Project Case Study: Leveraging CADD Capabilities

April 2004 » Feature Articles
CADD applications, operating systems, and networking software change significantly every 12 to 18 months. The unfortunate result is that many civil engineering organizations wind up using CADD as a $10,000 Etach-a-Sketch.
Gary Rosen

Five or six years ago, the design teams at England-Thims & Miller, a Jacksonville, Fla.- based consulting firm specializing in land development, environmental and transportation engineering, landscape architecture, and GIS services, basically were using CADD to draft on a computer. But leveraging the full capabilities of the technology in which they had invested so heavily has enabled the company to undertake large, complex projects.

One such project is the Oakleaf Plantation (www.oakleafplantation.com), a 10,000-acre Development of Regional Impact on the southwest side of Jacksonville. It comprises 15 miles of collector roads, 10,000 residential units, 2.7 million square feet of commercial development, 3 million square feet of industrial development, 950,000 square feet of office space, three elementary schools, one junior high school, one senior high school, one golf course, two community parks, two regional parks, and 1,000 acres of preservation/open space. England-Thims & Miller provided environmental permitting; designed roadways, utilities, and stormwater systems; and for the initial phase of development, prepared construction documents for more than 2,000 lots. To win a project such as this is a significant achievement, but to produce it on time and under budget takes special expertise.

About 60 of the firm's 160 employees are involved in some way with CADD. Michael Wilson, computer systems administrator, and Mike Brynildsen, land development desktop (LDD) coordinator, provide technical support. Brynildsen supports CADD users with Autodesk Land Desktop troubleshooting and training, but he is a member of the design staff, not the IT department. Oakleaf Plantation Project Manager Peter Ma, P.E., has strong CADD experience himself, as do the rest of the team—two project engineers, two CADD designers, and a CADD technician. Even the principal-incharge of the project reviews drawings using Autodesk viewing software to stay apprised of progress and changes.

According to Wilson and Ma, successful CADD implementation depends upon an organization's culture more than CADD tricks. They list the following keys to success:

Full implementation of CADD technology —England- Thims & Miller uses the Autodesk Land Desktop suite to its full potential on all projects. The roadway design functionality is used to produce plans, profiles, and cross-sections. Sanitary sewer and storm drains are added with the Pipes tools. And while the residential lots in Florida generally only need to show a slab elevation and some spot grades in the corners, the Civil Design grading tools are used on more complex commercial sites. Design is the focal point of the process, with drafting as an outcome of that process; making drafting a separate process defeats the true purpose of CADD.

Strict adherence to standards—Standards include layer names and colors, text styles, dimension styles, procedures, and methodology. The firm relies on "X-referencing." A chart defines it clearly and all projects are set up the same way. This was done in response to several large projects that England-Thims & Miller had undertaken. Standardization and X-referencing allows project teams to plug in as many CADD users as necessary to produce the work.

Ongoing training —Key personnel are sent to CADD training courses and pass new ideas to their teams. Additionally, trainers are brought in regularly to address specific questions and tasks, and everyone attends. "Training takes place every day here," Wilson said. "[We] are always showing someone something about using the software efficiently, and the users are sharing ideas all the time."

CADD literacy throughout the organization—This does not mean that project managers use CADD on a regular basis, but they are fully aware of the software's capabilities and limitations. Today, 95 percent of all project managers at the firm are CADD literate, and every vice-president is a project manager. "It's crippling if project managers don't know CADD," said Wilson. All engineers are CADD literate, and they employ CADD designers to use the power of the software to carry out the design and working drawings. Some entry-level CADD technicians also are used for basic drafting and redlining work, but they don't stay in that role for long.

Frequent use of 3-D visualization—When deemed appropriate for client presentations, public hearings, or planning board meetings, 3-D visualizations are used to get the point across. 3-D models of proposed designs are generated in LDD and rendered in Autodesk 3-D Studio MAX for photo-realistic images and animations. This helps everyone to understand immediately the scope of a project.

Support of the owners —Wilson and Ma attribute their success to the firm's principals. Five years ago, they had the vision to mandate a level of technological awareness and CADD literacy throughout their organization that was sufficient to implement a new design and drafting process, leveraging the investment they made in CADD. The "CADD guys" at England- Thims & Miller are not drafters who love computers; they are technicians, designers, engineers, project managers, and principals who love engineering.

England-Thims & Miller's ability to leverage fully its investment in CADD has had a significant impact on the firm, according to Wilson. For example, fees have not increased at the same rate as payroll. Employees increase their skills through training, are paid for doing so, and tend to stay with the firm. Consequently, the employee turnover rate is low compared to other firms, and the company's payroll grows.

Therefore, Wilson said, the firm had to increase efficiency by either squeezing employees for more productivity or squeezing the software. "Increase productivity through software," he said, "not by overloading personnel."

Gary Rosen is an independent CADD trainer and consultant with 25 years of experience in the civil engineering and surveying industries. He authored a book on Autodesk Land Desktop 2004 and developed a series of training videos on Autodesk's Land Desktop, Civil Design, and Map products. He can be reached at grosen@electricpelicanink.com.


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