Computer-aided design Essay

From the smallest computer microchip to the tallest skyscraper, everyproduct must first pass through a painstaking process of design andanalysis.

Computers are making this process easier. Computer-aided design (CAD) joins the power of the computer withthe creativity and skills of the engineer, architect, designer, anddrafter. The National Science Foundation suggests that CAD “manyrepresent the greatest increase in productivity since electricity.”This article examines some of the applications of this technology, itsimplications for the workers who use it, and opportunities it may offerfor jobs in the future. Computer-aided design is not a new technology. The aerospace andautomotive industries developed their own software packages to assist inproduct design and development over 20 years ago.

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And commercial CADsystems have been available since 1964. These early systems, however,used expensive mainframe computers that only the largest companies couldafford. But recent advances in computer technology, particularly theintroduction of mini-and microcomputers, have brought this technologywithin the reach of a host of potential users.

The electronicsindustry, from computer makers to component manufacturers, is already amajor user of CAD systems, and architectural, engineering, andconstruction firms are increasing their use of these systems to preparedesigns, maps, and technical illustrations. In the simpler forms of CAD, the drafter, working from anengineer’s or architect’s rough sketch, creates drawings on acomputer screen. The pens, inks, compasses, and other tools used bydrafters for generations are replaced by a keyboard, graphics tablet,digitizer, and light pen. Instead of a line of ink on paper, a line ofglowing phosphorus appears on a video console. Through a series ofprogrammed commands, the drafter can produce finished drawings in muchless time and of a higher quality than those produced manually. People frequently call CAD systems word processors for drafters.

And, in fact, many of the word processor’s advantages findcounterparts in CAD systems. John Murray, an engineer with GeneralMotors, jokes that, as with word processing equipment, “one of thethings that works the best is the eraser.” An error on thecomputer screen can easily be corrected with a few keystrokes. Tocorrect a manual drawing takes much longer. To simplify this processstill further, some of the more advanced CAD software packages areprogrammed to detect errors during the drafting process and inform theuser that the data or design is incorrect. Most CAD systems, irrespective of the particular industry for whichthey are developed, offer four basic functions that greatly enhance theproductivity of the drafter or designer. * Replication–the ability to take part of an image and use it inother areas when the design or drawing has repetitive features; * Translation–the ability to transfer features from one part ofthe screen to another; * Scaling–the ability to change the size of one part of the designin relation to another; * Rotation–the ability to turn the design on the screen so that itcan be examined from different angles and perspectives.

When drafters and designers do their work on a CAD system, thedrawings are stored in a central data base. The advantages here areseveral. First, the handy reference to previous drawings enables theoperator to recall and modify a design whose features closely resemble apresent assignment rather than start from scratch. Secondly, the database encourages communication between the designa and production staff.

Working from the same data will greatly reduce the paper flow within afactory or office. Several sources interviewed for this articlereferred to the paperless factory of the future that CAD will permit.Thirdly, these stored designs serve as the basis for more complexapplications of computer-aided design. These applications generally fall under another acronym–CAE–orcomputer-aided engineering. Using the same hardware that is used todraft a design, engineers are able to subject these designs to a batteryof tests and analyses. The computer enables the engineer to simulate avariety of conditions or stresses to which a product may be subjected.

For example, a designer or drafter in the automotive industry may designan axle according to an engineer’s rough sketch. The engineer,working at another computer work station, will subject the axle tovarying combinations of simulated conditions and weights. Thesecomputer simulations can cut the time between design and production;under older technologies, an actual prototype of the product or partwould be fabricated, tested, redesigned, and reproduced until theengineer was satisfied with its performance. This reduction indevelopment time should decrease costs and increase productivity. Another likely outcome is improved quality.

Tom Gumbala, anengineer with Boeing Aerospace, says, “We will be able to build abetter product because CAD gives us the opportunity to analyze the heckout of it.” Markets and Applications The market for CAD hardware and software has experiencedsubstantial growth since the early 1970’s. The Office ofTechnology Assessment (OTA) of the U.S. Congress states, “Between1973 and 1981, the CAD system market grew from under $25 million inannual sales to over $1 billion,” a fortyfold increase. The yearsahead may be even more promising.

