State of Standards

by Mark Stefanchuk,

I’ve been exchanging some emails with our good friend Bob B. – a long time cad developer, cadguru, cad manager etc. The exchange has gone a little like this…

Bob – “Mark, CADD is getting killed out here! CADD professionals are being tossed out and the Standards are non-existent, no one seems to care, no one is checking drawings.”

Me – “I’m sure the overall economy is the main factor here. Standards are still relevant.”

Bob – “I’m sure part of the problem with jobs is just the economy…but with even the CADD companies removing the “D”…I think there’s more to it. I know Engineering has been trying to get rid of “Drafting” since the early 90’s. and believe me, whether they know/admit it or not…the drafted product is suffering.”

I did a little bit (very little) of informal surveying and others are still seeing a significant reduction in staff especially among the drafting teams. If the projects aren’t there then the people aren’t either. Whether or not it’s just the overall economy or it’s a new paradigm is uncertain and it’s also unclear when hiring will pick up again.

What do you think? Is there an underlying desire to change the way we do things in the design office and thus eliminate some older professions like the drafter and drafting supervisor?

I think there has, for quite some time been a shift towards using the junior engineers as drafters. When I started there were very few computers in the office and CAD was only used in the largest design offices. So, if you couldn’t draw very well, you weren’t allowed to draft. Today computers and CADD stations are essentially commodity so drawing ability is not really a factor. It’s possible then that economic pressures have forced many organization to reduce staff and if business leaders believe anyone can run a CADD station then why do we need drafters – as the logic goes, if I can type my own letters in MS Word then engineers and architects can use CAD to draw.

I’ll get some of you mad at me for saying this, but this isn’t necessarily bad logic. Here’s my partial theory. Engineers, and architects (and design leadership) should be able to do their own CADD work – most of them just can’t. They haven’t had to know how to use the technology and they don’t know the details of their design practice. This most recent economic downturn, more so than any previously has accelerated the move from drafter as a separate hire to integrating the role into the skill set of the engineer/architect. Consequently, most organizations are not prepared. And, as Bob has pointed out, no one seems to care to check the CAD standards and drafting practices.

I suspect, in the short term this will continue to be a problem. Organizations are cutting staff because they don’t have enough work to go around. In the long term we, engineers, architects and design professionals. will likely be doing more, if not all of our own CADD work. When I got a computer with Word Perfect I knew then that it was going to be a long long time before I got my own assistant – I’m still waiting. I can type now too. Design automation is, of course more complex than a word processor. It’s much more difficult to learn, but it’s not impossible.

I’m not a futurist, but I can make a few more predictions. There will be more automation – design programs that do stuff for you , design programs that integrate with downstream systems like financial, construction and so on. (I hope so because this is how I make my living now.) To some degree, these solutions exist today, but they will get better, easier to use, and easier to integrate.

So, what do you think? Are CADD (emphasis on the second D, drafting) professionals getting killed out there? Are standards being ignored? Is hiring picking up? Leave a comment. Let us know.

2 responses to “State of Standards”

  1. Glenn M. Pfleiderer says :

    Bob, It has been my experience that in-production management, drafters and designers just don’t care about standards, They are just to busy to get the product out the door and do whatever it takes. Working efficiently with standards is just not in the mix other than lip service. People are so prone to copy something from an old drawing to a new drawing just to get the job done. What they don’t realize is that they are also copying all the old junk and corruption tho the new drawing. When the drawing fails it is the softwares fault. May this topic I could go on and on.

    Another problem is the lack of standards from one jurisdiction to another. The cities, counties, state and federal may have similiar but different standards. For example, the DOD has a set of standards that is suppose to cover multiple sub-entities, the COE is part of that. However, the COE does not rigidly follow the DOD standards… always there are modifications. The National CAD Standard is the best documented standard for CAD however it doesn’t take in to account many of the design facets require in civil engineering. For example; layering for cross-sections and profiles or different grading sites.

    All this inconsistency is a major part of the problem.

    As for drafters going away… that is a subject that has been going around since CAD became an acronymn. The truth is young engineers coming out of college just do not get any CAD in their background. Why? Because the professors in the colleges don’t know anything about it, they do not know how to teach it and therefore maybe a student gets 1 quarter of “student thesis”. This is on any program available free to the college. The young graduates after four years arrive at job destination and the first thing the company does is sit them in front of a computer and compute an existing ground surface, or a building layout in AutoCAD, Civil 3D or Microstation and In-Roads and the young engineer starts hacking away with no formal training, no standards or guidlines to follow so the make their own stuff up. There goes the standards.

    I believe in CAD Standards but they must be work on and use by all. One expert that can do it faster another way, or just can be bothered (because he/she is in production and just has to get the job done in to meet a deadline). I have personnally witnessed many jobs that went over budget and in the tank by lack of standards. The more people the manager throws at a job the worse it gets.

  2. sinned says :

    Been doing CADD awhile, and board drafting before that. I must agree with the previous comment that the drafter is being relegated to the T-rex bin.
    The senior engineers dont do the drafting and are, mostly, of the mind set that computers made it so everything is done with a push of the button, which equates to quick turnaround, which equates to minimal budget and at times unrealistic deadlines. This is compounded also by the fact that companies tend to roll out new software without the initial investment of setting it up right in the first place. Some of the junior engineers, I’m finding, arent schooled on the software that they need to use. (Might have had a class or two involving ACAD, but find the world using microstation, or vice versa.)

    Then as for standards……what a pile of puckey one steps into.
    Lets see, this city has survey standards, and the county has survey standards, and the state has survey standards. And upon review and comparison, one is finding that the standards differ tween each, yet this is for a survey monument, or control point, or a STR cairn.
    Some clients have well defined their standards…..for themselves. Rightfully so…..until one has to combine data provided by multiple clients, coordinate it, and clean it up for appearances and to remove redundancies. There I have encountered little symbology consistency between clients, yet supposedly the information is for the same discipline (Survey, Illumination, markings, topography, etc.)

    Another concern involves the rollout of new software. My experience has been the rollout comes, software deployed, but the overhead effort was minimal so that each location has to incorporate desired CADD standards. Thats OK, if the clients are only served by that location. When a client is served by geographically diverse personnel, the standards need to be uniform for all assigned personnel. And, like mentioned previously, the tech copies data from 1992 data file into 2012 data file, bringing with it the attributes and layering shema that is soooooo out of date.

    I like the idea of the National CADD Standards. Provided everyone will adopt them! That companies will take the lead time to ensure the standards are established, uniform and deployed for ALL personnel to minimize inconsistencies.

    But alas, human nature i think will tend to fall back to getting it out to save budget……

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