What to consider when presenting your CAD model

I remember the first time I was asked to make a presentation to explain the CAD model of a mechanical system and give a concise yet technical account of its features. I couldn’t help but reply instantly: “But the 3D model is self-explanatory.” My manager at that time thought I was trying to get away from a boring task and I thought that the guy was trying to imprint every last bit of his general project management training on my specific (and maybe unorthodox) design processes.

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Ask specific questions about the desired content

Two cups of coffee with cinnamon later, I had accepted the challenge and was trying to figure out what to possibly put in the report. I was used to manipulating a 3D CAD model while talking and answering questions. Now, I had to make something with written bullet points and pictures. Plus, nobody had done that before in the company. And to top it off, the company’s internet filters denied access to most of the links that google would come up with.

Before getting all confused, I got back to the manager and inquired about the following:

To whom is this presentation directed?

Is it for the customer or the team I’m working with, or maybe just for the archives or the engineering managing board? Depending on whom I’m dealing with, the level or details and the points to highlight will differ. I will not give my colleagues a half-baked presentation on my design and I certainly would’t give too many details on the software’s features which I used to model a specific shape with the managing board.

What’s the specific purpose of the presentation?

Should I detail the CAD tree and features I used to model the assembly? Or should I rather speak about the assembly itself and the usefulness of the parts and features I included in regards to how it works? If I were to lecture someone on how I model, I will certainly need a completely different presentation than the one where I introduce the system I modeled and the way it works.

My manager wasn’t too sure about the content or who will actually be there to see the POC I made. So he told me to go ahead and prepare for the worst case scenario. That accounted for two more cups of cinnamon coffee. But at least the guy was generous enough to pay for them and to review the presentation I was slowly building. After several iterations, we came up with a certain outline of what we were supposed to present.

When addressing engineering colleagues, keep it technical

If you are sharing the features of your CAD with colleagues more interested in the process rather than the outcome of your work, the main pointer in what to present is to quantify the tasks that took the most of time or mental effort. Summarize wherever possible – and do a good job! If making an easily modifiable sketch was the main challenge, offer insight into how you tackled the different quotations.

If you took some time figuring out how to come up with a peculiar shape, make sure to detail the steps that led to its construction and the numbers that dimension it. Share screenshots of your CAD model under different angles but have the software open with your model in it, in case a fellow colleague would like a closer look or more explanations as to some part of it.

Your colleagues will probably buy you coffee if you:

  • share your ordering or numbering system of your model
  • highlight any formulas and permissible shortcuts you used
  • listen patiently while they describe “a better way” to do it and replace “better” by “different” in your head while giving it some thought nonethless

When addressing the customer or outsiders, highlight requirements

If you are to present a summary of your CAD model to the customer who stated a certain need or the sales guy, you need to make your presentation in regards to the initial requirement emitted and to how your model answers to it.

Have a general view of your CAD model, with general facts such as dimensions, weight, main materials, assemblies while stating the requirement it answers. Highlight different parts of it while explaining in bullet points how they help the whole system achieve its purpose. If you have a complex shape or an expensive part somewhere, make sure to mention it and explain its purpose fully and why it’s mandatory (if that’s what you believe). But, think of having other options to suggest and keep in mind their drawbacks as compared to your premium work.

Your customer will probably crack a smile if you:

  • make sure to present your model under an elegant (hear simple) and yet within budget (hear cheap) light
  • you present your model with different options whenever it’s possible while quantifying them in terms he/she understands (it will require time to develop, it will need specific machining, etc.)
  • are able to withstand (or even follow) their alien additions to your model and rephrase them as specific theoretical ideas depicting the usefulness they were supposed to have, then approve this one sole thing with him/her and keep it in mind and paper

When addressing the management, narrate a story

If management is in the audience, you will have to focus on telling them a story while maintaining a precise yet “management accessible” vocabulary throughout your presentation or report. Always start by bringing up the context of your work and the objective behind your presentation.

You must also be aware if the project management planning used by your company includes a specific template of presentations, thus keeping up with your company’s policy and allowing a quick archiving. Also, think of putting an index that follows throughout the presentation so as your audience is able to locate your progression at every moment and be able to ask you easily on a point to go back to.

You may include technical details in your presentation but don’t dwell over them and give a general outline on a 2D draft filled with symbols or quotations as if it were a doodle.

Management doesn’t want to check your technical skills as much as they want an account of your endeavour. They will let you know if they need you to elaborate on a specific point afterwards.

The management will be ecstatic and use many positive adjectives if you:

  • make them understand more than usually do when listening to an engineer
  • keep it short, especially when it’s very technical or not linked straight away with resources or money
  • point out that the genius idea of making this presentation is from management guy at the left

Think of being extensive in the report, not the presentation

Your presentation is supposed to serve one purpose: to present. Therefore, don’t think of packing your slides with tons of information. The audience doesn’t need every detail right then and there. For that purpose, create a report.

This report is the extensive version of your presentation: it contains not only what you presented, but also the descriptions, the details, the additional specifications, the annexes and the further perspectives of the work. It should be structured in a reading format with an index and accurate referencing and all in all, it should be your reference document if any of the three parties we discussed ask you a question or to inquire about further complements. Not to mention that it will live in the archive with your name on it. Make it count.