CAD Manager's Newsletter #125

23 Mar, 2005 By: Robert Green

Uncertainties of the CAD Manager, Part 3: Addressing concerns from the field

The past two issues of CAD Manager's Newsletter dealt with economic uncertainty in the CAD community and how CAD managers will be affected. I've termed these items "CAD manager uncertainties" because the e-mail I receive reflects a real sense of insecurity in the CAD management community. To refresh your memory, here's the list of topics:
  • economic uncertainty

  • increasing productivity

  • CAD operator/drafter obsolescence

  • outsourcing

The past two newsletters covered the first three issues. If you didn't have a chance to read those issues, I recommend you do so now (click here for archives) so you'll have proper context for this issue.

Originally I promised to wrap up this series in three parts. However, I received a great deal of feedback on the topic of CAD operator/drafter obsolescence and want to give that the attention it demands. So in this issue I'll address the reader feedback from the last issue, and I'll save the topic of outsourcing for next time. Here goes.

Reader Feedback on CAD Operators
A number of readers took me to task for my prediction that the jobs of basic CAD operators — those who primarily work from marked-up prints and have little design expertise — would become obsolete. A few readers supported my conclusions, though. Here are some examples of the feedback I received.

MD from Michigan writes: "In my experience in this profession, engineers with CAD capabilities can do their own CAD work. However, their time is more profitably spent designing the product. I have seen drawings produced by CAD-capable engineers become messy and difficult to read. Yes, all the information required to produce the product is contained on the drawing, but the drawing has evolved into an unclear document. A comment made by the folks using these documents is that they spent an inordinate amount of time finding the data in the drawing needed to produce the intended results. The time saved by the engineer doing CAD is lost on the other end when the design is implemented. I've not seen too many "drafting" engineers who have a drafter's eye to produce clear and concise plans."

RC from Washington writes: "I see college graduates, intern architects or engineers in training doing a high percentage of CAD work and building their CAD skills and professional skills at the same time. When these people reach project architect or professional engineer status, they already have the CAD skills to do most if not all of their CAD work. While their time is now spent on a number of different tasks and their CAD productivity drops some from their previous level, it is still significant. In the architectural world where the move toward BIM is gaining steam, I think that keeping more of the CAD in the hands of the architect is going to become the norm."

JT from Canada writes: "Twenty years ago, one person was good at calculations and another was good at drawings. Same holds today: Someone who's good at both is 1 in 100. Two separate trades — try to combine them all you want. It will never happen, no matter how much your advertisers pay you to say otherwise."

Response to Feedback
I'd like to reply to all reader feedback by telling you a little about my background and what I observe in the field working with my clients. I want everyone to understand why I've drawn the conclusions I have.

First off, I've been a mechanical design engineer and CAD user since 1984 when I obtained my engineering degree and began using AutoCAD and SDRC software to design and document my work. During my high school and college education I took a number of drafting and visualization courses so I was well-versed in the concepts of drafting. I do admit I had to master industry-standard ANSI drafting techniques and that I wasn't a great drafter at the start, but I was very competent in the drafting part of my work within a year.

My evolution from paper-based drafting training and formal engineering education to my current state of total software design makes me a 21-year-old example of a design engineer who can take concepts from analysis to design to drafted output. That is: It can be done.

I'm seeing quite a few people like me in industry now. I'd say that the majority of design engineers and architects I work with now who are 40 or younger are very functional in CAD. As companies are pressed to reduce head counts, more engineers are doing their own CAD work with packages such as Land Desktop, Architectural Desktop, Inventor, and so forth. In many manufacturing environments, production drawings are now generated automatically using custom programming, and there is no more drafting.

I see many cases where super designers — those CAD users who have high degrees of design knowledge — are providing excellent support to engineers and architects. I've also seen too many cases where lower-level drafting work such as as-built drawings and scanning and conversion of old drawings have been outsourced to other companies or countries. What I say on this topic is not meant as a threat or personal attack on those who still do this type of work; like it or not, the evidence speaks clearly for itself. These trends are in full play in North American and Western European markets where labor costs are high. They might not have hit your company yet, but they appear to be irreversible based on what I see industrywide.

One final note: I assure you my newsletter receives no editing of concept or content from advertisers. I do not receive payment from any CAD company in exchange for what I write.

Wrapping Up
Stay tuned for the next edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, when I'll tackle concerns about outsourcing. In the meantime, e-mail me with any further feedback or questions on any of these topics at Until next time.