Select the Right CAD Tool for the Job, Part 2

26 May, 2015 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: To make wise choices about whether to stick with your existing software, start by evaluating how effective it is — and why.

In the previous edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I shared a story about a company that rushed to abandon its existing optimized 2D CAD systems in favor of a poorly understood 3D design system, and chronicled the harm that ill-informed decision caused. If you haven't had a chance to read it, I recommend you do before proceeding.

In this installment of the series, I'll share a checklist you can use to evaluate the effectiveness of your current processes and to decide if old or new software tools will better serve you. This will not be a discussion of the merits of 2D vs. 3D, or a declaration of which software is best — I'm simply laying out a method for comparing tools so you can pick the best one for your needs. Here goes.

Do You Know Your Own Processes?

One of my personal heroes, W. Edwards Deming, famously remarked, "If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, then you don't know what you are doing." I find this statement describes quite a lot of companies that struggle with which CAD tools to use. It seems that when you don't really understand your current software tools, you're more likely to blindly buy into the promises of software marketing and pick the wrong tool for the job.

The first task in analyzing your CAD environment's tool usage is to understand what the CAD tools you're currently using are doing right — or wrong. Once you've determined that, you can figure how out to do things progressively better.

This leads me to the first items on our checklist:

  1. What CAD tools work well in your current system(s)?
  2. What CAD tools don't work well in your current system(s)?
  3. What is it that makes those CAD tools work or not work?
  4. Where are your CAD process gaps?

Addressing these questions will require some effort on your part, but you can use these guidelines to get started:

Item 1: CAD tools that people know how to use, that deliver predictable results, and that hardly ever generate errors will invariably be thought of as "working well" by users and management alike. As clear-cut winners, these tools should be easy to categorize, but if in doubt, ask your users which tools they enjoy using most.

Item 2: CAD tools that are difficult to use, that require lots of management, or that are technically problematic in terms of support are much more likely to generate errors and cost money, are thus deemed to be "not working well." These tools are usually disliked by users, and are loathed by management because of rework costs or their tendency to negatively impact schedules. These tools are easy to find because users, management, and the CAD manager all cuss about them on a regular basis.

Item 3: This is where it gets interesting. Here are a few conclusions I would offer:

  • Most tools that work well are simple to use, have a well-defined process, and have well-trained users running them.
  • Tools that don't work well tend to be complex, processes for using them are sparse or poorly defined, and users aren't well trained to use them — often due to lack of process.
  • It all comes down to Deming's observation about process: You must know what you're doing in order to do it well.

Item 4: Any place in your design process where users get confused or errors occur frequently can be thought of as process gaps. Those are opportunities for improvement, where better-proceduralized software tools could be used to close the gaps.

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About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Re: Select the Right CAD Tool for the Job, Part 2
by: cadcoke5
June 14, 2015 - 6:27pm
It takes a very long time, on the order of months, to really get a good handle on how well the new software will work in your situation. I am talking about truly putting it through its pases with a real project. It may take even longer to find out all the problems in the new software. If your design process is complex, then multiply the evaluation time by the level of complexity. Longer term projects also take longer, though you probably don't have the luxury of doing this for projects that span a year or more. After the initial, tentative, decision for a particular program is made, I think the best approach is to hire an expert in that program to work on-side with you. They can train your own CAD staff, and guide you through your first project. This is one situation where the benefit of the monthly software rental is useful. You can do the in-depth evaluation without committing to a purchase. -Joe Dunfee

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