Go for multiple monitors
It’s been the trend for some time now, and while everyone’s main question is about productivity increase, the simple fact that it’s not uncommon to see dual monitors at a friend’s house is a bullet proof evidence that it people find it useful (if not luxurious). Nowadays, even those who don’t handle more than one software often have two to even three monitors. Ever seen Fallout 4 on triple monitors? Of course you have. So why wouldn’t you use a bunch of monitors for CAD? Let’s break it down.
What’s stopping you?
I consider myself to be the perfect opposite of a multitasker. If we’re walking and I’m talking, you’re in charge of the road. You’ll learn to take such responsibility seriously when you’ll have spared me four or seven accidents that a half-blind dog would have escaped. Just thinking of working on two things at once makes me bothered and I’m just typing this article. I often complain if my project manager wants me to check the CAD model while I’m analyzing a different one. My point is: multitasking is so not for me.
This is why I was extremely skeptical when I was first introduced to multiple monitor setups. I was sure that I only needed one. But I thought to try working with two and eventually made it to three. To my surprise, multiple monitors increased my efficiency and helped me dodge very painful operations and time wasters.
Basically, twoorthree monitors don’t really require that many stations or laptops. Just get your hardware right, plug in, and enjoy not flicking through windows, not printing reports, and not having to pull up mail and other feeds all the time (you can leave them open!).
I was thinking this setup might confuse me. But given the kind of tasks I typically perform, having multiple screens rather helped me save valuable time going through softwares and browsing up and down my reports. I was performing the series of small tasks leading to the main one in no time.
Why you should actually go for it
My first experience with multiple monitors was when modeling automotive parts. CAD was on CATIA, modeling was on ANSA. More than meshing and modeling contacts, I had to get the thickness of a certain part of some surface, then report it on the equivalent elements on my model. Since they were plastic parts made out of moulding, thickness was already a trick itself to find on CATIA. Not to mention going through the model in ANSA to find the right spot to assess the group of elements to which I should attribute the thickness then perform the actual operation.
Just picture performing this on one monitor – having to flick from window to window, losing grip of the PID command on ANSA, looking again into the measuring tool fo CATIA, etc. Then picture the same operations with the CAD software on one and the modeling software on another. Do you see now how many small amounts of time lost here and there could be saved? Can you feel the frustration and the boredom evaporate?
If you’re handling two softwares of any kind at the same time
CAD/ERP/PLM/BOM/FEA…etc, multiple monitors are compulsory! I can’t imagine how hard it could be to convince management to invest in additional screens if you perform a simple experience in front of them. One monitor can be cheaper than the amount of the A4/A3 printing you’re doing in a month because going from your requirement file to the CAD is roughly akin to having an abcess in the mouth. No can see it, but it’s super annoying. I’d rather just buy another monitor myself if I absolutely had to.
Even when you’re working on CAD exclusively, multiple monitors come in handy in several scenarios:
They’re handy if you want to check the requirements documents or the references while working on your software.
If you have draftings, two screens will allow the full display of both 3D and 2D. Also, if you have a big assembly, getting two monitors to spread it on is quite useful.
Or even better : get your assembly on one screen and the smaller part you’re working on on another. Many use a third screen for Outlook, web browsing, and Word.
Sci-fi did went for it alright: the future lies in more monitors
From two monitors, the need will eventually arise for more. Three and four monitors are not uncommon. Many mechanics laboratories have easily four monitors as the default setup. It is the most optimal way to look at graphs, analysis software, models, and articles/text at the same time. The more monitors you have, the more types of information you can display (duh). You want to get the general picture and compute the informations visually in your head, right? Then boom. More monitors. And they’re not exactly expensive these days.
Some complain that ergonomically speaking, more than two monitors are suboptimal. I personally have never experienced discomfort of any kind looking through three screens. From my years of using computers, it’s my wrist that would complain sometimes if I’m using the mouse too tensely for eight straight hours. And this basically happens when I’m playing, not working.
Finally, as for the drop of cost efficiency regarding the use of several monitors, I tend to agree that if it’s justified, you can always try and see. It’s always an option to drop off a monitor. You will survive. But it’s unpleasant. I’m aware some “purists” say they can’t go back from [insert number of monitors] monitors once they’re used to it. But I dropped from three to one, then two to one, quite enough to know it’s no rule. You’ll get over it but you likelu won’t stop bothering your project manager about it. I’m hoping he’ll eventually give up to quiet my whining.
How to go for it
Now, if you are convinced and willing to join our cause, you might wonder what to choose. I will share with you my small experience and welcome any feedback or additional insight.
To start, get a monitor of the exact same size of the one you have. Having the same size won’t will ensure that your eyes won’t take too much time to adjust. Plus, it eliminates a bit of confusion and technical problems, especially if you want to look at a whole assembly or draft using the two monitors. Place them equally in front of you to ensure minimal rotation of your head.
If you have a laptop, having additional monitors might prove a tiny bit tricky to adjust, but it should be fine once you get used to it. Preferrably, place your laptop on the right side/ or left, and leave on it secondary screenings – the ones you’re not actively working with. Work on the monitor(s) in front of you for the main things and place them in front to ensure the optimal direct viewing.
If you work on A4 portrait format, think of rotating your monitors to get the portrait display and work on them.
For CAD work, 30” monitors are optimal, but anything starting from 23” is worth it too. Just make sure that the vertical pixels are 1200 pixels or more. Also, should your monitors not be of the same dimensions, at least get the same height. Once again, think of rotating the second monitor to get that.
For any other activities, a pair of 19” to 24” monitors should prove good enough, at least for a start. You can upgrade your equipment with time and experience. In the end, you can collect as much advice on the topic as you want, but what might work for a set of practices won’t necessarily do it for another. Just seeing the receptionist with her double 30” monitors to type and answer mails on makes me whinier than ever.
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About the author: (Khadija Ouajjani)
Mechanical design engineer working for the aeronautics industry, obsessed with improving CAD to improve analysis, doesn't accept numbers without a precision scale, bookworm and aspiring writer, obsessed with garlic and Mandelbrot, loves tea with mint and coffee with cinnamon. When not writing for GrabCAD, she's probably drawing fancy propellers and coloring cube trees in a coffeeshop.
All posts by Khadija Ouajjani