Editor's Window

30 Sep, 2004 By: Sara Ferris Cadalyst

Drawing debate Are 2D drawings today better or worse than before?

AS PROMISED, THIS MONTH we'll consider the state of engineering drawings today. Several of you who wrote in response to my recent musings about the dearth of CAD jobs (August, p. 6) remarked that the quality of drawings today is not what it used to be.

Various factors take the blame for this decline. Several readers fault training methods—too much emphasis is placed on teaching computer skills at the expense of covering the principles behind a drawing.

Sara Ferris
Sara Ferris

On the flip side, others believe that not enough effort goes into learning and using the software correctly. Despite never-ending effort to make them easier to use, CAD programs remain complex (and, some argue, are getting even more complex thanks to the also never-ending effort to add new features and ship new releases).

The growing trend toward using multiple applications doubles the burden on the CAD operator, who in many cases is expected to be proficient with both programs (never mind the poor CAD manager who has to set standards for and support both). This trend was noted by CAD Manager columnist Robert Green in his 2003 CAD Manager Survey. The 2004 results should be tallied in time for next month's column, and we look forward to seeing whether this trend is accelerating.

The list of flaws found in today's CAD drawings includes views that don't line up and improper use of layers. Dimensions accrue their own catalog of sins: dimensions that are typed in instead of generated using a dimension style, dimensions that are changed without a corresponding change made to the geometry, and so on. Though CAD may be able to produce drawings more quickly, how much of that time is lost fixing them?

Cost-cutting in response to the recent economic slowdown magnified these issues. Need to cut back? Hire inexperienced drafters and phase out the more experienced, more expensive ones. Contract work out instead of hiring permanent workers. Eliminate positions and redistribute the work to those who remain. Eliminate training programs in favor of on-the-job osmosis.

I'm not quite convinced that the decline in drawing quality is real. Certainly, there remains much hand-wringing about the cost of inaccurate drawings, whether they result in change orders during the construction phase or rework on the shop floor. And an informal, unscientific survey on our new Web sites suppports the notion, with 50% on the CAD management site and 60% on the AEC site seeing a decline. We'll leave that survey up for two weeks after you receive this so you can add your vote.

Interestingly, the optimists frequent the Manufacturing area—there two-thirds of respondents to date think CAD drawings are better than ever. Perhaps this is a sign that the promise of 3D parametric modeling is starting to pay off, and that 2D drawings generated from a 3D model are indeed more accurate and informative than those created in other ways.

Sara Ferris
Sara Ferris

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About the Author: Sara Ferris