Select the Right CAD Tool for the Job, Part 113 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.