"I keep discovering new things all the time," says Peter Wood as he continues to plumb the depths of his SolidWorks program. He'd need years to learn all of the features, confesses the owner of Charlotte, NC-based ZZorco Consulting (www.zzorco.com). He's in good company. CAD programs today are so feature-packed that no one really has time to master everything.
Indeed, Engineering Consultant Dennis Nagy told engineers attending the recent COFES (Congress on the Future of Software) meeting that engineers only use a small percentage of the features in their CAD programs.
CAD programs are overfed for a reason. In order to turn a profit, vendors target their products to the needs of a broad range of industries, according to Ken Versprille, research director for technology research firm D.H. Brown (www.dhbrown.com). Instead of fifteen versions of a CAD program, there's one.
It's like owning a grocery store when you just need a few pieces of fruit, says Brian Truitt, senior mechanical engineer at Haden International (www.haden.com). Truitt uses the solid modeling and drawing portions of his Pro/ENGINEER program but doesn't bother with its sheet metal or surfacing.
What gets used depends on the job. Chris Yatsko, owner of Malvern, PA-based Triumph Engineering has explored most of the nooks and crannies of his Solid Edge program. "I don't know every single solitary feature, but I know what most of the things do," he says, estimating that a good 75 percent of the program is known territory. But as a general engineering consultant, that's his job. "Our work on so many different types of projects lends itself to using more features of the software than most people use."
Another reason most users aren't filling in the gaps is because they get comfortable with what they do know. Humans don't take kindly to change, says Versprille. They tend to fall back on the tried and true, even when they're introduced to new and speedier techniques. "Especially casual users," he adds.
"Once they learn something, they stick to it. They don't change."
Time adds another limitation. Truitt admits there are probably dozens of techniques unbeknownst to him in Pro/ENGINEER that could make his life easier. But there are only so many hours before the sun goes down, so he prioritizes. "We get the projects and stuff out first and then we spend time learning," he says.
So what's the point in upgrading to the latest and greatest release when there's already a pool of features to swim in? It's about staying competitive and hitting that delicate balance between keeping pace versus having to retrain, says Versprille.
The down side of change can stall a company, he says. Even though a new release may contain critical functions, users can become frustrated when there are changes to commands that they know and love and can do almost by rote.
One way to avoid perpetual training is not to upgrade every new release, say the experts. Pat Wall, senior design engineer at Pratt & Whitney (www.pratt-whitney.com), says his company skips every other release of Unigraphics in order to stay productive. "By the time we get everything going, the next version is out and we don't want to go through that whole thing again." Right now Pratt & Whitney is in the process of leapfrogging from Unigraphics 18 to NX2, which they'll implement in January 2004. They passed over the previous version.