Become a CAD Ecosystem Expert

20 Dec, 2013 By: Robert Green

Once you understand that CAD is not a stand-alone tool, but a complex network of components, you’ll be better prepared to keep it running smoothly.

What should CAD managers actually manage? Senior management teams and CAD managers alike ask me this question, and it's one I've struggled to answer intuitively. One day, it dawned on me that I could explain CAD management by presenting CAD as a multidisciplinary ecosystem that must be managed in its entirety in order to work properly, not just as a tool or a standalone piece of software.

In this edition of "CAD Manager," I'll offer you practical advice on how to best to manage this interconnected web of hardware, software, and human elements — lest it manage you. Here goes.

The CAD Ecosystem

The CAD Ecosystem

Over the years, I've come to understand that all CAD-related work is accomplished by navigating a complex process that uses a distributed ecosystem of components as follows:

Design intent. A user (engineer, architect, designer, etc.) thinks about the design and develops parameters/constraints to input into a CAD tool.

Hardware interaction. A user then employs a mouse, keyboard, monitor, and computer to input those parameters into a CAD application.

CAD interaction. A user navigates the menus, ribbons, and toolbars of the CAD application to transform the design into a workable model.

Network interaction. The CAD files are then managed via a network or cloud infrastructure.

Output. The CAD design is ultimately output to plots, PDF files, or other means via a peripheral or software driver, which may reside on the user's machine or on a network.

Iteration. Design reviews, client feedback, and internal processes will result in multiple iterations of the above process until a final design is documented. As the design evolves, all the above steps repeat.

It is this multistep process — and all the hardware, software, driver, and peripheral components that facilitate it — that I call the CAD ecosystem.

Every Part Matters

Once I started viewing CAD work as a result of an inter­dependent ecosystem of actions and components, I realized the following:

The user drives everything. If your CAD users don't understand what they're designing, they won't succeed in their task. If they understand the design but don't understand CAD, they'll be very inefficient.

CAD is just one piece of the system. CAD tools are great, but without functional hardware, networks, and output peripherals — plus great design content — CAD won't do much for you. Anybody can go to the hardware store and buy tools, but that doesn't mean that anybody can build a house!

IT is crucial. So where will you get that great hardware and fast, reliable network you need to run your CAD tools? Your IT department. Thus, if your IT department can't do its job, you won't be able to do yours.

Output problems abound. As I've progressed from using early versions of AutoCAD to 3D mechanical design tools, I've frequently been struck by how often we still have trouble creating plots and proper documentation for design reviews and final deliverables.

So, simply stated, CAD managers who can manage CAD software have only conquered one aspect of the CAD ecosystem. They may still fail if they are faced with incompetent users, outdated hardware, or nonfunctional networks.

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About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Re: Become a CAD Ecosystem Expert
by: jmaeding
April 13, 2016 - 12:52pm
Good points Robert. What I have found is once you do fix the gaps in tools, there is always the learning curve for using the tools, that must be overcome. At our company, the limiting factor on expansion is availability of mentorship. I am starting to think that might be the sign I am actually doing my job right. We are no longer asking how to do something, but which solution to choose and does the team involved know how to use it. Another conclusion of mine is the less you care about layer names, the better your workflows are. Some places don't have flexibility so its irrelevant, but those that do should not assume policing of layers is going to happen consistently.

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