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It’s All About the Process

It’s All About the Process

By Stephen M. Samuel

For companies that truly want to take a leadership role in their chosen markets, there are millions of dollars to save and huge opportunities to take advantage of when Computer Aided Design (CAD) tools and Product Lifecycle management (PLM) tools are utilized properly. The right combination and configuration of CAD tools and other related products, allow engineers and designers to be more creative and produce better products faster and cheaper with less risk. These days, whether you have a large multi-national company or a small mom and pop shop, you have access to the most powerful CAD systems that human kind has ever known. Those who pay close attention to their use and integrate them into a well thought out system have a huge competitive advantage that can make an exponential difference (See The Exponential Nature of CAD © June 2011

The ideal system

It’s instructive to imagine what this ideal system would be, because that vision serves as a blue print to configure current systems and custom processes. It turns out that these lofty goals are possible with the right combination of software, personnel, design systems, product lifecycle management (PLM) systems and training. This article outlines some of the considerations required to approach such an ideal system and, more importantly, how to innovate and implement the required processes. By and large, the technology exists. The challenge is to do all that is required to encourage the user community to utilize it fully and integrate it into new processes.

In an ideal world, there would be a seamless and amazingly quick system that enables brilliant and creative design engineers to go from a hand sketch on a napkin all the way through the manufacturing and sales of a profitable and ground-breaking product. The system would capture all the detailed processes that would help the entire organization do everything that anyone would want. It would help keep track of requirements that were discovered by marketing. It would track the voice of the customer. It would allow industrial designers to create beautiful and manufacturable designs, because the manufacturing group would be able to lend input early and often all throughout the design process. The system would allow product design to get started soon after (if not simultaneously) with industrial design.  The ideal system would encourage simultaneous analysis and design for manufacturing (DFM) to happen. Even the prototypes, cost analyses, specifications, test data sheets and regulatory documentation would be facilitated, organized and captured by this ideal system. It would be so easy to use that members of all cross-functional groups would find it effortless, allowing them to participate and contribute often.

The incentive

The pay-off for having such a world class design system is huge.  It will help you generate extremely well-done products and get them on the market faster and for less money. You will have a greater market share because upgrades to your product line will be performed faster and with less risk. You will save huge amounts of time and money due to the fact that designs will be augmented by much better analysis techniques and will be heavily leveraged using legacy data. You will free up designer time in the drafting phase because your organization will benefit to the greatest degree possible by the latest technology that eliminates the need for extremely time-consuming 2-D drawings. You will be able to take advantage of the data flow enabled between cross functional groups as well as groups in geographically detached regions.  The payoff will also include higher profit margins on the market share you already have. The result will truly be products on the market faster, better and cheaper.

Most companies have a long way to go

The overwhelming majority of companies do not have this level of sophistication. The vast majority only have elements here and there. Very few have fully associative model transfer between the various functions such as industrial design, product design, analysis and manufacturing. At the time of this writing, most companies still have a linear series process, do not have a sophisticated training regimen, and have no organized way of getting parts-specific training and mentoring to their work force. Very few organizations have a library of “methods manuals or videos that truly capture company-specific processes and methods that help to make their products more competitive. Tribal knowledge is still the mainstay in most companies. Very few companies have had the luxury of taking a holistic look at all the cross-functional groups in order to truly streamline the data flow among them.

The reasons why so few companies fully embrace the latest technologies are many.  Perhaps the most prevalent is the lack of understanding and vision on the part of senior management. The world of CAD tools and PLM tools and other productivity enhancements is still very new. There are a lot of managers who have never used a CAD system that ultimately control the purse strings. These folks can be highly intelligent and creative yet still find it hard to understand that which they have never used. It is perfectly natural for these folks to analogize drawing boards, T-squares, triangles and slide rules with the CAD systems of today. These managers recall that their tools took very little training before they were able to use them for life. It is reasonable for them to assume that if CAD systems are the replacement for the tools of yester-year, that training and infrastructure are not that important! Managers wonder why an engineer needs on-going training on these systems. Why should engineers need even more training when there is a new release of software? However, underestimating training needs can be deadly. Perhaps another reason why very few companies make the most of CAD is the number of tools that don’t really talk to each other. Since CAD, CAM and CAE tend to make their way to various groups at different times, and there usually isn’t an integrated overall plan for many organizations, the effect is isolated pockets of CAD use. The various functions can’t always interact and share product definition data associatively and in real time.

