Do you have your CAD systems setup properly? If not, why not?

I was working on a couple of jobs with a client the other day when the director of the company contacted me and said, “I have another engineer on another site that needs something quickly modeled in Inventor to get a point across to our client, can you knock something up for me before your next meeting?” Well, no dramas I thought, this is what I do, “Send me the details and I will have a look and let you know.” So from a quickly put together email and rough sketch I had to model and supply this drawing;

Quick Job Drawing photo Quick Job_zpsc0dnhmqj.png

For me, (and most drafters) a walk in the park. Nothing challenging and got it done in just under 20 minutes.

To be clear that was 20 minutes to do the following;

  1. Set up my laptop
  2. Get Inventor and my email open
  3. Interpret the email and sketch
  4. Do the model
  5. Do the drawing
  6. Email the drawing

I am not writing this to show off how great I am at inventor, as I think this was really nothing special. And the fact is there is probably a better than average chance that it was slow by comparison to some people out there. But the engineer I was working with at the time watched me do this and was blown away by the speed in which I got it done. He was telling me that the drafties he has worked with in the past would have struggled to get this done in less than an hour or two even if their computers were already running.

So this got us talking about why I was able to do this so quickly compared to others he had worked with in the past. The reality is that I am nothing special in the drafting department. These days I spend a great deal more of my time running my business than I do actually doing any drafting, so am a bit rusty compared to when I was just drafting full time. The difference is that as a full time drafter it was kind of obvious to me the advantage of having my programs set up to work as well as they could to do my day to day tasks.

Just as a mechanic has a toolbox that he can move close to where he is working, or a hairdresser brings her cart over to your chair to cut your hair, so they are not constantly walking across the other side of the shop to get tools required to do the job at hand, so to I have my Inventor set up to work efficiently to do a large range of tasks in as short a time as possible. This made a lot of sense to me, but the engineer’s reaction to watching me work made me think maybe people don’t invest as much time at setting up their software as I have. Which makes me wonder why this would be if there is such massive gains to be had from it?

Let me just clarify this point, I am not talking about file management here. While that is one small part of it, it is not where the biggest gains can be had. I am talking about getting the software itself set up so all the common commands are easily accessed with keyboard shortcuts, mouse buttons, right click gestures and shortcuts. Getting the correct templates referenced by the software so they are there when opening new parts/assemblies/drawings. Having the right things set in the templates like materials, dimension styles, attributes, parts tables, etc., etc..

I have for a long time now heard the old “Inventor is slower than autocad” from a lot of people in a lot of different environments, from manufacturing through to engineering and design offices. But I know from firsthand experience that this is simply not the case. I know I can do things MUCH faster with Inventor than I can AutoCAD, but why is there this perception that it is so much slower? I once worked for a guy that said he would love to do more work in 3D but the clients don’t want to have to pay the extra for 3D. When I asked why they had to pay more for 3D the response was “because it is slower.” Really? Why? I didn’t say that at the time, but I thought it. I mean how could it be so? How could all these 3D software companies exist if it is slower? How could Autodesk or Dassault Systems become the juggernauts they are if 3D was a worse/slower/more expensive way to do things? The thing I have come to realise is that it is all in the setup of the program itself.

Let’s take the humble Bill of Materials. Bill of Materials tables can be the bane of a lot of drafting offices and jobs. But if you take the time to set up your software properly, they become easy. The humble “pain in the butt” BOM is now one of my favourite things in Inventor when I am working in properly set up environment.

I recently worked on a site that was totally manually doing Bill of Materials. These guys did the same job over and over, used the same components and produced the same style of drawings. After I got a proper feel for what they were doing, I spent a bit of time and set up a library for all the most common parts and populated the common elements with the required attribute information. All of a sudden I could do a model and drawing in less than half the time it took previously. That included a Bill of Materials that was already half filled out for me because we were using library parts. Why? Because I set the software up to run properly for me to do the job we were doing.

Fast forward a few years and these guys now have a huge library, a load of stuff set up in their templates and a drawing only takes a few minutes instead of the original 20-30 minutes it took when I first started. Not to mention Bill of Material lists that need little to no modification now and text that updates when things like section details change because they have parametric links to the models with all the right information. So if their client changes their mind, it takes minutes to update and check a full set of drawings instead of hours. The end result is identical to what they were getting when I started (with the exception of some improvements made over that time). So we haven’t changed the output at all, just the way we get there. Now they are enjoying up to 75% gains in their drafting and modelling times.

So I have to ask the question of all those that are reading this, if you don’t have your 3D modelling software set up to work for you, why not? What is stopping you?

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