Robert Yule
Senior Application Engineer
Javelin Technologies Inc.
Oakville, Ontario, Canada

Edited by Paul Dvorak

When a company buys its first 3D CAD system or upgrades the existing system, the thought often occurs to at least one manager that the department can save a little money by skipping classroom training. After all, CAD programs come with tutorials, and most of the staff has 2D experience.

The strategy is understandable, but it's also shortsighted. In fact, the opposite is true. CAD classes can pay for themselves in a short period and pay dividends everyday thereafter. Here are a few guidelines for getting the most out of new CAD systems.

First, set standards for all users. When the new or upgraded CAD system arrives, decide what should be the minimum skill level. Everyone need not know every function and feature in the new software, but everyone should know, for instance, the company filing system and file-name conventions. They might also learn how to sketch complex 2D shapes, extrude them into a 3D solids, and shell them. This minimum skill level ensures that everyone knows enough to be useful.

Lead users, however, should get the fullmeal deal. The most talented individuals will be more productive after receiving more than just minimal instruction. These people are often experts on the current system — those other people go to when modeling or design problems crop up. One tactic is to send these leaders to class first, and when they return, choose courses for the rest of the company.

Taking four days out of your work schedule and spending a few thousand dollars sounds like a big investment, but consider this: If you learn one new feature, tip, or trick that saves 30 min per day, the course pays for itself in less than six months. Here's how to calculate the ROI:

Cost of a course
for one person = $1,500

Cost of engineering time to a company ($75/hr)(8 hr/day)(4 days)

= $2,400
Total cost = $3,900
If the user learns enough to accomplish in 8 hr what previously took 8.5 hr, then the daily productivity gain is 0.5 hr, or 12 ($75) = $37.50/day Therefore, payback comes in $3,900/$37.50 savings/day = 104 working days or less than six months.

After that, training profits a company by: $37.50 (5 days/week)

50 weeks/year = $9,375/person/year.

The good news is that the half-hour productivity figure is actually conservative. Designers and engineers often learn enough new features and methods to gain more than half an hour on each day. With such a payoff, training is a can'tloose proposition.

A next question could be: Should companies hold in-house classes conducted by a staff engineer or hold them off site at a valueadded-reseller's facility? There are pluses and minuses for each, and a few are summarized in the accompanying table.

Readers may be interested to know of the wide scope of readily available classes offered by VARs such as Javelin Technology. For example, our company offers a four-day basic modeling class that could establish the minimal skill level for everyone in the design department. Additional two-day classes cover advanced part and assembly modeling. There are also one-day classes for modeling with sheet metal, and what managers should know about SolidWorks and a successful CAD implementation. And because there is enormous power in customizing a 3D modeling system for specific or repetitive tasks, we offer a fiveday class on driving the modeler with Visual Basic and through the SolidWorks application programmers interface.

Classroom activities are usually the first part of formal training. User-group meetings provide good follow-up training. For example, at the last SolidWorks World — the developer's once a year group meeting — the company presented at least two-dozen classes intended to foster greater productivity through CAD and related systems. The meetings are a good place to exchange ideas, tips, and tricks, as well as voice complaints about the software and add your own ideas to a users wish list for future features. Developers of Pro/E, Catia, Unigraphics, and others host similar events.

Of course, you don't have to travel great distances to attend large users meetings. It just takes two or three people from the same company to form a user group for the profitable exchange of ideas and solutions.

Lastly, let's get rid of one idea: Some managers believe that CAD training encourages engineers to leave the company for greener pastures. My experience is that good people leave lousy companies. People often leave for other jobs, but that's just the cost of doing business. Investing in people and making their jobs more rewarding, more often than not, encourages them to stay.