Engineering Drawings are Dead

Their time has come and gone. Yet so much of the engineering community both far and wide seem to hopelessly cling to their memory. Of course, we're talking about engineering drawings. And yes, it's time for the drawing to die. But just like those pesky zombies on AMC’s hit TV show about failed team dynamics, it seems engineering drawings keep coming back to life. If we're not careful they'll eat our brains. Someone get me a shotgun.

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Engineering documentation is at the heart of the long, storied history of technical draftsmanship. The objective back then is no different from today's challenge: represent an engineering design in the most accurate and concise way possible. Distilling the 3D reality we live in onto sheets of paper involved a carefully considered system of dimensioning and orthographic projections. These days, they might be referred to as 2D Drawings (which is a redundant term if you think about it). The system worked then and it works now. Those who are well-trained in these classical methodologies have difficulty understanding why there should be anything else. Why fix what ain't broke?

Enter the Product Manufacturing Information (PMI) revolution, otherwise known by the more grandiose engineering initiative of Model Based Engineering (MBE). No longer does product definition need to be limited by the communication medium. In other words, 3D objects can now be defined and controlled in 3D. We all think and understand 3D, because that's how we perceive the universe. But the intended value behind PMI is beyond just adding a dimension, but rather taking what was once a picture and evolving the process. Not a mere snapshot with annotations, PMI brings a persistent overlay of metadata that is queried and utilized with the model. That persistence can power automation not just in defining the product, but also manufacturing and inspecting it.

In contrast, the classic engineering drawing is fraught with limitations:

  • Interpretation Issues: A properly executed drawing shouldn't be subject to misinterpretation, but that skill is starting to become something of a lost art. Unclear depictions can be problematic (i.e. which surface did that leader line touch?). More disturbingly, errors can easily escape detection. Sure, most of that can be mitigated with carefully defined GD&T, but that too seems to be a fading skill. PMI improves upon these limitations by clearly associating surfaces and endpoints, and providing validation that such dimensions do indeed make logical sense.
  • Manual Inspection: Drawings necessitate reinterpretation by humans on the other side of the manufacturing lifecycle. It's another way to introduce error: the botched inspection. PMI sets the stage for automated inspection, accelerating manufacturing processes while simultaneously improving quality.
  • Time is Money: This is where drawings go for the BRAINS... Simply put, in today's constantly accelerating demand to crank out the engineering in less time, drawings just take too long. Increased market pace demands more efficient processes. An engineer who's spent considerable time defining a model, shouldn't have to spend much longer documenting it. The days of modeling something then throwing it over a fence to lay it out are over. These two aspects of design must occur simultaneously, and this ultimately is only possible with model-based definition.

Yet drawings live, and at any mention of PMI or MBE, a few seasoned draftsmen will start to snicker a bit. And not wholly without cause. What drives the drawing hoard along is one simple fact. A lowest common denominator, if you will. Traditional drawings are universally accessible. And thanks to the dearth of equally accessible 3D visualization and inspection tools on most manufacturing floors, the future seems momentarily bleak. The largely proprietary 3D PMI storage formats aren't helping things either. And so these drawings just refuse to die.

Shotgun's empty. Time to reload. Drawings, your day is coming.

 

Interested in a post-drawing survival guide? Click here.


guide to CAD file managementThe Next Generation of PDM  

More teams are using Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, and Social tools to speed up product development. Independent analyst firm, Consilia Vektor, explains how this changes Product Data Management (PDM) as you know it and how this can help your team work smarter.

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  • beyondplm

    Ed, I want to point out on a very interesting aspect related to drawings (or more correctly to Drawing boards). Original drawing boards provided an incredible level of collaboration in the team. Literally, all information was presented on top of the boards. CAD (especially 3D CAD) hided information into computers. Future Drawing boards 3.0 can bring it out. The cost of large screens is going down… Some of my thoughts about that here – http://beyondplm.com/2013/07/23/why-plm-needs-drawing-boards-3-0/

  • Always refreshing to have someone have the light I presented back in 1999; actually 1984 before the acronym PMI was even invented; Before solid modeling was invented. I was laughed at then. Sometimes I am still laughed at for promoting MBD/MBE (There is a difference by the way.) But only fools laugh at something so important to bringing the best products to market.
    Drawings? Your day has come and gone!
    Insist on still using drawings? You day is coming too. :-)

    • John Evans

      I like MBD and some of the benefits, and am watching the STEP initiatives to see if any standardization begins to emerge dominant. In the mean time, there is little if any good information about best practices and how to engage the issue where people generally expect drawings. I wonder what GrabCAD has up their sleeve.

    • joe

      I think you are out of touch with reality as far as these companies go. I deal with dozens and dozens of very large companies and this is simply not true. We are a long way off from that not even close to getting there it is simply not a better way to go yet. This has nothing to do with product quality, how you can make that comparison is quite honestly beyond comprehension. We have been making quality products for quite some time now with paper drawings to suggest the elimination of them will some how increase quality is a statement coming from a place where not much real world experience is considered in that idea at all.

      • Beyond your comprehension to qualify your statements.

      • joe

        clearly you are inexperienced so your opinion does not hold much water. It is clear you have not worked with many different industries since your idea of how it works is so far off base, you are out of touch with reality. You have this delusional idea that drawings are gone when in fact they are used 10 times more than electronic data is. Drawings are here to stay fella where you are getting your information from is beyond me but it is all wrong period. Some day after you have worked in this industry for a while you will learn until that day you should pay more attention to those that know more than you that is how you learn little fella.

  • Chad Malone

    These are all good points, but I still think we are a LOOOONG way off from paper disappearing from Workbenches. We have a “full” machine shop with multiple CNC mills and lathes and even a few manual bridgetports, but our machinists can’t work with the solid model. But above all, I think it is a human trait to “need” the hard copy in front of them/us. Even with multiple screens, I find having a hard copy much easier to work with. Studies have been done showing that digital information is not perceived nearly as well as hard copy information. I have to believe this would be relevant to our “drawings” and models as well.

    • From Scientific American:

      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/

      Studies published since the early 1990s, however, have produced more inconsistent results: a slight majority has confirmed earlier conclusions, but almost as many have found few significant differences in reading speed or comprehension between paper and screens.

      and

      There is physicality in reading,” says developmental psychologist and cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University, “maybe even more than we want to think about as we lurch into digital reading—as we move forward perhaps with too little reflection. I would like to preserve the absolute best of older forms, but know when to use the new.

      So it seems to me like not only is there evidence suggesting there’s no discernible difference between digital and hardcopy reading, but there’s also an example of an academic leaving room for “the new.” You or I may find it easier to work with a hardcopy, but for how long?

      • Keith Buchanan

        Um, no discernible difference?

        I don’t think you read the article carefully. Pay attention to the second headline:

        “E-readers and tablets are becoming more popular as such technologies improve, but research suggests that reading on paper still boasts unique advantages”

        You’re selectively quoting to prove your point. That’s sloppy arguing.

        Furthermore in the digital-vs-hardcopy reading debate, it really depends on the environment and the context. In a controlled study — maybe. On the shop floor, or in a plant, or when the power died on your portable tablet because you’ve worked really a long shift, or you’re out in the boonies on a job away from easily available power sources — maybe not. At that point you’re going to wish you had a hard copy. And maybe a flashlight. Digital devices are not the panacea that many think they are. It looks good in SciFi, but in the real world (where the rest of us work) it’s a little different.

        Also, I know from experience that being able to see a large 42″ x 32″ architectural drawing set and flipping quickly between pages is perceptually a lot easier than trying to navigate a piddly little screen.

  • Last I checked, the main problem with PMI is that the standard wasn’t 100% model based: some GTOLs were still view dependent. Although I understand that views are an important part of PMI for model checking and inspection, not having the PMI be 100% 3D seems like a lost opportunity. Has the situation improved?

  • Mark

    While I agree with the sentiment, I still believe drawings are necessary as controlled documents to define properties such as material, finish, color, variants, test specs and standards that the part must meet, and don’t forget about assembly drawings that show how the parts go together. Models alone will have a hard time specifying those things. Drawings should not be used to define the geometry of the design and have every minute detail dimensioned; let the model do that, but you still need both in conjunction. I’m curious to see how you envision PMI setting the stage for automated inspection though.

    • Mark, information such as material and test specifications can be handled in a note in 3D space. As far as assemblies go, as long as you STEP out your product structure and provide notes explaining your tolerances and finishes, a supplier who is capable of reading 3D information can build to your 3D assembly. The only nicety that the (2D) drawing had is that an ME or a planner could print it out and give it to a technician who could then refer to it without having to bring a computer or monitor onto the manufacturing floor. All in all what it boils down to is who is going to fabricate and build your product and what are their capabilities. That will ultimately determine what method of conveyance Engineers should use to communicate their design intent.

    • jesse

      you can do fantastic assembly animations from 3d models….. but everything takes time and when you’re the guy doing the drawing/animation you’re rarely the guy approving or selecting the software. you also have to have durable screens in the field or in the shop with a network connection and train the guys that are viewing them.