The Yankee Group, a Boston-basedmarket analysis firm, predicts that sales may reach $6.9 billionannually by 1987, with an average annual growth rate of over 40 percent. At present, the principal mechanical for CAD are within themechanical manufacturing industry. Aerospace and automotive companiesare the heaviest users, but other segments of the industry, such asmachine tool manufacturers, are incorporating CAD into their operations. Within these enterprises, CAD is only one member of a family ofcomputerbased technologies that is altering the nature of Americanmanufacturing.

Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) is usually mentionedin the same breath as computer-aided design. This juxtaposition,CAD/CAM, refers to the capability of systems to design a part orproduct, devise the essential production steps, and transmit thisinformation electronically to manufacturing equipment, such as robots.These design and manufacturing tools may, inturn, be linked tomanagement information systems (MIS), which enable managers to monitorclosely all aspects of a company’s operations. While mechanical applications of CAD account for nearly one-half ofthe systems sold today, other industries recognize the benefits itaffords. For the electronics industry, CAD offers considerableadvantages, particularly in the design on printed circuit boards andintegrated circuits. The design of these components can be tedious andtime consuming. And so many lines and cross lines must be drawn thaterrors are not easily detected. CAD not only speeds up the drawing butdetects errors as well.

Architecture, engineering, and construction applications offer thegreatest potential for growth in sales, according to a recent industrysurvey. Although the construction and electronics industries eachrepresent about 16 percent of the CAD market now, the penetration is farless extensive. However, both simple drafting applications and morecomplex design and analysis are evident within the industry.Architectural drafters will be able to complete drawings of a higherquality in much less time.

Architects and engineers will be able tosubmit their designs to more exhaustive structural and stress analyses.Piping and electrical layouts will be made easier and the design andallocation of interior space will be facilitated as well. As amanagement tool, the data base created during the project will providean effective means of inventory control enabling contractors not only tospeed construction but to reduce costs. CAD is also having an impact upon cartography. Geographers use CADsystems to help them draft maps used for environmental impact analysisand land use planning and for charting landfill contours for stripmining. Some software packages are available that aid inextraterrestrial mapping. Process industries, such as oil and gas refineries and chemicalmanufacturers, as well as power and utility companies, must plan,construct, operate, and maintain electrical grid and pipeline networks.CAD makes these complex tasks easier.

CAD even has applications inlandscape design, interior design, andd fashion design. Some highfashion couturiers use CAD systems to lay out patterns on expensivefabrics as a way to minimize waste. Implications for Employment Technological innovations invariably prompt questions as to howthese changes will affect employment. Implicit in many of thesequestions is the notion that the introduction of new technologies willlead to the elimination of certain jobs or at least to significantchanges in the way these jobs will be performed. Among thoseoccupations directly affected by CAD, concerns focus upon drafting anddesign jobs. Drafting shops are traditionally a bottleneck in many industries.

Pen and ink drawings take a long time to produce. Once complete, thedrawings must be presented to the engineer or architect for review andanalysis. The ability of CAD systems to produce drawings much fasterthan manual techniques would seem to reduce the need for drafters in thelong run. Dr. Donald Hecht, president of the California College ofTechnology in Anaheim, a technical school that trains students incomputer-aided design and drafting, urges a more cautious appraisal.”I hesitate to make such straight-line predictions,” he says,”particularly when dealing with computer-based technologies.

“Hecht believes that the reduction in drafting time and the consequentincreases in productivity that CAD affords may foster a greater emphasisupon new product design and development. “I see CAD giving us theopportunity to create more and better products, perhaps even newindustries which today we cannot even imagine.” The possibility has also been raised that CAD will enable engineersto take over the entire design process, from initial concept to finaldrawings, thereby eliminating the need for drafting and design staff.This contention is not widely supported by industry sources.

