TIPniques: Doctor Who and the CAD Manager Part 1

For those of you not familiar with Doctor Who, he is a character in the long-running BBC series of the same name. He is a time traveler. Truth be told, I’m not that familiar with the show or the good doctor, but I do my fair share of time traveling, so I feel a certain kinship.

You’re likely thinking, what is this guy talking about and what does any of this have to do with CAD management? Time actually. You’ve heard the cliche "Time is money" and perhaps you agree with that. I’m not a disagreeable person, but I take issue with this particular cliche. You see I believe time is money * n, or money ^ n or perhaps time is money exponentially. All right, you can see I’m not a math whiz. What I'm trying to say is if you were to look at every little micro or nanosecond of non-productive time and multiply that across all people in an organization, pretty soon it adds up to a significant amount of cash.

Well you can't really look at all those non-productive nano or microseconds or, for that matter, full seconds or even minutes, but you sure can examine the accumulation of them. Furthermore, who is to say what is or isn’t productive time? Maybe you don’t even bother. With a competitive global economy nipping at every one’s heels perhaps it is time to bother. Possibly the head honcho has decreed that you have to raise your department’s efficiency. You’re under pressure to meet this or that impossible deadline. Maybe your current design and drafting standards need updating or you are looking at moving up from AutoCAD® LT to AutoCAD®. Perhaps you are examining moving to 3D modeling. Do you stay with AutoCAD or do you make a switch to Autodesk Inventor®, AutoCAD® Civil3D®, or Autodesk® Revit®? Thinking of a move to the cloud? Where do you start?


Before you do anything, or make any changes, assess where you are. I don't mean a mental  assessment because you can easily be deceived by your own brain—I do it all the time. Take a hard look at where your current costs are by monitoring the time component of your current drawing or model-creation processes, personnel, methods, and so on. How long does it take to prepare a drawing of a certain type, or prepare a bill of material. Is one designer or drafter faster when working on a blue widget and another quicker working on green gadgets? Until you know where you are currently, it will be difficult to establish goals for where you want to be. For these reasons you’ll want to begin establishing some benchmarks.

If you don’t mind a journey into the past, jump into the TARDIS with me and let’s travel back about 20 or more years. I’ll share some experiences that may give you a hand in getting a grip on your current costs (where your users' time is spent) and how those cost might be brought down. Ready?

Our first stop is 1991. I had recently been successful in landing an independent design and build for a new machine I had proposed to a potential client. Striking out on my own I wanted to become as efficient as I possibly could. My first decision was to select AutoCAD as my drafting platform. The price of AutoCAD was within my means, but most importantly I learned AutoCAD came with the AutoLISP programming language. I had never heard of AutoLISP but I had some previous programming experience and figured it could not be that difficult to learn. I was right.

Now I needed to begin logging my time for work being done and my first inclination was to use AutoCAD's TIME function to study the amount of time I worked on my designs and drafting.  I found the command to be woefully inadequate. Not only did I discover the "edit" time was merely an accumulation of the amount of time that a drawing was open, I also discovered that the time was carried over from one drawing to another when performing certain file saves or starting a drawing from other drawings that had previous accumulated time. My conclusion was that’s not going to work well.

I soon worked out an AutoLISP program that allowed me to get a true picture of the time spent on my drawings, both the actual edit time and the total elapsed time. This provided me with the means to establish a rough idea of my efficiency and productivity. Why only rough? There are other factors that enter into design and drafting. For instance, reviewing reference material, whether it be books and catalogs (hey, this was pre-Internet), or consulting with shop personnel about how best to machine something, meetings or phone calls with vendors to discuss a particular component. The list goes on, and all were happening while the drawing was open and adding up those seconds.

I first established some goals, taking into consideration my current standards, methods, prior knowledge of my work output, etc. Wait, let's get back in the TARDIS and dial it back a couple more years, back to when I was employed as a machine designer.

Earlier I mentioned that you need to know where you are to determine where you want to be. A benchmark is needed and before moving to CAD I had manually kept some records of my time when I worked on a drafting board. I would record the number of hours to design and layout a machine, noting the number of manufactured details and commercial components. I then recorded the time spent detailing the components and finally the time to check. Here’s what some of my original recordings looked like. Click on the image to enlarge.

Toward the end of my employment we had begun doing some CAD work and I highlighted those with the hashing. You should be able to see the time was higher on those jobs, a result of the CAD learning curve. Studying my recordings of various projects I determined that total job time for much of  the design and detail work came out to approximately five hours average per manufactured component. I was also able to establish an average percentage of the job total to the type of work (design and layout, detailing and checking). Armed with this previously collected data, I was ready to begin my quest for improved productivity and see if the bar could be raised.

I see the batteries of the TARDIS are getting low, and we are about to run out of time. Let’s jump back in and get back to the present. Next month, I’ll have things charged back up and we can take another trip back to the past and I’ll fill you in on  how I used my benchmarks. Until then, to infinity...and beyond!

Patrick Hughes is a machine designer in Rockford, Illinois, USA, and owner of Engineered Design Solutions, a provider of machine design constracting services. He has developed numerous AutoLISP and other software solutions to automate his workflow and increase his productivity throughout his years in business. Patrick developed the CadTempo time tracking program to aid his quest for further refinement of his processes, and invites you to investigate how it may help your organization. Find out more by visiting the EDS website at 


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