3D Perfected27 May, 2010 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson
User Profile: As a CAD manager, user group leader, instructor, and SolidWorks advocate, Rodney Hall never settles for 'good enough.'
Rodney Hall has been working for more than 22 years as a CNC machinist and programmer; a designer of machinery, jigs and fixtures, and automation equipment; and an IT expert. Currently a CAD manager in the nuclear industry, he actively oversees more than 110 seats of SolidWorks, AutoCAD, Pro/ENGINEER, and Siemens PLM Teamcenter software.
Those accomplishments aren't the main reasons he is so well regarded in the CAD community, however. He's best known for being a tireless champion of 3D CAD — as a volunteer user group leader, instructor, and passionate user.
A self-described lifelong perfectionist, Hall never settles for "good enough." Even as a child building rockets and cars, he insisted on modifying the toy models to make them better. In his professional life, Hall decided in the mid-'90s that 2D was too limiting, and he committed himself to learning 3D even though he was miles ahead of the curve. But simply adopting 3D wasn't enough. In true Rodney Hall fashion, he found his software of choice — SolidWorks — and devoted himself to mastering it, teaching it, and advocating it.
Cadalyst: What drew you to 3D and SolidWorks?
Hall: I have been a fan of 3D CAD since before it was cool. I have always been able to visualize 3D design in my mind, even when all designs were done in 2D. I still believe that it is far easier to interpret designs created in 3D. I converted from 2D CAD to SolidWorks 97 to adopt 3D CAD before the masses. No other 3D CAD was as easy to use, and I believed the company had a strong future. As my skills developed along with each new release, I began to know the software intimately, and I made many friends in the user community along the way. It is this bond with the SolidWorks user community, as well as with SolidWorks employees, that has made me so passionate about the software.
What else are you passionate about?
I have been passionate about helping my companies stay on the bleeding edge and remain competitive by utilizing technology and tools like 3D CAD. I have always strived to teach others what I know and pass on my skills and lessons learned on the job. I have volunteered as a SolidWorks user group leader and currently teach SolidWorks classes at a community college. I am known for my ability to teach and translate technical skills in a way that is fun and helps students and coworkers to master the material faster.
What was it like to be one of the early adopters of 3D?
I knew that large companies like IBM and Boeing were able to adopt 3D before the smaller businesses, and that it would only be a matter of time until 3D would be affordable to the majority of smaller companies. I knew that to beat the market and adopt 3D would be painful and risky for a smaller company, but I also realized that taking risks could reap greater rewards. My employer was on board and knew we could utilize 3D designs to our competitive advantage by reducing errors in design and beating our competitors' 2D design lead times.
How are things going in CAD academia?
I love to teach others how to use SolidWorks and witness the "A-ha!" moments when the lightbulbs go on. And yet I see many schools that still teach 2D! I think it is counterproductive. If students start out learning 3D, they will be better prepared to enter today's job market. Many students have voiced their frustrations with curricula that offer only simple introduction to 3D courses, if any at all. We definitely need more graduates who are well trained in the use of 3D CAD when they enter the workforce.
What trends are you observing in the 3D CAD workplace today?
As a CAD administrator, I have seen firsthand the pitfalls of parametric 3D CAD and the interconnected data created at companies. Many companies adopted 3D CAD and failed to realize the importance of properly training users and implementing PDM (product data management) standards for naming 3D CAD files, leading to a parametric mess in which files don't update as expected, then companies blame the users. Companies are starting to realize the value of proper training and the need to implement a system to manage the 3D CAD. Humans just can't manage 3D data in Windows Explorer the same way they could 2D data.
It can't be easy being an eternal perfectionist. How do you relieve the stress?
I recently restored a 1967 Chevelle, which I owned since high school, from the ground up. I enjoy car shows and National Hot Rod Association drag racing. But there's nothing more perfect for stress relief than a weekend ride on my 2009 Harley FLXH.