Don Manor,manager of computer graphics for John Deere, says doing away withdrafters would be an ineffective use of engineers. “it’s theengineer’s job to provide the concepts while the drafter ordesigner produces the documentation. This division should notchange.” That CAD will increase productivity is not in question. But itseffect on creativity is an issue raised in discussions of CAD’simpact upon the labor force. Some people suggest that, as thetechnology matures, a point may be reached where software packagesprogrammed with artificial intelligence will diminish the opportunityfor individual creativity in design. John Duvalle, an engineer withCALMA, a major manufacturer of CAD systems involved in trainingoperators in CAD techniques, rejects this thesis.

Rather than seeingCAD as a replacement technology, Duvalle views it as an enhancementtechnology, a powerful new tool that will enable the drafter or designerto do more creative work. This appraisal is shared by manufacturers who have installed CADsytems. Jerry Licht is Director of Management Information Services forLamb-Technicon Corporation, a Michigan machine tool manufacturer.”CAD is an intelligence amplififer,” says Licht. “Thetalents and skills of a capable designer or drafter can only be enhancedby CAD.” Reiterating a theme raised by many familiar with thetechnology, Licht emphasizes that CAD is simply a powerful new tool thatcan provide positive results when in the hands of a capable operator. Some studies examining the impact of office automation on clericalstaffs have focused attention on the increased incidence of stressattributable to the use of video display terminals. The OTA studyaddressed this issue and found that the possibility may exist, butincreased stress is much less likely in situations where workers retainautonomy and make their own decisions.

Those who assert that CAD actsas a stimulus to creativity believe that stress-related maladies wouldbe less likely to occur among these operators than among other workers. But the question of autonomy is an important one, particularly asit relates to engineers. Some evidence from cases studied by OTAsuggests that jobs will be broader and more challenging at early stagesin the design process, but that, farther along, jobs will be lessflexible. OTA quotes the director of a CAD/CAM transition team in oneof the companies studied, “Once the system is in place, most of thedecisions are made.

Whoever’s involved downstream is working in amuch more controlled environment.” The computer’s ability to monitor workers also affectsautonomy. Monitoring is not a new issue, at least for hourly workers,but it is for professionals. Computer-based systems that enablemanagers to supervise their operators more closely may alos be used formonitoring the amount of time spent at terminals by each engineer. New Jobs and Opportunities Enthusiasm runs high among CAD manufacturers and users, reflectingthe advantages of the technology. But, like Dr.

Hecht, others urgecaution in making straight-line predictions. Tom Lazear of T&WSystems, a California manufacturer of CAD, believes that an increase inCAD sales depends to a large extent on what happens in the economy as awhole. During periods of slow growth, less design work is undertaken. Nevertheless, the increased use of CAD systems will generate newoccupations. Some companies that have incorporated CAD into theiroperations have begun hiring “CAD operators” to run thisequipment. Lazear suggests that the need for these operators may reach100,000 by 1990, a projection based upon the number of CAD work stationsexpected to be in use by that year. Women and minorities are entering this field in greater numbers.Educators who run CAD training programs and engineers who hire workersaffirm this trend.

Ron Krimper, who oversees the drafting and designprogram at Fullerton Community College in Fullerton, California, saysthat one-third of the nearly 700 CAD operators who have been trained inthe last few years at Fullerton have been women. A third of thosepresently enrolled are from minority groups. Rockwell International,the aerospace giant, is a heavy user of CAD. Robert McKechnie, aRockwell engineer who heads a department in electrical design, employsseveral women on his staff. Computer-aided design presents some heartening prospects for thehandicapped.

Where their physical disabilities may have prevented themfrom mastering the manual skills necessary for drafter or designerpositions, CAD may open the door to these opportunities. In the springof 1985, a pilot project for the training of paraplegics will beinitiated at San Jacinto Community College in Pasadena, Texas. Dr.Steve Horton, Chairman of the Engineering and Drafting TechnologyDepartment at the college, believes that CAD offers the chance forintellectually challenging employment for th disabled. “With a firmgrounding in drafting and design theory and training in CAD techniques,a handicapped person can be as productive as any other drafter ordesigner,” says Horton. Education and Training How quickly a person achieves proficiency in these new toolsdepends upon personal capabilities, the type of system involved, and itsparticular applications. Increases in productivity are noticed in arelatively short period.

