Select the Right CAD Tool for the Job, Part 1

12 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?

Ask Diagnostic Questions

When I became involved with this client, they asked me, "What are we doing wrong? Why isn't SolidWorks working for us?" My immediate response was to ask them the following questions:

  • What features does SolidWorks offer that you need to do your designs better?
  • Are there any portions of your existing processes that are broken or need overhauling?
  • How customized/optimized are your existing systems?

Their paraphrased answers were, respectively:

  • We feel like designing in 3D will give us better accuracy.
  • Our existing processes work very well — we just want to get better.
  • Our existing systems have been highly customized and reflect more than 10 years of optimization effort from our engineering and production teams.

Think and Draw Conclusions

After pouring months of effort into "going 3D," this company came to the following conclusion: They could design more slides, more quickly when using a customized version of AutoCAD than they could with SolidWorks. And they could do so with the same level of quality, and fewer production errors. It wouldn't have mattered if the software they were using was (at the time) Pro/ENGINEER, Inventor, or any other commercially available 3D mechanical software package, the result would have been the same.

So why did they make such a big mistake? Why did it take them so long to realize that it was a mistake? Here are the conclusions I drew:

They blindly worshipped a software tool they weren't familiar with. The company was so dazzled by marketing hype and techno-babble that they simply jumped into implementing a 3D package before they were ready. I often categorize this approach — a rush to implement without proper prior planning — as "Ready-Shoot-Aim."

They undervalued their own efficiency. Somehow, the company forgot how much effort they'd put into custom-programming their AutoCAD-based system and how efficient it was.

They never identified the "upside" of the new tool. The company never spent the time to truly understand the features 3D brought to the table, so they never realized that those features offered them no practical advantage.

They underestimated disruptive effects. The company only dealt with production floor drill machine problems and file export issues after they'd started designing with SolidWorks. These types of disruptive effects required re-engineering of processes that had been working for years, meaning that production employees as well as CAD users had to be retrained.

Everything this company did pointed to rushing to implement a new system without truly understanding what that new system would do to their employees, production schedules, and finances. This turned into a true case of Ready-Shoot-Aim.

Summing Up

Your challenge now is to think back on how your company's history of CAD tools and processes has evolved. Perhaps you design buildings; if so, think about how building information modeling (BIM) is being implemented. The point is to get a firm understanding of which tools are being used to perform design tasks and consider whether those tools are optimal, they should be tweaked, or they need to be replaced. You may also find that your company, like the one in the case study I outlined, may be trying to use new technology for a task that doesn't need it.

In the next installment of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll run you through a checklist process to help you audit your environment and plan for implementing the right tools. Until next time.

Read Part 2 of this article here.

1 2 

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 - 2:20pm
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 - 9:41pm
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 - 2:31am
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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