The CAD Communicator

7 Nov, 2012 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

User Profile: Paul Munford believes that CAD is a great communication tool — but before you can use that tool effectively, you must understand the needs of your customers.

In his role as a CAD manager and drafter, Paul Munford uses CAD for setting out joinery, and communicating project ideas to clients. Outside of work, Munford communicates with other CAD users as the author of The CAD Setter Out, a blog devoted to sharing tips, tricks, and tutorials for AutoCAD and Autodesk Inventor. He also conveys the humorous side of CAD use in cartoon form as the artist behind Cadaroo.

Cadalyst: How did you get into CAD?

Munford: I’ve always loved drawing, and I also have a perpetual fascination with design and engineering. When I went to college to study fine art, I was drawn into scenery design and construction. My instruction there was intensely practical; when I left, I was able to lead a double life, working in the art department for film and television shows as a drafter and "on the tools" as a scenic carpenter.

After eight years of exciting and varied work, I decided that it was time to settle down into something more reliable and specialize in one area. I chose drafting because, through my experience as both a designer and a maker, I knew that a set of drawings could completely make or break a job.

I knew that I would have to learn CAD to get a job outside the film and TV industry, so I went to night school to learn AutoCAD. I took to it straight away. The experience brought together my love of drawing and communication with my geeky interest in computers and design technology. I was soon helping my fellow students with their assignments, and I knew that I had found something that I could relish doing as a career.

Tell us about your current job.

I am the CAD manager at Halstock Cabinet Makers, located in the beautiful county of Somerset in South West England. We make joinery, cabinetry, and fine furniture for everyone from private clients to large building contractors. AutoCAD is our main drafting tool, and we also use SketchUp and Photoshop. One of my tasks as CAD manager is to implement Autodesk Inventor. I would also like to use Autodesk Showcase and SketchBook Designer more often.

The talented makers I work with create beautiful items to a much higher standard than I could have achieved back in my carpentry days. Although I miss making things myself, I get a great deal of enjoyment out of modeling our projects with Autodesk Inventor. It’s a lot less dangerous than working with the whirling blades of death in the machine shop, and there is no heavy lifting involved. Nothing is more satisfying to me than seeing an item of furniture rising from the workshop floor, and knowing that my drawings made it possible.

As the CAD manager, I am responsible for getting our drawings out on time and on budget. As a drafter, my role is to communicate the thinking of the project team to our customers, and vice versa. This can be a big challenge because our clients, whether they are interior designers, architects, or non professionals, typically don’t like to be pinned down. Gathering all the necessary information so that we can create a drawing is a far more complex process than creating the drawing itself.

Another area of challenge is the building site. Trying to coordinate the vast complexity of a bespoke building design through the manufacturing phase is not an easy task. I am tracking the growth of BIM [building information modeling] with enthusiasm — it seems a no-brainer that 3D collaboration will make manufacturing a building much less of a headache.

Why did you start your blog?

The Internet is a great place to find information on very specialized subjects, including CAD. In my first job as a drafter, I learned a lot of information very quickly by searching the web whenever I hit upon a problem.

I realized that my colleagues weren't doing this, so I started sending e-mails around the office with tips and links to the useful resources I discovered. Often, just a little knowledge can help us to use our CAD software more productively, more efficiently, and more effectively. However, my colleagues would sometimes lose the e-mails, and ask me to explain the tips again. I was inspired by bloggers such as Shaan Hurley [author of the Between the Lines Autodesk blog] to start compiling my links as a blog, so that I could build up a database of useful information to point my colleagues to, and also reference myself.

After a time, it became clear that it wasn’t only my colleagues that were reading my blog — and as my audience grew, so did my addiction to blogging and social media.

How much time does it take?

I spend one to two hours a day on my "third life" (after home and work!). I am very proud to have written for AUGIworld, D3D magazine, and Caddigest, and to have been a guest blogger for Shaan Hurley, Steve Bedder, Ellen Finklestien, and Edwin Prakoso.

My time is divided among research (reading books, reading the web, and tinkering with CAD-centric software), writing articles, and promoting articles via social media. I spend far too much time redesigning my blog (the geek equivalent of stripping down a car and rebuilding it, just for giggles).

Do you have any advice for your peers?

You can learn CAD at night school, but it’s not worth a fig unless you understand what you need to communicate. Learn a trade, learn about your industry, find out what the people who are doing the work need to know — then learn how to create drawings as a tool to communicate your understanding.

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