Which CAD Tool Is Right for You?

10 Apr, 2007 By: Robert Green

Think about your company's processes and tasks to choose the right software programs.

I receive a lot of questions asking which software program or version of one a company should use based solely on what the company does. The question might go like this: "We're a home design company located in central Wisconsin, and my boss wants to know if we should use Revit?"

When I receive these questions I scratch my head and think of all the pieces of information I'd actually need to answer the question, such as

  • Do they build the same home over and over (thus somewhat negating the value of a BIM tool like Revit)?
  • Do they build big custom houses that require a lot of changes and revisions (thus making Revit a smart choice)?
  • Do they perform passive solar or detailed energy certifications (which, again, makes BIM technology the right choice)?
  • Do they have the budget and time to learn a new tool like Revit (which may make all the above questions moot)?

Essentially, I can't answer the Revit question posed to me until I understand specifically what the company does. Then, and only then, can I determine whether Revit is the best tool for the job.

A Tool Analogy

Now let's say that you're required to build a wood framed house of medium size and you've agreed to a certain price. Should you use a hammer or a welder? Of course the hammer is the right tool for wood frame construction, but what sort of hammer? An old school claw hammer? A nail gun -- electric or pneumatic? Which tool will be the most cost-effective and productive for you in building the house?

Keep in mind that your customer is going to judge you based on whether the house was built to the correct specifications, on time and on budget. The customer couldn't care less what sort of hammer you used.

A CAD Tool Analogy

Now let's consider our hypothetical home builder trying to decide if Revit is the right tool or not. The only real issues that are going to matter are as follows:

  • Will Revit allow them to design faster?
  • Will Revit allow them to build faster?
  • Will Revit allow them to make more profit?

If the answers to the above questions are yes, then Revit is the right tool because it supports the business objectives of the company.

What Doesn't Matter

Worth noting is what we did not consider in the Revit scenario above:

  • Is Revit cool?
  • Is Revit multithreaded for dual-core processing?
  • Is Revit all the rage at the trade shows?

The reason these issues don't matter is that if the company can't realize a competitive advantage by using Revit, it doesn't matter how cool, fast or popular the software is.

In the CAD world I see far too many companies fixate on the issues that don't matter and ignore the analysis of whether a software tool will actually make them money. Be honest -- have you ever been guilty of putting features before payback?

Example One: Overkill

A company I consulted for years ago manufactured floor-mounted ball slides to move heavy equipment around factory floors. It had been designing ball slides since the 1950s using paper and pencil, some basic equations and a tabulated drawing set, and everything worked great. By the late 1980s a customer could submit a print of the parts/palettes they wanted to move with some weight values and a rough center of gravity and get completed designs into production in 48 hours with rush delivery. Many company managers today would kill for this level of productivity!

In the early 1990s the company's leaders became convinced that they could design better ball slides if they designed them in 3D using ProEngineer. They designed ball slides just fine with ProEngineer, but the combined hardware, software and training cost per user to come up to speed with ProEngineer simply didn't justify itself based on the modest part cost and design time reductions they were able to achieve. And I'm not picking on ProEngineer; it just happened to be the leading parametric software title 15 years ago when the case occurred.

Bottom line: When you've been designing the same thing for 40 years and the process is already optimized, there's not much to be gained from changing software tools, particularly when switching will be costly!

The tool conclusion: The tools this company used were already optimal but they were so consumed with using parametric design that they embraced an expensive tool that was complete overkill for the situation.

What they use now: AutoCAD 2005 customized to automate their standard tasks very efficiently!

Summing Up

I hope that this edition of the newsletter has jolted you into thinking about WHAT your company does rather than the TOOLS you manage from day to day. It is my goal to make you start thinking more about processes and tasks and how to identify the right CAD tools.

In the next installment of CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll continue the examination of CAD software tools by giving you a few more example cases and some suggestions for collecting data on CAD tools from a task/processes perspective. Until then.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

More News and Resources from Cadalyst Partners

For Mold Designers! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the mold design professional. Sponsored by Siemens NX.  Visit the Equipped Mold Designer here!

For Architects! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the building design professional. Sponsored by HP.  Visit the Equipped Architect here!