Manager's VPOINT

30 Nov, 2003 By: Cadalyst Staff

CAD Manager Survey, part 2.

In last month's edition of Manager's VPOINT, I began to examine the CAD Manager 2003 survey by looking at hard data such as job titles, average salaries, and staff size. This month I examine trends in software and technology use.


In this survey, I asked respondents to indicate their primary CAD system because of the unmistakable trend toward multiple CAD systems in the design office. As in past surveys, Autodesk products dominate, making up a combined 85% of all primary CAD system responses. Interestingly enough, this market share is somewhat less than the 91% garnered in the last CAD manager survey conducted in late 2001.

Table 1. Primary CAD system
Product Replies Percent
Architectural Desktop 73 14.1%
ArchiCAD 5 1.0%
AutoCAD 280 54.3%
AutoCAD LT 9 1.8%
AutoCAD Map 6 1.2%
Inventor 11 2.1%
Mechanical Desktop 11 2.1%
MicroStation 22 4.2%
Land Development Desktop 47 9.1%
Solid Edge 6 1.2%
SolidWorks 17 3.3%
29 other replies mentioned Autodesk Building Systems, CATIA, Revit, AutoPLANT, Medusa, CADKEY, Eagle Point, ESRI, Pro/ENGINEER, I-deas, and IronCAD.
AutoCAD continues to show up as the most frequently used CAD package with a 54% response, although this number is down markedly from 75% in the 2001 survey. Table 1 shows how more companies are opting for industry-specific packages such as Autodesk's Desktop series, ArchiCAD, and mechanical CAD packages such as Inventor and SolidWorks for their primary CAD platform. The only numerical increase was for MicroStation, which roughly doubled its share of users to 4%. An assortment of CAD packages garnered fewer than five votes each. Combined, they comprise roughly 5% of the total responses: Autodesk Building Systems, CATIA, Revit, Pro/ENGINEER, AutoPLANT, Medusa, CADKEY, Eagle Point, ESRI, I-deas, and IronCAD.

Studying the survey data, I can see that:

  • the trend toward replacing AutoCAD with more powerful, industry-specific CAD platforms has gathered real momentum, even though these platforms are more expensive than AutoCAD.
  • this change has occurred during a period of recession in which very low levels of spending on software upgrades have been observed.

Even though software companies haven't done well in the past few years, they did indeed make progress in moving out of the basic CAD business into more expensive vertical applications.

It's interesting that as companies replace plain AutoCAD with more powerful application software, virtually all have done so with another Autodesk product. More specifically, they've purchased Autodesk products that use the DWG file format (the Desktop series products) far more than products such as Revit and Inventor. The degree of penetration for alternate file formats such as Revit and Inventor is far below that of key Autodesk competitor SolidWorks, yet it outpaces former rival Pro/ENGINEER.

This trend toward upgrading to products that use the time-tested DWG format leads me to believe that customers are hesitant to get too far away from the core AutoCAD file format. This is logical given that most companies are more comfortable with evolutionary rather than revolutionary change.

No matter how much money is spent on marketing products such as Revit, Inventor, and SolidWorks that use non-DWG formats, the marketplace still votes to play it safe with DWG-based files.

During the past year, I've noted that more offices run a 2D primary system (such as AutoCAD) with a 3D-enabled secondary CAD system. This multisystem or hybrid-office environment has real impact for CAD managers who now must support multiple CAD packages. With the

Table 2. 2D/3D breakdown
  Replies Percent
2D/3D hybrid mixture 188 36.4%
Mainly 2D, but evaluating 3D 136 26.4%
Totally 2D 157 30.4%
Totally 3D 35 6.8%
survey, I wanted to verify the trend and get a solid picture of 2D/3D use.

As you can see from Table 2, roughly 57% of survey respondents identify their company as being totally or mainly 2D. Not coincidentally, the share of offices that identify strongly with 2D methodologies almost exactly mirrors the percentage that use AutoCAD as the primary CAD system.

Though very few companies purport to be totally 3D, the number evaluating 3D has increased to 26%. I don't have historical numbers to compare to these results, but I view the Evaluating 3D percentage as proof that 3D methodologies are gaining acceptance as they are tested and proven in actual use.


Table 3. Programming skills
  Familiar Somewhat
AutoLISP 174 166 176
  34% 32% 34%
Visual BASIC 67 101 348
  13% 20% 67%
As Table 3 shows, CAD managers are an increasingly technical group. For the first time in survey history, more than 50% of respondents (65.9%) report familiarity with AutoLISP. Visual BASIC familiarity, never more than 10% in the past, moved up to 32.5% in this survey. I realize that not everyone is writing custom code for their CAD packages, but these results show that:
  • CAD managers aren't satisfied with what their CAD packages can do in the "out of the box" state, or they wouldn't be learning how to customize their systems.
  • AutoLISP is not dead-not by a long shot. In fact, it gains ground even as AutoCAD loses ground in percentage of primary CAD seats. (Note to Autodesk: Don't kill AutoLISP!)
  • Visual BASIC has made the move into mainstream acceptance (crossing the magic 25% threshold) by the CAD managers who have to support CAD systems.

Even as CAD management has become less of a full-time endeavor, CAD managers have become even more technical. More and more, CAD managers are taking matters into their own hands and programming the kinds of custom tools they need to make their users more productive.

Due to space restrictions, I've analyzed only a small portion of the data I collected in the CAD Manager's 2003 survey. Use these results to gauge where your company fits in the software and technology spectrum and how your skill set compares with those of other CAD managers.

I invite you to stop by my Web site for a complete rundown of the survey data. E-mail any questions to

About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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