S.O.P. for Outsourcing Shop Drawings

A "rush order" for outside shop drawings can be a recipe for confusion. A shop drawing pro offers tips for clear communication. July 22, 2005

My company is a shop drawing firm, and I see a common mistake repeated by many millwork companies when it comes to outsourcing, which is waiting till the last minute.

The reason for this seems to be that folks wait until they absolutely are in a bind getting shops created so they suddenly start hunting for someone to fill the need. It’s understandable, but it’s setting yourself up for difficulty. I don't think most folks realize the challenges associated with making good shop drawings for a client. We, and I am sure the other firms out there, really do try to make the best drawings for you as possible, but we are not mind readers.

The normal routine seems to be as follows;
1) Can you draw this job for us by such and such date, here are the drawings.
2) What, CAD standards? No we have no real standards. Sample drawings? Nope not really (or three cabinets and a die wall sent as a sample for a paneling job.)
3) Oh we use "standard" construction.

This is usually followed by the following;
1) Why in the world did you show it this way? We don't build it that way. What, you mean everyone doesn't build it that way?
2) Oh no, we always draw on these layers in this layout with this page setup, not what you sent us.
3) Oh well, we showed it that way in the sample but we don't do that now, or, Well yes we show it that way in that sample, but this sample clearly shows it this other way!

The point is that if you want good shop drawings you need to consider the information you are providing and the timeframe you expect folks to learn your style of manufacture. Many folks do not realize that what is common sense to them in drafting may be (and often is) completely different then what is common sense for someone else.

My advice to you is to take the following steps to act as insurance against running into a wall when trying to get shops from an outside party:

1) Develop a CAD standard and make it available to the folks you want to make your drawings. If you don't have a CAD standard, contact one of the firms and have them help you develop one. You will have much more consistent results and a much easier time communicating how you want information presented.
2) Develop a sample library of how you build in your shop. Nothing, I repeat nothing , is ever the only way to do something. Sections and details of as much as possible will both help outside drafters and your in-house engineering team will be much more efficient.
3) Don't wait until you are against the wall to get a relationship going with an outside source. Farm out one or two jobs a year just to establish relationships and keep them up to date. Repeat customers tend to get priority and the learning curve will not be an insurmountable hurdle.
4) Keep your software somewhat up to date. You don't have to have the latest and greatest, but if you are using a CAD program that cannot even open AutoCad 2000 drawings, then you need to update. I don't believe in upgrading for the sake of upgrading, but a tool is no good if you can't use it.
5) Be open to suggestions from those you choose to help you. We see hundreds of different drawing styles and construction methods and from client feedback we do have a good idea of what does and does not work. Don't dismiss a detail out of hand without considering why we did it that way. You may find that what is shown is a cheaper easier way to do something.

I just hate to see folks making the same mistakes. If you saw yourself in any of the above, don't take anything personally. Everything I listed has been done by at least a dozen clients in the last year, and untold numbers before that, I am just trying to let you see what you may not from your side of the fence.

Forum Responses
(CAD Forum)
From contributor A:
I agree Contributor C. To shops who outsource, and to those who say I'll never outsource – consider that it may save you big time someday. I totally agree that the way to find out is as Contributor C stated: Set up one or two small jobs that aren't time critical and establish a relationship. Get the kinks worked out, that way the bigger job that is time critical will go faster with less issues/problems to resolve.

Shops spend a lot of time and energy developing business relationships with hardware vendors, lumber suppliers, etc. Why wouldn't you do the same with a drafting/design service? Those of us who provide this service are eager to help you make more money. Outsourcing drawings seems to be a dirty word to a lot of shops, and the reason is they've tried it and have been burned. More than likely cause there wasn't a preexisting relationship.

From contributor C:
To Contributor A: As I will indeed make money from my clients, I hope I provide a good product for what they pay me, but my first responsibility is to make a profit, and that means the cost of doing business (the extra time with a new client doesn't get charged to that new client), but is spread around to all our clients.

Good product is the best way to ensure we make a profit, and a good relationship is the best way I can provide that product. Perhaps we outsourcers should start speaking to each other more so we can do to improve on our end as well. I have seen a tremendous change just in my company in how we are doing business. I can't imagine all the interesting things going on with other folks right now.

From contributor J:
To augment steps 1-3, it would be helpful to pre-create a CAD package to e-mail to your draftsman. Helpful files would be:
-your current DWT (drawing template)
-your current title block
-your current coversheet/spec sheet
-any of your current standard details/sections
-a copy of an existing in-house drawing
-if you are in a time sensitive situation as many blocks as you can think of (after all, why pay someone to re-draw what is already on your hard drive)