Too Lean to Learn and Other Reasons People Avoid New CAD Software

Direct modeling, concept design tools, multi-CAD options—there are a number of great new reasons to update and even switch your CAD software. And that list is likely to grow quickly as options like subscription licensing put new tools within financial reach for many companies.

Business conditions can add pressure to take on new tools, too. For example, important new partners, suppliers, or OEMs may have standardized on incompatible software formats.

And yet many teams still cling to old installations of their CAD software, making do with what they have and forfeiting any competitive advantages of new tools. Why?


Chad Jackson, Lifecycle Insights

Chad Jackson explores that question in his eBook Switching CAD, Sustaining Productivity.

Challenges to switching

In general, companies love all the new software advances, writes Jackson, but they fear productivity drops when tools change on the development team.

“Users have to get retrained, taking them out of the office,” he says. “The transition has traditionally translated into a hit to the productivity of the engineering department, something few companies can afford to day.”

It’s so bad, “switching CAD is seen as an avoid-at-all-costs choice.”

The old software is familiar. Like a pair of favorite old shoes, people get used to the CAD systems they have. Even if they don’t have up-to-date capabilities, they find a way to get the work done. In fact, they become expert at the old software. Ask them to start using something new, and power users suddenly have to look up how to do tasks that were once second nature to them. “Such change feels disruptive for employees who had their work figured out,” says Jackson.

Departments have become too lean to learn. With the economic recession in the late 2000s, companies pared talent to the bone. That means nobody has the bandwidth to drop their workload and take a week of training. “No one, from the engineering executive to the individual user, wants work to pile up during a transition,” writes Jackson. “Minimizing the impact of the switch to a new CAD application on the productivity of the engineering department is a critical objective for any organization.”

Resources and networks are already established. CAD software is powerful, and even long-time users find new challenges and techniques to make the tools work for them. To assist them, they often use informal channels when questions arise. “Users can place a quick call to those inside or outside their company asking how to perform a specific task,” writes Jackson. “They can go to forums dedicated to users of a specific CAD application and ask the question publically, waiting for other users to chime in.”

Processes are already established. Not everyone who relies on the CAD system is a CAD designer. Documentation, support, purchasing and others may have limited access to the tools. New CAD software may lead to new ways of doing things. New tools may mean these team members need to switch from asking the engineer and learning to retrieve the latest models themselves on viewers, for example. While some are eager to do it themselves, others may not feel so motivated.

Roles versus needs

And that presents another traditional objection to switching or updating software: Needs within the organization vary.

As discussed above, a team member in the purchasing department doesn’t really need to know about simulations and rendering, while a basic understanding of BOMs and measurements could be very empowering. On the other hand, a marketing specialist might benefit from adding scenes and lighting to a product design, but not care so much about how many #3 lock washers the design requires.

And no matter their role in the company, individuals simply have very different learning preferences. Some people do well with visuals, others like text, etc.

Clearly, sending each team member who might be touched by the software to classroom training is simply not practical or efficient.


The problem with switching CAD is really a problem of rigid learning models

Every one of these barriers, in Jackson’s mind, is really a problem that can be addressed by training—so long as it’s flexible, well targeted, and easily accessible. “Switching CAD can be challenging,” writes Jackson. “However, if organizations are aware of the common challenges, they can incorporate learning approaches that mitigate these issues.”

In part two of this series, we’ll talk about how training has changed in the past few years, and why most obstacles to adopting new CAD software may not be as formidable as many companies think.

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