Choosing the right system

Choosing the right system that fits your engineering needs is paramount to having a successful and comprehensive CAD and PLM system and process.  There are a number of considerations that should be put into the matrix of decision-making when choosing your CAD system or considering changing the one that you already have. The first and foremost factor should be, “Can the software perform the kind of geometry that is germane to your company?”  Some software is really great for parametric shapes but not so good for free-form surface work. Other software gives you a great general tool but is extremely bad for machining.  When you need to deal with legacy data that comes in as translations from many other systems, there are packages that are stellar at that sort of thing and others that are simply terrible at it.

A related and important consideration is the ability for a software package to survive throughout the years. The CAD landscape is littered with the corpses of small niche CAD packages that were good for certain things but are no longer available. None of the major corporations use them, and they don’t have universal appeal. They don’t have a lot of partners that make supporting applications, such as an integrated mold flow tool, a fiberglass lay-up tool, a finite element deck, etc. These inexpensive packages are to be avoided, because you will spend a lot of money getting everyone trained and building your infrastructure only to find that the software isn’t viable. When you are using software that is going or has gone out of business, there is no investment by the companies that make the software in new technology. In the fullness of time, you will be cut off from the powerful advancements that other companies will use to compete with you and take away your market share.

One of the more important considerations for choosing one software package over another is the ability to find a work force that already knows and has real experience with the software. For a universal package like SolidWorks, there will always be enough people that know the software. Many young men and women who graduate college come out with at least rudimentary SolidWorks knowledge. You will save a lot of money and time if you don’t have to start from scratch with a student or new hire who’s never seen the software package that you choose. It’s great if new hires have some background with a PDM system and a Finite Element Analysis package. It’s a real bonus if they have a firm grasp on the difference associativity makes and are adept at drafting principles.

The best overall system requires great people

The talent, enthusiasm and CAD knowledge of your user community are some of the determining factors of how successful you will be when you attempt to create a better overall system and put better processes in place. The vast CAD resources that you may have will be underutilized if the user community is un-able, un-motivated or ignorant of the latest CAD techniques. Ensuring that you have the right people with the right skills relative to CAD is a science and sometimes an art. In many cases it starts with choosing the right people. If you have the luxury, begin by hiring great engineers who are creative, knowledgeable, work well in a group and are good at the CAD system that you have chosen. These folks must be willing to learn new things and be fast learners, because CAD tools get more powerful and change radically at a rapid rate. It’s extremely common for prospective hires to list the names of CAD programs on their resume that they have only used to a rudimentary degree. It can be very worthwhile to give new hire candidates a CAD test during their interview. The testing can be as simple as handing them a basic print of a component to build and a short questionnaire that can test their general knowledge of various principals. It can also help to give them a design problem to solve right on the spot. If they can quickly draw a good hand sketch, then jump on the system and create a rudimentary CAD model, hire them on the spot.

Maintain great people through training

Once you have your fantastic group of enthusiastic employees, you must maintain a constant effort to train them and keep their skills current. Initial training is best when it’s instructor-led and custom to the actual geometry that they will be creating. This technique should be on-site so that students can bring to class actual examples of production work that they are performing. There are various levels of custom courses offered by all sorts of training organizations. Many that claim to be custom are really just a number of standard exercises that customers get to choose from. The highest level of customized training is when a highly motivated and knowledgeable instructor can address key problems. The instructor has to be an actual engineer with real project experience under his or her belt. They have to know the software backwards and forwards, and they have to be great with all kinds of people. They must be extremely patient, positive and up-beat. The right instructor-led training with the right instructor can be worth its weight in gold because problems can be solved and methods can be innovated that truly streamline the production process. These techniques can be documented and used by the engineering staff for years after the training is done. For example, a company had a need to create a bellows – a flexible tube that could handle a large variation of span distances. The need was identified in a training class, and the instructor was happy to help. The instructor envisioned and created a powerful method on the spot that resulted in a parametric model with comments in addition to a short instruction sheet on how to use it. Subsequently a video was put together for anyone else who may want similar geometry.

