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

Prepare for Ongoing CAD Training Needs

26 Mar, 2017 By: Tony Glockler

Viewpoint: Keeping up with new software capabilities requires long-term effort on the part of CAD managers and users.

Because no one has endless time, CAD managers have to weigh multiple factors when determining which tools and resources they will provide to their team. CAD managers may feel that they have to hold off on implementing additional software capabilities or new applications, and miss out on powerful feature enhancements, because they fear the downtime needed for training will delay project deadlines. Or they may be under pressure to skimp on training after an implementation, leaving users unprepared to work with maximum efficiency.

The CAD manager’s challenge is figuring out how to maintain a competitive edge using the most appropriate tools, while not spending so much time training on said tools that users can’t complete their work. Managers often have to justify both direct budget and time allocation to upper management, who may be focused on short-term goals instead of long-term productivity.

When considering training options, the best scenario is to provide an in-depth classroom training experience coupled with an ongoing learning program to continue to develop skills. However, upper management may think of training as a one-time event and expense. Return-on-investment (ROI) calculators can be helpful in justifying training budget, demonstrating how much time is saved by using the CAD software more effectively and having an on-demand reference source for when users get stuck. To continue to budget for ongoing learning year after year, track the team’s progress to show quantifiable improvement and continued time savings.

Tackling Training in a Time of Change

Many CAD managers focus their training efforts on getting new hires up to speed quickly; however, experienced CAD users are often the ones who need training the most. Experienced users typically get comfortable with the tools and capabilities they used when they developed their CAD skills. As the tools evolve, they are unlikely to pick up new capabilities or adopt new best practices as quickly as newer users who are not yet set in their ways. For example, my experience has been that the longer a user has been working in 2D CAD, the more difficult the adjustment to 3D is for him or her.

In general, the more complex the software, and the more rapidly it evolves, the more training will be required for users. Upper-level managers who are used to mature tools that do not introduce many new features with each release (such as Microsoft Office products) might not understand how quickly CAD software is changing. Every year, new features and capabilities are introduced that can improve users’ productivity and design quality. Workflows are becoming more complex in CAD software as well, with multiple team members all working within the same file or project. Collaboration brings its own challenges, and standardizing design skills across the entire team is essential to producing high-quality designs.

This distinction is perhaps most profound in large software changes — from one software manufacturer to another, for example, or from desktop CAD to cloud-based CAD. However, even with smaller changes, such as the move to an updated version of a familiar software application, experienced users can be resistant to change and slower to take advantage of new capabilities. Often, the best way to reach these users is by providing them with the tools they need to retrain themselves, instead of forcing them into someone else’s methods. Once these users discover some of the new capabilities available and start applying them, they become excited to learn new skills instead of resisting the change.

The transition from 2D to 3D CAD is an obvious example of a shift that many teams have experienced firsthand, but it’s only one of many big changes in the CAD arena now that CAD software is evolving more rapidly than ever and introducing new features at a faster pace. The main reason for this escalation is the introduction of cloud-based CAD, which developers can update more frequently than the traditional annual update cycle of desktop CAD.

At the most recent Autodesk University conference, Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski explained that technology is increasing at an exponential rate through machine learning and virtual reality, both of which will have a profound impact on CAD. He stressed, however, that fast-evolving technologies such as generative design are not “the competition” — the real competitive threat comes from someone else adopting it before we do. Kowalski proposed that "ongoing learning is the antidote to fearing, and enabler of using, new technology."

Training: Isolated Event or Ongoing Influence?

Part of the frustration many users face when making software transitions stems from the traditional view of training held by many management teams. This “once and done” training model views training as a one-time event — often consisting of an in-class course — after which training is considered complete. To put this in a different context, how well would you expect your favorite basketball team to play over a season if the players only trained once, at the beginning of the season? You probably wouldn’t put any money on them in the playoffs!

