CAD

Product reviews, features, tutorials, and tips for computer-aided design (CAD) software.
Management

Avoid Four Common CAD Management Mistakes

11 Sep, 2018 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: You’ve heard plenty of advice about what to do in your role as CAD manager — now, it’s time to learn what not to do.



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Cloud-Based CAD

The Continuing Value of Local, Customized CAD, Part 2

21 Aug, 2018 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: Readers share their opinions on the local CAD vs. cloud CAD debate.



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Cloud-Based CAD

The Continuing Value of Local, Customized CAD

7 Aug, 2018 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: Cloud-based CAD is being heavily promoted by software companies, but there are concrete reasons why CAD managers may be better off sticking with locally installed CAD that’s tailored to their users’ needs.



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Management

Spring into Standards, Part 3: Take Action on Your New CAD Standards

24 Apr, 2018 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: You’re off to a great start on revamping your company’s CAD standards to make work processes more efficient — but how will you prioritize the implementation?


In the first and second installments of this series on CAD standards, I discussed methods for revamping your CAD standards. Hopefully you were able to go through the diagnostic questions and create the checklists to get started. (If not, then you may want to do so now so you’ll have proper context for this installment.)

In this installment of Spring into Standards, we’ll focus on getting your new CAD standards in place. After all, why go through the planning and communications stages, only to have your efforts fizzle out due to lack of action? This time, I’ll share some strategies for getting the standards ball rolling. Here goes.

Hold the Meetings, Collect Data

You’ll recall that in the previous installment, we broke out the various groups that can be affected by CAD standards like this:

  • Users
  • Project managers
  • IT personnel
  • Senior management.

We then set up meetings with each group to go over proposed standards, validate concepts, and collect data. Now it is time to conduct these three meetings (while users and project managers both get their own meetings, we arranged a combined meeting for IT personnel and senior management).

Also recall that each meeting has a suggested communication strategy, so you can attack key issues in a way that is easiest for the group in question to understand. Your task now is to have these conversations, and take copious notes on what you hear.

Examine and Prioritize Data

Once you’ve conducted your meetings, it is time to interpret the data you’ve collected. I like to approach this task by asking these questions:

  • Were there issues that consistently arose in every group discussion?
  • Were there issues that were extremely important to a single group?
  • What were the most important issues reported by senior or IT management?

Now you can create a standards plan based on the answers to these questions. Start by creating a raw list of CAD standards issues using these strategies:

Issues that are important to everyone. If every group you talked with says the same thing, then you know with certainty that everyone will agree to attacking that problem. For example, if users say they need a standard set of construction details to save time, while project managers (PMs) say their users are creating detail sheets far too slowly, whereas senior management says CAD time spent on projects is way too high, then you know that standardizing construction details will be a winner.

Issues of high importance to a single group. If one group has an important standards problem to fix, you know that group will support solving that problem — but what about the other groups? For example, if PMs tell you that creating final document sets in collated PDF files always takes too long, will users support changing their processes? Conversely, if users tell you creating final PDF sets is too complicated, will PMs and senior managers support the time and money needed to implement a new software utility? If you can find consensus between groups, then attacking that standards problem will be a winner.

Issues important to senior management and IT. If senior management has strong opinions on any CAD standards issues, they will almost certainly be those related to finances or saving time. If IT has strong opinions on CAD standards, they will almost always be about hardware specifications or security. The trick with interpreting this data is to clearly understand the business purpose behind it. For example, if senior managers are telling you that the amount of CAD rework is way too high, then they want you to do anything you can to cut project hours — which means standards should be well embraced. On the other hand, if IT personnel are telling you that they can’t do any wide-area network (WAN) updating or secure a new cloud application, then you know that you’ll need to halt any standards that rely on WAN speed or cloud services.

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General Software

Cadalyst Publishes 2018 Guide to Freebies for CAD Users

19 Apr, 2018 By: Cadalyst Staff

Updated version of the popular guide, "Fabulous Freebies for CAD Users," helps readers find no-cost and low-cost tools and resources.



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Management

Spring into Standards, Part 2: Building Consensus

10 Apr, 2018 By: Robert Green

Making a plan for CAD standards isn't enough — you'll also need to bring everyone on board if the standards are to be successful.



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Management

Spring into Standards, Part 1: Start Crafting Standards for the Modern CAD Ecosystem

13 Mar, 2018 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: The CAD environment has changed, making CAD standards a much more complex — and perplexing — challenge than in the past. It's time to rebuild your standards to reflect this new reality.



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CAD

How Might Artificial Intelligence Help CAD Users?

27 Feb, 2018 By: Cadalyst Staff

SOLIDWORKS presentation explains the basics of the AI landscape, and some of the ways that the company is embracing the future of human–machine partnerships.