 Figure 1. A parametric model of a bellows. The user must input the length, bend parameters and other factors. The models above are generated by one specialized tool.



Another method of training the group is off-site instructor-led training. When there are relatively few people to train and if budgets allow, one can get off-site instructor-led training. This kind of training can be very helpful, but students are usually in the class with students from other companies. The classes usually don’t move very quickly, because in most cases the variation in student ability is high and the teacher has to teach to the slowest student. In many cases with off-site training, the learning is broken up into too many modules. For example, Student X will end up taking basic, modeling, assemblies, drafting, and surfacing courses.  Being this thorough, it takes many courses to be productive. It’s very costly and the students don’t get the most important question answered – how to use this technology to do their job better.

These days, there are a number of e-learning solutions available. These are highly varied and can be very inexpensive. They aren’t focused but they can play a role in getting a large number of people basic training. It can be very difficult to get people motivated about them, and they tend not to be taken seriously by the student community. There’s something irreplaceable about having a person with real life experience who can help you with and create exercises that look like your stuff and answer questions on the spot.

The large majority of learning is simple on-the-job training. Managers will look internally to find a person who they think is good at using the software and make them the trainer for whoever needs to be trained. It’s very convenient, and in most cases it appears to be inexpensive. If the person is naturally gifted and has some training experience, it can be helpful; however, that’s not often the case. In reality, it takes time and specialized training to be qualified to teach others CAD. When managers throw an engineer into the training role, it often turns out they don’t know much about the software, are not qualified to teach, may not be enthusiastic, and may not be able to apply the software to the specific situations that truly help the overall company progress. On-the-job training can lull engineering firms into a false sense of security. It’s very common for firms to go for years without adequate training. This is the leading cause of why in many firms powerful software that is capable of being used to truly streamline the overall product lifecycle goes grossly under-utilized.

A company can be highly competitive and best use their CAD system when the proper training has been given to high quality, well-picked workers. When a world class software package – a package that has enough power to serve the various cross functional groups and has compatible PLM software – is being used, powerful customized solutions can be created. For example, a company that makes small vehicles uses a variety of custom conical springs with ground ends. The mathematical constructs behind them aren’t extremely complicated, but they are somewhat beyond what the average engineer does on a regular basis. A parametric model was built and documented that enables any engineer to input basic values, and the spring is created along with the corresponding drawing. What used to take days now takes seconds.

Figure 2. The input panel for the values that control the spring model



Figure 3. The graph that controls the height of the spring with the parametric dimensions



 Figure 4. The actual model of the spring with the graph that controls its height



Another example is a variable stator vane bell crank model generator. The rules behind the geometry are highly mathematical and graphical. Even using a CAD system, the design requires multiple iterations and care. However, with the right seed part, the job can be reduced in time by a factor of 10!

Creating specialized tools

Perhaps the most common mistake when using CAD software is not assessing the frequency of the need for training. Many well-meaning CAD managers embark upon an aggressive project to make some kind of streamlined tool that will save engineers many hours for a specific Job. However, it is very important to conduct a study of the frequency of the need. In all probability, the continuous improvement of CAD software will make the specialized tool obsolete or unnecessary before the payback period. It’s not always easy to know what’s going to happen, but it is important to estimate the time it will take to create the specialized solution, document it, teach people how to use it, maintain it and understand how much time it will actually save.

Another thing to watch out for when you create a specialized solution is locking good design engineers out of being creative. It can be very alluring, once you have invested heavily in a specialized solution, to use it even when there’s a better way and not question it once entrenched in an overall process. The solutions must be continually reviewed. There will be times when a new design technique should be used or the specialized technique should be discarded. When these times come it will be difficult to ignore the investment that has been made in the now obsolete method. Specialized solutions should be periodically re-evaluated for their efficacy, relevance, and currency. The cost of constant review should be considered up front when the decision is being made to commission them.

