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AutoCAD and Productivity

August 7, 2012

Do you work for or represent a company that is performing product design in 2D AutoCAD? Then you have a great opportunity to introduce some design group productivity gains by transitioning to a 3D parametric design suite.

How can I make such a bold claim? Personal experience.

At one company I worked for, a fabricated metal product was being redesigned for manufacturability in AutoCAD. Even with AutoCAD 3D, it was a painful process. I pushed for change, and got management buy-in to transition to a package called Alibré Design. It’s a lesser-known tool, and was immature at the time, however having a true 3D parametric design package increased my personal design productivity by over 100%. No more fighting with the software, just designing.

More recently, I was asked to assist another design group within the company to design a set of full-scale training mock-ups for an upcoming contract. Working with the contract drawings and a set of 3D CAD data from a similar project, both mock-ups were complete (pending feature review) within 2 weeks. The data was handed back to the original group, who estimated a time of 5-6 weeks to complete all the detail drawings, using a group of 3-4 AutoCAD detailers (15-24 person-weeks). The same detailing could have been completed by myself in less than two (2 person-weeks). Even allowing for some overestimation and contingency, that is a huge difference.

So, why wouldn’t companies make the transition to 3D? My personal guess is twofold:

1) Cost. AutoCAD is so ubiquitous as to almost be free (and is pirated so much that in most cases, it is being used for free). Contrast that to the cost of a mainstream 3D solid modeling package plus maintenance and server costs, a transition may be dismissed out-of-hand for being “too expensive”.

2) User reluctance. Who would be comfortable throwing out 10, 15, 20+ years of AutoCAD knowledge, macros, and shortcuts?

There is no easy answer, but I’d a company is looking to become more flexible and responsive in their design department, and gain productivity in the long run, looking at a transition away from AutoCAD 2D would be a great place to start.

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