Seven deadly sins of CAD: Avoiding CAD catastrophes

July 2010 » Columns » BEYOND WORDS
Peter Armata

Typically, engineers are wholly focused on the design of their projects — and rightfully so. But for the CAD technicians working on those projects, issues that might not be priorities for the engineer can become stumbling blocks. When these issues pile up, a project team may find itself with a full-fledged mess. But by avoiding these seven fundamental missteps — “deadly sins,” if you will — CAD designers can keep their projects on track and those stumbles to a minimum.

1) Neglecting proper planning — Planning your approach to a CAD project is critical to starting it off on the right path. Take the time to think about what needs to be done first, rather than jumping right in. Depending on the project’s size, scope, and software, you may need to discuss file naming, folder organization, project navigator issues, and specific client requirements, among other concerns. Keep an up-to-date CAD project journal of these decisions and all steps. This will come in handy when you need to submit files to your client.

2) Forgetting to communicate — In larger firms, it’s becoming common practice to share projects between offices. With this emerging project trend comes challenges related to speed, file sharing, collaboration, and archiving. If communication is not escalated to the level of need, then projects can quickly get tied into knots. Clearly communicate and organize all project elements right from the start, including specific project roles and responsibilities, a centralized data network, and CAD design standards. As the project continues, communicate constantly and review quality control at every step.

3) Giving new users free reign — Users who are new to a software program can really do some damage. If they don’t know what to do when they hit a snag, they may get creative in trying to solve problems. This experimentation can alter your files to the point where they don’t function correctly, if at all. As a solution, partner new users with a senior technician or engineer to help them get an understanding of the software. Follow that by assigning some of the more basic tasks, such as editing details or note plans, to the new user. At that point, you can assess his or her strengths and weaknesses with the program and move forward accordingly.

4) Introducing new software inconsistently — Instituting new software or upgrades makes everyone on your team a new user. While there’s probably never a good time to make changes, when you do, be sure to do so across the board and with all users. When some staff use an older version of a software program and some use a newer one, it can get confusing. Requiring training for even minor changes will help everyone learn the new program quickly and accept the new, and likely permanent, changes.

5) Adding staff late in the process — This deadly sin is a variation of the new user issue. Especially when a project has passed major milestones, getting new team members up to speed on its design concepts and issues can slow it down significantly and make new staff feel inadequate or uncomfortable. To lessen the impact, maintain the specific roles of each team member as much as possible. This way, the overall team organization and chemistry remains intact and the new members know who to go to with questions.

6) Mishandling project location changes — When management of a project is shifted from one office or group to another, the possibility of total upheaval in the work force, planning, and execution can be scary. The technical details of moving the files from one place to another are particular and, if not handled correctly, can lead to disconnected reference file attachments or lost model support files. Different server settings also can affect everything. That’s why keeping a project journal is critical. The journal documents each step and configuration of the project, providing the team with step-by-step instructions for rebuilding any components that are damaged in the move.

7) Underestimating project scope changes — When clients change their minds, files have to change. And trying to define what to save and what to discard can be tough. The first step is getting a true understanding of what the client wants, and then guiding the changes from there. An organized folder structure helps immensely. If the project requires an entire reconstruction, the plan — and your project contract — may have to go back to the drawing board.

Just one of these issues alone can be a catalyst for project disaster, never mind all of them. CAD technicians should make sure that everyone on the project team understands the impact of these “sins” and what they can do to avoid them to keep projects running smoothly and efficiently.

Peter Armata, Jr., is a senior CAD technician in Stantec’s South Burlington, Vt., office. He can be contacted at peter.armata@stantec.com.


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