Documentation is key

One of the keys to creating a well-accepted, extremely useful and specialized solution is documentation. When the solution is being created, usually many people understand the opportunity. There is probably a collective consciousness of the exact niche it serves, and there’s probably a champion for the initiative. There’s probably even a mentor that will show folks how to use it along with any details about the assumptions behind it and whatever else may be important. As months and years go by, the tribal knowledge about the specialized solution may fade significantly. Joe may retire. Soon there may be people using the solution that have very little idea about the assumptions that drive it, other than what appears on the screen. Every custom solution should be accompanied by a “methods manual.” This can be a paper or pdf instruction sheet on how to use the technique and what the solution is based on. It may also include the basic formulas and sample calculations behind whatever techniques comprise the solution. These days, users can benefit greatly from a video of the solution and its use.

A wise teacher once said that education and entertainment are inseparable. Don’t be afraid to combine a little humor into your documentation from time to time. Here is a cartoon that was commissioned for a web site for a CAD system called NX. Naturally, any humor that is used must be business-friendly, positive, and non-political.

 Figure 5. Cartoon to spice up documentation



Get multi-level buy-in

Another action item to accomplish when creating specialized solutions is to obtain multi-level buy-in from management, users and all other stake holders. When the specialized solution that you are creating truly meets the needs of the organization as a whole, the solution has a far better chance of acceptance and beneficial use. Taking the time to contact and include various groups in the creation process has an added benefit. It can serve to find opportunities for improvements that otherwise would not have come to light. For example, during a presentation of a new way to create a difficult piece of geometry, a manager became curious if a similar technique could be applied to a difficult cutter problem. It turned out that a technique called “law curves” enabled the creation of a fully parametric quick release cutter model that was able to assume the shape of any size cutter that was needed in the industry. In almost any business there is a wealth of undocumented “tribal knowledge” that brings the company huge benefits. Multi-level buy-ins can have the effect of identifying these gems of opportunity and bringing them out to benefit a larger audience.

Keeping current

The huge benefits that are afforded by new CAD technologies and tools pose a constant challenge to managers and subordinates alike. It is difficult to know in advance which new innovations will be helpful and which will be a passing fad. It is difficult to justify the expense of some new systems in the hope that the productivity gains that are promised will be real. However, there are many resources that can help. Trade magazines and websites are good because they are inexpensive and available; however, they are only general in scope. User group meetings are essential; for example, every major CAD package has a dedicated nation-wide trade show. They are usually week-long feature presentations of the latest advancements and future developments. There are even other presentations by actual users at various companies that share their special techniques. These shows are like a miniature university. Most companies that attend send only a few top users and CAD managers. Perhaps the networking opportunities and the conversations that take place in the hallways are the most valuable asset. If possible you will want to send more than one person, because there are always multiple tracks running simultaneously. The admission is usually on the order of $1000. When you add the travel costs it can be expensive, but attending the show can easily lead you to adopting a technique that saves you hundreds of hours per year. It’s well worth it. On a smaller scale, there are sometimes regional user groups. These are usually free to attend but are high in value because you can get acquainted with other local users. They are usually one day long and close enough to drive to. They are usually hosted by one company or another, yet the mood is that of sharing and community. These groups can be valuable because they focus on the actual user experience.

Some of the companies that are most successful with CAD and the creation of process upgrades are those that have an internal user group. When a company has twenty users or more and they don’t all work in the same area, internal user group meetings have the highest value. Without internal user groups, it is common for users to create techniques and solve big problems without sharing them. When an internal user group meets, each attendee is encouraged to bring a small sample of something that they have learned that they think is really cool. Individual users get praise for helping the group as a whole, and the meeting serves as a great opportunity for members of contributing groups to solve all sorts of problems. These meetings work best when someone provides food. There should also be a dedicated area on a website or similar device where everyone who brought an example or technique can display it for the use of anyone who needs it later.

