The Continuing Value of Local, Customized CAD7 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.
At the risk of being called a Luddite, I would like to recall the days when we CAD managers installed applications on our users’ workstations and customized the software to make it truly fit their needs. With all the current attention being paid to apps for tablets and automatically updated cloud applications, it seems like the old-fashioned notion of locally installed, customized software is being put out to pasture. But should we really be giving up on a paradigm that has served us so well for so long, just because the software companies tell us to?
In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, we’ll explore the reasons why I believe the case for locally installed, customized CAD has never been stronger. Here goes.
A Hypothetical Situation and Two Real Cases
Ask yourself the following question: Would you rather have a three-year-old, locally installed CAD tool that is perfectly customized to your exact needs, or a brand-new cloud-based app that is in no way optimized for your job? When the comparison is phrased like this, the answer is clear, because the more customized to my needs a CAD tool is, the more productive that tool will be for me. The newer, jazzier, slicker cloud-based tool, in contrast, forces me through a new learning curve, and I have to start my customization efforts over again, using different programming languages or application programming interfaces (APIs).
Recently, I worked with a company that switched from an older, heavily customized civil engineering application to a newer building information modeling (BIM)-enabled tool, and struggled mightily with learning curves and lost productivity. I also helped an industrial furniture fabricator enhance its heavily customized AutoCAD 2013 environment to create 3D layouts, renderings, bill of materials (BOM) spreadsheets, and construction details. It seems that it isn’t the newness of the CAD tool that predicts productivity, but the degree of thought and customization put into it that determines success.
The Case for Local Software
Though the software companies tell us there’s no reason to worry about running software in the cloud or on mobile devices, I’ve yet to hear good answers to the following questions:
- How can I work through an Internet outage?
- How slow will my Internet become with all the new cloud CAD traffic?
- What happens if a cloud software tool experiences an outage or is hacked?
- How often will I have to update the mobile apps?
- How can I be sure all my cloud and mobile data is secured?
Locally installed software has the following advantages:
- It works even when Internet service is down.
- It doesn’t place bandwidth demands on your Internet pipe.
- It doesn’t depend on a vendor server to run.
- It can be updated via service packs — or not — as I choose.
- It can be customized as I see fit, when I see fit.
- It saves data to my secure servers rather than public-domain cloud servers.
Simply put, locally installed software provides more control, more predictability, less chance of work interruption, and more certainty of security.
The Role of Customization
Customization, if well done, makes your CAD system work in a way that accelerates workflow, but non-customized systems require you to train your users to work around a cumbersome CAD system. It isn’t hard to see why customization makes sense.
Now that I’ve made the case for keeping your software locally installed, the next question is, how should you customize your software? This is a great question, and the only real answer is: It depends on your tool, and your needs. The CAD tool itself will have various modes of customization, ranging from complex programming languages to simple recyclable components such as blocks, standard parts, or families. No matter which mode you choose, the more you customize your CAD system, the better it can support optimal workflows.
What Should I Customize?
Another great question — and one that has a much narrower range of possible answers. When considering customization, keep these core goals in mind:
Customize your standards. Make it easy to start new projects by having standardized start-up files, part libraries, sheet sets, etc. Don’t simply tell users what the standards are and hope they follow the standard; instead, make their standards a custom part of your CAD system so users will find it easy to follow them.
Automate tasks. Is there anything you can do with scripts or programming languages that could make complex sequences of keystrokes disappear? For example, instead of having to draw an entire detail by hand, why not simply insert/paste it from a standardized library? Rather than hand-calculating the dimensions for a bolted connection, why not create a program that sizes the connections automatically when given a few pieces of design data?
Enable greater consistency of information. Consider that every time a CAD user performs an operation, there is a chance for errors and inconsistencies to sneak in. By creating standard libraries of components and/or programming, consistency goes up and error rates go down. There’s an old saying that you can have it fast or good, but good customization makes things faster and better at the same time. In short, automation leads to higher quality.
Reduce mundane data input. Are your AutoCAD users still putting objects on layers manually? Are you still having architects create windows manually, rather than creating standard BIM families of objects? Do you make your mechanical engineers draw every nut, bolt, and washer rather than using standard object component libraries? If you answered Yes to any of these questions, your users are working too hard — and risking invalid data input. If you provide them with custom objects that have the correct parameters and data attributes, your CAD users no longer need worry about mundane data input, which saves time and reduces errors.
Help users to concentrate on design, not CAD. As redundant tasks are automated, data entry is automated, and mundane tasks are reduced, your users can spend more time thinking about their designs rather than which layer an object might be on, or what the corrected crippling of a bolt is for a particular flange connection. Simply put, the more your customized CAD routines take care of the details, the more your users can think about the big picture.
While software vendors’ marketing departments continue to evangelize cloud-based CAD solutions that shift software installation and control away from local workstations, I continue to believe that having control over my software, on my workstations, on my network, and customized to fit my users’ needs is a better way to operate.
What’s your take on local vs. cloud and customized vs. non-customized software? Do you see things the same way I do, or do you think I’m wrong? Send your input to me so we can continue this discussion in an upcoming edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter. Until next time.
Editor's note: Click here to read "The Continuing Value of Local, Customized CAD, Part 2."