  • Anthony Paul

    What a load of garbage! Ed I stopped reading as soon as you started
    plugging another hyped up software acronym. As a consultant that began
    an interest in 3D technologies back in the 80s and has been using 3D
    technologies in engineering and manufacturing exclusively since the
    early 2000s and also has a client base that spreads across many industry
    sectors I can honestly say the day most industries can survive on
    digital communication alone is generations away. Design documentation
    and drawings are far from dead. I just hope that most budding engineers,
    designers and drafters see the conflict of interest in articles like
    yours Ed and ignore the commercial propaganda and skill themselves
    adequately until such time as the magic truly takes over our
    industries.

    For the record I am all for all of the wonderful
    software three letter buzz products and I employ them all on a daily
    basis, but I employed them in combination with quality design
    documentation and drawings outputs from said buzz products.

    Que the argument about perfect worlds and example of where the magic exists.

    • Gerrit Lane

      Anthony,
      While I agree that drawings are certainly not dead or useless, I can say with certainty many companies I work with prefer 3D models that they can load into their own modeling software and zoom in on certain parts to check dimensions.

      It’s happened more than once that I spend hours creating a legible, accurately dimensioned drawing to send to an extrusion or sheet metal fab company only to get a reply that they’d rather have a 3D .step or igs file. Some companies even specify they would rather have a 3D file and (since I create everything in 3D in solidworks first anyways) I don’t even have to bother creating a drawing.

      That said, drawings definitely do have a purpose. They are essential when part tolerances are critical and are also useful to have in the field.

      • jesse

        hand a usb stick with a 3d model to a welder and let me know how your spool turns out…… i’ll be waiting.

  • Zevzek

    Let’s just not be too arrogant like a Porsche driver laughing at a bicyclist.
    There’s still lots of off-road paths to go, and you might watch the guy still going while you sit in your car thinking why it isn’t a helicopter.
    Mind that many a bicyclist can drive, too.

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  • Ryan Ward

    After finishing this article, I was shocked when I read that the author had real-world working experience (I’m assuming “aerospace engineer” means that he’s worked in the aerospace industry, not just earned the degree). This article sounds like it was written by an idealistic college professor that’s never worked a day in a real company with real constraints like deadlines and budgets.

    I have never worked in the Aerospace industry, so perhaps I’m just naive about the way things are done over there. However, I’ve spent about 10 years designing equipment for the Oil/Gas and Petrochemical industries, and here’s what I can tell you about the reality of the economics of these two industries – the ideology of this article is a pipe dream in today’s world. Are there manufacturing shops out there that can handle working in a purely-3D manner with no drawings? Absolutely. However, because those shops have inherently higher overhead (high-end CNC manufacturing and inspection equipment, personnel with advanced training, etc), they charge much more to manufacture equipment than a basic machine/fab shop who may have some CNC equipment, but still work from 2D drawings.

    Although plenty of money changes hands in the energy sector, when it comes to engineered equipment, much of the products are commodity items, particularly for things like fracking equipment. That means that people with the lowest price win most of the bids from the people buying the equipment. So if my company manufactures our items with ‘drawing-free’ shops, guess what happens to us? We go away, because the equipment prices we have to charge in order to make any profit are excessively high, and we aren’t able to win any contracts.

    Kudos to the author for being a forward thinker, because without those types of people we’d still be in the stone age. However, if he truly believes what he’s written here, then I have a suggestion for his next article: an economic proof of why this line of thinking is viable in today’s markets.

    • bart graybill

      i agree with you… 100%. it sounds good on paper. it’s just not close to being feasible at this moment in time. maybe when my grandkids are engineers like their papa. however, I’ve yet to hit 30 and my kids are under 2 years of age.

    • auntiegrav

      Like Bart says below, “It sounds good on paper”, but I’ll modify for the context and say, “It sounds good on a military budget.”

    • I prefer it sounds good if you’re making kickass stuff that can’t be made efficiently any other way i.e. aerospace and automotive.

  • Tom Frangesh

    When I am standing on the shop floor trying to figure out what’s wrong I am not going to search some !$%^&*ing cloud with a 4″ screen. Get me a drawing, in my hand, NOW!!!!!

  • Sean

    Wow! I am amazed at all the old fuddy-duddy naysayers! Ed is absolutely
    right. Physical paper and 2-D drawings are going bye bye sooner than you
    think. Sure, some will still use them. Just like the people who still
    refuse to adopt GD&T (or amazingly enough 3-D CAD). And they will
    suffer just like all of those who refuse to adapt with the times. I hope
    all budding engineers get on board with Ed. And they will… Because it
    is not garbage.

    It is not hard to visualize. The need to go
    from your 3-D model to a 2-D template and redimension everything is
    truly ridiculous. It is a concept brought over from drafting. It should
    be that you add all the dimensions, tolerances, GD&T, reference
    planes, and notes right on the 3-D model. You are basically doing things
    nominally once, then toleranced a second time on the drawing. All that
    just so someone can bring that data back into three-dimensions mentally.
    That is inefficient and leads to designs that are created without the
    right “design intent” in 3-D CAD. If you don’t know what that means…
    you are dated and never will. You have probably already posted something
    below. I have spent more money on a single end mill than the cost of a
    decent tablet. So there will be a “free” viewer loaded on everyone’s
    tablet that can view all of the information in 3-D space out on the
    manufacturing floor. Along with all that, they can carry the CAM
    generated g-code which they will wirelessly transmit to the CNC
    manufacturing and inspection equipment. Parts will be in bins with QR
    codes that just need to be scanned to bring up all the info right on
    your tablet. This will also eliminate the need to physically chase down
    obsolete drawings and codes to replace them with updated ones. It will
    all happen seamlessly. Embrace it. Or ride a horse to work.

    • Sean, I don’t mean to be abusive, but it is obvious that you’ve never worked as a draftsman, or as a designer, and you are probably not old enough to have seen a drafting board.

      • Dave

        If you didn’t mean to be abusive then you must not know what the fuck you are doing because that’s exactly how you come off.

      • Sean

        Amen to that Dave…

      • Keith Buchanan

        Gentlemen, relax … and take a deep breath before you fire off another reply.

        You both have good points. Agree to disagree. Move on.

        To quote one of Discus’s guidelines:
        “Don’t be a jerk or do anything illegal. Everything is easier that way.”

        :-)

      • Dave, I know exactly what I am doing, and I didn’t have to resort to a four letter word to do it. Do you have any idea what you are doing?

      • Sean

        Give me a break.

        Oh dear… Where do I even start with this. Dealing with anyone from the Baby-boomer generation is just infuriating. Look at your post. You have been doing this for 50-years! It’s time to retire. Or buy a clue. To say that your perspective posted below is dated is a huge understatement. It is ignorant. The fact that you are still working in the engineering/technology field (assumed) is literally a problem. It is a problem because you, and those that still think like you, are holding progress back and filling a job you are no longer capable of making a meaningful contribution to. We suffer as a country because of this. Pick your industry: Someone who was too dated holding a decision making position scoffed at technology and ignored it because they didn’t understand it, then got their butts handed to them by some kid in a dorm room who could understand it (see Napster and the cost of physical media for music). Because of this we continue to fall behind as a nation. You wonder why manufacturing moves out of America!? Because there are still people who place value on using a drafting board here. I hope that the generation behind me laughs at 3-D CAD because they have something better. I won’t shake my fists at them because time and technology has moved on. I will do my best to move along with it all by embracing it and bettering myself. You should think about doing the same.

        I have been working in engineering, design, and manufacturing for over 10-years. You are right about one thing, I have never seen a drafting board actually being used. Nor will I. You can have them all to yourself. I am amazed you could even figure out how to get on the internet… I can design a product, whip it up in 3-D CAD, make a drawing (if I have to), then step up to any manual machine tool (some older than even you), some CNC equipment, or even a 3-D printer, and make all the parts myself, test it, perform FEA analysis, iterate it, improve it, and get it to market before you have even finished sketching out the first set of components just to find out you did something wrong. Technology has enabled me (and the like) to be an engineer, draftsman, machinist, and much more. If there is anything that can enable me to do it faster and better I am all over it. I can even move things into production with the right quality controls that the older generation ignored (a.k.a.- you). Our automotive industry still suffers from the image of poor quality because they chose to ignore these principals by adopting the very thinking you are displaying instead of new thinking and new technology. They said the same things you are saying when Toyota and Honda said “bring on the future”. You can keep on believing that you hold the “special sauce” because you have done things the “old fashioned way”… But you are just fooling yourself. The only unfortunate thing is that you might get someone to listen.

        FYI- When you say “I don’t mean to be abusive”, then say something abuse. It is still abusive.

      • Tom Frangesh

        Gosh….is Superman your daddy?

      • Gee Tom, aren’t you afraid you’ll break the little guy’s thin skin? BIG, BIG GRIN !

      • Sean

        Cute stuff old guys… Don’t worry, my bubble is still intact here. I would be more worried about your saggy old skin than mine. I think it is time to go change your diapers.

        And Rio, I don’t know why you have a “BIG, BIG GRIN” thinking about breaking “little guy’s skin”. Stay away from little children… and ducks. I think I know what is on the two websites you developed. You do look a little like Jerry Sandusky with a beard… Just saying there big guy. You were proficient with no less than 9 CAD platforms before 2002? I have heard some whoppers in my day Rio… But that is a big one. There weren’t 9 CAD platforms to be proficient in there Einstein. You keep rocking it on SW 2002 and holding down the internet. Don’t change a thing… You are definitely doing it right.

