Software to Produce Shop Drawings

Is a 3-D drafting and design application worth it for someone who wants to move from hand-drawn to CAD-produced shop drawings? March 5, 2007

What is the best CAD program to produce fully dimensioned custom elevations and plan views to build from? We co not have CNC machinery, nor do we plan to. We would like to be able to produce CAD shops that have a similar look to hand drawn shops with the ability to be truly custom. We do a small amount of radius work and are face frame only.

Forum Responses
(CAD Forum)
From contributor D:
It depends upon what exactly you want to do and how you want to do it. I did a bunch of web searches and looked at options and reviews of different projects. I started out with DesignCAD 3D. I got it to do 3D drawings, but I've ended up using it for shop drawings - and once I learned it (they have instructional CDs), it's a breeze to whip up drawings - I just have to figure out dimensions. I use keyboard shortcuts and that works well for me. For presentation drawings, I use eCabinets (I haven't pressed it into doing cut lists yet - still learning the ins and outs, so I don't trust my settings to crank out correct cut lists. For cut lists I use CutLists Plus, which I really like. We almost exclusively do face frame cabs, as well as many non-cabinet types of projects (outdoor arbors, etc).

From contributor P:
Here is something with radius work. Beginning to end was about 30 hours. Half of that time was just figuring out what to model, not actually modeling. I used Autocad and Smartlister. The drawings were electronically submitted. I did not use our usual fonts that have the hand drawn look.

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From contributor T:
Not sure exactly what you're after, but I have heard lots of good things about Chief Architect.

From contributor C:
By what you're describing, a basic drafting program should do what you're after. Either an Intellicad product or AutoCAD LT should be sufficient. Both have free trials you can mess with and see if they will do it for you. Some of the fancy stuff is really nice, but if you're just making shops, and no CNC is expected to come into play, that may be your best answer.

3d modeling is nice, but if I spent 30 hours on contributor P's drawing (we don't need 3d models, so the situation is probably different for you - this isn't a slam), my boss would skin me alive. Something like that should be able to have shops made in about 8 hours or so at most, depending on the skill of the draftsmen. That's for 2d shops, full sections, etc., not 3d models.

From contributor G:
It depends. I have been doing CAD drawings for 15 years. I say you are not going to draw what contributor P drew in 8 hours. Yes, you can get something done in 8 hours or 15 minutes, for that matter.

I have modeled similar things in Ashlar Vellum 3-d wire frame and in Solidworks and I would say 30 hours is pretty good.

What he has here is an engineered (this means thought through for workability) model with the parts visually checked, assembly holes placed (correctly) and all the parts (including various materials) drawn with holes and ready to go to CNC and at least 8 pages of detail drawings in 3d and 2d. In effect, he has done in the computer what the bench man would usually do on a prototype.

Is this worth it? It depends. If you were only doing one of these, I would say you are correct - draw it as best you can in 2d and let a skilled (scarce these days) bench man do the rest. If you are doing multiples, then modeling is the way to go.

From contributor C:
I did not say I could make a 3d model in 8 hours - I was very clear on that. I said it could be drawn in about 8 hours as a 2d shop drawing, which is what the original question was asking about. The rendering is wonderful, and I am sure wonderful for what it is designed for, but if someone is looking to make 2d shop drawings consisting of elevations and sections, then such a powerful tool is overkill. Let's say I am way off and it takes me 12 hours to draw that. It gets revised and I have to redraw it from scratch. Being that it's 2d Autocad lt in my case, and not parametric so it requires completely starting from scratch, and I end up using up 24 hours doing it total. That is still less then the 30 hours for a solid model, not factoring in software and training costs. Even if his revisions only take 2 hours, I still beat him cost wise. He stated CNC was not a concern, so all the wonderful things you can do with that software is not much use to him. Use the right tool for the job. With all due respect, I am somewhat familiar with CAD myself and have done a little bit of drafting here and there on some challenging projects.

From contributor P:
I thought the same thing, contributor C. It turns out the original drawings were wrong in many ways and the unit is far more complicated than it appears. I made many changes to simplify the construction and still get the functionality they were looking for.

I could have drawn it in 2D also and it would have taken a lot more than 8. In the end it does not really matter. I think you missed the point. 30 - 8 = 24. That's the difference in time. The shop will finish my unit more than 100 man hours sooner than yours and I know for sure my unit will be correct. There will be no wasted materials from mistakes, less accidents and the customer, Federated, says the drawings are the best they have ever seen. They were so impressed they sent that exact set to all of their in-house draftspeople, stating, "This is the way shop drawings should be done!" That part matters too because they will give us more work. Hey, they actually offered me a job.

I used to draw in 2D too. I have found this method to produce the best bottom line results across the board in the end. I can figure it out much faster on the computer in 3D than they can looking at 2D drawings in the shop. I can also render it when necessary.

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From contributor C:
Okay, I am not of the position that using your methods is in any way bad or that it's wasteful, but it does not answer the original question. We have someone who is a paper drafter looking to move into CAD to make elevations and sections who does a small amount of radiused work and all is face frames. In this situation, I still contend that the system you use most likely is not right for him.

