CAD Managers: Why You Need a CAD Standard and Why You Don’t


Every CAD manager needs a CAD standard, right? But why?


What would you say?

  • “Because we should all work the same way.”
  • “So that our drawings look distinctive and stand out from our competitors!”
  • “So that our drawings are consistent, making them easier to read?”
  • “So that our drawings look professional?”
  • “So that we comply with ASME/ISO?”

For me, there’s only one reason—your time.


A CAD Standard Is an Antidote to Decision Fatigue


Did you ever notice that, as president, Barrack Obama only ever wore the same blue or black suits? You must have noticed Steve Jobs's uniform of jeans and a black turtleneck?

Why would the world's most powerful or influential leaders limit their creativity this way? The answer is decision fatigue.

The theory is that the quality of our decisions deteriorates over a long decision-making session.
By its definition, Design and Engineering is the ability to make a series of complex decisions.

By the time a Design Engineer is ready to communicate their thoughts with technical drawings, the last thing I want is for them to have to make additional decisions about line weights, fonts, file names, and revision numbering!


The Design Development Dilemma—Quality Versus Speed


Time is money. Companies cannot profit until a product is in the hands of a customer. Company leaders put a lot of pressure on their employees to produce products quickly and efficiently. Design and Engineering is a recognized bottleneck.

Products can’t be manufactured until they are designed and engineered, so there is pressure to do this work fast. However, there’s no profit in products customers don’t want or products that don’t meet customer expectations.

This creates a tension in Design and Engineering between making good decisions and making fast decisions. Anything we can do to relieve Design Engineers of repetitive, boring work and free up their time for design work will be welcomed.


Why Your CAD Team Needs a CAD Standard


A CAD standard saves time by reducing the number of decisions needed to create a set of drawings. By implementing a CAD standard, we can provide templates, libraries, configurable parts and assemblies, and automations to reduce time spent on drawing creation, saving time for the fun stuff… designing, and engineering! So—I won’t get upset if you contravene my CAD standard by adding an important text note to a drawing IN BOLD to make it stand out.


But I will get upset if you change the font, size, and color to your personal preference because I provided you with templates and tools that set those automatically, and you had to dedicate some time to override them. Time that could be better spent on making good design and engineering decisions.


Why Is a CAD Standard Helpful?


A CAD standard:

  • Makes outsourcing more efficient.
  • Makes training easier.
  • Reduces mistakes and rework.
  • Enables automation.
  • Makes data more accessible.

Data is worth its own mention. The data you create during the design and engineering process is awesome and incredibly useful if it can reach the right people.

But it’s only useful if it’s complete and consistent. A CAD standard helps your team to scale their impact across your organization by connecting design and engineering data to the wider enterprise.


How To Get Your CAD Standard Adopted?


This topic deserves an article by itself! I recommend that you start by identifying stakeholders. Create a set of drawings that comply with your standards and present them to your stakeholders. Accept feedback in return for support.


Click here to read how I worked with my boss to simplify our drawings and how I got more support than I expected.

For your CAD users to adopt your CAD standard, it must be easier to comply with the CAD standard than not complying with the CAD standard. Templates, Libraries, and Automations all help.

Your CAD users will willingly comply when they trust they can spend more time on the work they enjoy (design and engineering) and less on the parts they don’t (bureaucracy) due to the automations you’ve put in place.


What Should a CAD Standard Cover?


An ideal CAD standard covers the WHAT, but not the HOW. For example, a CAD standard should document graphical standards, but should not be a training manual on how to produce drawings.

Why? Well, graphical standards shouldn’t change often. You don’t want them to change; if they change often, you won’t be able to automate your processes.

I recommend beginning with the standard that is applicable to your region, such as ASME, JIS, or ISO. Only make the necessary adjustments to suit your industry and company.

I make this recommendation because the look of technical drawings can sometimes be subjective and cause conflicts. National standards, on the other hand, are impartial, making it more difficult to justify any deviations—without making the case based on efficiency or a specific need.

Ultimately, we don’t need to care what the standard is. We just care that we have a graphical CAD standard so that we can automate our processes.

Graphical standards for technical drawings:

This is how your drawings look. This thinking can be applied to 2D drawings, or 3D Annotations and tolerances.