Time after time. For CAD users to successfully navigate big changes, such as making the transition from 2D to 3D, they have to shift years — or even decades — of experience. They have to master new techniques, learn new best practices, and build new habits. An intensive training course, whether in a classroom or intra-company setting, can be a very valuable foundational learning experience, but users shouldn’t expect to attend a class and walk out hours or days later fully converted to a new way of working. A successful transition occurs when users review new concepts and design techniques repeatedly over time, with ongoing training that supplements their foundational learning experience.

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About the Author: Tony Glockler

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Surf the Software Licensing Tsunami, Part 2

7 Feb, 2017 By: Robert Green

The rental software licensing model has benefits, but in order to make wise decisions for your company, you must also learn about its potential problems.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Surf the Software Licensing Tsunami

17 Jan, 2017 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: The move from perpetual to rental licensing is well under way — evaluate your needs and strategies now so you don’t get swamped.

About the Author: Robert Green

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Autodesk University 2016, Part 1: Tomorrow's Design Reality Is Already Here

7 Dec, 2016 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson

Event Report: At its annual user conference, the company details how “futuristic” technologies such as machine learning, generative design, and virtual reality are becoming integral to the CAD workflow.

Autodesk is envisioning a future for designers and engineers wherein your computer could be your closest, most essential collaborator. Machine learning, generative design, virtual reality — these and other technologies, which sound futuristic but are here today, will inform and direct design decisions in ways previously thought to require a human.

Thousands gathered for the Autodesk University 2016 opening keynote, which included presentations from CEO Carl Bass, CTO Jeff Kowalski (above), and others.

Such was the theme at Autodesk University 2016 in Las Vegas last month, where the company played off its latest slogan, “The Future of Making Things,” to expound on the trends and technological leaps it believes will most greatly impact architecture and construction, civil engineering, and product and machine design in coming years. Nearly 10,000 attended the three-day user conference, and virtual participants tuned in a total of 150,000 times for live-streamed presentations, the company reported.

In the opening keynote, Autodesk CEO Carl Bass said, “I have something to confess: Sometimes when I listen to things being said [during our main-stage presentations], it sounds like science fiction. As crazy as this stuff seems, I come back a few years later and many of you are actually doing the things we were speculating about. ... We are doing today what a few years ago seemed impossible.” For example, he said, “Our customer SpaceX flew its first reusable rocket.”

More “human” trends, too, are shaping how we work, according to Autodesk: a growing contingent workforce, millennials’ working styles, and the pace of change that demands continual education (and reeducation) if we want to stay employable.

These trends also are shaping how Autodesk develops the software that supports its customers’ work. (For more about the latest product developments, watch for “Autodesk University 2016, Part 2,” coming soon.)

Chief Technological Insights

Jeff Kowalski, Autodesk CTO, took the opening keynote stage to delve into the what, why, and how of the future of design and engineering technology. “We are living in the earliest moments of an amazing new chapter in the history of making things. ... Computers are getting better at things that [typically] require human-style capabilities” like intuition and creativity, he said, referring to technologies such as machine learning, generative design, robotic systems, and virtual reality.

Machine learning. A type of artificial intelligence, machine learning is the subfield of computer science that gives computers the ability to learn new information and make predictions without being explicitly programmed, according to Wikipedia. But today’s machine learning is transcending a computer’s ability to, say, win a round of chess or Jeopardy! Rather, a machine today can “grab the unexpressed, making it a better creative partner for us,” Kowalski explained. “Inspiration will not just be coming from human side of the screen.

“At Autodesk, we’re bringing this kind of machine learning to the 3D world.”

Generative design. When you apply machine learning to 3D modeling, you get generative design, a technology that can produce dozens (or hundreds or thousands) of design iterations that meet functional requirements (specified by a human). “We’re collaborating with the computer, not telling it what we want to do, but what we need, what we want to accomplish,” Kowalski said.

He introduced a chair designed by Autodesk summer intern Brittany Presten using Dreamcatcher, an Autodesk generative design technology in development. She put in functional requirements, and the software generated thousands of options that could sustain a loaded weight of 300 lb, reduced displacement, optimized material use (black walnut), and were feasible to fabricate using a CNC router. “She designed and manufactured a chair beyond her talents in a few weeks,” Kowalski said. “The computer is augmenting natural talent,” applying creativity in ways that might never be apparent to the designer on her own. “That’s what I call infinite expressability.”