An article in the November 1983 issue of IEEE Computer Graphics Applications affirms this. The initial assumptions ofa CAD training program at a midwestern tool manufacturer were that,after 24 weeks, students would be as productive as drafters working withmanual techniques. Parity was actually reached after only 4 weeks.Within 32 weeks, the CAD operator was three times as productive as themanual drafter.

For these productivity gains to be realized, operators must receivethe proper training. A number of avenues for this training areavailable. As with other computer-based technologies, instructional programsare offered by manufacturers or vendors. Vendor training is generallyincluded as part of the package when a system is purchased. Usually,two or three workers receive instruction; they then train their fellowemployees. These vedor programs, however, will probably be unable tomeet the ned for trained operators; they are also unavailable tostudents preparing to enter the market.

Therefore, schools at alllevels, from junior high schools to universities, are incorporating CADinto their curriculums. At the university level, nearly all engineering and architecturalschools offer some courses in computer graphics, and many computerscience departments offer electives in CAD. However, only one majoruniversity, Brigham Young, offers a bachelor’s degree in designtechnology. Schools in regions where CAD has become a major industrialtool–the automotive centers in Michigan and the high-tech bases inTExas and California–offer the widest variety of instruction.

Manycommunity colleges and technical/vocational schools, the traditionaltraining ground for drafters, have begun to offer CAD instruction. Although each school takes it own approach to training, somegeneral comments can be made regarding those schools which haveinitiated CAD training. Students are eligible to study CAD only afterobtaining a solid base in design and drafting fundamentals. As with anyadvanced tool, an understanding of basic concepts is essential.It’s good job training as well. Over 90 percent of drafting isstill done manually, and, while more and more of the work will be doneon CAD systems, manual skills will still be in demand.

After a student has successfully completed introductory courses indrafting and design, the next step is specialization in such fields aselectrical or architectural drafting. The introduction to CAD comesonce these prerequisites are fulfilled. While a drafting or design background is essential for CAD studies,computer literacy is not. Most CAD systems on the market are “userfriendly” and can be understood by those with no background incomputers. For persons involved in more complex applications, somefamiliarity with computers would be helpful. In some school districts, particularly those in regions where CADis extensively used, instruction is moving along steadily. The OaklandCounty Community School District, located in the heart of the automotiveindustry in Pontiac, Michigan, has budgeted over $300,000 to purchaseCA/CAM equipment.

Dr. James Hannemann, director of vocationaleducation, says, “CAD is generating as much excitement as robotics,with interest growing by leaps and bounds.” The district offers CADinstruction as part of the drafting courses at two of its fourvocational education centers. Litchfield, Minnesota, is another community that makes CADinstruction available to public school students.

Industrial arts education is mandated by State law for all students in Minnesota, as ishome economics. CAD will be incorporated into the vocationalcurriculum. Sid Herrick, coordinator of the pilot program, is excited.”It’s important that we introduce that kids to what’sbeing done in industry. I feel our program is really going to takeoff.” Many schools are confronted with the same obstacles that businessand industry encounter when considering the purchase of CADsystems–money. Some avenues may be available to counter thisdifficulty.

One is time sharing with local businesses and industriesthat have the equipment. Time sharing offers advantages to bothparties. The students gain familiarity with business and industrialsettings, handson experience, and the chance to meet possible employers.The participating companies contribute to the community and enhancetheir public image. At the university level, several foundations have made fundsavailable to schools for the development of computer graphicslaboratories. Other possible sources of funding or equipment are CADmanufacturers.

A recent survey conducted by Computer Graphics Worldmagazine found that approximately one-third of computer graphicscompanies have contributed hardware or software to university-levelprograms. Industry sources say that computeraided design systems havepenetrated only 10 percent of their potential market. This percentageis certain to grow because CAD has proven its value as a tool, both indesign and analysis. But all tools, from the simple to the complex,need skilled hands to use them effectively and creatively.


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