Examples of what may be covered in your graphical standard include:

  • Line weights
  • Line types
  • Fonts
  • Text sizes
  • Hatches
  • Color of lines, text, hatches, and symbols
  • Symbols
  • Page sizes
  • Scales
  • Borders, and title blocks
  • Drawing types and layouts (i.e. General arrangement drawing, Assembly drawing, part drawing, etc.)

Output file standards:


For 2D drawings, this is usually PDF.


Examples of what may be covered in your standard for output files include:

  • File locations
  • File names
  • Revision schema
  • Required metadata

What Should NOT Be in Your CAD Standard?

I recommend that you keep your CAD standard as clear and concise as possible. It may be tempting to make it as comprehensive as possible, but keeping graphical standards apart from standard operating procedures and training material will make your CAD standard easier to use and adopt.

Configuration of CAD Authoring Tools Should Not Be in Your CAD Standard:

I recommend creating an additional document or addendum for anything specific to how a CAD authoring tool works. This way, you can easily make updates for a specific CAD tool and release the update without issuing a new release of your main standard.


This is particularly helpful if you use multiple CAD authoring tools in a hybrid design environment or if you support freelance workers.


Examples include:

  • Layer naming
  • Layer colors
  • Line weights
  • Style naming
  • Parameter naming
  • Sketch naming
  • Feature naming

I recommend that your CAD standard avoid the topic of how to use CAD authoring tools to meet your standard. Including this information will make your CAD standard long, complex, and difficult to write and read. Instead, cover how to use CAD authoring tools to meet your CAD standard in your training.

Training on How To Use CAD Authoring Tools Should Not Be in Your CAD Standard:

When I first became a CAD manager, I made a big mistake. In my enthusiasm, I talked at length about all the cool things you can do with CAD tools. Top-down, bottom-up, inside-out, back-to-front, skeletal modelling, multibodies—awesome!


One day, I was walking past my colleague's desk. They were sat with their head in their hands.


‘What’s the problem?’ I asked.


‘I’m so confused…’ they told me, ‘I don’t know where to start.’


Unwittingly, rather than helping my colleagues to become more efficient, I had given them a healthy dose of decision fatigue, causing them to grind to a halt.


I learned the humbling lesson that not everyone is as excited about CAD tools as I am. Some people just want to do their work, and then go home to watch the football.


I resolved to simplify my teaching and leave the CAD geekery for those who sought it out.

Here are some tips for continuous improvement of CAD training:

  • Outcome-focused: solves a problem the CAD user or their team is facing.
  • Easy to learn: short, easily digestible chunks.
  • Topical: relevant to the problem at hand, can be used straight away.
  • Simple: only one technique or workflow at a time.
  • Standard: based on the CAD standard and company operating procedures.
  • Consistent: everyone learning the same solution to the same problem.
  • Repeatable: sometimes it takes a few iterations for information to sink in.

Click here for CAD training information, from free online resources to Autodesk-approved educators and consultants. 

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) Should Not Be in Your CAD Standard:

Including standard operating procedures (SOPs) in your CAD standard will make it long, boring, and difficult to digest.


While I agree that your SOPs should be documented, I doubt anyone will refer to them. In my experience, people want to learn and use the process without thinking about it.


The goal of an SOP is not to document the process. The goal is to automate the process. The document is a tool for providing feedback from stakeholders to gain agreement on what the process needs to include.

SOPs for CAD design could include:

  • How to save a CAD file (to the correct folder location)
  • How to save a CAD file (with the correct file naming)
  • How to include BOM data
  • How to populate the drawing title block
  • How to revise a CAD model
  • How to review a CAD model or drawing
  • How to release a design to manufacturing
  • How to recall and update a released design

SOPs can help you define a procedure before selecting the method of automation.  

Examples include:

  • Q: How might I ensure that CAD files get saved with the correct file names and in the correct folder locations?
    A: Maybe Vault data standard will help?
  • Q: How might I ensure that all information for the BOM is completed?
    A: Maybe iLogic can help?
  • Q: How can we track engineering change orders?
    A: Maybe Fusion Manage will work for you.

In summary, a CAD standard is not a tool for micromanagers to enforce their will. A CAD standard combined with standard operating procedures and training is the foundation for automation that can reduce administrative tasks and bureaucracy, creating a space for innovation to thrive in your design and engineering or CAD team.



Check out these free AU classes for more information on developing a CAD standard:

  1. Developing CAD Standards: A Complete Guide
  2. The Stages of Developing CAD Standards
  3. Standards for Developing Standards: A How-To for Busy CAD Managers