This chair was designed with the assistance of Dreamcatcher, an Autodesk generative design tool currently in development.

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About the Author: Nancy Spurling Johnson

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Sponsored Content

When You're a CAD Manager and You Don't Even Know It

6 Dec, 2016 Sponsored By: Autodesk

Even though CAD management isn't listed in your job description, it might still be your responsibility. These tips can help you juggle your official duties and your CAD management tasks effectively.

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Indovance Predicts Global Growth in CAD Outsourcing

6 May, 2016 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

Sandesh Joshi believes that augmenting local teams with overseas design and engineering assistance can help businesses reach their goals — without threatening jobs.

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Graphics Cards and CPUs

The Future of CAD Graphics

30 Mar, 2016 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

Viewpoint: The industry veterans heading Jon Peddie Research weigh in on the relationship between CAD software and graphics hardware, integrated and discrete options, and the role of the cloud.

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New Computing Solutions for CAD Take Fuller Advantage of the Cloud

28 Feb, 2016 By: Alex Herrera

Herrera on Hardware: New tools are needed for efficient CAD collaboration, and the cloud — from workspaces to hosted workstations — is looking like the best place to find them.

The computing landscape is changing as fast as it ever has, particularly when it comes to options for supporting graphics-intensive CAD. For years, IT and procurement managers followed the same standard procedure, outfitting each designer or engineer with a deskside workstation (and perhaps a mobile model for the road).

But that approach is no longer the only one to follow. The option to host graphics-intensive applications on remote virtualized servers is now a reality, and many are heeding the call to leverage the cloud to solve thorny IT problems imposed by an explosion of data, physically dispersed workforces, and an increasing emphasis on security and access anytime, anywhere, and on any device.

Leveraging the Cloud to Share Workspaces

More than a few vendors are staking claims with cloud-based solutions for CAD. Some are already established in the space, and have familiar names — such as Autodesk. Also entering the fray are smaller players, with names you don’t know yet … but you may very well soon. To date, most solutions leveraging the cloud have focused on sharing a workspace for project models and data.

It's not difficult to see why a singular, shared workspace is attracting so much interest: 24/7 access from wherever you want, tapping a secure (or at least securable) database. With a centralized computing model, users don't have to be in their offices — or even on the same continent. By storing models in one place and avoiding costly copying, these solutions render the "big data" problem far less burdensome. And since the source content doesn't leave the pre-defined cloud boundaries, it's far more secure. Upload files to one central, shareable, cloud-based repository. The repository becomes a virtual workspace, where project members can contribute, review, and even mark up and edit others' content.

Another Level: the Hosted Graphics Desktop Cloud

However, leveraging the cloud need not end with shared workspaces. There are those that are looking deeper, providing CAD users and enterprises with an entire computing environment, wholly contained in the cloud. In today's conventional workstation- and PC-centric environments, everything is local to the desktop: the visual content, the rendering of that content, and the resulting pixel stream that shows up on the user's display. But in the cloud-hosted model, the user's virtual machine — the content, the processing, and the storage — resides somewhere in the server of a cloud provider, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS). Startups including Frame and OnShape are betting many will choose to rent the entire computing environment from the cloud, creating a simple, pay-as-you-go infrastructure to support CAD applications, databases, and workloads hosted in a cloud-based framework.

Graphics desktops hosted in the cloud offer access at any time, from any Internet-equipped location. Image courtesy of Teradici and Jon Peddie Research.

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About the Author: Alex Herrera

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How CAD Managers Can Work Effectively with the IT Department

23 Feb, 2016 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: If you strive to understand and educate your company’s IT personnel instead of butting heads, everyone will benefit.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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PTC Furthers Enterprise IoT Vision with Augmented Reality

28 Jan, 2016 By: Cadalyst Staff

About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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