Convincing Management to Upgrade

Brian Benton of CAD-a-Blog recently commented on my last post Engineered Efficiency offers Unlimited Live Training, telling a story I hear all too often. Let me summarize; in short his firm upgraded to Civil 3D 2007 a couple years ago, but aren’t using Civil 3D – instead they’re running “Civil 3D as AutoCAD”. Doing that is like buying a BlackBerry, and ignoring the all powerful e-mail abilities of the device. Consequently the kneejerk reaction is nothing less than – what are you thinking?

There’s no two ways to say this, other than the economy is nowhere near what it was just a year ago. Companies are looking for ways to save money and streamline workflows. As CAD Managers we look at inefficiencies in workflows and solve them with technology. CEO’s and COO’s will oftentimes look at the same inefficiencies and solve them with staffing/manpower. But why this separation?

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Multi-Disciplinary Plotting Made Easy

image Plotting is a topic so simple in theory, but yet so difficult in practice. Looking no further than my own firm, I can attest for the difficulties users encounter while plotting. Prior to standardizing the plotting process within my firm; a typical week of support contained 2-3 requests about plotting. Today those requests have been all but eliminated, with only 1 or 2 every couple months. But I need not sell you on the idea of standardization; we all know that saves us in the long run. Instead what I’d like to discuss is the added complexities of plotting within a multi-disciplinary firm.

We have the super-firms out there, with Architectural, MEP, Structural, and maybe even Civil out there, but in that mix is also smaller firms. Maybe you work in a smaller MEP or Civil/Survey firm. Regardless the firm size, the challenge is the same, referencing another department’s work and plotting it is flat out difficult. Doing this typically means going through some sort of rogue procedure just to make the plan look good.

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Secret to Training Engineers

Good employees are hard to find, and even harder to keep. While this virtue is undeniably true in just about any industry, I find it to be especially true within the engineering industry. Many have heard the timeless question; is the glass half full or half empty? Optimists will respond stating the glass is half full, pessimists half empty. Engineers on the other hand will simply conclude the glass to be twice the size it needs to be. While I mention the parody in jest, its truthfulness can unveil some key insights as to the way engineers learn.

Arguably the most fundamental trait of an engineer is their innate ability to solve problems. Simple or complex, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is a conclusive yes or no answer can be found. This passion for discovering the answers to problems big and small consequently feeds into what could be described as an endless appetite for information. Much like a chef can take seemingly unrelated ingredients and make a celebrated dish, engineers have the ability to take seemingly unrelated pieces of information and assemble it together into a larger concept or idea.

Sometimes the process of assembling fragments of information into a single concept can take seconds, other times it can take days or months. Engineers have the tendency of building a relevancy engine our non-engineer friends are likely to find annoying. So why are we able to remember things our non-engineer friends cannot? In essence it boils down to the way we as engineers commit things to memory.

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Building a CAD Committee

No sleep til’ Christmas!  Last week it was Autodesk University in Las Vegas, this week marks the start of our Layer Standard implementation.  Getting to this milestone is incredibly exciting, as this implementation is the culmination of about a year of planning.  You may be wandering – what took so long?  After all it’s just a layer standard.

Our approach has been one coined by my co-worker Eric Chappell; Evolution not Revolution.  Just to shed some light onto my firm.  We are full-service civil engineering & GIS technology firm with about 350 professionals throughout 10 offices.  Among our strengths as a firm is the fact we offer a diverse array of services in-house; transportation, utilities, site development, residential, environmental, survey, etc.  At the start of our standardization initiative, this very strength posed itself as an innate challenge.  The challenge wasn’t that our CAD users we not following a standard, it was the fact each department, and even office had their own standard.  These numerous standards were not necessarily the result of renegade users, but rather a series of custom tailored solutions directed towards the review agencies each group submitted plans to.  Right out of the gate, it seemed like an impossible task to somehow combine all of these standards into a single company standard.  So how did we do it?

The short answer is time, patience, and persistence.  Working through the needs of so many departments, and so many review agencies will undoubtedly take time.  To fast track this process is much like filling an airplanes tank halfway, and hoping you will be able to land before you run out of gas.  Fill your tanks now, it’s going to be a long ride!

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AU 2007 – The Training Trinity

imageMine included, it seems that many of the AU Unplugged sessions had a lighter turn out than expected.  Even with the limited attendance, I must say my session provided a great platform for some discussion I am certainly bringing home with me.  The concept of a Training Trinity is one I have not seen much (if anything published on).

About a month ago I made a post centered on “Starting a CAD Standard“.  I’ll paraphrase for those of you who may not have read that post.  My “Starting a CAD Standard” post focused on the idea that the most important element to a CAD Standard is not the awesome DWT you have set up, it’s not the documentation (directly), not even the automated routine you may have programmed.  Instead what makes of breaks a CAD Standard is the unspoken (and undocumented element).  When starting a CAD Standard one must have a clear and concise goal, a mission statement even. 

Different elements of your CAD Standard shouldn’t be established as islands.  I can assure constructing bridges between your islands is not an option.  Instead each element of your CAD Standard must compliment the other elements of your CAD Standard.  While I have always aired on the side of defining procedures outside of the CAD Standard, your standard will certainly imply numerous procedures.  For instance if your file management standard is set up to have model files and sheet files, you are implying a workflow in which sheets are generated by xrefing model drawings. 

So what does all of this have to do with training?

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Free Tools for the CAD Manager/User

Those who read my last post, “Inserting DWG’s into MS Word or PowerPoint” may recall the mention I made about PDF Creator.  Since it seems many of you were interested in that tool, I thought it may be appropriate to share some other tools that I have used and/or know about.  If you’re a big web surfer you have likely read a number of Top 100 Free Utility lists.  It’s not my intention to litter this post with so much excess baggage.  Instead I have tried to keep this list as concise, and as relevant to CAD users as possible.  Even to that end, I know there are probably many more free tools than included on my list which a CAD user may find helpful.  If you would like to share such utilities, please do so by leaving a comment on this post.

PDF Creation

  • PDF Creator – I have found this tool to be one of the most versatile free PDF creators.  A couple things which stand out to me is the ability not only to create PDF’s but also PNG, JPG, TIFF, BMP, PCX, PS, and EPS.  Better still is the way you can plot to a logical sheet size like Arch D as opposed to some pixel resolution.  Another interesting feature is the way you can combine multiple PDF’s into a single PDF.
  • CutePDF Writer – If all you need to do is create PDF’s than this tool is second to none.  It’s both quick, lightweight, and FREE for both personal and commercial use.

Online Meetings and Web Conferencing

  • Yugma – This is an awesome alternative to services such as GoToMeeting or MS Live Meeting.  If all you need is a basic online conference room this tool is perfect.  For the audio portion they have recently teamed up with skype, and they also provide a free conference line (non 1-800 number though). More advanced features are available through their reasonably priced paid plans starting at $9.95/month.

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