As for the time to finish, you're probably right - your shop will finish faster than his, but I also imagine you are using CNC and nesting software, which he said he is not looking for. If you and I were to both give him a set of drawings, and he was not using the nesting and CNC features, he would probably get it built in a pretty similar period of time. If he were to try and use the software, being he is familiar with 2d drafting on paper, he would probably have an easier time grasping a simple drafting program. The point is not to debate the effectiveness of 2d lines vs. 3d models - 3d takes it every time as far as capability, but it still does not make it a wise first choice. It's like using unigraphics to make running trim drawings - sure it will work, but why would you? It's the howitzer to hunt rabbits thing.

The final point. Yes, you can figure it out on a computer, but the guys in the shop still have to build it, and if all they have is a 2d shop drawing, then all the rest is fluff, and the money paid for that capability is wasted. If you are doing generally straight box work, like this guy seems to be, 3d is a tool that will give him a limited return, if he can get a natural feel for how to use it. He most likely can with 2d; with 3d it's a gamble.

From contributor P:
I think working in 2D is a losing situation unless you have a boss, such as yours, that wants a set done now and cannot add up the numbers in the end. He mentioned he needed to do some radius work once in a while and that was the drawing I had handy.

We do not have a CNC route either. I can still send it to CNC if I find a shop to cut the parts and exporting what they need to cut is automated. Either apples to apples, I am going to beat the 2D process by 100 hours easy. CNC or not. I can do face frame construction.

I understand your blow and go need for drawings. Many shops require that. Many of those bill for the 2D drafting time and use that money to buy the material for the project. This is not his case, though. He asked for a set of drawing to build from. He can take a look at the drawing and get some ideas. If the shop has a question on detail that I did not produce a detail for, they can always look at the model on the computer.

We all have different ways of doing things. I just hope that what I provided will be helpful in seeing one part of the full picture.

From contributor M:
Note that contributor P is using a program that is an overlay to AutoCad. I started with AutoCad lite, and progressed to full AutoCad. I am now working with AutoCad solid modeling and can see the usefulness of a program like contributor P's in the future. Point is, I learned what I needed to know as I went. Starting with Smartlister could be a bit overwhelming.

From contributor J:
If you already have AutoCad, or even if you don't, you might want to take a look at Quick Draw for millwork by JMH software. I use it to produce shop drawings that can be emailed back and forth to the architect and then after the final approval they can go straight out to the guys in the shop to work off of.

They will send you a free demo CD that will show you what it can do. Even if you don't currently have AutoCad, the demo will show you the quality and speed that is possible. It is very reasonably priced.

I knew nothing about AutoCad before I purchased the program and with one day of tutoring and a few followup questions on the phone, I was good to go. Also, anytime I have a stupid question, the guys are ready to help me. It cost nothing to take a look and it just might be what you are looking for.

From contributor U:
Chief Architect, in the Home Designer version, is my starting place. It gives 2d and 3d drawings, and is to my notion very easy to learn. I've used it and previous versions for close to ten years, and plan to upgrade to the 7.0 pro version shortly.

Design Cad 3d Max gives you the ability to draw any line, any arch, and dimension anything you want precisely, and add text anywhere.

From contributor Y:
Learn to draw in 3d first. Then you will find 2d a breeze. It sounds crazy, but you will be glad you did.

From contributor Q:
I believe the biggest advantages in using a CAD package for your drafting plans is the ability to reuse geometry from other projects, without recreating the parts, saving time (money). Elevations can be modified with minimal effort, in 2d or 3d; shelf clip holes can be copied or inserted as blocks. This applies to 2d or 3d. Whether you choose to use Acad, Designcad, Microvellum, Quickdraw, Acad Inventor, TurboCad or other CAD software, the costs are high to get into the field, but the time saving in the long run is well worth the investment. One additional point to consider before buying - the drafting industry in predominately .dwg based files. Any package you purchase would best be reviewed for the type of file format it can export to.

As for a hand drawn appearance, I have ADT2004 (parametric features) and it will allow me to produce the appearance of 'hand drawn' files for print and export. Acad 2007 will also produce this type of file. It really can improve the appearance of a model for presentation, though I would not send that file to the shop to be built from.

Check out the software on Autodesk, download a 30 day evaluation and give it a try. Many manufacturers will provide software and blocks for their parts that allow you to add the correct location of hinges and glides to your drawings, saving calculation times. Plus, when you do have work that requires CNC machining, send your 2d or 3d plans to the shop and parts can be machined for you.

From contributor U:
Design Cad 3d Max, the program I use when I want precise drawings, complete with exact dimensions of any part, is really inexpensive... about $250.00 when I bought it a few years ago. Probably more now, but there is nothing I can't draw with it.

From contributor I:
All you need is a simple 2d cad software. Choose something that is easy to learn – DataCAD, Intellicad… If you need 3d, try Rhinocad. It is cheap and easy.

From contributor N:
In my opinion, CAD is to drafting as a word processor is to writing. Unless you understand basic spelling, sentence structure, grammar, and are creative, then you can't be a good writer. Unless you understand basic drafting concepts, then you won't be a good, competent, or proficient CAD draftsman, regardless of which CAD program you choose. Learn the basics of drafting before you try to be a CAD draftsman. I’ve seen many bad CAD drawings that were produced by someone who obviously wasn’t a trained draftsman, yet they were proud of their CAD drawings.

From contributor K:
Have you taken a look at Alibre Design? It is a parametric solid modeler that generates fully associative drawings and BOMS. I have 15 years experience as an automotive designer using $20,000 cad software and Alibre can do 90% of the work for less than $1,000. They do offer a free version with limitations on the number of components in the assembly. Alibre also has a very active user forum.