Manufacturing

What Makes a Good CAD Manager?

15 Jan, 2005 By: Greg Jankowski Cadalyst

Addressing this question properly can help improve your company’s productivity, product quality and total cost of ownership


A CAD system plays a major role in how products are designed within your organization. How well you manage and implement your CAD system has a large impact on your company's productivity and success. A key to this success is how well this technology is managed. So what makes a good CAD manager in a SolidWorks environment and why is that role important to your company?

Most companies have some form of CAD manager, whether formal or informal, full- or part-time. I would list the following as the major responsibilities of a CAD manager in a SolidWorks environment:

  • implementing SolidWorks
  • managing SolidWorks
  • data management
  • training
  • standards
  • communication
If you are your company's CAD manager, your goal should be two-fold. The first goal is to find ways to increase your company's efficiency and effectiveness using SolidWorks software. Small gains in effectiveness and increased use of the software can yield significant gains in productivity in the long term, especially when these small productivity gains are multiplied across all the CAD users in your organization. The second goal is to lower your organization's TCO (total cost of ownership) in regards to using SolidWorks.

Implementing SolidWorks
The first responsibility of the CAD manager is implementing SolidWorks. Even if your company has been using SolidWorks for some time, you should regularly review new features in the latest software version and continually identify areas for process improvement. As engineers, we should always be looking at ways to streamline and automate processes.

An initial implementation will be very different from the on-going, continual improvement, but many of the topics are the same -- for example, data management, standards, installing and configuring SolidWorks, training and so forth.

For more information on this subject, you can consult the SolidWorks support site, which includes numerous administrative references, as well as the SolidWorks Manufacturing Network, which provides additional consulting partner references.

Managing SolidWorks
In respect to managing SolidWorks, let's concentrate on installing and configuring the application for optimal use. For the most consistent SolidWorks implementation within your organization, dedicate one individual as a CAD administrator to oversee these functions.

One of the advantages of Windows Installer is that it lets users create an administrative image and install clients without any interaction on their part (silent). This allows an administrator to install SolidWorks software on a server and install clients from that source. Updates are made to the administrative image only.

SolidWorks 2005 introduced the Administrative Director function, which helps guide the administrator through the process and add functionality. Two main features are the ability to configure SolidWorks during the client installation and the ability of clients to automatically update when a new software version is loaded on the server.

When deploying SolidWorks, you should review and modify the default values based on your organization's needs. Settings can be found within SolidWorks' Tools/Options menu. The Copy Settings Wizard can create a file that can be used by users or by the administrative director. The system options are defined within this area. Important Tools/Options settings include:

  • file locations, the common area where common documents and other objects should be stored and write-protected;
  • default templates;
  • external references;
  • performance; and
  • collaboration.
Document settings are related to part, drawing or assembly documents. These settings are defined within a template and shared with other users. Define templates for the common, often-used types of documents -- materials, drawing styles and more. Important document template settings:
  • custom properties
  • units
  • material
  • image quality
It is recommended that administrators install and test SolidWorks and define and export the settings and templates before creating the administrative image (Administrative Director) or client installations.

Data Management
Data management is an area in which too many companies are still not investing in the right tools to manage the huge amounts of information produced by their CAD systems. Many companies still use Windows Explorer to manage their data. It is rare that manual data management will fit the needs of a company -- automated systems are nearly always necessary in today's CAD environment. The data produced by a company's engineers is the information needed to manufacture its products and is one of a company's most valuable assets. Yet so many companies overlook this, wasting time every day using manual data management systems that in most cases are error-prone and wasteful, not to mention risky.

A good data management strategy should address the following areas:

  • Searching. How easy is it to find an existing design or version of an existing design? Can you find what is being changed and determine its status and who is making the change?
  • Versioning and archiving. Is there a way to find multiple versions (Rev A, Rev B, and so on) of the same file?
  • Local workspace. Is there a way to copy and manage (update) the files to your local computer to enhance performance?
  • Lifecycle management. Are there ways for users to execute events -- send e-mail or print an eDrawing, for example -- based on changes to a document? Are there ways in which production and developmental versions of the same document are controlled and kept separate?
A good CAD manager has a data management plan and uses some form of a PDM (product data management) system to address these items and questions.

Training
Training is an important aspect in empowering an organization and its most valuable resource, employees, to become more productive and effective. An important yet underutilized concept is to create formal training plans tailored to each individual's skill level.

SolidWorks and its local VARs (Value-Added Resellers) offer a number of traditional, instructor-led courses. One thing to consider is that every user has different responsibilities, background and skills and ways they prefer to learn. The best approach to training is to combine traditional instructor-led courses with some of the other options listed below based on the specific users. Write out a plan that considers all these factors.

Mentoring. Whether you have a formal process or not, your company probably has go-to persons who are sought after when questions arise. Why not recognize these people more formally? During the training process, have them mentor groups or individual users about how SolidWorks should be used.

Design reviews and checking. The design review and checking process can be an effective means to reinforce and mentor users on how designs are created and how well best practices are being followed.

SolidWorks resources. Additional references are available from SolidWorks, including the What's New Manual and Online Tutorials. These are accessible inside of SolidWorks under the Help pull-down menu.

CSWP. Certified SolidWorks Professional is a technical certification awarded to highly skilled SolidWorks users. The advantage of this to an organization is the development and acknowledgment of the super users within your company. These users can help mentor and assist the other users.

Partners. There are also some training partners that can offer additional training materials and references. For an example, visit Cadpo.

User groups. SolidWorks User Groups are an excellent place to meet other users, share ideas and learn from others within the SolidWorks community.

SolidWorks World. SolidWorks World is an annual conference where you can attend seminars; meet other users, our partners, and SolidWorks personnel; and share ideas and learn more about SolidWorks. Click here for more information.

Consultants. A number of consulting partners can also be tapped to gain the know-how on how to make your company more productive with SolidWorks.

Books. Several books have been published highlighting ways to maximize your use of SolidWorks software. These books are available at Amazon.com.

Also consult our complete a list of SolidWorks courses and our list of local training centers.

Standards
Standards help ensure your organization implements and uses SolidWorks in a consistent, well-thought-out manner. These standards can be simple documents located and shared on the network. They do not have to be long or complicated.

The following items are typically covered within design standards:

  • data management, or how files are created, stored, and archived;
  • document templates;
  • SolidWorks settings;
  • assembly structure;
  • materials;
  • standard parts;
  • modeling practices -- for example, feature names and order, in-context references, and so forth; and
  • drawing practices -- for example, standards notes, custom properties, title blocks, and so forth.
Communication
Once these standards are created, it is just as important to communicate what they are and how they are used. This can be done by adding standards review to your design review or checking process, holding internal user group meetings or conducting training classes on the standards.

Conclusion
As with any form of technology management, how well you plan, execute and manage your implementation of SolidWorks can and will affect your company's bottom line in terms of productivity (time to market), TCO, and quality.

The better you implement and manage the CAD system and its data, the better for you and your company. Proactive management of computer-aided design pays off -- while little or no management of this technology and data management often result in lost productivity.


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