      • Sean, I humbly beg your pardon, but like so much of what you’ve already written, you simply do not know what you are talking about. I could take the time to list the various CAD programs that had been available by the year 2002 for you, except that your lack of intellect and knowledge simply does not deserve any more of a response than what I provide here. You read but you don’t comprehend, and then you proceed to spout off with a tirade of nonsense that does nothing more than illuminate how little you actually know and understand. I am leaving this thread now so you children can really get into your word games without interference from we adults.

      • joe

        Little man you are in for a rude awakening you will never be good in this field, your delusional fantasy that you are just better than everyone will leave you jobless in the future. No way I would ever hire a person like you, just the fact that you claim you are this so called expert tells me you are just another jaw flapper. I have seen what happens to kids like you they bounce from job to job and end up collecting unemployment. You better back off on that self serving attitude it will be your downfall. Trust me I know a lot more than you do I have been doing this far longer I have dealt with all sorts of personalities including the so called experts. Let me clue you in on something Sean the so called experts rarely lasted more than a few weeks in my shop. The arrogance they showed turned out to be all smoke and mirrors. Some day when you actually have to perform you will understand.

      • Well Sean, I hate to burst your bubble, but I actually embrace new technology and have been doing so for more years than you’ve seen. Re-read my original post and you’ll find I didn’t discount paperless documentation, it is just that you shouldn’t “Throw out the baby with the bath” (that’s an old saying that pre-dates even me; look it up on wiki or just Google it). The point here is so many of you young guys are like a bunch of race horses with blinders on. Just because something is new and high-tech doesn’t mean it’s a panacea, nor does it mean that the old ways are all obsolete. I am not going to bore you or others reading this thread with all of my accomplishments over the years, some patented fairly recently, but if there is anything I’ve learned in my rather lengthy career is it is better to have all the ducks in a row before you try to shoot them. I am a “mustang”, meaning I came up through the ranks, I don’t have a degree, yet I’ve been given the responsibility by my employers many times to train engineering school graduates, who thought they were already engineers, to become one. My employers were impressed enough with the results that they asked me to do this repeatedly. Do you understand what we are talking about here? We are talking about state-of-the-art academia vs. practical experience. There is nothing wrong with new ideas, and if they seem practical, to include them in your repertoire of engineering techniques, but before you climb out on that limb and cut it off, make sure you have a soft spot to land.

        A couple of other areas where you have made unfounded assumptions and are completely wrong are: I built my first workstation (not just a PC) from components in ’83. I purchased a personal seat of AutoCAD a few months later, version 1.9 I believe, when it was still being sold out of a garage in Southern California. A few years later at an Autodesk seminar I amazed some of their engineers and tech support people with demos showing that you could do more than primitive solid modeling with AutoCAD version 8, and since that time have become proficient on no less than nine different CAD platforms, finally settling with SolidWorks 2002, and maintaining a current personal SW seat since then. As far as the Internet goes, I have two personal sites that I developed myself. So where are all of your ducks now?

        Again, EXPERIENCE RULES !

      • jon

        I would be honored to serve under your leadership.

      • Tom

        touché, Rio!

      • joe

        Wow 10 years, you have no experience at all Sean you are barely past junior journeyman and you should show a bit more respect for the guys that have forgotten more than you have learned yet. It is painfully clear you have next to zero experience on the shop floor and even less in the real world of your chosen profession, let me guess this is your first and only job in this field. You have no idea what you are taking about and your arrogance will assure that you go no where in this field. You will get no where with that know it all attitude because trust me just from reading your post you do not know it all, in fact you are very inexperienced 10 years is NOTHING in this industry you are still wet behind the ears son. A lot of us were probably doing this before you were even born and you come in here with no experience and somehow you can do it all faster and better ha ha you are in for a serious lesson. After a few more years you may learn a thing or two and your attitude will change I have seen this in many many young inexperienced kids.
        You need to understand this, you are no engineer you are no draftsman and you are certainly no machinist you have not been doing this long enough to be proficient in all those fields. You have a lot to learn and unless you change that attitude and accept the fact that you really know very little you will never advance in this industry. There are a lot of guys out there that have been doing this a lot longer than you have that are a heck of a lot better at it than you are. It would be wise of you to ask questions of them and take advantage of their experience rather than spew words of nonsense. Let me say this you can not do it better or faster than I can using those methods you would be a total failure if you even tried, you would not stand a chance in the real world of any success. I really hope this is not what is coming out of the schools these days it will be a disaster for the industry. A bit of advice Sean this is a good profession you have decided to get into, if you want to be successful and some day call yourself good at what you do then you need to accept the fact that you are not as good as you think you are. You have very little experience and clearly even less exposure to other sides of this industry. You have a lot to learn son a very lot to learn and the first lesson should be one of humility or you will be a failure trust me on that.

      • Actually, if you old guys are so divine…then why are so many large companies struggling so much with terribly inefficiently run engineering departments? Think about it. No offence.

      • joe

        Your lack of experience is showing, who says these companies are struggling, you? I am not sure where you get your information from but it is not accurate. Once you have been around a while you will understand. You youngsters need to learn that what they teach you in school may not actually apply in the real world. You can only learn so much from a book it is experience in real life that matters and you will only get that through time.

      • Multi-year delays and I had to work on one little sub-assembly for 6 months, and after that time it still went around the rework daizychain. True, I have not been at many large companies and I hope most do a far better job. Believe you me! I just don’t see it. Hierarchies are too large, people too unmotivated (just there for the job security) and the subject matter too intricate for most people. I never claim to know it all, not even close. But I can tell very quickly when things just ain’t right. It’s a shame we can’t mention company names because of silly social conventions that says ‘you shouldn’t do that’ and all these politics. Gosh!

  • Having entered the design/drafting field at the height of the Cold War and Space Race, more than 50 years ago, we had a better solution for checking and interpretation back then: Engineers created and provided concepts and “comps”, Designers interpreted and made layouts, Draftsmen interpreted and made drawings; and Checkers checked for the three “F’s”, form, fit and function. This all took place in ‘Engineering’ before the project went to ‘Manufacturing’. Yeah, this was slow by today’s standards, but also by that same token the project was nearly perfect when it left Manufacturing, with an unheard of scrap to production ratio of less than a 1/4%. It was an economical method, too; with the various responsibilities being performed by people at the lowest possible burdened cost rate.

    What led to this system’s demise is the personal computer and CAD, where all these responsibilities now fell to the engineer/designer; fast?, yes!, but with all the attendant checks and balances (multiple levels of interpretation and checking) being trashed. This new system was the brainchild of the same computer and CAD illiterate MBA’s and Department Managers who came up with the short-lived concept that file clerks and secretaries could replace draftsmen, now that we had CAD. Heh, heh! That was a real fiasco!

    More pertinent to the discussion is the fact that unless a CAD model is going to be interpreted digitally (via CAM), drawings will always be necessary until such time as every technician carries an indestructible Tablet PC that has the capability of determining and/or providing dimensions, TOLERANCES, material, heat treatment, finish, and fabrication notes, now provided by drawings (these are not thoughtless and unnecessary add-ons).

    It is possible, however, to instill some of the advantageous checks and balances of our ‘old system’, while we wait for the time everyone carries a capable tablet PC: We can return to another system from years past, that of an apprenticeship type program where designers design (create CAD models), drafters draft (interpret the models and create dimensioned and toleranced drawings), and Manufacturing can then perform the checking function while they determine the production methodology.

    EXPERIENCE RULES !

    • I do agree with you. I think it’s called devolution. However going forward there’s no arguments that can logically be held to uphold only paper drawings. MBD drives NCs and CMMs and can generate a drawing if need be. It’s just that the drawing in not the master any longer.

    • jesse

      what fun would it be if engineers stopped checking line weights and making sure every dimension was on every drawing? surely you’re not proposing using the right person for the right job? ye gads!

  • joe

    Ridiculous, 3-D models can not specify things like surface finish tolerance and other important information as easily and quickly as a 2-d drawing. Not all shops have computers at every workstation and it is simply not practical yet. The engineering drawing is here to stay for a long time, it may not be on paper but it is going no where . Sean please explain to me how a solid model on your screen is going to relay all the important data you need to produce a part. 3-D solids are great for design but sadly lacking in the ability to specify all the required data to produce a part. We are a long way away from that and as a person that uses 3-D solid modeling on a daily basis and have for man many years it is simply crazy to think you can dimension the model itself it would be an illegible mess. 3-D models are great for use in machine set ups programming ect but explain to me how you are supposed to know what the surface finish and tolerance on that 1.500 inch diameter is supposed to be and if it must be concentric to another feature.
    Don’t tell me to use different face colors either heard that one before and it is crazy talk, you want to make things even more complex start trying to standardize a tolerance scheme by color when for one thing a certain portion of the population is color blind and for another different monitors can display similar colors so close as to make it impossible to distinguish between them. 3-D solids can not eliminate engineering drawings at this stage. You seem to not understand that not all shops would benefit from some of the ideas you are suggesting you can not put them all in the same basket to do so shows a lack of understanding in how some shops function. Just because a technology exists does not mean it should be implemented across the board that is just foolish and wasteful. Those of us that own shops pretty much know what we are doing and what technology to use where. Wasting thousands of dollars on something just because you can wont keep your doors open very long. As for your you qr scanner and parts in bins wow really, yea maybe in large captive production shops. Job shops do not keep parts in bins we ship what we make, the kind of shop that would benefit from those crazy expensive idea are not the norm they are the exception. For the most part huge corporations producing their own product or shops that produce high volume repeat jobs on a regular basis.

