Getting best value

6 min read

Tom Shelley reports on the financial benefits to be obtained from formal training in the use of purchased CAD software

Having decided to purchase a CAD package, perhaps after attending a free taster seminar designed to get you used to the idea of using it hands on, there comes the task of getting best value for money out of it. Most users don't know even now to use the full functionality of Microsoft Word or Excel, and while most people can soon get by creating models in 3D in a CAD package, they are likely to be doing so less efficiently than they could if they knew the quickest ways of doing things, or the full functionality of what is there. Typical of a common attitude toward using the simpler packages is somebody whom we met a little while ago who told us that you did not need real training in SolidWorks because it was so easy. On being asked if he knew how to join components together to form assemblies, he had to admit he did not know. While he was only using the software to turn simple ideas in his mind into something three dimensional that possible customers could understand, and which somebody else could manufacture, which even advanced users don't always seem to manage to do, he was still only using a fraction of its capabilities. His little firm, presently only has one product, so perhaps he does not need to know more at the present time, but we predict there will come a time when he will! A user of SolidWorks who works for a firm making lots of products, Scott Mitchell of Andergauge in Aberdeen, told us that it was their five days training, supplied by Thom Micro Systems of Larbert that enabled them to get up to speed (after switching from another 3D CAD package which we won't name). The company has nine seats of SolidWorks and designs inclination control and rotary steering for directional drilling heads, completion tools and reaming heads. Mitchell said that his team was already familiar with 3D CAD modelling but needed to know how to do things where they were slightly different. "Otherwise, we would have been spending most of our day trying to find the new buttons." The course covered the creation of parts, modelling, assemblies, drawings, and PDMWorks. Another professional user of SolidWorks, Richard Bonsor, CAD administrator at AP Racing in Coventry, spoke of the importance of having the training off site as opposed to on site. The company claims, and probably is, the world's leading manufacturer of brake calipers for motor sport, as well making racing clutches. "If we have our training off site, we can ask people about any problems we may have found, and additionally, we do not get interrupted." The training provider in this case is NT Cadcam, headquartered near Thame in Buckinghamshire. AP Racing has 21 seats of SolidWorks, and arranges training for new employees, and Bonsor added, "Now and then we have an update." Perceived advantages of the training include improved speed and efficiency, "Learning things you did not pick up from the manual. It makes you faster, AND you get a certificate." The issuing of certificates is appreciated by all those who go on courses both to show present employers that something useful has been achieved in time spent off site, and when employees have to move jobs, also to show new employers that the prospective employee is competent. Providing evidence of training and proof of competence is a major goal of all the professional engineering institutions we can think of at the present time as part of their efforts to improve overall skills at all levels in the engineering profession. For training certificates to be of value, as in the case of conventional academic studies, it is also essential, we think, that the institutions awarding them should be accredited as competent by the original supplier of the software or some other, recognised, competent body. Course lengths, Mr Bonsor recalled, were initially three days, but as more has been added to the software, have grown to five days. Formal training becomes even more important when design mistakes are unthinkable and the software has lot of bells and whistle. Nowhere is a higher standard of design integrity required than in the manufacture of helicopters, which is one of the reasons that Westland Helicopters regards proper training as essential, and few software packages, we have to say, have as many bells and whistles as Catia, which has become almost the industry standard in aerospace. Tony Norris, Principal Catia Development Engineer, told us that training begins with a basic 11 day course for designers, after which they are sent back to work before receiving a final polishing course relating to their particular work activity. It begins with teaching users how to integrate their designs into the Enovia VPM (Virtual Product Modelling) database, which is the backbone of the company's collaboration and PLM system, before proceeding to Catia. Norris emphasises the importance of the proper training programme delivered by INCAT. "People who know about a system cannot necessarily teach it. We regard our training programme as essential. Some managers think that software contains all the necessary cleverness. We know that machines and the software running on them are only as good as the people driving