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November 15, 2007

CAD Tech Turns 25

It was 25 years ago today that AutoCAD was first released upon the design world. That's 25 years of increased design productivity, 25 years of better design drawing quality and 25 years of computer frustrations. No one will ever get past aggravating computer issues, but just imagine going back to drawing everything out by hand. I think everyone will agree that we'd rather not.

There is barely an industry out there that doesn't use a CAD program. Most notably will be any engineering, architectural or manufacturing company but think of all the new ways that computers are aiding in design. Marketing comes to mind as the beneficiary of many new tech toys to assist in design. Why can't PowerPoint or Photoshop be considered a CAD program?

What will the next 25 years of design be like? What new programs and innovations will come around to make life simpler for us engineers? If I have my say it will probably be something like Google's SketchUp program which is already replacing much of the 3D CAD work I used to do in AutoCAD. Once programs make it as simple to work and design in three dimensions with color and texture as it is to draw in two dimensions now there will be a new design revolution. Most of the arguments against CAD programs are that they take the human element out of the project. It is difficult to envision and feel what is being designed.

Not many news rooms are running this anniversary but it is one that really has changed the world a little bit. How many buildings are currently built that don't use CAD? How many products are manufactured without an electronic design developed first? How many engineering companies (design or otherwise) haven't invested in at least one copy of a full CAD program? Why would anyone continue to design by hand when it can be designed faster, better and more accurately on a computer?

If you are working with a company that isn't employing these technologies you should really be asking them why they aren't using them. Sometimes there really are valid reasons not to use computer programs to assist in the design but they are few and very far between. For any real estate acquisition you should ask for the electronic site plan (and I do not mean in PDF). Too often clients come to us asking for design help with their facility and we learn that there are no electronic copies of the property. Recreating a CAD from a hardcopy is possible but it shouldn't be necessary anymore. Even simple office renovations require drawings to get permits completed. Having that electronic version is a requirement. It should accompany any lease or building purchase.

Welcome to the next quarter century. It should be a fun time.

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