    • Sean

      Joe, It’s actually there already. First, you can by an Intel NUK for a few hundred bucks… That is all you will need to view things (no editing). QR codes and readers on smart phones are free already. So there goes the cost argument. Second, most 3-D CAD programs already have a way of displaying all of the things you are describing. There is always some sort of “feature tree” on the side. The top of which already displays a material, right below that could be a surface finish, and below that could be other notes for post ops (e.g.- anodizing, passivating, etc.). All of the dimensions exist on the 3-D model. All you would need to do is toggle them on or off to view or hide them respectively. Just as you do other things now like planes and axes. Right now, I can double click on a feature (in SolidWorks) and all the dimensions pop up. I deign parts the way I would machine them. So you can follow things logically down my design tree. You can even add some basic rectilinear tolerancing on them right now. There are really only two things that are missing:

      1. The ability to add GD&T symbols and datums on the 3-D model.

      2. This is the biggie (and the opportunity): A universal and portable file format that works with a reader that is either free, or cost effectively accessible. The CAD programs that create and edit the “master file” will always be costly. Even that has come down considerably (~$15k for CAD when I first started to ~$5k or less now). There is already a free viewer from SolidWorks, “e-drawings” that reads all primary CAD formats. So this isn’t far off either. It just needs to display all of the dimensions and GD&T symbols and you will have all the information you need to produce the part.

      Trust me, very soon you will be spinning a model around in 3-D space and double clicking/tapping a touch screen on features of interest to get the dimensions and relations to other features so you can make the part. And I bet you will love it! To date myself, I learned to mill circular features using a rotary
      table. Once I got on a Prototrak there was no going back. Will a small job shop be an early adopter of this? Probably not… But if they start losing work because less and less people do traditional drawings than they will have to at some point. It’s just the future. Don’t hate it. Embrace it.

      • Keith Buchanan

        Realistically, the amount of training that would get EVERYONE who would be looking at all these new screens up to speed, would be staggering. Both of you are obviously closer to the leading edge than the trailing one. For the time being (and for a while to come) we’ll need BOTH physical and virtual drawings

      • joe

        So some how toggling through features or opening different levels is faster than taking a quick look at a drawing ?. I know all about the free viewers I know all about solid modeling but I also have 35 years of experience in the manufacturing and more than 25 in design the last 14 or 15 using solid modeling, I own a tool and die shop, I have run and still do run the equipment, I am a journeyman tool and die maker so I have a heck of a lot of experience on manual and CNC equipment. None of these ideas are practical in anything other than very specific kinds of shops the kind that are rare. There is simply no way making the people on the shop floor click through things on a computer screen will ever be as fast as glancing down at a paper drawing. Add to that the extra training involved for those that may not be computer literate and you have an unworkable situation. I won’t even get into what kind of mess you get into when the drawing is a D sized sheet and you have to zoom in and out. I am very well aware of CAM I use Virtual Gibbs and others, Gibbs is built into the controls on 3 of my machining centers I would not have paid the huge extra cost if I did not think it was worth it. Yes the models are great for importing and programming my equipment but worthless as a reference to the person making the part except to refer to if it happens to be a super complicated part. Being able to rotate the part to get a visual is good but it is not practical to dimension a solid model in any way shape or form that makes it usable on the shop floor it is simply too slow and clunky to be mousing around on a monitor . None of my customers have eliminated paper drawings and I work with some of the big boys. They transmit the drawings electronically but if they do not come in a CAD format they send them as a PDF so we can print them out. They require both electronic and paper drawings from me when I design something for them. I have been in some very large shops that do have terminals at each workstation but they still have paper drawings. The cost of the CAD program is irrelevant it is almost a requirement to have CAD/CAM today it is the cost of all those other things that for 99% of shops would be crazy overkill that concerns me. So to tell me very soon I will be spinning models around in free space it old news to me I have been doing it for a very long time I am very well aware of the capabilities and also aware of the limitations and we are no where near getting rid of either 2-d electronic drawings or 2-d paper drawings. No one is going to loose work over this, even if a large company tries to adopt it there is no way it can work unless the vendor chain can work with it and that means the company is going to have to still supply the data in a format that ALL its vendors can use. Even to this day there are large companies out there that have yet to purchase even a basic CAD program that can open files just for viewing they used 3-D PDF files so to think paper drawings are going anywhere anytime soon is simply wrong. I will say it again since I have had this discussion before with other people ,just because the technology exists does not mean it is practical to introduce it. Even GD&T is used or over used in the wrong circumstance a heck of a lot, some times it is just laziness on the part of the designer sometimes it is a lack of general knowledge when to apply it and how. I have seen it hundreds of times mostly guys fresh out of school with zero manufacturing experience they do not understand that complexity adds cost they do not understand every decimal point adds dollars. So don’t hate it embrace it should be don’t use it just because it exists , if you don’t know when to use it where it will be a benefit then don’t use it at all because it is likely that it will turn out to be a very bad decision.

  • Tom Frangesh

    Upon re-reading the article and the many responses, it had become apparent that there is a lot of fuzziness going on here.
    The opening picture shows a real draftsman at a real drawing board. Of course no one uses these any more. I haven’t even seen one in an office in at least 25 years….and there has been no fence to throw your model over to the “drafting department” in even longer. We’re all CADing our little fingers to the bone making solid models, and if you’re any good at it, you can generate a “drawing” with a few clicks. …and publish it as a PDF with a few more. It’s easy. Sure, we can all go “paperless”, just don’t hit the print button.
    What PMI/MBE seems to be saying is that the model alone has all the information. I have never seen this even remotely in practice, and it sounds like a real pain, when a note on a drawing will work excellently.
    Under the “limitations” section:
    If interpreting drawings is becoming a lost art, we’re in for a real treat when it comes to “metadata” buried in a model. This is just plain laziness.
    Manual inspections- CMM machines go hand in hand with solid models. There is no issue here.
    Time is money – If you can’t generate a drawing from a solid model in MINUTES, you need to go to school lazybones. Even Sean said he can whip out a drawing if he had to.
    What wasn’t addressed (conveniently) was the myriad forms of all this metadata. There are at least a dozen CAD programs out there with a dozen formats, and various poison pills included to prevent cross reading/sharing of data. (Don’t you just love those featureless blobs you download from vendors?) There is only one “universal” format, and it is PDF. Turn your drawing into a PDF and everybody is instantly in the game. Written down. Hard copy.
    And as for those “largely proprietary PMI formats”…….give me a break!

    • Sean

      I agree with much of what you are saying Tom. Time is money. I work for a small company and for myself so even the time spent making drawings counts. The time spent when someone doesn’t understand them really counts. I have only worked at one place that actually had a “draftsman” that was not also an engineer. We all have to do it now and that is surely here to stay. The point is to make it better!

      There are only two disconnects for me:

      1. Why is it buried meta data? I don’t think that will work either. I think the point is that all the data will be just as visible as it is now on a drawing, the view will just be a 3-D manipulated view. Heck, your screen might even have the traditional drawing template around the border with all the notes and blocks as it is now. However, in the middle, where you would have a bunch of projected views, there will be just the solid model. Which you can manipulate into an infinite number of views in real time, zoom, click dimensions on and off, and all without having to ask questions! It will be glorious…

      2. I see the disconnect: I have never made a drawing in “minutes”. Everything I make is complex and needs to work with other components. So I am working on tolerance stacks amongst 10 to 100+ other components that all need to work together. This makes for an arduous process because I have to bounce back-and-forth between the 3-D assembly, to each drawing, to control how all the parts and their dimensions will interact down the kinematic chain. Not to mention some have many features. If I were making two flanges that just need to bolt together that would be one thing… But that is not “my” thing. So producing an entire “drawing package” that is correct and will work as intended that I can send out for production can take me weeks… Even months. It’s pretty much the worst. So if I could save ~2 hours on one drawing, on a 100 component project, that would be 5-weeks saved!

      • joe

        If they don’t understand your drawings maybe that is because you are not capable of creating a proper drawing. Seems like we have been creating parts in this country for a very long time from drawings without a problem. If they do not understand your drawing there is only two reasons one they do not know how to read drawings, two and this is the more likely from all I have read about you ,you do not know how to create proper drawings, perhaps that is why you are so against them. Your knowledge of CAD appears to be quite limited so it could be a lack of WHAT??? EXPERIENCE yes I knew you would understand.

  • Gornsgonewild

    Until you can embed GD&T and some tolerance control you will always need a drawing or some type of specification callout. When a customer comes to me and says “make this assembly on your prototype machine” 99% of the time the fit is size for size or worse. I have NEVER had an assembly go together without some type of finish work. All machines have tolerance, most materials have tolerance. We are a tool and die shop with prototype capability. Depending on the materials selected for injection molded tooling, shrinkage of the resin can be as low as .003 or as high as .030 per inch. Taking a 3D part and converting it from a machined aluminum part, to a cast aluminum part to an injection molded part can all use the same 3D file but require specifications NOT contained within that 3D file.

