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Un-Bottleneck Your CAD Ecosystem, Part 2

24 Feb, 2021 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: Find the bottlenecks in your CAD ecosystem, quantify the issues, and remove them one-by-one.


In the last installment of The CAD Manager’s Newsletter, we laid out the framework for analyzing all the components of your CAD system as a unified ecosystem and considered it as a series of components and feedback loops. In this concluding segment, we’ll consider how to quantify bottlenecks and create a prioritized plan for getting rid of them. Here goes.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Hamster3d

The CAD Ecosystem Redux

You may recall from the last installment that we could think of the CAD ecosystem like this where the components are defined as:

The user. The first link in the series. Users convert thoughts into CAD instructions, so the more standardized the user’s performance is, the better the entire ecosystem will work.

Input devices. Mice, trackballs, point-cloud scanners, digital cameras — they all assist the user in capturing information and conveying it to CAD software.

The CAD software (CAD SW). The software that stores the user input and processes it all into a final work product. Whether it is a desktop application or browser-based app is immaterial, because either way, the user sees it as their design software tool.

The workstation/network (WS/NW). None of the user input means anything without a fast workstation and network to process, transfer, and store the CAD data.

The standards/training regimen. The better the users are trained and the better our standard procedures are, the better the software will serve us.

Output devices. 2D/3D printers, plotters, PDF capture software, etc. — they all capture the work product for delivery to clients, shop floor, or the field. If the output isn’t correct, none of the other components matter much!

The revise/rework process. As design reviews, checking, and evolving design parameters necessitate changes, the entire process reverts back to the user and everything starts again.
Of course, you may need to add in some additional components to describe your CAD ecosystem, but the checklist above should give you a good starting point.

Find the Bottlenecks

Now, it’s time for the fun part. Be brutally honest and assess which component in your CAD ecosystem is slowing you down the most. Is it slow hardware, lack of training, or some combination of other factors? Nobody but you, the CAD manager, can make these judgments, so it makes sense for you to analyze where your company bottlenecks are.

Where to begin? Start at the top row of the diagram because that is the core sequential process that delivers work to the client. If you eliminate the worst bottleneck here, your overall efficiency will only improve. Ask yourself the following questions and record your answers:

  • Which item in the top row causes the greatest amount of rework?
  • What is the nature of that rework?
  • How many hours does this rework require?
  • What is the hourly rate for this rework?

Answer these questions and you’ll start to understand how much the bottleneck costs your company.

Quantify and Prioritize

Consider a case where there always seems to be issues capturing PDF files correctly, causing the clients to complain and ask for document resubmittal. Quantify the problem like this:

  • Due to users not following standard practice for PDF capture, the company is forced to go back to the CAD application, open the file, fix the file accordingly and recapture the PDF.
  • This happens roughly 600 files per year and takes 150 hours to fix.
  • Calculating the labor rate at $55/hour we quickly see that this problem is causing us not just 150 hours in delay but a loss of $8,250 because, as we all know, time is money.

In this case, we can immediately see a bottleneck that is easy to quantify and should be fixed right away. Use this simple process of quantifying each bottleneck in your ecosystem. Then prioritize them by fixing the most expensive bottleneck first and work your way down the list.

Fixing: Standards and Training

Continuing the example from above, we must ask, “Why are users having trouble following our PDF generation standards? Is it simply lack of a proper standard? Is it lack of training? Is it stubbornness?” Only you can answer these questions, but here are a few suggestions to help you decide what corrective action is required:

  • If the problem is lack of standards, create a workable standard and train people on how to use it.
  • If the problem is a lack of training, provide a training session (probably a short video or Teams/Zoom session) so everyone understands.
  • If the problem is simple user stubbornness, you’ll need use management discipline based on how much money is being lost by not following standards.

Time to Attack

Now that you know where the bottlenecks are, what causes them, and which ones cause the greatest loss of time/money, you have all the ammunition you need to attack them. Begin your quest using a period of time that I call “ruthless focus” on fixing these bottlenecks.

How do you get started? You may find that a combination of some or all these techniques are required:

  • Explain your findings to your boss.
  • Convince your users of your findings.
  • Get permission/budget to fix the bottlenecks.
  • Explain ecosystem changes to users.
  • Labor to put fixes into place.

The great thing about going on the attack is that you’ll focus on the worst problems in your ecosystem in a laser-like manner and actually fix problems with a sense of purpose and productivity. Your users will like the new training (or hardware or output devices) that makes their work easier and your boss will like the productivity you bring! Eliminating bottlenecks is a win-win proposition.

In my experience, figuring out where the bottleneck exists is not the worst part of the process, rather it’s convincing those around you that the bottlenecks exist. The good news is that once everyone agrees on the bottleneck’s reality, budget approval to fix it typically happens quickly. Don’t despair, just work through the process one bottleneck at a time.

Summing Up

I’ve always found great satisfaction in fixing bottlenecks and improving CAD ecosystem productivity, even though it is a never-ending task. I’ve learned to always approach the CAD ecosystem with a “How can we do this better?” attitude which lends itself nicely to finding bottlenecks.

I hope this series on un-bottlenecking your CAD ecosystem has given you some clarity and strategies for how to make things better for your users and company alike. Now, go attack those bottlenecks! Until next time.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green