From the smallest computer microchip to the tallest skyscraper, every
product must first pass through a painstaking process of design and
analysis. Computers are making this process easier.
Computer-aided design (CAD) joins the power of the computer with
the creativity and skills of the engineer, architect, designer, and
drafter. The National Science Foundation suggests that CAD “many
represent the greatest increase in productivity since electricity.”
This article examines some of the applications of this technology, its
implications for the workers who use it, and opportunities it may offer
for jobs in the future.
Computer-aided design is not a new technology. The aerospace and
automotive industries developed their own software packages to assist in
product design and development over 20 years ago. And commercial CAD
systems have been available since 1964. These early systems, however,
used expensive mainframe computers that only the largest companies could
afford. But recent advances in computer technology, particularly the
introduction of mini-and microcomputers, have brought this technology
within the reach of a host of potential users. The electronics
industry, from computer makers to component manufacturers, is already a
major user of CAD systems, and architectural, engineering, and
construction firms are increasing their use of these systems to prepare
designs, maps, and technical illustrations.
In the simpler forms of CAD, the drafter, working from an
engineer’s or architect’s rough sketch, creates drawings on a
computer screen. The pens, inks, compasses, and other tools used by
drafters for generations are replaced by a keyboard, graphics tablet,
digitizer, and light pen. Instead of a line of ink on paper, a line of
glowing phosphorus appears on a video console. Through a series of
programmed commands, the drafter can produce finished drawings in much
less 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 find
counterparts in CAD systems. John Murray, an engineer with General
Motors, jokes that, as with word processing equipment, “one of the
things that works the best is the eraser.” An error on the
computer screen can easily be corrected with a few keystrokes. To
correct a manual drawing takes much longer. To simplify this process
still further, some of the more advanced CAD software packages are
programmed to detect errors during the drafting process and inform the
user that the data or design is incorrect.
Most CAD systems, irrespective of the particular industry for which
they are developed, offer four basic functions that greatly enhance the
productivity of the drafter or designer.
* Replication–the ability to take part of an image and use it in
other areas when the design or drawing has repetitive features;
* Translation–the ability to transfer features from one part of
the screen to another;
* Scaling–the ability to change the size of one part of the design
in relation to another;
* Rotation–the ability to turn the design on the screen so that it
can be examined from different angles and perspectives.
When drafters and designers do their work on a CAD system, the
drawings are stored in a central data base. The advantages here are
several. First, the handy reference to previous drawings enables the
operator to recall and modify a design whose features closely resemble a
present assignment rather than start from scratch. Secondly, the data
base encourages communication between the designa and production staff.
Working from the same data will greatly reduce the paper flow within a
factory or office. Several sources interviewed for this article
referred to the paperless factory of the future that CAD will permit.
Thirdly, these stored designs serve as the basis for more complex
applications of computer-aided design.
These applications generally fall under another acronym–CAE–or
computer-aided engineering. Using the same hardware that is used to
draft a design, engineers are able to subject these designs to a battery
of tests and analyses. The computer enables the engineer to simulate a
variety of conditions or stresses to which a product may be subjected.
For example, a designer or drafter in the automotive industry may design
an axle according to an engineer’s rough sketch. The engineer,
working at another computer work station, will subject the axle to
varying combinations of simulated conditions and weights. These
computer simulations can cut the time between design and production;
under older technologies, an actual prototype of the product or part
would be fabricated, tested, redesigned, and reproduced until the
engineer was satisfied with its performance. This reduction in
development time should decrease costs and increase productivity.
Another likely outcome is improved quality. Tom Gumbala, an
engineer with Boeing Aerospace, says, “We will be able to build a
better product because CAD gives us the opportunity to analyze the heck
out of it.”
Markets and Applications
The market for CAD hardware and software has experienced
substantial growth since the early 1970’s. The Office of
Technology Assessment (OTA) of the U.S. Congress states, “Between
1973 and 1981, the CAD system market grew from under $25 million in
annual sales to over $1 billion,” a fortyfold increase. The years
ahead may be even more promising. The Yankee Group, a Boston-based
market analysis firm, predicts that sales may reach $6.9 billion
annually by 1987, with an average annual growth rate of over 40 percent.
At present, the principal mechanical for CAD are within the
mechanical manufacturing industry. Aerospace and automotive companies
are the heaviest users, but other segments of the industry, such as
machine tool manufacturers, are incorporating CAD into their operations.
Within these enterprises, CAD is only one member of a family of
computerbased technologies that is altering the nature of American
manufacturing. Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) is usually mentioned
in the same breath as computer-aided design. This juxtaposition,
CAD/CAM, refers to the capability of systems to design a part or
product, devise the essential production steps, and transmit this
information electronically to manufacturing equipment, such as robots.
These design and manufacturing tools may, inturn, be linked to
management information systems (MIS), which enable managers to monitor
closely all aspects of a company’s operations.
While mechanical applications of CAD account for nearly one-half of
the systems sold today, other industries recognize the benefits it
affords. For the electronics industry, CAD offers considerable
advantages, particularly in the design on printed circuit boards and
integrated circuits. The design of these components can be tedious and
time consuming. And so many lines and cross lines must be drawn that
errors are not easily detected. CAD not only speeds up the drawing but
detects errors as well.