Blogs, forums and social networking sites are great. They are free and you can ask questions to users all around the world. You can read the answers to questions posed by others that may be like your own. The biggest drawback is that they are not secure; therefore, in most cases, it’s not a good idea to post production work and ask specific questions that may fall into the hands of a competitor. For real progress to be made there must be focused and specialized attention given to specific design challenges. Therein lays the limitation of blogs, forums and social networking sites.

The early adopters

Perhaps the early adopter/guru is one of the highest assets companies have in order to improve processes. Every company seems to have at least one guru (who should not be mistaken for the talented CAD user mentioned before), usually brought in from another company. It’s usually a person who is positive and young in spirit. It’s the person who stays late or has access to CAD at home and is always trying out new techniques. The guru is usually not in the official position of being the guru but perhaps should be. When training is done, something special should be done for the guru. The guru is bored with the standard training class because it’s way too slow. The guru quickly learns more than the people from the company that makes the tool because she’s relentless in her desire to test out every option of every command way in advance of a production need. This is why when you perform a major upgrade of your present system, embark on a process improvement project, or decide to begin using another CAD system, you must take care of the guru first. The guru does not want to lose his guru status. Especially when companies are forced to go to a different system because they got bought out by a larger company, the guru can be a huge impediment. The nature of users using the various CAD systems can emulate the rivalry of folks with their sports teams. Folks invest years in learning the ins and outs of the system that they are using so that when they have to change systems they feel a sense of loss. It is natural to see emotional resistance. In the same way things can get out of hand after a professional sports match, the user community can adopt an attitude that will translate into real and significant business losses. However, people will follow the guru. Win the heart and mind of the guru. If you have the luxury, make sure he gets the training he needs before you implement the rest of any training program. Make sure that you secure his leadership status by putting him in charge or at least helping to make the process improvements.

If you don’t have a guru or if the guru is busy with production work, it can be extremely beneficial to establish a relationship with an outside technology advancement group. There are a few groups in the country that fill this role very well. They have a long track record and are easy to find by the books they’ve published, the videos they have on the web and word of mouth. They offer training that is truly customized to the point that they will take the geometry that is on the critical path of your company and make training exercises out of it. They are designers in their own right and are adept at taking a holistic look at every aspect of the product life cycle and suggest tweaks to streamline it. These technology partners can do everything from helping to choose qualified engineers to lending you temporary help that can actually do production work in a pinch. When you work with these companies, they become adept at helping you with your specific work because they are the ones that have helped you in the past to set up templates and a host of specialized tools. They are the ones that are already down the learning curve and can be a huge asset to you for many years. They are also helpful because they ensure a steady reservoir of staffers as business cycles wax and wane.

The rollout

In order to ensure that your company will be as successful as it can be, you must handle the rollout of specific tools extremely well. Luckily, there is a lot of experience data to draw from. Among the biggest mistakes one can make is to introduce a new tool to the entire organization in a big sweeping way with inadequate training using non-production parts. This will guarantee that because people aren’t practicing using production parts, they’ll forget and have to be retrained. Don’t implement a new system without having some super users available for mentoring and hand holding through the transition process. The mentor should be more than knowledgeable about the software. They should have great engineering skills and should be familiar with the core engineering business that is the backbone to your production work. A four year engineering degree, master’s degree or PE is preferable. They should be able to talk about specific work that they have done in aerospace, medical, consumer products, heavy machinery, space systems and the like. They should be an extremely good communicator that is comfortable with people who may be very annoyed that they are being asked to learn a new system. They must act as an engineer, a teacher, a therapist and a cheer leader, sometimes simultaneously.

By all means, train small groups with an emphasis on production work with specific examples of jobs they will do much more easily with the new CAD software. This will help the process greatly, because training is always more than just an intellectual endeavor. Changing the way people do things can be very contentious. When a new tool is introduced in such a way that its benefits are highlighted, it goes a long way to helping those that are not so good at managing change to be more successful.

