CAD Manager's Newsletter (#343)

13 May, 2015 By: Robert Green

Select the Right CAD Tool for the Job, Part 1

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. Read more »

:: CAD Manager's Toolbox

Prevent End-of-Project Data Surprises

I receive a lot of e-mails that ask how CAD managers should deal with end-of-project data requirements such as translations, model coordination, file submittals, etc. One common thread in the questions is that many of these requirements seem to be a surprise — sprung on the CAD manager in an "Oh, by the way" manner by project managers.

Of course if a project requires data translation, coordination, or submittal you'll have to do the work — but the goal is to never be surprised again.

The answer to preventing those unwanted surprises is simple: Get it in the contract!

The approach I take is to ask the project management team the following questions before the project gets under way:

  • Will we have to submit digital information at the end of the project?
  • What formats will we need to deliver?
  • How will the information be formatted?
  • Where will the information be submitted?
  • How do we track everything to make sure we're meeting our responsibilities?

Read more »

Do you have a helpful tip, recommendation, or question for the CAD Manager's Newsletter? Send it to me at If I use your tip in the newsletter, you'll receive a Cadalyst prize!

:: Resources

Onshape Releases Video for SolidWorks Users
Onshape has released a video explaining how to use its cloud 3D CAD system alongside Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks 3D MCAD software. The video covers topics such as collaboration, design tools, and data accessibility when using both software programs simultaneously.

:: Events

3D Scanning for CAD
May 19, 2015
11 a.m. PT
This NextEngine webinar will discuss the workflow of scanning and converting mesh scan data into editable CAD solids using RapidWorks software. Read more »

Connection Event Chicago
May 19–20, 2015
Chicago, Illinois
This Bentley two-day event will introduce the company's CONNECT Edition software geared for executives and professionals in architecture, engineering, construction, and operation of infrastructure. Read more »

Rapid.Tech and FabCon
June 10–11, 2015
Erfurt, Germany
The Rapid.Tech trade fair and user conference and the FabCon 3D printing conference are joint events for users and developers of additive manufacturing technologies. Read more »

Building Content Summit 2015
July 22, 2015
Washington D.C.
This one-day event will focus on understanding the unique challenges related to building information modeling (BIM) content. Read more »

For a complete list of CAD meetings, conferences, training sessions, and more, check out our calendar of events on Are you hosting an event that you would like to include in our calendar? Submit details at least two weeks in advance to

:: What's New at

Herrera on Hardware: 3D Printing Can Speed Modern CAD Workflows — or Slow Them Down
The advent of cheap, fast, and easily accessible 3D printing shouldn't fundamentally change the way we design and validate products. Read more »

Mobile Workstations Have the Right Stuff for Continued Growth
CAD professionals have more computing choices than ever before, but the mobile workstation market is on the upswing despite the proliferation of other options. Read more »

IMAGINiT Tricks Tutorial: Working With Large Files in Autodesk Inventor
Don't get stuck waiting for your files — update your settings and save time now. Read more »

Femap Tips and Tricks: Shortcuts for Navigating Femap's Model Info Tree
If you're working with a long list of entities, such as Materials or Properties, save yourself some time by using the Model Info entity scrolling capability. Read more »

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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