One of the most polarizing issues in the engineering field is software. Mention AutoCAD in a room full of engineers and designers and it might be worse than talking about religion, politics, and/or money at a dinner party. It is a necessary evil, like a car. It may take some time and money to get it moving, but in the end, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. And just like a car, a monthly or quarterly tune-up will keep it running relatively problem-free for years to come. But if you leave that CAD car out in a field and ignore it, it will take a lot of time and money to get that rusty heap back on the road so it can operate efficiently. Ultimately, it’s a balance between taking the time to set up AutoCAD or losing time on a job due to AutoCAD inefficiencies.

I have worked with CAD in some shape or form for thirty years. I have had the opportunity to manage CAD (and it is a full-time job!) and teach college classes. I have set up drafting standards at four companies with different needs, and I can say that there is no one-size-fits-all. One pitfall I see is drafters, designers, and engineers trying to solve the problems of a company they no longer work for. I think we have all heard “When I worked at (insert company name here), we did this”. New points of view can be helpful when offered in a constructive manner. Often, we focus on the software itself, but I think the people using the software are the most important part. Finding out how people draft and design and then creating standards and workflows that work with employees’ strengths is beneficial to setting up standards and a manual. Getting the company as a whole to decide on a CAD direction can be impossible. In order to be efficient, you want everyone on the same page, from the engineers down to the drafters. You don’t want the tail wagging the dog. Drafters’ input is just important as the top-level employees because they work with the software the most. Listening to the problems they face can give insight into solving issues quickly and provide them with ownership in the solutions.

AutoCAD is a great tool, but it is just that; a tool. You need straightforward and easy-to-understand workflows and standards, as well as well-versed operators to navigate the software. Setting up AutoCAD may seem like a daunting task, but it can be done, and once it is, you can get back to the job at hand, engineering!