringing up the rear was a 5.7% block of CAD packages that garnered fewer than five responses each: Alibre, ArchiCAD, AutoCAD Map, AutoPLANT, Building Systems, CADENCE, CADKey, CADRA, CATIA, DataCAD, I-deas, and Revit.

 Table 1: Whos using what?
Table 1: Whos using what?

The survey data leads me to draw a couple of conclusions about software use:

  • 1. The trend toward replacing AutoCAD with more powerful industry-specific CAD platforms is more prominent in architecture and civil engineering than elsewhere.
  • 2. Mechanical CAD users continue to split their allegiance among a variety of software vendors. Autodesk has not displaced SolidWorks, but it has gained ground during the past year.

Upgrading Rather Than Replacing

Interestingly, as companies replace AutoCAD with more powerful application-specific software, they almost entirely do so with another Autodesk product. In fact, Autodesk's share of primary CAD systems is 86% in this year's data. As in past years, as users migrate from AutoCAD to more enhanced packages, they've largely chosen to stay with products based on the DWG format instead of going to proprietary formats such as Revit's. The sole exception to the DWG rule is the mechanical CAD market, where products such as Inventor, Pro/ENGINEER, and SolidWorks use nonDWG primary formats but have expanded their abilities to read and write DWG data.

Taken together, this trend toward upgrading to products that use the time-tested DWG file format (Land and Architectural Desktop) leads me to believe that AEC market customers are still hesitant to stray too far from the core AutoCAD file format. Mechanical CAD users, on the other hand, now seem to be confident about storing their data in nonDWG based files.

What remains true is that DWG is still the dominant engineering data format, with 83% of survey respondents listing a DWG-based package as their primary CAD system.

The Hybrid Office

During the past year I've noticed more offices running a 2D primary system such as AutoCAD with a 3D-enabled secondary CAD system. This multisystem, or hybrid, office environment means that CAD managers must do double duty in terms of software support. I wanted to get a feeling for how this trend has evolved in the past year, so I asked about this topic again.

As you can see from figure 1, 57% of survey respondents (no change from last year) identify their company as totally or mainly 2D. Because AutoCAD was named as their primary CAD system by 54% of the respondents this year, I continue to conclude that a lot of people out there are running their businesses on AutoCAD, even 23 years after its beginning.

Figure 1: A majority of CAD managers oversee a hybrid CAD environment.
Figure 1: A majority of CAD managers oversee a hybrid CAD environment.

Though 5% (down from 7% last year) purport to be completely 3D, the number of firms evaluating 3D has remained constant at 26% of respondents. It's interesting that the use of 3D has remained static even though desktop 3D software has become more robust and cost effective. Trying to draw conclusions in this area is hard because the past two years of lowered economic performance in the industrial world may be the reason that 3D hasn't caught on more. On the other hand, the hidden costs of training and implementing 3D methodologies in general may be the root cause. No matter the reason, 2D still rules and totally 3D design-enabled businesses are in the distinct minority.

Technical Expertise

As you can see from figure 2, CAD managers are technically astute, but the specifics of that technical expertise are changing. The percentage reporting some degree of familiarity with AutoLISP is 63% (down from 66% last year), and the percentage of those with some degree of familiarity with Visual BASIC is 33% (unchanged). Those who report being fluent in AutoLISP make up 27% (down from 34% last year), and in Visual BASIC, 14% (unchanged). Cross-correlating AutoLISP and Visual BASIC yields some interesting statistics: 26% of those who are familiar with Visual BASIC are also familiar with AutoLISP, but 46% of AutoLISP users are familiar with Visual BASIC. I have to conclude that new CAD managers are entering the field with Visual BASIC experience, but no AutoLISP experience. At the same time, it's evident that technical CAD managers who've learned AutoLISP are taking steps to learn Visual BASIC in greater numbers than in the past.
Figure 2: Programming skills broken down to AutoLISP and Visual LISP knowledge.
Figure 2: Programming skills broken down to AutoLISP and Visual LISP knowledge.

In this year's survey I asked CAD managers if they ran their CAD systems in a non-customized, out-of-the-box state or if they applied some sort of customization. Not surprisingly, 61% of the respondents reported customizing their software, a figure that correlates very well with the 66% AutoLISP literacy rate outlined above.

Some extended conclusions can be drawn from this data:

  • 1. No matter how feature-packed design software is, CAD managers aren't satisfied with out-of-the-box systems, so they learn how to extend and customize.
  • 2. AutoLISP is not dead by a long shot, but Visual BASIC is gaining ground. Serious AutoLISP users still outnumber serious Visual BASIC users by a 2-to-1 ratio.

As the number of full-time CAD managers has dropped, the technical expertise of the remaining CAD managers continues at very high levels. I think it's safe to assume that CAD management will still be a career where technical skills will be rewarded as CAD systems are tweaked and customized to fit a company's specific needs.

To Sum Up

Because of space restrictions, I've analyzed only a small portion of the data I collected in the CAD Manager's 2004 survey. The results here should help you gauge where your company fits into the software and technology spectrum and how your skill set compares with that of other CAD managers.

I invite you to stop by my Web site, www.greenconsulting.com/survey.htm , for a complete rundown of all the survey data. I'll also publish a detailed analysis of the survey in my CAD Manager's Newsletter.

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


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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