Are your CAD designers in a rock band or an orchestra?

CAD designers typically fall into two categories: rock star or orchestra musician. There are many reasons for this, including the engineer’s personality and skill, but much also depends on the types of products you are building.


Image courtesy donaldydon

Organizations that build large systems that are in a production line: cars, farm equipment, and airplanes, for example, tend to fall in the orchestra musician category. Outfits that are in the business of building one thing and hammering it out in the garage (e.g. race car outfitters, spaceship builders, or consumer products) drop into a rock band groove.

Typically, model-based activities are relegated to a very good CAD designer, who may or may not benefit from the perspective of fluency in multiple CAD software packages. Generally, this assigned superuser will attempt to establish some rule of law among his or her fellow CAD designers, but fall short because that designer has other duties within the company and often has little authority over the other users’ priorities. Re-Use Your CAD: The Model-Based CAD Handbook

Let’s take a look at the difference, and then you tell me if you are a rock star or an orchestra musician. Are you one, but would rather be the other?

Rock star CAD designers

  • CAD jockeys – That’s right, these guys are really smart and they just "get it done".
  • One of a small band of cavalier engineers focused on making stuff work every day. Rules generally do not apply, and certainly don’t make them money.
  • Some are experienced spacecraft engineers applying their large brains to complex CAD software and design integration. Some are simply mechanically intuitive and brilliant in their own right, operating with great success without formal engineering education.
  • Regardless of the education, most have used a variety of CAD software packages or have watched one platform evolve over decades. These guys know all the tricks of every software package (this is their instrument) and know how to distort and turn the knobs to get unusual results.
  • These guys are generally not keen on large team integration.

Orchestra musician CAD designers

  • These folks are generally highly educated. Many have master's and PhDs in engineering analysis or physics.
  • They are experts in their field, whether that is how to build a rocket or deciding on the right hydraulics for a large earthmover.
  • Generally their career is spent building the same kind of hardware in the same environment, at the same company, for many years.
  • This CAD user is one of hundreds working to build an eloquent, complex system, with high product quality and high repeatability.
  • SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) are a reality of everyday designing and engineering, and non-compliance, is not-acceptable.
  • Compliance with industry and/or company standards is a must.
  • There are lots of rules and hierarchy with this "orchestra" and the "instruments" are top notch.
  • Millions have been spent on education, practice, rehearsal, concert halls and productions.

Contrary to popular rhetoric, I strongly believe that both rock bands and orchestras can profit from using model-based practices. Most are making music with their instruments, but whether it's a Gibson or a Stradivarius, good musicians make bad instruments sound great, and a beginner musician doesn’t have the knowledge or skill to make a Stradivarius sound sweet.

The traditional CAD designer role is to: design hardware, use CAD software to best model the hardware parts and dump his or her brains into the computer in order to explain the hardware designed in his or her head (design intent). In addition to these responsibilities, designers are also expected to be experts in CAD software, Operating Systems (OS), computer hardware used to run the CAD software, the Drafter, the Checker, the CAD data translator expert, and the model maintenance man. Overwhelmed by these additional tasks, designers are often not free to innovate the best solution when presented with a problem. Re-Use Your CAD: The Model-Based CAD Handbook

Likely, you have humans with many different CAD skills and design capabilities. This is a reality in rock bands and orchestras alike. Use each personality at your organization in alignment with their strengths. Let the person who values order be the CAD checker, and let the clever innovator be free to use the CAD tools that best suit his creative practice.


A Part Number Anthology part-number-anthology-small

Part numbering. For most engineers, this two-word phrase is all it takes to conjure up especially strong feelings about what it means to be “right”, and what it means to be very, very “wrong.” We've assembled a handful of our part number greatest hits in this eBook anthology.