The Subtle Distinction Between Designing and Documenting Products

References Cited

What is Electrical Computer Aided Design (ECAD)?, What is MCAD?

Last week, I wrote about a topic that generated a lot of discussion over on LinkedIn: Who builds 3D models? Engineers? Designers? Drafters? It’s been an ongoing debate for quite some time. Coming out of that discussion, at least in my mind, I’ve come to some clarity on the topic. But not necessary from a role specific view. In general, I believe there are two sets of activities in the design phase.

  • Designing a Product: In this set of activities, the stakeholder iterates on the design and explores alternatives. They follow engineering rules and captures their design intent. This also includes all sorts of assessments of the product including calculations, simulations, checks against constraints and rules and even aesthetics. In essence, they are making decisions and defining the product.
  • Documenting a Product: In these scenarios, the stakeholder creates drawings that comply with engineering or industry standards, specifications and other deliverables that are required to manufacture the product. These are the deliverables that are ultimately released to manufacturing to make the product.

For many in the industry, one might think both of these types of activities naturally occur in engineering specific software like 3D MCAD, ECAD for PCB layout and IDEs. However, in discussions with those stakeholders responsible for designing products, I’m frequently finding they are not using those types of software applications. They’re getting it done with simpler tools that require minimal investment to accomplish what they need. This includes 2D MCAD or paper sketches, ECAD layouts or paper schematics and visual programming or UML diagrams. My point in all this is that even though a manufacturer might be using more advanced software applications like 3D MCAD, they aren’t necessarily using it to design products. Many are using it to document products.

Furthermore, you’ll notice that I’ve been carefully referring to the actors in these scenarios as stakeholders, which on my part is purposefully vague. In some cases engineers are the ones performing both of these activities. But in many others, the engineer is designing the product and then handing over the definition to a designer, who has specialized skills in terms of modeling geometry, to document the product.

So here are my question to you. Have you seen this distinction between designing and documenting products? Is this distinction formalized in your company’s processes? Is it formalized across any roles? Sound off and let me know what you’ve seen.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about some of the advancements in 3D MCAD software applications such as Spaceclaim, PTC’s new Creo, Siemen PLM’s Synchronous Technology in NX and Solid Edge and others in this context.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.

Chad Jackson is an Industry Analyst at Lifecycle Insights and publisher of the engineering-matters blog. With more than 15 years of industry experience, Chad covers career, managerial and technology topics in engineering. For more details, visit his profile.