Mastering CAD efficiency

Jan 07, 2024

Four ways to use CAD efficiently in a small to mid-size engineering firm.

CAD has been used by many engineering firms to great effect, but by others has been neglected – labeled as too difficult or lacking in value. I have been using CAD for over twenty-two years, serving in roles that have included Cadastral Drafting Technician, Senior CAD Technician, Senior Survey Technician, CAD Manager, CAD & IT Manager, CADD Services Director, and Senior Civil Technical Specialist (Consultant). From my extensive experience, I believe CAD can be a great tool to ensure consistent quality and efficiency when delivering a product to a client. When under-utilized, it can potentially lead to projects that take longer with hasty results pushed out the door at the end, as well as internal confusion and other signs of disfunction. In addition, the reality is that CAD is being used whether the user knows it or not. The key is how to use it to the best effect.

I have come up with the following four (4) ways to make CAD a success and a priority in an engineering firm, no matter the skill level or title of the CAD techs.

Number 1: Talk about it! This may seem basic, but one common complaint I hear from fellow CAD users is that “I was assigned a task to do in CAD, and I have no clue what is going on.” Rather than assume the details of a project are common knowledge, I suggest starting a project with a CAD Kickoff meeting. This meeting should include at least the project engineer, any assistant engineer, and the primary CAD tech.

Here are recommendations about what to talk about in the CAD Kickoff meeting:

  • Talk about the project: Who is the client, where is the project located, what is the scope of work.
  • Talk about any special needs or requirements: For example, are you using specific agency standards or a custom border, a certain plot setting, data from GIS, etc.
  • Talk about everyone’s role in the project and the team expectations: Who is doing what and when. What is the plan. What are the deadlines and how does everyone’s role contribute to making these dates.

Talking as a team about the project helps instill ownership of the project in all involved. Personal ownership can increase efficiency and collaboration. Everyone becomes more invested in the project too, increasing its chances of success, as well as morale.

Number 2: Make your CAD standards accessible. The best CAD standards are standards people use without knowing they are using them. Making CAD standards easily accessible decreases the inclination to avoid them or find ways around fully using them. CAD doesn’t have to be painful to use, but it may take some upfront work to ensure the consistency that CAD can provide.

Here are some ways to make your CAD standards more accessible:

  • Start the company CAD profile when you click the CAD icon: You can modify the target of the icon on your desktop to automatically load a specific CAD profile, ensuring the CAD user always starts with the proper template and standards.
  • Flesh out your styles: If using a version of CAD that uses styles to view your objects, take the time to make sure everything is pointing to the correct layer and using the correct font and text size. If properly set up, your CAD user will never have to worry about these settings and can just make sure everything is set to the correct style.

Number 3: Customization. Configure icons on your CAD ribbon interface to load a custom script or lisp routine. CAD forums and simply searching online can provide ways to do this, though it’s true this can be a daunting task; the rewards, however, are worth it. Such customizations can provide CAD users with easy, one-click options that take the place of multiple steps.

Some examples of what custom coding can allow the CAD user to do:

  • Quickly insert title blocks and reference files into drawings.
  • Drop in sets of layers that are not commonly used.
  • Change the address of the letterhead if you have multiple office locations.

There are numerous other ways too that you can use custom coding to help make everyday tasks easier for the CAD user.

Number 4: Quality Control. Another way to help make sure your CAD is successful is to have a CAD Manager or Senior CAD tech perform Quality Control/Assurance on a project. This serves several purposes: They can identify consistency issues or CAD issues before a project is delivered to a client. They can identify issues with EIT’s or lower-level CAD staff that could lead to a much-needed training exercise or even point to bigger issues. This process can also help to keep your CAD team billable if the workload is light or they are waiting for projects to come back from review.

By implementing these four processes, you are putting your CAD team in a better position to be successful and more efficient. CAD doesn’t need to be difficult or hard to use. There are many ways to make it easier and more user-friendly. I just touched on a few ways that could help, but there are many more tips and tricks out there. Dedicate some time to exploring some of these ideas or talk to your local CAD consultant or CAD reseller to see if they offer any of these services. Spending some time on how your company currently uses CAD could bring about some much-needed changes for the better.

Chris Askins is CAD Manager at MKN. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.