Just How 3D Are We? Part 4

13 Apr, 2011 By: Robert Green

In this final installment in the 3D CAD usage series, you'll learn how to select your first project and tackle other implementation challenges.

In the previous three editions of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I've been exploring the actual versus perceived usage of 3D systems, and drawing the conclusion that management support and realistic expectations are required for any company to implement and use 3D optimally.

In my last installment, I even assigned you some homework: defining your company's 3D implementation and usage. In this installment, I'll pick up where we left off, assuming that your homework is done and your senior management team is on board.

Get Started with IT Now!

3D software produces larger files than 2D does, and brings with it capabilities like animation, rendering, and clash detection analysis that all create large files too. In addition, the workstation resources required to perform these types of 3D tasks are well beyond those of a basic AutoCAD machine.

Bottom line: You're going to need better workstations and more network storage in a 3D environment than in a 2D environment, and that means your information technology (IT) department will need to get involved.

Given this bottom line, you've got to have a plan and a budget for your IT requirements. Of all the items on your checklist, this one requires the longest lead time — because workstations and networks aren't cheap — so you'd better start planning now!

Select Your Starter Project

Now that you've got your workstation and network plan in place, it is time to choose your first 3D project. (Or, if you're expanding your existing system into a new area of 3D use, your first project to test the new functionality.) To get started on the right foot, consider the following when making your choice:

Dip your toe in the water first. The point is to learn the new 3D tools, and that's best done on a project of minimal complexity where you're ensured a good outcome. Don't try to design the next moon rocket during your first foray into 3D!

Allow time to train. Even if you pick a starter project that is manageable, you'll never succeed if you don't provide training and mentoring. Training can be carried out in many ways (more on this in a moment), but it must be done or users will be discouraged and unable to complete their work.

Complete training just prior to usage. Do not train users in their new 3D software environment three months prior to your starter project. Instead, bring users back from training and start them working in 3D immediately, so what they've learned will be fresh in their minds.

Select the right users. The employees you choose for this project should be motivated, eager to learn, and willing to put in extra time to get the project done.

Startup and Training Define Expectations

When I assigned you homework in the last edition, one of the concepts I focused on was managing stakeholder expectations about how fast and easy the transition to 3D would be. I hope you thought about expectation management a good deal, because not thinking about it typically results in disappointed senior managers and users — which no CAD manager wants.

As you prepare to launch your training and startup projects, realize that you'll never get a better chance to manage expectations. Here are some key points to realize:

The need for training proves that 3D isn't easy. After all, if transitioning to 3D were simple, you wouldn't need to train people, right? Users will appreciate that you're training them, and at the same time senior management will get the message that there is no "Easy button" for learning 3D.

A well-chosen starter project demonstrates that new work methods must be used. Users will see that working in 3D is different than 2D, while management learns that procedures and processes will have to change to make 3D work. By making the test project manageable from a technical standpoint, you will highlight the workflow changes that 3D software brings.

There's no denying that it takes time. By the time you pick your starter project, design your training, and start instructing the first users, you'll be several months into the process of 3D implementation. Senior management should be getting the message that 3D doesn't just happen by this point. And if they still don't get it, it's time to have a serious discussion about why the unrealistic expectations are still present (more on this in a moment).

Implementation Recommendations

The complications that could arise during 3D implementation are many, but these recommendations are based on the most common scenarios I've encountered:

Implement 3D at the pace of your IT schedule. If you can only get five 3D workstations in the next six months, then only plan on having five 3D users fully operational on 3D.

Don't be rushed. Avoid "too fast" implementations. If management says, "Here's all the money you'll ever need — now get the whole company on BIM next week," you'll need to throttle back the speed of implementation. The reality is that you can only install new machines and software so quickly, and the same goes for training (more on that later).

Delay implementation if necessary. Avoid "too cheap" implementations. If senior management says, "Sorry, but you'll have to get the whole company on BIM in three weeks even though everyone has a four-year-old computer," you should call for a delay. During this delay, assess why management thinks you can run radically more powerful software on old machines. Has there been a lack of education? Are budget concerns affecting management's perspective? 

Summing Up

It is my hope that this exploration of how widely 3D is really being used has opened everyone's eyes about why 3D isn't being adopted more quickly. I also hope that by following the steps I've outlined, you'll be able to get your senior management teams (and users) on board with 3D. Just be patient and manage the process methodically, and you should be able to guide your company's transition to 3D with minimum aggravation and maximum success.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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