them. Training gives users a better understanding of what they are doing and makes them confident as well as enhancing productivity. It also ensures that everyone follows the same design process and works within our integrated system. This ensures sounder designs. Those who have had a skimmed through training need to be retrained. We sometimes have trouble with subcontractors who have been poorly trained. The original VPM course was about legs on a table. Our present course has been tailored specifically for us and is about designing helicopter parts. " The advanced courses offered include: advanced surfacing, 5 days, which includes the generation of curves. "You cannot produce a correct surface if it is based on incorrect curves", Mr Norris explained. Other specialist courses are: sheet metal, 2 days; kinematics, 3 days and Electrical 3D, 3 days. Advanced users are available in each area if people get stuck. The company employs well over 100 designers among Augusta Westlands' nearly 9,000 employees. INCAT has been working with Augusta Westland and Westland Aerospace since 1989, not only organising training for CATIA but assisting with the companies' whole PLM implementations. Augusta Westland originally used CADAM but began the move to Catia in the early 1990s. Possibly even more dependent on information technology, especially advanced modelling to give the company its competitive edge, is Rolls-Royce. We happened to encounter Professor Alison McMillan at a meeting, somebody who is charged with the task of championing more advanced modelling of composites in that company, and asked her how important she thought training was in this task. Currently, the company is mainly using its own in-house finite element software SC03, however this is not well suited to modelling composites, so MSC.Laminate.Modeller and ABAQUS are also being explored. Professor McMillan said she did receive two days initial training on the use of Laminate Modeller which was "Valuable, but more from a networking point, because it revealed identities of useful contacts and to whom to go if one ran into difficulties." She also said that, "Some people are not productive until they receive the training while others just get on with it and learn the package by using it. If users have a strong background in how finite element analysis works, they are well placed to work through a structured piece of software by knowing what buttons should exist, and pressing every button to see exactly what it does." We should add at this point that Rolls-Royce engineers have long been regarded as the cream of the engineering profession and so the company is one where certain expert users are likely to know more than the average reseller or vendor supplied trainer, and hence can be given the task of preparing in-company documentation and to assist in the development of less able users. Informal mentoring where experienced and able users help those who are less knowledgeable is widespread, but Michelle Rasmussen, an Autodesk approved instructor and program co-ordinator for the CAD Applications Center at Salt Lake Community College in the US put forward the case for Formal Mentoring in an article posted in an Autodesk users discussion forum. Formal mentoring, she argued, "Provides the most effective development program, especially when accompanied by good training." Mentoring is widely used in improving management skills and seems to be especially popular in government departments. "Teaming up mentors with their protégés is the first step", she wrote, "Look at what competencies and knowledge potential mentors have and team them with protégés that are lacking in that knowledge. Keep in mind the organisational goals as you do this." She stressed the importance of the mentor not only imparting knowledge, but also encouraging the protégé and building their self confidence and feeling of self worth. "Schedule time for your mentor to work with his or her protégé. Planned sessions are essential in a formal mentoring relationship for it to succeed. Ask them to maintain a record or each session. " This is apparently supposed to include: present issues, current actions, future actions, future agendas and topics for later references. "Last but no least, evaluate everything and evaluate it frequently. Use scaled ratings. Try to avoid having your top rating imply perfection. The top rating could be something like, "Doing great" (but could always do better)". If none of this makes sense, we suggest you seek out training to improve your mentoring and training. There are more than a few firms and individuals happy to help you do this. Thom Micro Systems NT Cadcam INCAT quote: "Some managers think that software contains all the necessary cleverness. We know that machines and the software running on them are only as good as the people driving them. Training gives users a better understanding" Eureka says: Having spent all that money on the software, training is key to making sure that best value for money is obtained from using it Pointers * Formal training is good * Training off site avoids interruptions * If training is supplied in-house by expert users helping those less expert - mentoring - formal mentoring is likely to be a more efficient use of everyone's time and effort than informal mentoring