  • Pascal Roget

    Blain? Well? Well? Im not vely good at tlying to enrish, but Brain Dearing, or Blain Dealing, now that sounds interesting, is Brain a commodity?

  • Tom

    Yeah, drawings days have come and gone… just like the inch system did 30 years ago. Oh, wait, every company I have worked for, and currently work for still uses inches.

    So, in MBD, how do you easily convey material, finish, and all other non-dimensional information so that downstream users can EASILY view it? I have seen a few MBD implementations, and none of them have easily put all the “PMI” in one easy to view format. Some companies have one document for the 3D model, and another for notes, then another for the BOM and another for the specifications. Then, the downstream users have to process all that data into other documents. In other cases, rather than adding dimensions to the drawing views, the dimensions are added to annotation views in the models – no I’m not talking about feature driving dimensions. In my experience, and believe me, I have tried, it is much harder to add the dimensions to the annotation views in the solid models than it is to create a drawing and add views with dimensions. End result – no time saved.

    Furthermore, not all parts can be measured on CMMs if they are too big for the CMMs. In other cases, it is just faster to measure the parts with calipers / mic, etc. because they are so simple. Oh, and don’t forget that somebody still has to program the CMM. Don’t think that programming is error-free.

    MBD requires Low-End Viewers (LEVs) which aren’t really so low-end on cost, and many cannot do anything other than view the 3D model.

    In my experience, MBD has a long way to go. I have tried, but these are some of the hurdles that I have found. I’m sure we’ll get there, some sooner than others, but a lot more needs to happen first.

  • jon

    The machinist will always need the blue print, i understand that in a shop full of 3D printers and software driven machine tools that the human element can be removed and workforce reduced.

    My only question is why are we moving to kill human involvement in everything? with current populations what will humanity do to stay occupied? what we need is
    ‘stay busy jobs” so the social order dose not fall apart. Technology will outpace us humans right out of jobs and into Obama’s poverty class.

    Be careful as i right this some engineer somewhere in the world is finding ways to make the author of this digital blog obsolete.

    • Well this is true, but an inevitable thing. How many people were needed when drafting tables were the norm. Efficiency can be cold but it’s also glorious, in my opinion.

  • EC2

    Ed, I understand your point to its worst outcome: eliminate all humans in the process. And I don’t like it because it’s wrong from the start. It’s unnatural for humans to eliminate themselves. The very same moment we’ll loose our abilities, we’ll start our decadence: think about this for example, no one designs by hand no more. Is it a good or a bad thing? Is it REALLY necessary to produce at rates our own planet isn’t able to withstand? Is it logical to race in everything? Is it this the real meaning behind humanity evolution? It’s a matter of a decade and even this article of yours will be obsolete: prototypes and studies on self-creating production machines will be able to analyze market trends and create/evolve things on their own. the future as I devise it is way worse than the ones in The Matrix or Terminator and its preachers are people like you, today. My 2c.

  • Drawings are dead? Absolute drivel. There will always be a need for technical drawings. Not saying other methods aren’t available, just that they won’t supercede physical printed drawings. The software solutions available today are amazing (and probably work great in a design studio or at top-level decision-making) but in an actual manufacturing environment drawings are still No.1, particularly when information is being shared between companies/entities using different softwares and employing different design intent and manufacturing solutions.

  • robotnic63

    I’ve worked both sides of this equation, i.e., design and manufacturing. In my experience, some mfg shops can handle 3D only, some insist on drawings, and others won’t accept drawings. It really depends on the shop. I would prefer to not use drawings because for me they are a tedious 2D representation of an inherently 3D part and the CAD tool I use (Solidworks) generally fails to automate the process of creating a drawing without a lot of manual cleanup. Having said that, creating the drawing does force me to ensure all the dimensions and tolerances are correct, so it acts as a sanity check. This PMI concept is a nice idea but, in reality, most mainstream 3D CAD tools don’t enforce tolerancing checks in a way that I trust implicitly. In this regard, 3D CAD tool designers should look at electronics CAD tools (e.g., Altium) for cues on how to do thorough DFM checks. Ideally, drawings are reduncant and unnecessary, but practically speaking, they often are a necessary part of the design process.

  • Jimbo

    I’m afraid I lost interest after reading a few lines… So I’m only guessing where you were going with this article……

    You think we should be fabricating directly from 3D models. My very limited experience with 3D modeling software tells me that those 3D models generally don’t have mechanical tolerances, material requirements, surface finishes, etc. associated with them. Since NOTHING can be made to NOMINAL size and finish consistently, the designer MUST supply tolerances as well as material and finish requirements to the fabrication facility. Right now, lacking any way to add these requirements to the 3D models, we place notes on a 2D drawing.

    It seems to me also, that many, if not most machining processes still occur in one plane at a time. So it is natural that a 2D view defines the action..

    • tankmodeler

      Well, there is software that can and does tag the 3D model with the tolerances and other drawing notes we all need to get stuff made, however, from what our CAD supplier is showing us, that software isn’t quite there yet.

      • Jimbo

        Wasn’t aware of that… What kind of software?

      • tankmodeler

        Most of the big CAD software houses are touting versions of their mainline software that will create these tagged 3D models. NX has one and I’m pretty sure CATIA does as well. We tried the NX version at work and to say it “wasn’t ready for prime time” was an understatement, _but_ it’s a start.
        The day will come, to be sure, but it will have to cross the universality, ease of use and portability hurdles before it really takes over.
        I’m pretty sure I’ll be long retired by that time.

      • Jimbo

        I’m sure if you’re retired by then, I will be already taking a dirt nap. Nice talking to you though.

      • tankmodeler

        Don’t sell yourself short, I’m not _that_ far from retirement! :-)
        Paul

  • Alan Read

    While I agree the future may well be paperless it is at least 5 generations away. Most of the comments on here are about CNC machined parts. What about that “special shaped hopper with an integral access platform”. Do you really think that this can be programmed in to a machine for manufacture, assembly and weld. A hard copy drawing can be carried anywhere and stuffed in any pocket. I am sure any portable digital reader big enough for the fabricator to see clearly will soon be smashed, dirt clogged or dropped in the environment of a heavy fabrication shop.
    The vast majority of manufacturers of bespoke fabrications are light years away from even basic CNC machinery, let alone CAD-CAM and robotic assembly. It IS possible to produce from a screen rather than a hard copy dwg, in fact my company is aiming for that future but we mostly assemble and occasionally make the odd bracket or two, but for this to be achievable in a workshop where grinding, welding and burning is carried out by burly hairy arsed fabricators will take years of dead dinosaurs being replaced by techno-geeks. I would really love to see those guys try and build a heavy fabrication that their boss has only had time to scribble on a few sheets of that old paper stuff.

  • tankmodeler

    A lot of the harranguing back and forth on this subject seems to be along the lines of we can’t do it now so it will never be done. I’ve been an aerospace design and project engineer for over 30 years and have gone from the board as a young sprog to SW 2014 and NX now. I can see a day that paper _may_ disappear.
    That day isn’t today, nor is it tomorrow.
    A paperless design cycle needs some of the things that have been mentioned in several of the posts above:
    – It needs to be universal
    – It needs to be portable
    – It needs to capture all of the data currently on a drawing and have it available whenever the viewer needs it, withuot a lof of putzing around with different apps and files.
    – it needs to have engineering clarity
    – it needs to have a very shallow learning curve
    – it needs to work with assemblies
    – it needs to work all the time
    – it needs it be archivable and revisionable.
    – it needs to provide the same holistic view of the product (part or assembly) that a drawing can (and that a 10.1″ large tablet simply can’t).
    Will it happen some time? Yeah, very likely.
    Soon? No, I don’t think so. There are still technological reasons that limit the capability and business reasons that limit the universality. Until those challenges are overcome, paper, and it’s cousin the PDF, will rule for the simple reason that they capture the functionality better than anything else.
    Seeing a vision for a paperless future is a good thing. It allows us to see a direction and start walking that way. But we’re not there yet and we won’t be for a long enough time that drawings are not the zombies you might think them to be.
    “Bring out yer dead!”
    Paul

  • Sean

    Alright, this is my last post to this discussion. Rio, Joe, and others that disagree, I will read your responses with great interest and probably a little disgust. However, you seem intent on getting the last word so I will be glad to give it to you. I am already ashamed at getting into this argumentative discussion on a blog. We all lost on this one gentleman.

    At the center of this circular argument there are two schools of thought:

    1. Keep doing things the way you are doing them now because it “works”. And yes… It does work to get the job done.

    2. Adopt a new tool that makes things more efficient and streamlined. Let’s not forget, this tool has yet to be invented (fully). So we are talking about the future. Tough concept for some of you obviously.

