CAD software and the need to keep up to speed

CAD software companies work tirelessly to make the process of designing as fast and efficient as possible, however, many users are not keeping up to date on enhancements. Alan Johnson reports.

Much is written about the time-saving benefits of 3D CAD; but savings can only be achieved if designers know about available enhancements.

Allowing designers to attend training courses on new versions may reduce output for a half day or so, but the time lost will be recovered many times over in the long run.

A recent worldwide survey on CAD trends, conducted by Business Advantage, a UK-based B2B research consulting practice, found that just over half of the manufacturers surveyed had upgraded, changed or added to their CAD software in the last 12 months. These companies were then asked a series of questions around productivity during transition.

The results show that on average, CAD upgrades break even (in productivity terms) in just over two months and thereafter continue to produce productivity gains.

Mark Duggan, Manager of Technical Support at Intercad, one of Australia’s premium suppliers of the SolidWorks suite of solid modelling software, said to obtain these productivity gains it is important designers have training on the CAD upgrades.

“For example, like most 3D CAD companies, SolidWorks has a major release every year, plus five service packs on average.

“So if there are problems with the software, they are uncovered and corrected very quickly in the service packs, which include enhancements and new functionality as well.

“They are not just bug fixes. For example, there might be an inspection function, but the service pack might include extra options,” he told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

While changing versions is pretty straightforward these days, Duggan warns users not to change mid-project, especially if it’s a large project.

“Designers are far better to finish a major project in the same version as they started in. You wouldn’t want to be on Service Pack 4 or 5 of 2014 software then upgrade to 2015 half way through a major project, because once saved in that later version, you can’t go backwards.

With everyone modelling slightly differently, Duggan said it’s a good idea to test some typical drawings and assemblies in the latest release as copies and see how they perform.

“For example, they could set up a little test environment and do some rebuilds there to make sure everything is working OK with the way they are modelling and go from there.It’s common sense really, however you would be surprised how many people don’t do it. Ideally you shouldn’t have to, but you are advised to, same as making back-ups – just in case.”

“With new versions, we encourage everyone to attend our innovation days where we show them what’s new in a product. It’s not possible to show all that’s new in two 45-minute sessions, but we are able to show the key points.

“We also have hands-on test drives where we invite people in to our local offices where they can try out the latest versions of the software.”

Duggan said these sessions can be very valuable to designers.

“Just recently we had a designer come in with 20 sheets in a drawing file complaining the system was taking too long.

“He had all these sheets in there, with a lot of configurations, and didn’t realise he could simply split them up by clicking on the drawing tabs, like an Excel spreadsheet.”

Duggan explained that users can simply click on these tabs and select ‘copy’ and open up another drawing file and ‘paste’.

“All the modelling will be brought across into that new file then delete that tab. This option of copy and paste had been available since 2014, but was new to this designer.”

The point is designers must keep up to date with software changes.

“We come across similar cases quite often; where designers are missing out on many of the short cuts, all designed to make their job easier and quicker.”

Configurations

According to Duggan, another area many designers are not aware of is configurations, where users can have the same model but with different dimensions, or maybe the length of an extrusion might be longer in one than the other.

“We have seen designers model separate parts, when they don’t have to. Rather, we encourage designers to use the design tables, which put all the dimensions into an Excel type spreadsheet and do what they would normally do in Excel; copy and paste, and pull the ‘fill’ arrow down and have many more different configurations for the same thing.

“In a matter of seconds designers can have numerous extra versions of that file, with different length extrusions, for example.”

Duggan said there are many designers out there who are experts in certain areas, but know very little about others, which can drastically affect design time .

“For example, designers might be experts in sheet metal, but when they are given some other job, they really struggle as they don’t know what’s available to make it easier and quicker for them.

“We came across one young chap just recently who was doing welded structures, which was not his normal area. He was drawing the frame and extruding shapes along it.

“He didn’t realise there is a whole library of shapes called ‘weldments’ available to designers.

“Instead he had been doing it all from scratch, and taking much much longer than needed.”

While Duggan said it’s important to keep up to date with the latest versions, he understands it can be difficult.

“Unless designers set aside some time for training, it rarely gets done. He warns that just giving a designer training material is not enough. The designer will always find something more important to do. It is far better to set aside a day or half day to go and have a look at the latest version they are using,” Duggan said.