Why Rock The Boat?

I reader of my previous post, “The Future Of CAD“, was quite pissed at a statement I made: “Like 2D CAD vendors, users of 2D CAD aren’t doing anything innovative either“. He sent me a stinker email calling my views “idiotic” and “arrogant”. All I can say is that this person caught the bull by the tail. Or maybe I turned the bull’s butt towards his face and he caught the first thing he got. I am in no way advocating that everyone should dump 2D and go 3D first thing tommorow morning. All the magnificent structures, engines, automobiles, etc. of yesteryears have been built using 2D drawings. And we can continue to do so for a million years. The whole point of looking to the future is to figure out ways to do the same things we did in the past, but in a better, faster and efficient manner. Otherwise we would be still drafting using pencil and paper, wouldn’t we?

A couple of experiences at my earlier job at ACGL (see “My Affair With AutoCAD“) should shed some light on where my views are coming from. At ACGL, we built bus bodies and all drawings were in 2D. Building bus bodies is a lot different from building cars, in the sense that each bus is different structurally and the design needs to be tested for different types of loading. For example, a bus having a roof luggage carrier needs reinforcements in the roof structure which affects the side structures and so on. A weaker design resulted in failures and increased warranty cost. On the other hand, a design stronger than necessary meant increased raw material, production and hence, overall cost. Either way our bottom line was being affected, and it was only then the Managing Director (or CEO) agreed to purchase a license of COSMOS/M to conduct FEA analysis on designs and optimize them before the structures were built and assembled. The problem with FEA is that it needs 3D and all our drawings were in 2D. This meant that each design had to be painfully remodelled in 3D. In 1999, ACGL was rolling out 4 buses a day, each of which could be a different design altogether. Remodelling the 2D design in 3D itself took about 2 days. So a decision was taken to conduct FEA analysis on designs of buses whose order quantity exceeded 10. It was then that I recommended moving to 3D at the initial design stage itself, so that we could get more buses optimized using FEA and hence reduce overall cost. I still remember the MD’s words, “We are sailing smoothly. Why rock the boat?

A few months later, the MD decided to personally make a presentation to some Sheikh in Saudi Arabia who was in the mood of purchasing 600 buses. The MD directed our in-house artist to come up with a bunch of color schemes and artwork which he could add to his presentation. As luck woud have it, around the same time, the artist decided to get married and took a couple of weeks off. I was entrusted with his job and I had no clue where to begin. I decided to use this opportunity to drive my point of 3D further into the MD’s brain. I spent the next few days drawing a 3D model of the proposed bus in AutoCAD, as that’s the only CAD software I knew back then. I then exported the model into 3D Studio, applied materials, lights and textures and created a walkthough animation which included a tour around of the bus and its interiors. The Sheikh was amazed at what he saw and the MD’s presentation stood out from the rest. We bagged the order and the MD admitted that the walkthrough did play an important role. When the artist finally returned from his honeymoon, a crash course in AutoCAD 3D modeling and 3D Studio animation was waiting for him. Thankfully, this time around, the MD did rock the boat, I guess because he saw the benefits, literally, a yard full of 600 buses waiting to be shipped.

In my opinion, the move to 3D is essential for people who want to improve the way they do things. There will always be people for whom 2D will do the job well enough. For example, the smaller companies which fabricated and supplied parts to ACGL were given A3 size plots of the drawings as some of them didn’t even have a computer. There was no need for them to innovate or do things differently. They had to simply follow instructions laid out by the designers at ACGL. There was no need for them to rock the boat.

When deciding whether the move to 3D is useful or not, it may help if you ask yourself a simple question. “Am I designing new products or simply helping someone make theirs?” If it is the latter then I guess you have your work cut out for you and there is nothing much you can do about it. That’s what I meant when I said that 2D CAD users aren’t innovating. If it is the former, then you need to study your business and determine whether you are standing on the sidewalk watching the world go by.

Yes, there is a mad rush by 3D CAD vendors to shove their products down the throats of 2D CAD users. They have a lot to profit from doing so. It’s upto the 2D CAD users to see if making the switch will increase their profit as well, taking a long term view. Profit that may not necessarily be as conspicious as a yard full of 600 buses.

Sometimes it may help to rock the boat and see what happens.