    One of these two schools of thought has a future. The other does not. Yes Tom, if the software is poorly executed in it’s design it will be a pain. I would start a nice commiseration party with those that made the jump from SW 2007 to 08 or 09, but apparently Rio and other are still more than a decade behind. However, that is not the point Ed is making with this article. The point is that some things can get lost in the transfer process to a physical print or interpreting projected views on a print. It happens. I miss dimensions all the time. We are human after all (not the sons of Superman). So why not streamline things? That is, if, and only if, all the information you are seeing on a templated print can be conveyed electronically. How is this a “load of garbage” as many of you seem to think? I think we all get the point that things have manufactured tolerances. It’s about conveying all the information efficiently and “as designed” in hopes that it gets made as close to actual design withing specified tolerance limits. With no extra decimal places from us “wet behind the ears” kids…

    ——Begin needless and long-winded rant——

    Crazy kids these days. The joy of being a Baby-boomer is that you are surrounded by so many peers of the same age, as you get older everyone gets to stay a “kid”… Even when they are in their 40’s. I guess 60 is always going to be the new 30. Until you all turn 70… As we continue to throw darts back and forth over the web, lets not forget who began the belittling attacks on Ed’s well written article and a few responders to begin with. As a self proclaimed “Technology evangelist and entrepreneur” I would prefer to work with (or for) someone like that any day of the week over a griping old whiner. In fact, I would rather hire a fresh out of school kid that is willing to learn and change instead of a rigid “experienced” (old) guy that is so ingrained in their ways they are unwilling to change.

    Rio & Joe- I have really enjoyed your responses. I know your type and have been dealing with those like you since I started. Human hurdles I call you. I realize that I will never win an argument with you… Especially over a blog discussion. It is like watching a retard with a Rubik’s cube and trying to teach them how to use it. You don’t get it and you never will. There is no way I (or anyone else) can get you to visualize the future or even think about accepting it. Too much college for me I guess. You are clearly switched off the anything new. I am writing this for those that might be putting stock into anything you might have said here. The problem is that I believe you when you say that you have moved through the ranks and hold decision making positions. That is also why I am writing this. You get put in charge of something then drag it out as long as possible for job security and make things seem overly complex to those that are not “in the know”. In that sense, you hold progress hostage. It’s a problem. I realize that posters to this discussion are pretty far apart culturally while all being in the engineering filed. In fact, to respond to EC2’s post below, I actually did write a computer program that put me out of a job. Literally. It was great… It enabled me to move onto something else instead of doing redundant tasks. And no, evil robots did not take over once I left. I would do it again.

    God forbid, I not only have one college degree… I have two! The devil incarnate for sure. I am glad you spared us the list of your accolades and accomplishments. I will do the same. Especially now that you are making them up (9 CAD platform proficiency master). You have patents!? Wow, hold the phone. Just like “my” patents, the only ones making money off them are the lawyers and maybe the company. Nothing entirely wrong with that. However, the patent office built in an obvious conflict of interest the second they implemented maintenance fees and now are incentived to grant patents to generate labor free revenue. The meaning of “novel” is long gone. You want to impress me, go the way of Tesla and make all your novel IP open because you are moving forward so fast you know that nobody will catch you or you invite someone to push it to the next level. That is impressive. You clearly don’t value knowledge attained in a traditional academic setting and I am not belittling your knowledge in any way. I am sure it is very relevant, practical, and valuable. And you are also right about me on other things, I am only “proficient” with one CAD package, I only know one programming language, and I am moderately familiar with a few sets of machine controls. However, I am confident that our meanings of “proficient” are quite different from each other. I will always be indebted to those who have taken the time to teach me many things over the years. I am also fortunate to find a few talented folks of your generation and actually much older (my grandparent age) that taught me many things. They managed to do with out being condescending and douchy… Like you. I am very grateful for the mentors that have helped me along the way. You know what I mean there sport, chief, hoss, big guy, ace, champ…? And my favorite, that both of you probably dish out: “college boy”. I have heard them all. When someone dishes these out to someone without knowing anything about them it makes filtering them out as people who will not work well with others quite easy. Especially now that I get to help hire the occasional employee. For the record, I am almost always the dumbest guy in the rooms I choose to sit in… I am aware of that and humble… If I find that I am not, I will find a different room. That is by design. What amazes me the most, is both of your out-dated and typical attitude towards new things. You clearly had to learn a ton to get where you are now. No doubt. I also have no doubt that you could make better parts than me and operate more complex machinery better. I am like a deer in headlights when I look at a 5-axis. Thankfully, I am just an engineer. It is the complacency of your generation on learning anything more that amazes me. You want to keep doing the same thing the same way and expect to get paid more and more for it just because you age. In doing so, you find ridiculous ways of dismissing the “new way” just so you don’t have to learn it. Just look at the slew of excuses below. What if the power goes out? What if I can’t find a place to charge my tablet in a building with 3-phase power piped throughout it? What if this program can’t zoom in and my screen has become microscopic? The list goes on. Give me a break. Truly sad.

    If you truly were on board during the early stages of the CAD revolution you would see the forest through the trees on this topic. You like the old-timey saying? Speaking of your “Don’t throw the baby out with that bath water…” I I had a nickle for every time I heard that, I might be able to get a tank of gas. In fact, at my first job when we transitioned to 3-D CAD one of the “experienced” guys used that exact saying… What does everyone use now? Right. You both come across sounding very wise and convincing with the “sonny boy” attitude and old-timey sayings. Even though 10-years is short in comparison to your time, I have seen people with your type of attitude bat 1000 at being wrong about every naysay’ed technical advance along the way. All you do is delay “us” from getting where we are eventually going anyway. It would be one thing if we were “dragging” you all along kicking and screaming (and that is what you do). But we have to “push” you because you are in front of all of us with your heels stubbornly dug in.

    It must be nice to have such a huge cohort that you can sit around with and convince yourselves that you are all right. And I would agree with you, but then we would both be wrong. Every time your arguments all sound the same as they do on this thread. Sometimes it is because your buddy is the sales rep for the “old system”. Sometimes it is because someone holds a patent and is just sitting on their propriety technology based product platform and doesn’t have to change things until it expires. But usually it is something less sinister and that you just don’t want to learn something new. “My way works, why change it?”. Go ask Detroit. Take a look around. Try to explain to me why the plummet of the American economy has coincided perfectly with the widespread availability of accessible, affordable, very capable, and easy to use hardware and software that “should have” enabled a boom in our economy? Now take a look at who is in charge (you). Now take that finger you are pointing at me, and all the other like-minded thinkers you are belittling in your posts here, and point it right back at yourself. We will all be stuck with $5 a gallon gas and Hillary Clinton as president. Thanks for that. You keep looking for your soft spot to land. Don’t worry… We will clean it up for you. Just please retire soon so we can get to it.

    ——End needless and long-winded rant——

    Thanks and goodbye.

  • Us: “Thanks for the order and yes we received the STEP file but we need a print as well.”
    Purchasing agent: “Why do you need a print?”
    Us: “We need to know tolerances and surface finishes.”
    Purchasing agent: “But you said you received the file?”
    Us: “We did but this information is not in the file.”
    Purchasing agent: “It’s not?”
    Us: “No and we can’t make the parts without this information.”
    Purchasing agent: “I’ll have to check with engineering and get back to you.”
    A week passes….
    Purchasing agent: “Engineering says we should switch to another vendor that can work with STEP files.”
    Us: “We can work with STEP files and can make the
    parts but how can we check them and know they are correct without the
    requested information. We might be making junk. Is that what you want us to do?”
    Purchasing
    agent: “No. I’ll ask engineering to make you a drawing or at the very
    least provide some acceptable tolerance and surface finish requirements.”
    A week passes….
    Purchasing
    agent: “Engineering says they can’t make a drawing or specify tolerances
    and surface finish because the part was designed in another division
    and the engineer who made the model is on vacation for 2 weeks and they
    don’t know what her overall design intent was.”
    Us: “We don’t know what her overall design intent was either so that is why we were asking for a drawing.”
    Purchasing agent: “Will this delay your quoted delivery?”

    • Sean

      Haha… Well that is just bad engineering. Or lazy engineering. STEP files don’t tell you anything, it is just a dumb solid. That surely won’t be the future. At least not for anything requiring any level of complexity.

      Svan, I think you just nailed it for me with this conversation. As an engineer I have spent so much time working without purchasing, and been hammered down by manufacturing (those who do it better than me), I forgot about purchasing agents! They are like the Real Estate agents of the manufacturing world. An added layer of people because engineers stopped playing nice with manufacturing. It’s like the scene from Office Space: “I deal with the god damn customers so the engineers don’t have to. I
      have people skills; I am good at dealing with people. Can’t you
      understand that? What the hell is wrong with you people?” Haha…

      I admit that I can add to that problem. However, I also admit that it is very important that engineers with directly with manufacturing people to make compromises (where they can be made) and work out a final design that translates well into production manufacturing. I know I said I wouldn’t post again, but let me back up on myself to the folks I have been duking it out with here.

      So I read Ed’s article. I think it is spot on and awesome. Then I scroll down and see all of the Rio’s, Dave’s, Tom’s, Jimbo’s and other manufacturing folks blasting it. I am immediately upset. Why? Because I have no delusions. These are the guys that hold all the cards… Or at least the important one’s for America. They are the gate keepers so to speak. These are the guys that ultimately decide the the final quality of any finished product because they are the ones that are making it. That is the way it is. The bottom line is this: If these guys don’t buy into it then it will never happen. Period. They do ultimately have the final say. I get that. The problem with me is that I have been doing this long enough, but not as long as they have, that I have seen that they never buy into anything. At least not until they are forced to. Because that requires them to change from the way they have been doing things. And we as “Americans” have somehow become resistant to change. Probably because we have built a society that does not tolerate mistakes. Nor learns from them very well. Couple that with the proliferation of litigious culture. Boom. Paralysis, and people who won’t make decisions unless they have “soft spots to land.”

