Complicating the Uncomplicated: A CAD Manager’s Tale


‘Our Technical Drawings are too complicated! We need to simplify them to cut down the time they take.’


I was a few weeks into my first job as a CAD manager when my director cornered me to express his concerns. 


‘Drawing creation is a bottleneck,’ he said. ‘We need to get into production quicker. If we simplified our drawings, they would be quicker to create.’


I was on board with this.


‘OK,’ I said, ‘I like it. But I need your help. I will arrange a review of our drawings, and I want you to attend the meetings.’


I hoped that the presence of a director would ensure that people showed up to the meetings; in retrospect, there was a more significant benefit that I hadn’t anticipated. We’ll get to that in a minute.


I was very fortunate to have George as a mentor. I had met George at Autodesk University, and we had bonded over a shared interest in woodwork and technical drawing. George gave me a lot of great advice about managing people as part of the manufacturing process, and I helped George learn AutoCAD.


George had shared his hand-drawn technical drawings with me, and they were inspirational. Hand drafters like George didn’t have the time to draw everything at 1:1. They had to be thoughtful and intentional about what they put down on paper. What is the minimum amount of information needed on this drawing to make this thing — without mistakes?


I took a recent set of our shop drawings, and using George's drawings as a guide, I created a simplified set. I set up meetings with each of our internal teams and made sure everyone knew our director would be in attendance. The meetings went well. People came, and they gave their full participation. Everyone loved the simplified set of drawings.


The conversation at each meeting went something like this: "We love the drawings! So simple and clean! We are really looking forward to using these drawings in our work! ...But, there’s just one thing, just one thing we need you to add back in… just for us. Then they will be perfect!"


You might be anticipating where this is going.


After meeting with Engineering, CAM programming, manufacturing, finishing, procurement, installations, etc., we just added everything back in! (OK. We’d simplified the hatching a bit).


So – what did we learn?


  • The drawings were complicated because they served many customers, our internal teams, other contractors on our projects that we collaborated with, and our client or their representatives.

  • It wasn’t the amount of dimensions, hatch styles, or text on the drawing that took time; it was the number of people we needed to collaborate with.

  • Technical drawings communicate the design, the design being the culmination of decisions made by all stakeholders. To create drawings faster, we needed to be better at teamwork.


At the beginning of this article, I hinted that the presence of our Director brought greater rewards than simply guaranteeing people turned up to my meetings.


Taking part in the meetings, listening to the teams' concerns, and understanding the importance of technical drawings in communicating the decision-making gave our director a much greater insight into our design and manufacturing process.


He became the CAD team's biggest advocate. He backed our insight about teamwork. Ultimately, he was instrumental in modernizing how people worked together at the company, leading to the company's revenue growing by 40%—without hiring more people. 


Takeaways: When thinking about optimizing your design and engineering process.

  • Why? Why are we doing this? Who cares? How does this align with the company’s strategy and initiatives? What would happen if we didn’t do this anymore? Who would be affected?
  • The "Who cares?" group will become your stakeholders. Talk to them individually and in groups. What do they need? Why? Who will use the information that is created?
  • Can we optimize the process? What can we do to remove waste or fix broken processes?
  • Can we automate the process? This is where you and your knowledge of automating design and engineering workflows with technology can shine!


Visit AU online for more product design and engineering resources for CAD managers from Autodesk University, including thought leadership, case studies, and in-product learning for AutoCAD, Fusion, Inventor, Vault, and Fusion Manage.