CAD Management Game-Changers

26 Jan, 2011 By: Robert Green

BIM, video training, cloud-based software, and point clouds will all make waves this year.

Well, we've begun the new year and for the most part, we've returned to the regular grind. But before we settle into the same old routine, shouldn't we take the opportunity to plan for the technological changes we'll see in the coming months? After all, if you don't map out a strategy for 2011, you'll just continue on the same path — and you may get blind-sided by industry trends that change how you need to manage CAD.

So what might these game-changing trends be, and how can you position yourself to not only survive the changes, but stay ahead of them? These are the questions we'll explore in this issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter.

What's Changing?

This year, I expect the following four technology trends to have the biggest impact on CAD management:

  • Interaction with BIM (building information management) platforms
  • Video-based user training
  • Cloud-based software rather than WAN (wide-area network)-based software
  • Mainstream adoption of point clouds.

BIM Interaction

BIM continues to be heavily hyped by CAD companies and industry analysts, yet the actual implementation of BIM isn't as far along as you might think. For every project executed in BIM, there are many performed in traditional CAD systems like AutoCAD or MicroStation, with many still being done in 2D.

But what is affecting everyone in the architecture, building, engineering, and construction fields is that fact that they increasingly have to interface with BIM systems in their projects. The types of tasks I'm increasingly seeing include the following:

  •  Writing 2D files out from BIM
  • Accepting 2D files written by a BIM system
  • Having to view BIM deliverables
  • Having to submit information in BIM formats
  • Creating hybrid models from BIM, mechanical CAD, and civil CAD files.

As an example, I recently worked on a project where a single project model was derived from Revit, Catia, Solidworks, and Inventor geometry that contained three different x,y,z coordinate orientations, and no agreed upon 0,0,0 origin point. Before the project was done there were STEP files, IGES files, DWG files, and native Revit files all coming together to form a single project model.

You may not encounter anything quite this nasty, but you probably will deal with some sort of BIM translation problem in the very near future.

Training Takes to the Screen

The big news in training appears to be the utilization of computer-based video training that leads users through a self-study type of environment where they learn software features at their own pace by watching video demonstrations. Just as you might learn how to play a piano song from a video tutorial on YouTube, you can now look up how to create a Revit family or model a helical part in Solidworks using well-indexed video courses available from CAD training firms.

Another plus is that these training systems increasingly include evaluation tools to test the students on how well they understand given concepts to build a customized user training plan. What is missing from this new video-based training scheme, however, is the customized CAD standards and practices that are unique to your company; you'll still have to create training materials for these types of tasks.

The business of training users has always been tough for CAD managers, due to time and budget constraints. It seems like when you have the money to train you're too busy to do so, and when you have the time, there's no funding for training. In contrast, the video-based approach to training requires little money (typically less than a vanilla AutoCAD subscription) and essentially no effort on the CAD manager's part.

The Cloud Bridges WANs

Ever try to collaborate on a big civil project or huge mechanical assembly over a slow WAN? If so, you've likely seethed at how slow and unproductive the whole experience is. If not, count yourself lucky. The bottom line is that big CAD files don't move over WANs very quickly — and users grow tired of the slow performance very quickly.

Enter cloud-based applications. By loading your CAD software applications on a centralized server (either your server or someone else's), you can use remote graphics software (much like the GoToMyPC or LogMeIn remote control programs). That means WAN-based work teams can all work on the applications together and share models with much less lag time. Of course, there are IT challenges associated with getting CAD software to run on cloud-based servers, and the remote graphics software utilities are something else that has to be managed, but the speed benefits simply can't be denied.

2011 promises to be a year of rapid technology evolution as the CAD software companies figure out how their applications can best run in cloud environments. As the speed goes up and the costs drop, I predict we'll see more and more CAD on the cloud.

Point Clouds Go Mainstream

Note: Point clouds are not the same thing as "the cloud." Point clouds are collections of points that define the surface of an object, while the cloud is essentially a really big computer network.

Civil engineers have been using point clouds collected from laser scanning equipment for years, but most architects and mechanical engineers have not — until now.

An architect can create a perfect model of a scanned courtyard full of statues and plants to include in the redesign of a building's entryway. Mechanical engineers can scan organic shapes like rocks or trees and create perfect surface models in their modeling software. Even AutoCAD users can utilize these scanned-in point clouds now. No more struggling to model something — simply scan it in and you're done.

Of course, this process requires a scanner, but service companies that scan small mechanical objects or even go onsite to scan in building interiors are becoming much more common. And scanning equipment capable of performing these types of tasks is getting a lot cheaper as well. With the surface capability of almost all CAD programs becoming more robust and computer hardware getting faster and cheaper, soon there simply won't be any barriers to using scanned geometry!

Summing Up

I hope I've given you a few things to think about for the coming year, and that you'll start reading about these game-changing technologies and planning on how to deal with them. Throughout the course of this year I'll be expanding on all these topics to keep you up-to-date on the evolving technology available to you.

I thank you for your readership in 2010 and look forward to hearing from you in 2011. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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