      So as many have guessed correctly, I am what most of you would consider “a cutting edge academic”. I really don’t think so… But that seems to be the sentiment here if you went to college and are “wet behind the ears.” A lot of folks here seem to be from oil and gas or aerospace, so here is my conversation (similar to many I have had):

      Engineer: “Can you make this for me?” (hand over print)

      Manufacturing: “Why have you made it this way?”

      Engineer: “I have been running computer simulations for the past year and this is the new design.”

      Manufacturing: “Computers?! Simulations?! Did they teach you that in college? [condescendingly]”

      Engineer: “Yes. My analysis tells me that this new vane and stator design will improve efficiency 0.31%.”

      Manufacturing: “Oh college boy, you have so much to learn, that will never work. Computers can’t tell you anything. You need to go down the hall, find the old guy that made the old design, talk to him, then we can just make it that way [again].”

      Engineer: “Look, we really need to try and make this new design. Can we try?”

      Manufacturing: “Nope. Too many zeros behind that decimal place. You don’t know what you are doing.”

      Engineer: “That added precision is where the performance is gained. Can the machine do it?”

      Manufacturing: “Probably. But I won’t. That will take too long. And I don’t think that performance gain is worth (my) the time.”

      Engineer: “Over the life and typical run time of the machine that performance gain is huge. It equates to a lot of money. So can you do it?”

      Manufacturing: “Nope. You have specified this whole complex blade surface with a profile of a GD&T surface tolerance only. How do you expect me to make that? Just make it square like we have been doing it.”

      Engineer: “You will need to use the solid model and CAM software to generate the tools paths.”

      Manufacturing: “Oh college boy. Nobody uses CAM software. It is too expensive and takes too long to learn. You have so much to learn about the real world.”

      Engineer: “No problem. We will buy it for you and send you to training. Do you want to do that?”

      Manufacturing: “No. It doesn’t matter anyway because that material you have specified is too hard. Do you know how many ball nose end mills we will burn up trying to profile that huge contoured surface on the mill? You don’t know what you are doing, go talk to the old guy down the hall as ask him what material we use here. That is what we are set up to run and that is what we use.”

      Engineer: “The cost of the end mills, material, and machine time does not matter in comparison. We calculated it. This new harder material will give the machine a longer run time which equates to millions of dollars saved in reduced down time.”

      Manufacturing: “Calculations? Puff. Why would I want to make something that doesn’t wear out? I want to make more parts… Not less. Oh college boy, you have so much to learn.”

      Engineer: “Look. Management wants this new design to move forward. Can you work with me on it? Please?”

      Manufacturing: “Like I said. Go down the hall, find the old guy, he will train you on how to be a “real engineer”, then come back and talk to me. We have been making the same machine, the same way, with the same materials for years. It works. And it will keep working. You got it little guy?”

      Engineer: “Pretty please?”

      Manufacturing: “Get out of my hair college boy.”

      Engineer: “Okay, you win.”

      This is the part of the story when I return to management and report that I have failed and the part can not be made. However, our purchasing department has found a place over seas that will do it. But there is a catch. They want the contract to do all the work for the full production for the next 5 to 10 years. This is the part of the story where management says; “do it.” Why? Because the money is there on the final product. It all shakes out in the big picture. And come hell or high water, the new design is going to move forward.

      Manufacturing 5-years later: “Why is our department being down-sized? Where did all our jobs go?”

      Look, I know I am being adversarial. But I really don’t like seeing jobs shipped over seas either. You have to look at the big picture here. The adoption of CAM software was much harder than going paperless with a 3-D model that has all the dimensions and tolerances on will be (in the near future). So was GD&T! That was, and is, much much harder to learn and train on. It is the attitude that is displayed in this blog that adds to the inflexibility of manufacturing in America. If you aren’t the one to adopt things first, there will be some one somewhere else that will. Don’t get me wrong, there are some seriously awesome shops and manufacturing people here that I have worked with. They are just hard to find! And it is the guys that are senior to me that I have been going back and forth with that ultimately control it! Not me. Nothing is easy. Nothing will get easier. Adopting tools that can enable you to do more complex task is the way forward. You will need to do it better and faster. Just like a paperless 3-D drawing will do!

      There is a reason that it is, and always will be, the “young bucks” or “horses with blinders on”, “wet behind the ears kids”, and “college boys” that bring new and seemingly “unmanufacturable” designs to the table. That is because they are applying more advanced theory, learned in a god forsaken university, and translating that into improved designs. And yes… they are always going to be more challenging to make. And yes… you will meet in the middle at some compromise. As the future catches you, new and advanced things will have be more more precise and made with more accuracy. Not the other way around. You can resist with false and ridiculous excuses and say things like: “well what if pterodactyls come down from space and snatch up everything but slide rules? Then what will you do then smart guy?” Or you can get on board with it. The choice is yours. But it will happen with or without you.

      Paperless 3-D drawings will be here sooner than you think. And even further in the future, design to direct manufacturing will be happening. 3-D printers are just the first wave. Scoff all you want. There wont be people standing in front of machines forever. CAD and CAM will integrate and designs will go from your screen to a machine to be made without anyone in between. You will load material blanks like you load paper in a printer. Laugh all you want. I am sure traditional draftsmen laughed when computers came in. It’s coming… But that is an even longer way off.

  • Paul Foster

    I can’t say I agree that engineering drawings are going to be dead.

    I am actually in favour of (and can see the benefits of) using PMI to keep digital records of parts.

    I am sure the day will come (if it has not already) when all the information is present in the model file, including surface finish and anything else needed to define the part. Hell, it might even inform a CNC machine how to cut to these parameters.

    However, I do not think it is right to say that engineering drawings are dead and that those who still do them are some kind of relic / blast from the past.

    The author does get into some reasons why they are still around towards the end of the article, and that is the sticking point.

    Not all manufacturing is “product design” and we are not all direct linking to high technology 5 axis machines or whatever else…… or just passing the responsibility of real world manufacture down the chain to some other poor sod who has to cope with decoding the information and then relaying it to the machine shop.

    I work at a toolmaking company that makes progressive stamping dies and special purpose fixtures for a variety of different sectors. The machine shop is primarily traditional Bridgeport knee mills, manual lathes, surface grinders and so on.

    What are the toolmakers supposed to do with a PMI model?

    Are we supposed to issue them all (some 15 to 20 workers) with some kind of giant tablet device each and then send various parts to the toolmaker’s tablet so he can – with his greased up fingers – try and turn it around on a screen to see what he is supposed to be making?!

    Maybe he can slam it around on the bench, put his mallet and verniers down on it by accident, or make notes on it too…..then again, maybe not.

    Or, alternatively, we can just place down some drawing views, give them some prints of the actual component they are supposed to be making the equipment produce for the customer, showing the dimensions that define the parts in the die they are making by printing them off on pieces of paper like we normally do.

    I think the latter option is still going to be around for quite some time.

    I have no problem with it eventually going, but in practical terms like this, in the real world, for everyday engineering shops, the idea of having no engineering drawings is a bit far fetched…if this is what is being suggested here in the article.

    Yeah, for internal product design, going between different departments, documenting parts, defining assemblies and passing it down to the inspection department (who could be issued with the 3d data as a model on a computer screen in order to check the part) – fine. I know some of our customers are going that way and I think it can work well.

    For actual manufacture itself, nah, I just can’t see how it can be done. The day may come, but manufacturing still needs ‘engineering drawings’.

  • CharlieSeattle

    WoHoo, burn the drawings! Yes, we now have the technology!

    The free industrialized world is a couple nuclear EMP attacks away from the stone age Ed Lopategui wants to rely on a electronic database that will vanish!

    A EMP (Electronic Magnetic Pulse) is generated by nuclear bomb exploded 250 miles above the country attacked. It will fry all unprotected electronics instantly.

    Even if you have every electronic 2D drawing, 3D Model, ASME/ISO spec. backed up and saved deep in a cave, there will not be a functioning power grid, functioning computers, printers or plotters available for many months, years even to restore them.

    Only Russia and China have worked tirelessly for decades to harden most of their power grids against a nuclear EMP attack. They have quietly and actively prepared themselves to win a nuclear war and survive a nuclear EMP attack.

    The United States power grid is completely naked and 100% unprepared. I think the rest of the free world industrialized world is in the same boat.

    Ignore the lack of electricity, transportation, treated water, sewage and the riots underway for a moment.

    I am sure we can reply on the free worlds well thought out, “Out Sourced” and “Made In China”, mentality to support our complete reconstruction long before everyone dies in the dark in our self inflicted “Zombie Apocalypse”.

    Whew!! At least my passwords are written down on a cheat sheet in my wallet.