A rollout should be aided and managed with great documentation. As strange as it may seem in this day and age of the internet, twitter and iPads, a paper book still has value. There’s no substitute for dog-earing a page from a good book and putting it on the shelf. In fact, books that you read twenty years ago are as easy to read today as they were back then, whereas the “word perfect” file that you had on some hard drive twenty years ago is probably long gone and un-accessible. That said, it is great to have good content on the company intranet. The company intranet should have the best sources of information, especially the documents that require continual updates. The company intranet should have links to the best supporting documents for each and every specialized tool. The company intranet should also have video information about specific techniques that can easily save countless hours of CAD and analysis time. These video links can be a combination of internally created videos and those that are created by technology partners with specialized knowledge. These videos and other resources are greatly augmented by an invention called the Sharpener. The sharpener is the answer to questions that comprise a common management dilemma: “Once I’ve trained great people on a powerful CAD, CAE or CAM system, how do I ensure that their skills stay current and know who’s actually retained the training?” The sharpener is an automatic tool that is linked to a library of pre-created custom exercises. The tool draws from those exercises and “pings” each employee about once every two weeks. The ping is actually a technique expressed by a short video, less than 3 minutes. The technique that appears in the sharpener goes above and beyond the everyday use of the CAD, CAE or CAM. It is a combination of powerful commands strung together to get some type of difficult job done. The students can also download a worksheet that has the details of the technique, as shown in the following sample:

     Figure 6. A sample worksheet



Once the student sees the technique, they are invited to perform an exercise involving the same technique on a similar part file. The sharpener keeps track of how long it takes the student to perform the task and stores the result along with their finished part file. The finished part is graded and the results are stored and made available to management. The sharpener also takes advantage of the social networking techniques that have become so popular and powerful. A user can log in with their Facebook account and have a friendly competition with another user. The sharpener also has the capability of keeping track of how well the students are doing overall, who needs more training, and who’s excelling. It gives the managers another metric that they can use to help run the business more effectively.

Figure 7. A sample page from the sharpener tool (for more information about the sharpener, navigate to and use the username “guest” and the password “password.”



There is one other technique/product short of having a full time on-site mentor to aid with your rollout of new solutions and technology. The iMentor system is an application sharing product that is enabled by the fabulous speed of networks today but driven by industry experts that understand exactly what customers need from the CAD packages and supporting system they are using. It’s a product that allows engineers in real time to get specific advice from a live person at a remote location. Users log in to the tool and make a request for service. The operator responds very shortly and gains secure access to their application. The operator can then help to solve any problem of a software or system nature by suggesting powerful techniques that will be of great help. It is very common for engineers using high-end CAD systems to save untold hours of work when they are familiarized with just one extra powerful technique. The iMentor system and others like it are an inexpensive substitute for the full time guru that is difficult for small to medium sized companies to afford.

A case study

The incentive for making many of the above mentioned improvements to present design systems and processes is great. It can literally save hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars of per year. It can literally ensure that your product gets to market in half the time. This in turn will help you gain market share because your product will sell to many of those who might have purchased a similar product from your competition. Here is an example of a recent initiative. The company name has been changed to protect privacy but the approximate numbers are real:

Acme Marine is a fairly large company with hundreds of engineers distributed all over the globe. They use CAD software that they had not been well trained on for many years. Many of the users were hired with little experience using the software tool. The machine that they manufacture is a large piece of industrial equipment that typically has over 50,000 components, the largest of which weighs in excess of 11,000 pounds. The company is over 100 years old and thousands of people in various roles work together to bring these extremely complicated products to life. The average sale price of one of their units is over 1 million dollars. When Acme began working with Design Visionaries (DViz), the cycle time through a specific area of the entire process was recorded and used as a baseline. Throughout various rounds of a “Continuous Improvement Campaign,” DViz guided selected divisions of the company to significant efficiency gains. Working closely with every critical functional group, DV guided three main process improvement initiatives: human capital, system/process, and hardware/software. In the human capital initiative, DViz improved the headcount-to-workload ratio, performed customized training, motivated employees, and created a community that considers “continuous improvement” an important part of the “production critical path.” In the system/process initiative, DViz contributed to over 500 hours of increased efficiency per machine with hundreds more hours on track to be uncovered. In the hardware/software initiative, DViz made improvements in every area from the desktop P.C., to fiber optics, to corporate level network hardware and software. As augmentation to all three initiatives, DViz implemented two complementary systems – The Sharpener: bite size continuous improvement, solving most problems before they occur, and iMentor: the help desk on steroids, solving the remaining problems when they occur. Using a unique “value estimation” process, conservative estimates at the time of this writing have determined the value of these process improvement efforts to be equal to the value of producing approximately 6 additional machines per year with the same resource cost. As exciting as these numbers sound, this is only the result of the first round. In the second round of the process improvement initiative we conservatively estimate another three machines. Assuming that roughly half of the cost of each machine is labor and overhead, the final estimate of the total yearly savings as a result of the initiative will be approximately 4.5 million real dollars.

