CAD Refresher For Engineers

May 27, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — While David Dye and Bruce Bjornseth of Grand Rapids Community College help students to prepare for a career working with computer-aided drafting and design, Marty Lier and David Piggot of Quantum Training West help those who just need a little refresher.

Dye, the department head of drafting and design at Grand Rapids Community College, said CAD, specifically three-dimensional CAD, is used for many industries, including engineering, architecture and manufacturing. Three-D CAD also can be used as a marketing tool, allowing the designer and client to better visualize the product they are creating.

"All the students really know the software," he said. "The problem is they can't visualize it going together."

To further aid the students, the drafting and design department bought a 3-D plotter with the help of a grant. The plotter takes a 3-D design and creates a plastic form. This shows a student how parts would fit with one another, how the design would function and if there are any changes that need to be made. Tools like the CAD programs and 3-D plotter can be used in many careers such as manufacturing, architecture and interior design.

As manufacturing jobs continue to be outsourced to different countries, Dye said educating the students is no longer just teaching them about computer software; it is how to make them more marketable.

"We have to figure out what other skills we need to teach our students," he said.

The drafting and design department has undergone several changes in the past year. What used to be mechanical drafting is now computer aided engineering/mechanical design. The new curriculum includes more team-building projects promoting collaboration between students to give them experience working with others.

Bjornseth, who has been teaching at GRCC since 1982, said another challenge is keeping up with the changing software and tools in using CAD.

"The stuff we teach changes about every six months," he said. "That's never going to stop; in our field everything's changing."

Bjornseth said though 3-D CAD has been around since the 1970s, it's become less expensive and more widely available.

"Most companies can afford to have at least one station," he said.

Though there are many different systems available, GRCC uses systems such as Catia and Autodesk, SolidWorks and Pro/ENGINEER.

"Our students will basically get to be familiar with four different CAD systems," Bjornseth said.

GRCC also offers CAD classes at the Patrick A. Thompson Michigan Technical Education Center in Holland that are geared toward people who need to advance their knowledge or learn a new software program rather than earn a certificate or degree in drafting and design. Students can choose what component of the class they need instead of enrolling in the whole class. The class subjects are based on industry trends.

Another option for those who are interested in CAD training but not in going back to college is Quantum Training West, 169 Monroe Ave. NW.

Piggott and Lier teach Autodesk software to company employees, to individuals who are looking for jobs, to engineers who need to further their experience with CAD and many others.

"It's a tool that can be applied to many different industries," Lier said.

Lier said though many engineers have CAD designers work with them, more and more have let their designers go and taken it upon themselves to work with the software systems.

"Now with cutbacks, you have an engineer saying, 'I don't have that luxury,'" Lier said.

"They're trying to do more with the people they have," Piggott added.

Piggott said there are also those who have been in the engineering field for 20 or more years and realize the technology is becoming more and more important to their trade.

Students who earn a four-year degree in engineering but have no CAD experience also see the training as an asset.

"They find when they get on the job with the entry level position, they need to be more proficient," he said.

Piggott and Lier said 90 percent of their business is employees sent by companies to receive training on the software. While the economy and company cutbacks did cause a slowdown in training, Quantum Training West is again seeing more companies sending employees for training.

"Companies are spending money for training again," Lier said.    

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