Architecture, engineering, and construction applications offer the
greatest potential for growth in sales, according to a recent industry
survey. Although the construction and electronics industries each
represent about 16 percent of the CAD market now, the penetration is far
less extensive. However, both simple drafting applications and more
complex design and analysis are evident within the industry.
Architectural drafters will be able to complete drawings of a higher
quality in much less time. Architects and engineers will be able to
submit their designs to more exhaustive structural and stress analyses.
Piping and electrical layouts will be made easier and the design and
allocation of interior space will be facilitated as well. As a
management tool, the data base created during the project will provide
an effective means of inventory control enabling contractors not only to
speed construction but to reduce costs.
CAD is also having an impact upon cartography. Geographers use CAD
systems to help them draft maps used for environmental impact analysis
and land use planning and for charting landfill contours for strip
mining. Some software packages are available that aid in
Process industries, such as oil and gas refineries and chemical
manufacturers, 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 in
landscape design, interior design, andd fashion design. Some high
fashion couturiers use CAD systems to lay out patterns on expensive
fabrics as a way to minimize waste.
Implications for Employment
Technological innovations invariably prompt questions as to how
these changes will affect employment. Implicit in many of these
questions is the notion that the introduction of new technologies will
lead to the elimination of certain jobs or at least to significant
changes in the way these jobs will be performed. Among those
occupations directly affected by CAD, concerns focus upon drafting and
Drafting shops are traditionally a bottleneck in many industries.
Pen and ink drawings take a long time to produce. Once complete, the
drawings must be presented to the engineer or architect for review and
analysis. The ability of CAD systems to produce drawings much faster
than manual techniques would seem to reduce the need for drafters in the
long run. Dr. Donald Hecht, president of the California College of
Technology in Anaheim, a technical school that trains students in
computer-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 consequent
increases in productivity that CAD affords may foster a greater emphasis
upon new product design and development. “I see CAD giving us the
opportunity to create more and better products, perhaps even new
industries which today we cannot even imagine.”
The possibility has also been raised that CAD will enable engineers
to take over the entire design process, from initial concept to final
drawings, 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 with
drafters would be an ineffective use of engineers. “it’s the
engineer’s job to provide the concepts while the drafter or
designer produces the documentation. This division should not
That CAD will increase productivity is not in question. But its
effect on creativity is an issue raised in discussions of CAD’s
impact upon the labor force. Some people suggest that, as the
technology matures, a point may be reached where software packages
programmed with artificial intelligence will diminish the opportunity
for individual creativity in design. John Duvalle, an engineer with
CALMA, a major manufacturer of CAD systems involved in training
operators in CAD techniques, rejects this thesis. Rather than seeing
CAD as a replacement technology, Duvalle views it as an enhancement
technology, a powerful new tool that will enable the drafter or designer
to do more creative work.
This appraisal is shared by manufacturers who have installed CAD
sytems. Jerry Licht is Director of Management Information Services for
Lamb-Technicon Corporation, a Michigan machine tool manufacturer.
“CAD is an intelligence amplififer,” says Licht. “The
talents and skills of a capable designer or drafter can only be enhanced
by CAD.” Reiterating a theme raised by many familiar with the
technology, Licht emphasizes that CAD is simply a powerful new tool that
can provide positive results when in the hands of a capable operator.
Some studies examining the impact of office automation on clerical
staffs have focused attention on the increased incidence of stress
attributable to the use of video display terminals. The OTA study
addressed this issue and found that the possibility may exist, but
increased stress is much less likely in situations where workers retain
autonomy and make their own decisions. Those who assert that CAD acts
as a stimulus to creativity believe that stress-related maladies would
be less likely to occur among these operators than among other workers.
But the question of autonomy is an important one, particularly as
it relates to engineers. Some evidence from cases studied by OTA
suggests that jobs will be broader and more challenging at early stages
in the design process, but that, farther along, jobs will be less
flexible. OTA quotes the director of a CAD/CAM transition team in one
of the companies studied, “Once the system is in place, most of the
decisions are made. Whoever’s involved downstream is working in a
much more controlled environment.”
The computer’s ability to monitor workers also affects
autonomy. Monitoring is not a new issue, at least for hourly workers,
but it is for professionals. Computer-based systems that enable
managers to supervise their operators more closely may alos be used for
monitoring the amount of time spent at terminals by each engineer.
New Jobs and Opportunities
Enthusiasm runs high among CAD manufacturers and users, reflecting
the advantages of the technology. But, like Dr. Hecht, others urge
caution in making straight-line predictions. Tom Lazear of T&W
Systems, a California manufacturer of CAD, believes that an increase in
CAD sales depends to a large extent on what happens in the economy as a
whole. During periods of slow growth, less design work is undertaken.
