We sat down with Alan Guess to discover more about CAD design and understand how this technology is being used to optimise the production process – saving time, streamlining budgets and removing risk to deliver impactful and robust creative executions.

Hi Alan, can you tell us a bit about what you do in your role as a CAD Technician? 

A bit of everything! But mostly I bridge the gap in the design process between creative and production by optimising each element of the concept to ensure it will work correctly at the build stage.

Part of this is breaking out a 3D model and inspecting the internal workings of the build – placement of drill holes and brackets for example – to check it will go together once produced. And then virtually assembling the components.

Other times this can mean refinements to streamline things like budget or make a design more sustainable. For example, I can use the CAD model to identify whether part of a build is structural. If it isn’t, there are opportunities to save costs by switching to a cheaper material. Or maybe there’s a more sustainable material that can now be added in.

And what exactly is CAD? 

CAD is short for Computer Aided Design. Back in the day before computers were invented we used to do it by hand – there are pictures out there of rows and rows of people drawing things out with pencils, rulers and protractors – these days we do it 90% faster with technology. 

Do you work directly with creative teams? 

When possible, yes. Sometimes it becomes apparent through the design development stage that elements of the original design need modifying to function properly in reality, I will work with them on this. Often though, we work collaboratively from the start and I’ll consult with the team on what is realistic or not.

The core of the idea rarely has to change, it’s just that the execution needs tweaking so that it will translate through the production process. We prefer to work in this way as it means we’re never pitching ideas that aren’t physically viable.

Have you encountered any challenges with CAD? 

I’ve definitely encountered a few challenges over the years. Sometimes materials behave differently in real life than their virtual representations so specialist knowledge of materials definitely helps you to get more out of the software. A few years ago I was working on a structure made out of reboard and the first prototype warped unpredictably. I was able to fix it by breaking the design down into modular pieces and rebuilding it with CAD to suit the material’s properties. The prototyping process allows us to identify quirks like this and adapt accordingly but that specialist material knowledge is really important in order to problem solve.

How has CAD evolved and what’s the future looking like?

Machines have evolved tremendously. The original used to be Kasemeke and then along came Esko with the Kongsbergs. Back in the day there weren’t cameras for printed work and the amount of materials that you could use were limited. Now, the Kongsberg software has loads of features for different applications and everything can be done on one machine instead of in separate parts so it’s a much quicker and more seamless process.

Another great thing to note is that if you do have the right specialist knowledge you can do a lot more by programming the machine and manipulating it to do things that it isn’t traditionally ‘supposed’ to. There’s been quite a bit of innovation in the industry in the last few years, ESKO has already brought out a robotic cutting machine that removes the need for an operator, and it will definitely continue to evolve with the integration of AI making things increasingly precise.

What skills are important for using CAD in production?

Hands-on production experience is invaluable for this kind of work. I started my career in assembly roles on the production floor and knowing how things ‘go together’ really helps when ironing out any bugs. I touched on it earlier but a knowledge of materials science and industry standards is also really helpful and informs efficient design. Like any software, learning it takes practice but it’s the specialist knowledge that will take your ability to the next level. 

And finally, what advice would you give to someone looking to upskill in CAD?

Take advantage of design networks and industry groups to learn from others. Ask questions and share your knowledge too, the CAD community is great and pretty supportive. I’ve spoken to a lot of people on LinkedIn as we’ve collectively tried to solve specific challenges. Oh and always archive old design files for future reference, you never know when you might need them…

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