The Platform Shift and CAD
CAD technology has evolved significantly over the last several decades, which has coincided with several platform shifts. In the ‘70s, there was a shift from mainframes to minicomputers. Then, the early ‘80s began a shift to more flexible UNIX workstations. The mid-90’s brought yet another shift to lower cost Windows PC. Throughout the 2000’s, as hardware continued to shrink, processor speeds increased, and graphics chips became more powerful, laptops became a viable option for CAD.
Now, some of today’s tablets have become more powerful than budget laptops, creating yet another opportunity for a platform shift. In fact, the iPad Pro uses Apple’s A9x, A10X, and A12x chips, which are comparable to Intel’s i5 and i7s and in some cases better. The latest iPadOS also includes full mouse and keyboard support, which CAD users may find useful.
Each of these platform shifts brought new benefits to CAD users, including lower costs and making CAD more accessible. Now that the newest tablets can support full-featured CAD, this trend continues with greater portability, longer battery life, and significant ease of use improvements. Tablets tend to be so much more intuitive; my young sons switch their convertible Chromebooks to tablet mode whenever possible.
How Tablets Help Engineers
But why does this matter to engineers?
Before CAD became pervasive, design engineers did their work on the drawing board, which provided much flexibility to capture ideas on paper. The advent of CAD software introduced such powerful computerized features that accelerated productivity; it justified the switch.
While engineers were even more productive, they lost some of the drawing flexibility. In fact, engineering design work is often driven by the CAD tool rather than engineering ideas. This restriction is especially prevalent in the concept phase, so much so, that "napkin sketches" are still quite common.
By using a tablet with a stylus, engineers can now have the best of both worlds. They have all the power of a digital model combined with the flexibility of sketching. This can be especially powerful for concept design.
Previous Tech-Clarity research, Improving Concept Design: Innovating at the Front End to Drive Revenue Opportunities, found that the top goal of the conceptual phase is to optimize innovation, which is critical to future revenue streams. The concept phase has such an impact that 92% of surveyed companies agreed that optimizing it has a business impact. However, optimization is hard. Issues companies reported as holding them back include:
- It's difficult to get timely feedback
- Too time-consuming to iterate
- Processes are inefficient
- Too much time is wasted reinventing the wheel
Imagine how a tablet could help. First, it's hard to know when you will have an innovative idea. As a mobile device, that tablet will be handy whenever lightning strikes, and you can capture that idea. This is especially critical for start-up companies that will not survive unless they innovate.
Plus, the faster they can show something to investors, the easier it will be to get funding. CAD on a tablet can offer this speed and flexibility. As a mobile device, it is also easier to show the concept to others to solicit feedback and improve it. Then, because it is a digital model, you can rapidly iterate and then leverage it for detailed design. This avoids the wasted efforts of recreating design details that were developed during the concept phase.
Engineering on the Go
Mobile devices also mean that engineers are no longer tied to their offices. With COVID-19, many have been forced to work somewhere other than their office. From my own experience with homeschooling children, it would have been nice at times to move to a quieter, less accessible spot (maybe even my car in the driveway!) to get a few solid hours of uninterrupted work time. However, even during normal times, engineers still may need to access work while on a business trip.
What if you want to leave work early to beat the traffic for your vacation? With a mobile device, you can and then make up some of that lost time from the boat, park, or hotel. Coffee shops are often favorite hangouts for start-ups, and a tablet running CAD can boost your productivity.
Other Use Cases
Beyond engineers, CAD on a tablet can also be helpful for other groups. Just as a few examples, construction sites can benefit from accessing the CAD drawings onsite. Service personal can retrieve CAD models while on location to reduce downtime during maintenance and repair. Salespeople can also review CAD models with customers during visits to either sell new products or discuss an order in process to confirm it meets customer expectations.
The Weak Link
While mobile devices offer much flexibility, Wi-Fi can also be the weak link. The connection may not always be reliable, it may be slow, or perhaps you don't have the password. This can be especially problematic at job or customer sites.
This past Spring, with two adults working from home, plus two children connecting to their classrooms via Google Meet, I felt the pain of Wi-Fi bandwidth limitations. While traveling, I've been frustrated with Wi-Fi connections that continued to go up and down at the airport or on the plane. If your CAD software relies on a connection to run, you could lose work every time it goes down.
With public networks, you may also run into security concerns. You do not want to risk losing IP over an unsecure network or getting infected with a virus. For these reasons, it can be helpful to use CAD software that does not require a Wi-Fi connection to run.
In summary, the advancements in tablets combined with evolutions in CAD can offer many benefits. It can help you achieve greater flexibility, improved productivity, increased innovation, and better customer service.