The CAD System is Evil and the White Board is Your Friend

Engineers are typically detail oriented, introverted problem solvers that techno-babble about the latest advances and can’t imagine how the previous generation accomplished anything without the modern tools that are available today.  So, what does this mean?  If we start with introverted…sometimes I’m certain that our virtual world that has been brought to fruition by engineers is just a selfish result because we really didn’t want to actually talk to each other in the first place.  How about latest advances, we spend significant time and effort learning, trouble shooting and maintaining the latest software tools.  Remember, engineers are problem solvers, given enough time and money we can make anything work.  I’m going to rant for a moment: how often do we end up with an annual software upgrade that requires nearly double the hardware capability that was fine for the previous release along with significant install, debug and training for no real ‘core’ improvements, just new look and feel.  Done ranting and back to latest advances, we spend significant effort on the latest CAD tools.

What does this add up to?  It is all too easy when starting the design process to work on our own with the latest software tools.  Generally goes something like this: there is a preliminary design review in two weeks, who has time for daily internal reviews not to mention the customer is expecting to see a beautifully shaded and textured virtual model…I just have to get this done.  There are a few things inherently wrong with CAD on the front end of the design process. 

  • Drives towards details rather than system thinking.  Rather than a generic ‘schematic’ component we model the actual component and it escalates from there to the fits, clearances, parametric mates etc.  It’s all too easy to get caught up in a correct or perfect model of a potentially flawed concept.  Think of this as the proverbial forest for the trees problem.
  • Far too slow and rigid for preliminary system thinking…a faster more flexible tool is required.
  • This is probably the most significant detriment: minimal team synergy.  Not only is it difficult to engage a team with only one person ‘driving’ but the ‘bandwidth’ of team resources is potentially limited to CAD jockeys.


How do we combat this at Setpoint?

  • Egos are checked at the door, there is no room for ‘not invented here’.
  • The old saying that there is no such thing as a bad idea…wrong.  Get over it, it’s part of the process and we’ve all had them, the public humiliation doesn’t last long and the bad idea may spawn a great idea.
  • Whiteboards are always available.  Impromptu white board discussions don’t happen when conference or war room pre-scheduling is required.    Table tops also make great whiteboard surfaces.
  • Typically no chairs in white board areas.  People are more engaged when on their feet, helps reinforce a sense of urgency and meetings rarely drag on.
  • Digital photos of whiteboards for a quick and simple archive.
  • Multi-discipline group involvement.  Rather than a review it’s a process that many participate in because anyone can operate a whiteboard marker.


Don’t misunderstand me, CAD is a valuable tool in design; however, it’s not always the best tool.