    ~ Google: EMP, Faraday cage, vulnerable power grid, Russia, China

    • Nah, I don’t think this kind of thinking is very relevant. By that token, why use computers? They’d get fried too. And what about electronics in just about everywhere these days? No electronics anymore, is the answer right? Lest we be hit by an EMP! Too much doomsday stuff for my taste.

      • CharlieSeattle

        Congress and the …”to cheap to protect it correctly” US power companies ignoring the threat for decades does not make it go away.

        Congress and the power companies Ignoring the very real and easy EMP attack terrorists could mount does not make it go away either.

        When it happens it will be to late. You will have rotting food inside of a week and looters at your door.

      • I don’t think terrorists would have so much beef with you guys, if you didn’t rob their oil. Right?

      • CharlieSeattle

        Wow, that was an unexpected downshift into irrelevant, ignorant BS!

      • Sorry, that was uncalled for. But you guys are paranoid! I like it though, advanced arms research brings forth the best technology. Us guys in Europe are pussies by comparison, haha :)

  • Mark Fink

    While the point of this conversation is eliminating 2D drawings in favor of 3D reference models. In my opinion both could be better used if the whole concept of 3D modeling wasn’t flawed. I have been working with 3D architectural software since its inception in the early 2000s and I spend way, way too much time creating these 3D models and they are good for nothing except art – meaning that they have too many imperfections. The reason being in my opinion is software programmers do not fundamentally understand the abstract nature of architecture and engineering. They create 3D software that tries to represent reality.

    Architectural and engineering drawings have nothing to do with reality – they are rather representations of a – perfect reality – that we all know doesn’t exist. There is quite a huge difference in those two basic concepts representing reality and representing a perfect reality. Have you ever worked on a real construction site? Nothing ever fits together exactly, many times quite poorly. The name of the game is “if it doesn’t fit then force it”! The present day computer models are even worse. A 3D architectural model is composed of millions of poorly fitting together 3D objects just like a real construction site. Except now unlike a construction site I spend most of my time trying to get my 3D objects perfect because architectural and engineering drawings have to be perfect. This will never happen in my opinion. It is too time consuming. What I am trying to understand is why do we have to reproduce the agonizing real life process of piecing together models on a computer when computers could be very well used for abstract – perfect representations?

    If 3D modeling took a different path then 3D and 2D architectural and engineering drawings that are simple to draw and easy to read could be made better and faster in that they are abstract. A line or profile represents a perfectly fitting together joint between two objects. Abstractly a building is nothing more than simply boxes within boxes within boxes easily represented by dividing lines or dividing profiles. A model could simply be a division ad infinitum of positive space (visible – turned on) and negative space (invisible – turned off). Nothing moves. No parts to assemble. No imperfections in joinery. There should be only one basic command “divide”. Complex objects follow the same pattern.

    Every time I speak of this concept to software programmers their eyes gloss over. They are not thinking abstractly they are trying to reproduce the world through objects. I wish they could understand what I am saying and how simple 3D and 2D architectural representations could be, and should be. A perfect model theoretically could generate perfect 2D drawings as well. I think the unspoken message of what Mr Lopetegui is trying to covey is that the computer software industry is stumped about how to design software that can do both – get automatically generated perfectly simple 2D drawings out of a huge complex 3D model so we should just eliminate the 2D part of it. If the software were designed correctly then we could have both. Programmers are programmers not architects or engineers. They are missing the point about how these models and drawings should be created…definitely not by objects.

  • Ryan

    Wow, there sure is a lot to read here. Plenty of passion in these discussions. I’m wondering how many people have actually used a 3D viewer with PMI information? Or have used the PMI to create a 2D reference sheet (See I didn’t call it a drawing! That assumes way too much overhead.)

    I’m also wondering how many people have used PMI in closed-loop quality system. (It sounds fancy but it’s really not). But it can be a great tool.

    I will take a step back in history, as well, and discuss an attempt made way back in 1995 where a world recognized manufacture, in the St. Paul, MN, attempted to go paperless with their designs. They have in-house manufacturing! Here attributes were tagged to the faces and face color was used for fit types. Manufacturing used the 3D models that way. Same thing was applied to assemblies and weldments.

    Now that is a far cry from a closed loop quality system that takes the PMI and solid model to CAM for toolpath generation, tool collision detections and then on to CMM inspections. All data is read back into the data management system for part and batch reports (how many parts failed- where are they failing?). It can be done and is being done.

    Some say this is expensive. I say what did it cost to replace the parts or retooling costs or delayed delivery? As mentioned by others the savings of PMI isn’t necessarily in drafting or manufacturing but the entire process. Just like I hear all the moaning and groaning by designers and engineers when they fill out the data cards for their parts in the PDM/PLM system. You are the author..the work is yours..the readers are the rest of the company. The company benefits.

    I don’t necessary what to point to one system or another but Siemens PLM does offer JT and it IS an ISO standard. So we do have standard to work from.

    As for some of the comments that say not in the next x number of generations..just think about everything that has already happened in technology in your lifetime! Truly think about it. Then tell me it will take x number of generations to get there.

    I think we are there. Is everyone there..no way! Is the technology and processes in place to get there. I think so. You just need to do some serious looking and you will. Google Aberdeen 2010 Closed Loop Quality Management

  • Arturo Gutierrez

    Who would have known this seemingly innocent topic could turn into such an ideology/generational war. Is there ANY new technology which doesn’t provokes this kind of raging debates?

  • three_d_dave

    Until the majority of participants in an industry have end-to-end management of the data PMI or MBE just can’t work. Any form of Model Based Definition (MBD) is a programming language, and like any language, if any of the participants does not understand the language communication in the usability of the language stops.

    It would be nice if there was universal understanding, but until that happens drawings, which have the most universal understanding, are going to be around.**

    Some commentators argue that this is a done deal, but go on to state they are in control of the entire process and either don’t need drawings because they already know all the details of the part or on a short-leash manufacturing/procurement/QA/QC chain for items of such value that teaching users/supplying interpreters for the language make drawings unnecessary for them.

    They have also argued that simply replacing those who don’t understand is the thing to do. I’d estimate that this eliminates 99% of the information-using stream that everyone but them depends on, either because of lack of training, lack of supporting hardware, or lack of compatible software. In that software category is CAD software that can not deliver an unambiguous depiction of certain characteristics, poisoning the model at the source.

    The interesting thing about a drawing is it’s a 2D distillation that matches the 2D retinas humans use to read them with. It allows the author of the drawing to focus attention on details that are considered likely to be otherwise overlooked, it gives each of those characteristics a verifiable and relate-able coordinate (eg Sheet 2, Zone A5) that requires low-bandwidth to communicate.

    A drawing tells a story using exactly the same language that software is expected to interpret using MBD without requiring the intermediary translation repeated for each user at each step that MBD requires.

    I look at MBD replacing drawings the way I see movies replacing written material.

    **In the 2D world I could generate Visio, CGM, ps, HPGL, Dia, ai, WMF, or any of several other formats that describe the same apparent image, but most places I would send these would be unable to use the files, or get them as accurately as the originating software sees them. IGES, STEP, JT, and many others are in the same position for MBD and will be for some time as the CAD companies have no interest in supporting competing software. Instead, like PTC and CreoView, they intend to have single-vendor systems to build exclusive MBD systems.

  • guest

    SolidWorks 2015 includes real MBD functionality that manufacturers can use to communicate with machinists and fabricators. This may be the beginning of the end of drawings as long as designers know enough about GD&T to include the right information in their parts. That’s assuming a lot. Just had a great GD&T course earlier this year and would love to be able to use this in part creation, especially if I can drop the drawing. MBD over drawings is getting closer to reality every year. BTW, Ford, GM, Boeing, and other big boys are pushing for this as well.

    • It’s just a shame it’s an optional add-on product, they should have just improved the existing capabilities with DimXpert. As an add-on product I forsee no way of any reasonable uptake unless the company has to for the DoD.

    • joe

      Funny half the newbie engineers I work with have no clue when and where to apply GD&T so I think there is a long way to go. Quite honestly the students they are turning out are lack luster without even a very basic understanding of how products are actually made. Solid modeling is great I have been using it for years however when I see a model with dozens of corner radii even in areas it is not possible to machine just because it looks cool I know what I am dealing with and this is quite common. I see parts designed with features not even possible to machine without using EDM which skyrockets the cost when a simple radius allowance would solve the problem and 9 times out of 10 that simple radius is perfectly acceptable. This kind of waste is directly related to the lack of any manufacturing experience at all and it is one of the largest driving forces behind excessive cost I see on a daily basis. Just because you can do something does not mean you should the key is knowing when to use it and when not to.

      • CharlieSeattle

        I love it also when I see NEWBIE designers add an edge radii on both ends of a cross hole that goes thru the center of a round shaft. Impossible to machine.

        Did not think or know that a c’sink tool is the correct cutter part to use to break the entire edge of the cross hole.

        The correct finished image, when viewed inline with the cross hole, will be an ellipse, not a diameter.

  • Sandy Hopes

    Found your blog. Its really nice oncivil engineering. I appreciate your article. Its important to get quality all type of civil engineering site. So thanks for sharing all that important information.

  • Jan

    I can make a 3d model from a 2d image and draw a 2d image from 3d. I would like to know what jobs i can do with this skill.

  • Shehbaz Mulla

    Nice post Keep Posting