Which CAD Tool Is Right for You, Part 2?

24 Apr, 2007 By: Robert Green

Examine the potential of new CAD tools for your company -- and be fearless.

In the April 11 issue of CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I began the discussion of evaluating CAD tools based on company needs and I described an example to drive home the concept. If you haven’t had a chance to read that issue, I recommend you do so now because this issue will take up where we left off. Here goes.

The Opposite Problem

In the last issue I cited a case that I called “Overkill” in which a company that was operating at peak productivity switched from AutoCAD to a very expensive mechanical solution that yielded no gain in productivity. This overkill example illustrates a phenomenon I like to call “feature lust”, in which a company simply buys newer and more expensive software based on a list of features that it didn’t fully evaluate.

This time I’ll describe a polar opposite case in which a company stuck to old software because it was comfortable, turning its back on new technology tools that could have radically improved productivity.

New Tool Avoidance

A regional architectural company I worked with last year was having great success in marketing nearly standard small buildings for strip malls, convenience stores and freestanding doctors' offices. This company was still using AutoCAD in very much the same way I remember using it in the late 1980s and saw no reason to change their processes to embrace new tools like Autodesk’s Building Systems or Revit (which the company had looked at). The company’s logic was that it had always used AutoCAD, its CAD people knew AutoCAD and they just didn’t see the justification for investing in anything new.

A bit more investigation of the company's process resulted in my discovering the following key pieces of information:

  • The architects were still using a one-file-per-sheet, model space approach to drafting.
  • Their standard file sets comprised 15 to 20 sheets of elevations and details.
  • Their design process was almost entirely a “red pencil” markup of similar building designs, followed by extensive CAD time invested to edit drawings in 2D.
  • When the company became very busy, they would augment their staff with temp AutoCAD personnel.

Note: What’s interesting about this case is how common it really is. While we might be inundated with CAD marketing pushing 3D building design, most architects still operate in some form of the above mode.

Analyze the Potential Savings

What was immediately obvious about this company was how repetitive its design work was. I mean, one strip mall or convenience store wasn’t much different from any other, right? Why not use Revit to model these small buildings and then simply tweak the next design and let Revit crank out the details, elevations and construction documents?

When I started to evaluate the labor costs associated with the company’s AutoCAD workforce (at very nearly $30/hour) and the number of projects they worked on per year (well over 100), it seemed obvious that even modest amounts of labor savings per project would pay for a move to Revit in no time. In fact, the more I looked at the potential labor savings, the more sensible a move to Revit became for this company based on the following factors:

Per-user analysis. If that company could save the three in-house CAD experts four hours per week, it could eliminate the need for temporary labor. Calculated at four hours per week times 50 weeks per year, at $30 per hour, the company's annual savings would be $6,000 for each user.

Cost analysis. We knew Revit software and training combined with ramping up to productivity would cost money. However, the costs were shown to be in line with the per-user savings in the first year. And anybody in the software business will tell you that, when you can pay for an upgrade in a year, you should take advantage of the opportunity.

Ramp up analysis. We determined that the first Revit user could be trained using actual project buildings so that a base set of models, elevations and details could be established and used as a basis for future projects. We also determined that the first Revit user could become the lead trainer in house to bring everyone else up to speed. This approach would keep overall costs down and spread out the learning time so the company could keep up with current AutoCAD workloads while CAD users were learning Revit.

Where Are They Now?

I'm sure you are curious about how well this company is doing with its Revit implementation. Well, the answer is that it never upgraded and is still doing things exactly the way they have always been done. This company simply isn’t interested in making the cultural change that would be required to convert its CAD tools. From this example I draw the following conclusions:

  • Fear of new tools. Even when a company sees a better tool that will make its people more efficient, it may not make the change out of simple fear of the unknown.
  • Lack of management support. When senior managers in a company don’t understand the true productivity gains they can achieve with new software tools, they won’t support making changes. But sometimes even when they do understand the potential productivity gains, they still don’t support making changes, largely because of fear of the unknown (see above).

Problem Identified -- Now What?

Are you a CAD manager in a company like the one I’ve described above? If so, how can you help break the logjam of new-tool avoidance? In the next issue of CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll conclude my series on CAD tools by presenting a checklist you can use to evaluate any software tool based on its features, merits and cost parameters. My goal is to give every CAD manager a process he or she can use to clearly illustrate software tool benefits to senior management in a way that will help get things moving along. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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