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CAD

Cadalyst Celebrates 400 Issues of Robert Green's CAD Manager's Newsletter

15 Feb, 2018 By: Robert Green



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Workstations

The Hidden Danger of Memory Errors in CAD Computing

30 Jan, 2018 By: Alex Herrera

Herrera on Hardware: They may arise infrequently, but the consequences of small memory errors can be huge. How can you reduce the chance of errors — and should you bother?


Computers can make mistakes. No, I’m not referring to mistakes made based on bugs in an application’s code, source data, or those caused by a user’s erroneous keystrokes or mouse clicks. I’m talking about errors the machine’s hardware itself creates, and specifically errors in memory, due to no fault of the user, the application, or the operating system.

Based on the rarity of such occurrences, many would quickly dismiss concerns about them. But there are two good reasons to minimize such errors or, at the very least, try to mitigate any potential damage caused. First, despite the rarity, it’s important to consider the possible consequences; even one error can incur hefty, irreversible damages. And second, the costs and complexity of remedies are now so low that it’s difficult to argue against the additional investment, regardless of how unlikely it is that errors will arise.

Memory Errors: What Kind, How Often, and How Bad?

Memory bit errors come in two basic categories, both of which are problematic: persistent (“hard”) errors, caused by a hardware failure in a dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) chip or dual in-line memory module (DIMM, a small, motherboard-slotted card populated with the memory chips), and transient (“soft”) errors stemming from stored bits that get flipped, either while stored in memory or during the transmission of those bits between processor and memory.

Errors might occur in processor code (instructions) read from memory, or in data that the code is attempting to process. Both types can be catastrophic, but errors in data are arguably more worrisome than errors in instructions. Why? Because a bad instruction will typically cause an exception and crash the system — something you can’t help but notice — while bad data could go overlooked and provide credible, but erroneous, results.

The mechanisms producing hard and soft errors are different as well. Hard errors — those caused by deficient or flaky electrical integrity transmitting data between processor and memory — can be kept to an absolute minimum with diligent chip and motherboard design. But soft errors are theoretically unavoidable, even on the healthiest of underlying hardware. Most notably, storage bits within the DRAM chips and DIMMs themselves may flip from ones to zeros (or vice versa) due to stray radiation, such as cosmic rays. If that seems hard to believe, remember a DRAM bit is a one or zero based on the tiniest of charges on a capacitor that is constantly discharging (hence the need for DRAM “refresh”), so even a small spike of extraneous radiation — due to a solar flare, for example — can cause a soft memory error.

Memory errors certainly don’t occur often, but how are we defining “often”? Let’s look at some statistical data, much of which comes from big datacenter operators like Google and Amazon — proprietors with a huge vested interest in ascertaining the probabilities as accurately as possible. Toward that end, and in conjunction with the University of Toronto, Google undertook one of the most exhaustive studies ever done on memory errors in real-world conditions. The company’s seminal “DRAM Errors in the Wild: A Large-Scale Field Study” yielded some valuable and surprising statistics. For example, up to 8% of DIMMs experienced some type of memory failure per year, and between 12 and 45% of Google’s own machines experienced at least one DRAM error per year.

Because memory errors are rare, users and makers of virtually all consumer-oriented devices — and even the majority of corporate computers — don’t typically concern themselves with the risk. But workstation computing spaces are different, and the potential of even one catastrophic failure may be too much to bear for some customers in demanding and/or high-stakes applications. And that’s precisely why vendors of the systems built for such professionals — workstations — offer options to drive the risk of any catastrophic memory errors down to virtually zero.

Key Error-Mitigation Technologies in Workstations

Workstation OEMs support technologies to mitigate or eliminate the impact of both hard and soft memory errors. The first and most common line of defense in protecting memory data from corruption is error-correcting code (ECC) support, an option available in many server and workstation platforms. ECC can not only detect errors occurring in memory, but can correct them. To do that, ECC schemes incorporate extra data bits in a memory DIMM. Those bits are dedicated to storing a code (or hash) to allow quick detection of errors in bits read.

While in theory, a solution can be created to detect and correct any number of errors, the rarity of flipped bits combined with the extra cost and complexity limit the typical solution to single-error correction and double-error detection (SECDED). Such ECC DIMMs typically populate one extra DRAM chip per DIMM (nine chips instead of eight) for code storage, and must be supported by the processor’s memory controller to function. With all modern workstation and server central processing units (CPUs) now integrating memory controllers on-chip, that means support must be built into the CPU. That’s an important distinction to make, because Intel, for example, exposes ECC in its workstation/server-focused Xeon platforms, but not in its consumer/corporate-focused Core platforms.


DIMMs supporting single-bit ECC typically support one extra DRAM chip per module. Image courtesy of Puget Systems.
 

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About the Author: Alex Herrera

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