Nevertheless, the increased use of CAD systems will generate new
occupations. Some companies that have incorporated CAD into their
operations have begun hiring “CAD operators” to run this
equipment. Lazear suggests that the need for these operators may reach
100,000 by 1990, a projection based upon the number of CAD work stations
expected 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 workers
affirm this trend. Ron Krimper, who oversees the drafting and design
program at Fullerton Community College in Fullerton, California, says
that one-third of the nearly 700 CAD operators who have been trained in
the last few years at Fullerton have been women. A third of those
presently enrolled are from minority groups. Rockwell International,
the aerospace giant, is a heavy user of CAD. Robert McKechnie, a
Rockwell engineer who heads a department in electrical design, employs
several women on his staff.
Computer-aided design presents some heartening prospects for the
handicapped. Where their physical disabilities may have prevented them
from mastering the manual skills necessary for drafter or designer
positions, CAD may open the door to these opportunities. In the spring
of 1985, a pilot project for the training of paraplegics will be
initiated at San Jacinto Community College in Pasadena, Texas. Dr.
Steve Horton, Chairman of the Engineering and Drafting Technology
Department at the college, believes that CAD offers the chance for
intellectually challenging employment for th disabled. “With a firm
grounding in drafting and design theory and training in CAD techniques,
a handicapped person can be as productive as any other drafter or
designer,” says Horton.
Education and Training
How quickly a person achieves proficiency in these new tools
depends upon personal capabilities, the type of system involved, and its
particular applications. Increases in productivity are noticed in a
relatively short period. An article in the November 1983 issue of IEEE Computer Graphics Applications affirms this. The initial assumptions of
a CAD training program at a midwestern tool manufacturer were that,
after 24 weeks, students would be as productive as drafters working with
manual techniques. Parity was actually reached after only 4 weeks.
Within 32 weeks, the CAD operator was three times as productive as the
For these productivity gains to be realized, operators must receive
the proper training. A number of avenues for this training are
As with other computer-based technologies, instructional programs
are offered by manufacturers or vendors. Vendor training is generally
included as part of the package when a system is purchased. Usually,
two or three workers receive instruction; they then train their fellow
employees. These vedor programs, however, will probably be unable to
meet the ned for trained operators; they are also unavailable to
students preparing to enter the market. Therefore, schools at all
levels, from junior high schools to universities, are incorporating CAD
into their curriculums.
At the university level, nearly all engineering and architectural
schools offer some courses in computer graphics, and many computer
science departments offer electives in CAD. However, only one major
university, Brigham Young, offers a bachelor’s degree in design
technology. Schools in regions where CAD has become a major industrial
tool–the automotive centers in Michigan and the high-tech bases in
TExas and California–offer the widest variety of instruction. Many
community colleges and technical/vocational schools, the traditional
training ground for drafters, have begun to offer CAD instruction.
Although each school takes it own approach to training, some
general comments can be made regarding those schools which have
initiated CAD training. Students are eligible to study CAD only after
obtaining a solid base in design and drafting fundamentals. As with any
advanced tool, an understanding of basic concepts is essential.
It’s good job training as well. Over 90 percent of drafting is
still done manually, and, while more and more of the work will be done
on CAD systems, manual skills will still be in demand.
After a student has successfully completed introductory courses in
drafting and design, the next step is specialization in such fields as
electrical or architectural drafting. The introduction to CAD comes
once 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 “user
friendly” and can be understood by those with no background in
computers. For persons involved in more complex applications, some
familiarity with computers would be helpful.
In some school districts, particularly those in regions where CAD
is extensively used, instruction is moving along steadily. The Oakland
County Community School District, located in the heart of the automotive
industry in Pontiac, Michigan, has budgeted over $300,000 to purchase
CA/CAM equipment. Dr. James Hannemann, director of vocational
education, says, “CAD is generating as much excitement as robotics,
with interest growing by leaps and bounds.” The district offers CAD
instruction as part of the drafting courses at two of its four
vocational education centers.
Litchfield, Minnesota, is another community that makes CAD
instruction available to public school students. Industrial arts education is mandated by State law for all students in Minnesota, as is
home economics. CAD will be incorporated into the vocational
curriculum. Sid Herrick, coordinator of the pilot program, is excited.
“It’s important that we introduce that kids to what’s
being done in industry. I feel our program is really going to take
Many schools are confronted with the same obstacles that business
and industry encounter when considering the purchase of CAD
systems–money. Some avenues may be available to counter this
difficulty. One is time sharing with local businesses and industries
that have the equipment. Time sharing offers advantages to both
parties. The students gain familiarity with business and industrial
settings, handson experience, and the chance to meet possible employers.
The participating companies contribute to the community and enhance
their public image.
At the university level, several foundations have made funds
available to schools for the development of computer graphics
laboratories. Other possible sources of funding or equipment are CAD
manufacturers. A recent survey conducted by Computer Graphics World
magazine found that approximately one-third of computer graphics
companies have contributed hardware or software to university-level
Industry sources say that computeraided design systems have
penetrated only 10 percent of their potential market. This percentage
is certain to grow because CAD has proven its value as a tool, both in
design and analysis. But all tools, from the simple to the complex,
need skilled hands to use them effectively and creatively.