Further information and help

Design Visionaries can help you with every last detail required to upgrade your processes. It has been our job for the last 18 years to work with many of the most successful companies in the world in this very capacity. We can help you choose a CAD system or help you upgrade the CAD and PLM systems that you already have. We can help you take a holistic look at your current processes and help you move very quickly to take advantage of new technologies. It would be our honor and pleasure to perform the ultra-high quality training and mentoring that is necessary for the most competitive customers. It would be our privilege to help you define new processes for your company as well as help document them and implement tools that ensure that your work force is in tip top shape and stays that way.

Please feel free to contact the author, Stephen M. Samuel PE for any further information or questions.



1Product definition data – all the electronic data that is used to define an actual component or assembly, including the CAD file, the 2-D drawings, and all the non-shape data such as surface finish call outs, material specs, testing procedures, assembly notes and much more.

2Math Data – The data that is contained in a typical part file. This is usually limited to the data that defines the geometric shape.

3Associativity between CAD tools – the principle and the function that enables one portion of a CAD tool to use and up-date the same data base. For example the 3-D surface model of a component is used by the 2-D drawing model. The analysis component also relies on the 3-D CAD model and updates when you change the original.

4PDM system – A Product Data Management system helps to organize the files that comprise the entire product definition data.

5 Master modeling – A method of using one main model to drive a number of other models. For example the mechanical CAD model of an engine mount, is used in a one level assembly such that another person can access the geometry for their machining model. Another person uses the same technique for an analysis model. Still another person uses the same technique for drafting. Should the main CAD model be changed and updated, all the other functional models update too. This allows members of cross functional groups to work simultaneously.

6 Productivity tool – A tool such as a bearing geometry generator or any other tool that is used in addition to the main CAD system that brings about a specialized component design.

7 Methods manual – A published document that helps internal work force to understand a specialized technique or productivity tool6

8 Sharpener tool – An interactive tool that ensures that a work force stays up to speed on the tool that they are using to get their design, analysis, drafting and CAM work.

9 CAD – Computer Aided Design

10 CAM – Computer Aided Manufacturing. Here you create all the cutter paths for lathes, mills, punch machines, laser cutters etc.

11 CAE – Computer Aided Engineering is mostly the tools that are used for finite element analysis, kinematic analysis and the like.

12 MCAD – Mechanical Computer Aided Design as opposed to the programs that do electrical

13 On-site Training – CAD training that is performed by an experienced trainer traveling to the site where the training is needed.

14 Off-site Training – Training that is performed at some remote location that engineers travel to. It’s usually not focused on any one industry. One size fits all.

15 E-learning – Any number of over the web methods of CAD training. These methods can be effective and inexpensive but not nearly as powerful as On-site training.

16 CATIA – A powerful CAD tool used by many automotive companies

17 Pro / Engineer – A powerful CAD tool used by many engineering firms

18 SolidWorks – A powerful CAD tool used by medical companies and consumer products manufactures and many others.

19 NX – A powerful CAD tool used by many automotive as well as aerospace companies and others. NX used to be called Unigraphics then melded with I-DEAS. It is presently at revision 8

20 PLM – Product Lifecycle Management is the science of everything that relates to getting a great product on the market, from the original idea, to the marketing requirements, to the design, analysis, and manufacturing.

21 Linear series process – A process where each function is performed one after the other

22 Parallel process – A process where most functions are performed in parallel rather than in series. It helps to get products on the market faster

23 iMentor – a system that enables immediate help to those that log in with an account.


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