Learning 3D Is No Cakewalk — and I Can Prove It

13 Sep, 2011 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager's Toolbox: It's easy to speculate about how long it will take users to transition from 2D to 3D, but how can you be sure?

A few months ago I had a chance to speak with a group of senior managers who theorized that it would be easy for their CAD department to go to 3D mechanical CAD. They reasoned that learning curves would be short and everyone could get up to speed quickly because the software was so easy to use — after all, that's what the product literature said. They also reasoned that almost all the design errors they were accustomed to seeing would disappear, because 3D is so much more accurate than 2D.

I alternated between laughing and crying as I tried to convince them of how wrong their perceptions were, but no matter what I said, it fell upon deaf ears. Then it struck me: a way to definitively prove that transitioning from 2D to 3D CAD takes time, training, and patience. See what you think about the approach I recommended:

  1. I started with the premise that if 3D is so easy to learn, users should be able to master it in 30 days. A motivated user who actually wanted to learn 3D would be selected to prove this; he or she could simply download a demo software version and get started immediately.
  2. I argued that a medium-complexity job — neither the easiest nor the hardest — would be a good place to start using the new system. If 3D is so simple, why not take on something a little more challenging, I reasoned.
  3. To define success, I decided that the user would have to produce the same level of prints and other design documentation that the CAD department would have created using AutoCAD, but using the new 3D system instead. That would indicate that the design job was completed and ready for production.

After this 30-day test program was completed, the management team came to the following conclusions:

  • It would take a lot longer than 30 days to learn the software.
  • Engineers/designers needed training to learn proper software usage.
  • It would require examination of standards/procedures to produce prints from the 3D system — the 2D prints don't just pop out perfectly dimensioned and annotated.
  • Sending 3D data files to machine tools, viewers, and laser cutters is totally different than working with AutoCAD files.
  • If even the motivated test user needs more than 30 days to learn the system, then those who are skeptical and resistant will take even more time.

Turns out that the 30-day trial experiment drove the management team to all the conclusions I was trying to convince them of in the first place. Now they not only understand the situation better, they also view me as a more credible source of advice.

This approach worked so well for me that I'm positive it'll work for you, too. Try it when discussing 3D training and migration problems with your management team!

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Re: Learning 3D Is No Cakewalk — and I Can Prove It
by: Tim Nafziger
September 29, 2011 - 5:27pm
The transition from 2D to 3D does require retraining. However, the workflow should also be changed. Do CAD plots look like hand drawing prints? Not exactly. 3D CAD outputs can better be presented with PDF and other viewer formats than trying to create the same 2D presentations we used to do.