Become a CAD Ecosystem Expert

20 Dec, 2013 By: Robert Green

Once you understand that CAD is not a stand-alone tool, but a complex network of components, you’ll be better prepared to keep it running smoothly.

What Can You Control?

Let's break the ecosystem down again, but this time let's consider what the CAD manager can do to manage each piece of it.

Design intent. If your company hires good engineers, architects, and designers, then you won't have to worry much about this. On the other hand, if your company habitually hires people with insufficient CAD skills, it may be time for you to get involved with the candidate screening and interviewing process.

Hardware interaction. If your IT department delivers the necessary hardware and properly configured software, you won't have to worry. But if anything about the hardware environment is problematic, then you need to provide input. For example: If hardware is underspecified for CAD applications, fight to get involved with specifications on next year's budget. Don't be a victim of inadequate hardware!

CAD interaction. This is where your application of standards and training are really put to the test. Of course, if your company hires competent workers (as outlined above), your job will be easier. The majority of CAD managers feel most comfortable managing this part of the CAD ecosystem, and thus tend to fixate on it even when other problems are more urgent.

Network interaction. If the network functions properly, then you won't have issues here. However, if your network is problematic, then it is time for you to get involved with IT. General users often don't experience network errors because their needs are limited (for example, because their file sizes are small), but when you start moving around 20-MB Civil 3D projects, building information models, or SolidWorks assemblies, network deficiencies become obvious. As with hardware, get involved and do not suffer network issues without making some noise.

Output. As long as output software and peripherals work, you can spend your time training and standardizing so users can produce quality output without hassle. On the other hand, if software, peripheral, or network issues make plotting and documentation a problem, you must address the issues right away.

Iteration. Design reviews, client feedback, and internal processes will always be a part of the design process. CAD managers can best manage the iterative process by having strong relationships with project managers and key personnel so deadlines are chosen wisely and are well understood.

For each of the above steps, the approach is the same: Diagnose the problem and do whatever it takes to solve it. Otherwise, productivity will suffer dramatically, because each of these elements is essential to the operation of the CAD ecosystem.

Find the Bottlenecks

When we think about the CAD ecosystem, it becomes apparent that it is only as good as its weakest component. Or, put into a traffic analogy, you can only move as many cars as your narrowest road will allow. It is futile to have huge roadways if they get bottlenecked down to a single lane. CAD ecosystems exhibit the same characteristics as a road network — overall throughput is governed by the least robust part of the system. So how do you go about finding your bottlenecks and targeting them? Here's my approach:

Write it all down. Go through the "What Can You Control?" section above and write down your impressions for each part of your CAD ecosystem. No problem is too small; get it all out on the table so you can fully comprehend the problems.

Which problems impede production? You may not care for a particular PDF creation utility your company uses, but does it work? On the other hand, a plotting room that users cannot easily navigate may be causing real delays. Determine which problems hinder productivity, and give them priority over those that are mere annoyances.

Create a prioritized task list. Now that you have thought through the CAD ecosystem, diagnosed the problems, and decided what you need to fix, the question becomes, What should you work on first? The answer: Whichever problem is causing you the greatest productivity losses.

Work through the list in order. No matter what else you might want to work on, you must tackle the highest-priority tasks first. The goal is to make your CAD ecosystem faster and more efficient, and there's no better way to do that than by attacking the problems in order of importance.

I had a boss once, named Kurt, who used to tell me, "Work on the stuff that needs to be worked on!" As I've gained more management experience, I've come to realize how great that advice is.

Fix the Ecosystem

Armed with your new understanding of your CAD ecosystem and its shortcomings, you can now build a CAD management action plan that targets your biggest problems first. Share this plan with your senior management, IT department, and users to solicit their input and advice. You may find that nobody else sees the ecosystem the way you do, because they've never taken the time to analyze it like you have.

Use the attention you get to adjust the interviewing process for new hires, alter IT plans, specify better hardware, improve training programs, and simplify the output of CAD work. As you do so, never lose sight of the fact that CAD isn't an island; it is a multidisciplinary ecosystem that requires detailed analysis and attention. It may take a while to get your point across, but keep educating your coworkers about the concept and you'll see them catch on.

Summing Up

I believe that as software becomes more complex, hardware devices become more diverse, and networks become more cloudy, the CAD ecosystem will become bigger and more difficult to manage. As this happens, the CAD manager has a stark choice to make: Understand the ecosystem and manage it, or let the ecosystem spin out of control and manage you! I can only hope that this edition of "CAD Manager" has armed you with a strategy to proactively manage your CAD ecosystem — and the motivation to do so. Until next time.

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About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Re: Become a CAD Ecosystem Expert
by: jmaeding
April 13, 2016 - 1:52pm
Good points Robert. What I have found is once you do fix the gaps in tools, there is always the learning curve for using the tools, that must be overcome. At our company, the limiting factor on expansion is availability of mentorship. I am starting to think that might be the sign I am actually doing my job right. We are no longer asking how to do something, but which solution to choose and does the team involved know how to use it. Another conclusion of mine is the less you care about layer names, the better your workflows are. Some places don't have flexibility so its irrelevant, but those that do should not assume policing of layers is going to happen consistently.
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