I often hear the word “legacy” or the phrase “legacy data” to describe the use of drawings for engineering work. Yet 17 years after Autodesk bought Revit and 22 years after Dassault Systemès bought SolidWorks, drawings remain the primary medium for communicating design intent. Surveys show that — depending on the specific industry — there are between four and ten active seats of 2D CAD in use for every seat of 3D CAD. The engineering software industry talks about models, but in reality drawings are used more often.
Despite the proven utility of 3D, there are still many in both AEC and manufacturing who believe drawings will never be completely replaced by models as the fundamental representation of design intent and assembly/fabrication instructions. There is nothing “legacy” about using drafting software for ongoing projects.
For a recent research project, I had conversations with developers who not only agree with the current use of drawings as an acceptable practice, but foresee improved engineering workflows thanks to the continued development of drawing technology.
“Drawing is the act of articulating a closer look,” says Rob Snyder, founder of CAD consultancy Tangerine Media and holder of multiple patents on CAD technology. “Years from now no one in this industry will speak about ‘the end of drawing’.” Not because drawing will have been eliminated by modeling, Snyder claims, but because “it will have evolved.”
Drawing and modeling are media, Snyder notes, and media innovation is an additive process. TV did not replace radio, and motion pictures fused sound with image, so too the future of design will be found in the advancement of generating and placing drawings in a modeling environment.
Drawings will be in-situ within digital models, Snyder says, “as it has been since 2012” in technologies like Bentley’s Hypermodel. New CAD technologies are under development that will simplify the ability to generate drawings as elements of a digital model.
Models offer wide and expansive context; drawings provide narrow, specific context. “[Models] surpass our human ability to wrap our minds around them,” says Snyder. The extend of both project understanding and model completion will require the use of drawings as “devices for looking at models purposefully.” The deeper a team goes into a project, the more drawings are required for full understanding. As construction finishes, Snyder says, the 3D model regains primacy as a digital asset for facility management. The same shift of primacy happens in manufacturing as the part or product moves from engineering to manufacturing and sales.
Thanks to the value of drawings, 2D CAD will become a utility as ubiquitous as word processing, says Cedric Desbordes of CAD developer Graebert GmbH. Drawings will continue to play a major role in communicating design intent. “People who used to receive only drawings on paper or as a PDF will be offered to interact with drawings in a more productive way,” says Desbordes. The ubiquity of mobile computing combined with cloud-based access to data opens up new ways to use and share drawings within projects.
Echoing Snyder’s view, Desbordes says smarter 3D “is not replacing the need for documenting projects in a more detailed way. Instead of trying to convert DWG users to BIM users it is about working on workflows that will allow users to collaborate with BIM users in a productivity-driven workflow.” In the near future Desbordes believes such workflows will be assisted “to a great degree by AI processing.” For example, Desbordes envisions a CAD tool that can analyze a picture of a bridge and provide searchable attributes or offer design suggestions.