Select the Right CAD Tool for the Job, Part 1

13 May, 2015 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: You've heard great things about that new software package — does that mean you should implement it at your company?

In a recent issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I shared data that indicates far more CAD-using companies are relying on proven, established technology than adopting cutting-edge new technology. Since then, I've received several e-mails asking essentially this question: "Given all the hype and uncertainty, how do we know which CAD tools we really should be using?" I've also noticed readers sharing concerns such as, "We don't want to get left behind" or "Our management believes we really should be using [fill in the blank] for our design, but I'm not sure that's right."

In this edition, I'll begin a two-part series that shares my methodology for identifying the right software tools for any company to use based on its task load and degree of software sophistication. Along the way, I'll share a few example cases I've been involved with, and some diagnostic questions you can use to analyze your own situation in hopes of making the best decisions for your company. Here goes.

Banish Tool Worship

Abraham Maslow once said, "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." This saying perfectly sums up tool worship — a phenomenon that occurs when your workforce is so inclined to use a certain tool that they quit thinking about whether the tool is right for the job.

As CAD managers, we all need to realize that there is no such thing as the best or worst CAD tool — there is simply the best CAD tool for a given task. It is our job to help our users and management to move beyond thinking that AutoCAD or Revit or SolidWorks is the best CAD tool and start carefully considering what they do and how specific CAD tools can support doing those tasks better.

Tool Usage History

Years ago, I worked with a client who had been making industrial roller slides for more than 50 years — and that story of tool worship is one of the best examples I can cite. Let's have a look at the details.

Over the years this company progressed from the drafting board, to GeneriCAD, to vanilla AutoCAD, to a highly customized AutoCAD environment, and at every step the new technology yielded either a better design or faster production. Eventually the company became very interested in using SolidWorks for design tasks, since SolidWorks was recognized as a great 3D solid modeler and they figured it was the right thing to do to move to 3D design.

The company employees — particularly the engineering management — became so enamored with "going 3D" that they started buying software, upgrading PCs, training people, and examining processes that would need to change. After a few months, however, they started to notice problems:

Costs mounted. All this new software, hardware, and training cost a lot, and the accountants weren't happy about it.

Established systems broke down. Their customized process for sending DWG data directly from AutoCAD to the shop floor drilling tables was gone. This meant cumbersome manual conversions and data manipulation just to get back to where they were.

Design slowed. Obviously new software means new methods, and it takes a while for users to get the hang of everything. But production schedules continued as usual, and the workforce became more hurried and made more mistakes as they tried to keep up.

Designs didn't improve. Remember, this company had been making industrial slides for 50 years, so they knew what they were doing already. In fact, they'd customized their AutoCAD environment with programming to automatically calculate loads, place holes, send data to drill machines, plot out tabulated assembly drawings, etc. Nothing they were doing in SolidWorks was making any of this any better.

New features weren't that useful. When the slides were modeled in SolidWorks, it was very easy to obtain the mass of the parts and the center of gravity of the slide assemblies, and to create 3D perspective drawings. The problem is, the company knew their products so well that they already had this information tabulated.

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About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Re: Select the Right CAD Tool for the Job, Part 1
by: jmaeding
May 13, 2015 - 1:20pm
Another force going on is if current tools will work with available OS's. We have some old tools that we would keep, but they only run on windows 2000 and not on virtual machines. Also, in the civil world, there is "Dynamicness" worship. Meanwhile, lightweight, portable, non versioned data are much higher needs on our list. Controlled updating is good, uncontrolled is tricky as you must watch for exploded objects that are not dynamic, and keep things squeaky clean of unwanted data attached (Data reference objects). My opinion is LDT with some decent custom labeling routines is better than C3D for final design production. But LDT is not sold anymore of course, dynamicness is sexier to programmers...
Re: Select the Right CAD Tool for the Job, Part 1
by: Harry Applin
May 13, 2015 - 8:41pm
There was no mention of the time it took to develop the customized AutoCAD environment, though I'm not a solidworks fan, it is possible to customize solidworks (or Inventor). But, just duplicating the same work, why bother changing, but if you are going to expand the product line or create new designs parametrics is the way to go. It would be interesting to do the same comparison to an architectural firm.
Re: Select the Right CAD Tool for the Job, Part 1
by: Maxim Icsulescu
May 14, 2015 - 1:31am
First of all: the title is right, the content is somehow wrong or incomplete. I agree that you have to use the right tool for the job, bearing in mind that "right" suppose a thorough analysis from operational and financial perspective. The example seems to me wrong, for some reasons: - What if they want to improve their products or expand their offering, by using FEA analysis? How would they use their 2D drawings for that? - Why they could not replicate their customized 2D routines and tools to 3D environment? As a long time AutoCAD and SolidWorks (and ProE and CATIA) user, it is hard for me to find/to remember an example of an AutoCAD function that cannot be mimicked by SolidWorks. - Also, with SolidWorks, they could publish configurable 3D files on WEB and create an online catalogue, helping them to jump from offline to online world and increase their revenue. Users could download proper roller for their desing and even order the right roller. Return rate because of wrong part numbers would decrease if they use an online solution vs paper catalogue. - With SolidWorks they could create more appealing marketing flyers or materials, - In case they want to expand their offerings and start to produce some new custom engineered motion solutions, do you honestly think that AutocAD would’ve been faster and better than SolidWorks? - What about interferences, parametrization, automatic BOM, cost management, sustainability, mechanism analysis, etc, etc? How are these better using AutoCAD vs SolidWorks? - There are more, more advantages of using SolidWorks vs. AutocAD that you haven’t mentioned here and would show the (BIIIIIG) difference. I would've been happyer with some financial data about this example and a proper RCA, to see where was the problem. My guess is a poor implementation plan and a lack of training and support for SolidWorks. Anyway, buying an inadequate solution for your needs is always a bad decision.

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