CAD Manager's Survey 2005 Results, Part 1

11 Jan, 2006 By: Robert Green

Readers reveal popular CAD software options and more

In my CAD Manager column in the November 2005 issue of Cadalyst magazine, I published my initial findings from last year’s CAD Manager’s Survey. In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll begin a series of articles that present additional survey data and conclusions that I think you’ll find interesting. If you haven’t had a chance to look over the initial report on the CAD Manager’s Survey, I recommend you do so now so you’ll have the proper context for this newsletter. Here goes.

CAD Software Overview

Because software trends shape CAD managers’ careers, I’ve elected to survey these trends again. In this survey, I asked respondents to indicate their primaryCAD system as well as their secondary CAD system, if any. I did this to gauge how many offices manage multiple CAD tools and to draw conclusions about how the market is moving.

As has been the case in all past surveys, AutoCAD -- all versions plus AutoCAD LT -- shows up as the most frequently used CAD package at 46% of total respondents, down substantially from the 57% recorded in the 2004 survey. Architectural Desktop comes in next at 18% (up from 15%), and Land Development Desktop and Civil 3D appear next at 15% total (up massively from the 9% reported the previous year). Bringing up the rear for Autodesk were Inventor (4%), Mechanical Desktop (1%) and AutoCAD Mechanical (1%). The balance of responses comprised Bentley’s MicroStation (5%), SolidWorks (3%) and a host of products, including Alibre, ArchiCAD, AutoCAD Map, Autodesk Building Systems, AutoPLANT, CADENCE, CADKey, CADRA, CATIA, DataCAD, Pro/ENGINEER, Revit and Solid Edge.

The conclusions I draw from these results include the following:

  • Reliance on AutoCAD as the primary CAD tool has dipped dramatically in the last year and is passing below the psychologically significant 50% threshold for the first time.
  • AutoCAD has largely lost ground to other Autodesk products, such as Land Development Desktop, Civil 3D, Architectural Desktop and Inventor. Autodesk is finding success in its mission to push its AutoCAD customers to more expensive, discipline-specific platforms.
  • The largest shift in the survey data is in the civil engineering area, which appears to be moving away from AutoCAD to civil design packages.

2D/3D Hybrid Office

In recent years, I’ve noted that more and more offices are running a 2D primary system (such as AutoCAD) with a 3D-enabled secondary CAD system. Of course, this multisystem or hybrid office environment means that CAD managers must do double duty in terms of software support. I wanted to get a feeling for how this trend has evolved in the past year, so I resurveyed this topic.

In this year’s survey I broke down the 2D/3D hybrid office environment into more choices, as follows:

2D/3D hybrid: 43%

Mainly 2D but evaluating 3D: 27%

Totally 2D: 26%

Totally 3D: 4%

Since the last survey, the “totally 3D” and “totally 2D” percentages have essentially remained steady, but the number of respondents evaluating 3D has dropped as the number reporting a 2D/3D hybrid environment has increased.

Taken together, I conclude that the upper and lower ends of the 2D/3D spectrum have remained the same, while those in the middle are slowly but surely implementing more 3D. I think the primary CAD system results we saw above bear out these conclusions. More seats of Architectural Desktop and Land Development Desktop -- both 3D -- have reportedly been put into service in the past year.

Interestingly enough, the number of respondents using mechanical 3D software such as Inventor and SolidWorks really hasn?t changed much, emphasizing that the move to 3D is concentrated in the architectural and civil engineering arenas.


CAD managers have historically been pretty technical, but the level of technicality has been changing, so I wanted to survey CAD manager comprehension of programming languages.

It turns out that CAD managers are well-versed in programming technologies. Those reporting some degree of familiarity with AutoLISP is at 62% (virtually unchanged from last year), and those with some degree of familiarity with VB (Visual Basic) is at 37% (up from 33%). A closer examination of the data shows that those who report being fluent in AutoLISP or VB is actually down slightly, to 26% (from 27% last year) and 13% (from 14%), respectively.

Cross-correlating AutoLISP and VB yields some interesting statistics: 26% of those familiar with VB are also familiar with AutoLISP, but AutoLISP users have a 46% familiarity rate with VB. I continue to conclude that new CAD managers are entering the field with VB experience, but no experience with AutoLISP. At the same time, it is evident that technical CAD managers who’ve learned AutoLISP before are taking steps to learn VB in much greater numbers than in years past.

I think some extended conclusions can be drawn from this data:

  • No matter how feature-packed design software is, CAD managers aren’t satisfied with “out of the box” systems, so they learn how to extend and customize.
  • AutoLISP is not dead by a long shot, but VB is gaining ground. Serious AutoLISP users still outnumber serious VB users by a 2-to-1 ratio.

As the number of full-time CAD managers has dropped, we’ve seen the technicality of those remaining stay at very high levels. I think it is safe to assume that CAD management will continue to be a career in which technical skills will be rewarded as companies desire to tweak and customize CAD systems to fit their specific needs.

Summing Up

In the next issue of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll continue to analyze the CAD Manager’s Survey 2005 by examining frustration items and the topic of job security. Until then.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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