March 20, 2006
The True Value of Design Automation
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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The True Value of Design Automation

by Paul Gimbel

You get a lot of varied reactions when you mention the word "automation" to people. Some people fear for their jobs, envisioning some robot working faster and smarter than they do. Some people see their inherently flawed process just producing more crap faster. Some people see salespeople putting garbage into the system expecting magic to come out the other side. The commonality is that people see a black box that magically turns specifications into designs instantly. A good automation program actually isn't all that far off from the black box, but the fears that people have about the box are actually the benefits of the automation tools.

The first fear that people have is being replaced by a machine. Well let's face it folks, in a lot of Engineer-To-Order (ETO) and Configure-To-Order (CTO) companies, we ARE machines. We take sales information and spit out quotes all day. I don't know about you, but I didn't barely make it through Thermodynamics so that I could just plug and chug numbers all day. Automating the non-value added tasks, like some pre-sales work, frees the engineers up to do what we were meant to do, tough engineering validations and more importantly, New Product Development (NPD). Handling incoming sales volume is important to bringing in money, but developing new products to tap into new markets brings in a
lot more money for the company.

The next thing that people say is that they're process is too tough to automate. Nothing can be done automatically because so much of it is manual. While it's true that you can't automate everything, the reality is that the process of adopting automation forces you to re-evaluate your process. Your current process is probably 30 years old or more. It's been tweaked a bit along the way, but it can't possibly take into account the latest 3D technology or the tools that are available for design automation. You can't just automate a process. You can't just apply technology to a process. You need to make the technology and the process flexible enough to create a new, automated process.

Another big problem today, that people feel will halt any efforts to automate, is that the salespeople that collect the information rarely get all of the information required to quote a job. In some companies, every quote request is followed by a call to the customer to get more information. Automation can solve this by requiring all of the information before a salesperson can request a quote. Automation tools today, and even VB.NET and Excel can be used to create user interfaces that help salespeople get complete and accurate information.

The information is accurate because automation tools have a benefit beyond automation. They generally do validation as well. This means that the rules that are put in to automate are also used to make sure that the design is possible. This would mean the end to salespeople selling things that cannot be manufactured.

But automation isn't for everyone. Some tasks require the art of the engineer. Some processes can only be partially automated, some completely automated, and some not at all. But the most important thing to remember is that the technology is new and you don't know what it can do to your process. If you're convinced that the way that you're doing things now is the ultimate way, don't automate. If you have an open mind, and are willing to accommodate technology and willing to bend technology to meet you halfway, then go for it.

This article was submitted by one of our readers and has stirred up a lot of excitement on the MCADCafé Web site. Mr. Gimbel directly and indirectly discusses probably the most important aspect of automation, regardless of whether its used for sales, production, or testing, and that's people. He asserts that many people (wrongly) think that automation will replace them. Just the opposite has been proven to be true in a majority of cases where automation has been placed. When processes are automated, productivity increases and results in a higher level of value for the people using the automated system, the system itself, and the things produced with the system.

People are required to create, optimize, and maintain automated systems - they don't operate totally on their own. Keep in mind that automation is merely a tool that when combined with a person's imagination can do great things. A tool does not and cannot replace a person's knowledge and expertise. Computers have not made our brains obsolete, but they have freed us up to pursue more creative endeavors, while they handle repetitive computational tasks and store information. Likewise, CAD/CAM/CAE tools have not lessened the need for engineers - actually quite the contrary. In an analogous way, automated systems are also good at repetitive tasks, as well as many that most of us would
consider dangerous.

Although it has gotten better over the years, I think automation still has a way to go to truly be regarded not as an enemy or threat, but as an ally and hope. It comes back to the people issue, because it is people who adopt and accept automated processes who will be more likely to prosper than those who do the opposite.

Nominations Sought for 2006 CAD Society Awards

The CAD Society announced that it is accepting nominations for the 2006 CAD Society Industry Awards.

The CAD Society Industry Awards recognize the contributions of individuals within the Computer-Aided-Design (CAD) and engineering software industry. CAD and related engineering software applications are used in the design of buildings, automobiles, consumer goods, and just about every manufactured product produced today.

"The three awards the CAD Society presents every year is our way of recognizing those who have contributed to the CAD/CAM industry in various ways," said Jeff Rowe, president of The CAD Society. "We are looking forward to hearing what the community has to say when they help us select the 2006 nominees."

The CAD Society presents awards in three categories:
  • Leadership Award: For outstanding technical and business leadership in the CAD industry, and focus and dedication to the needs of CAD users. Robert McNeel was the 2005 recipient of the Leadership award. Other past award recipients include: Tony Affuso, Tom Butta, Jon Hirschtick, Bernard Charl, and Frank Perna.
  • Joe Greco Community Award: For outstanding work in improving communication and developing community within the CAD industry. Lynn Allen was the 2005 recipient of the Community award. Other past award recipients include: Randall Rath, CJ Shirk, Kristine Fallon, Ralph Grabowski, and Amy Rowell.
  • Lifetime Award: For a lifetime of outstanding technical and business contributions to the CAD industry. Ken Versprille was the 2005 recipient of the Lifetime award. Other past award recipients include: L. Stephen Wolfe, Carl Machover, Dr. Joel Orr, Patrick Hanratty, and Jason Lemon.
  • The board members of the CAD Society will review all nominations on Wednesday March 29, 2006 and will determine the award winners for each of the three categories. Nominations should be sent to and will be accepted through March 24, 2006.

    The recipients of the awards will be announced and posted on the CAD Society web site prior to COFES 2006 (Congress On the Future of Engineering Software). The awards will be presented at COFES 2006 held April 20-23 in Scottsdale, AZ.

    The CAD Society ( is a not-for-profit industry association which has the goal of fostering community and encouraging open communication among those who make their living within the CAD industry. It has been a leader in creating interoperability guidelines that encourage software vendors to develop applications that can share data openly. Membership is free for individuals.

    COFES: The Congress On the Future of Engineering Software ( is an annual business event created for the engineering software and hardware industry by Cyon Research Corporation ( COFES 2006 is a unique conference with a difference: COFES focuses on intense sessions of discussion, argument, and debate, on issues that will affect your business as it invests in, and depends upon, engineering technologies. This years event, sponsored by Hewlett Packard, will be held in Scottsdale, AZ April 20-23, 2006.

    The CAD Society Contact:

    Jeffrey Rowe


    The CAD Society


    As the president of the CAD Society, nominating recipients for the three awards is easy, but at the same time, also difficult. Easy, because there is no shortage of worthy recipients; difficult, because we can only choose one for each of the three awards. I'll be presenting the awards at COFES the evening of April 22. I look forward to actually meeting the award recipients because they're all great people and it is one of my favorite duties as president of the CAD Society.

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    -- Jeff Rowe, Contributing Editor.


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