The New Frontier of Computer Aided Design
The need for skilled draftsmen or blueprint designers has always been growing. But in the high-speed industrial world of the 21st century, traditional pens and tools of the draftsman have been replaced by the computer-aided design suite. Computer- aided design (or CAD) has applications in many kinds of industries, and CAD technicians work in structural and landscape architecture, aerospace and automotive engineering, product design, and electrical engineering. Each of these areas, however, requires the use of computers and computerized drafting programs to construct detailed drawings of plans, specifications, and three-dimensional models of real objects. These digital drawings even allows computer-aided design technicians to construct their projects using machine tools or construction crews, or even use their drawings to control computer-operated casting and milling machines.
As industry finds more and more uses for digital construction methods, the role of computer-aided design technicians is expanding with them. Companies often have their own teams of computer-aided design technicians to draft working plans or models for specific projects; these skilled CAD designers are there to provide support for all the steps of production, making sure that all the elements of a design remain constant and streamlining the process of bringing products to realization.
Computer-Aided Design Technician Roles
There are many areas of computer-aided design specialization. Each area of computer-aided design has its own types of specialist knowledge; for example, CAD designers who implement tools or machinery need to know the tensile strengths of materials and the capacities of factory machine tools; architectural CAD technicians need to know about relevant building codes. Automotive, aerospace, and CAD technicians must have solid grounding in the principles of their industries before they can draft designs for cars or airliners! There are sub specializations within areas of CAD work; for example, architectural CAD technicians may choose to specialize in drafting hospitals, factories or other commercial or residential applications. Here are a few common types of computer-aided design technicians:
- Aeronautical computer-aided designers construct specifications and draft plans for aircraft, missiles, and specialized aeronautical parts.
- Architectural computer-aided design technicians are responsible for drafting plans for buildings and other structures. They need to know all about building codes and the features of building construction. Often this area calls for CAD specialists, who are experts at designing around specific materials or types of structures.
- Civil computer-aided designers create both relief and topographic maps that can direct civil engineers who are constructing roads, highways, water control systems, pipelines, bridges and other large engineering projects.
- Electrical CAD designers handle the design of wiring diagrams and other specifications for construction workers in industrial, commercial, and residential building applications.
- Electronics CAD designers draft plans for computers, circuit board assemblies, electrical schematics and other electronic components. They may also handle consumer product design for personal electronic devices.
- Mechanical CAD workers detail plans for machinery and mechanical tools, specifying materials, assembly and manufacturing requirements. These blueprints can be used to build everything from factory machines to individual mechanical parts.
- Product computer-aided designers specialize in designing consumer products, appliances, toys, furniture, tools, and house wares.
Computer-aided design technicians work in open, clean, well-lit environments, with plenty of power and space for the many scanners, computers and digital workspaces the job requires. Some technicians work part time, while still others are engaged for long-term contracts to specific clients. The nature of the job may require travel to visit with clients or to oversee aspects of a complex project onsite
An entry-level computer-aided design technician job requires a minimum bachelor’s degree in industrial design, architecture, or engineering. A master’s degree in industrial design is also a good idea is you are hoping to work in this challenging field. Two year associate degree programs are offered through many colleges and technical schools, with heavy course work in design principles, drafting, materials science, mathematics, and physics. Applicants should be well-versed in industry software packages such as AutoCAD, MicroStation, Pro/E, ArchiCAD, or Mastercam. A thorough knowledge of your CAD specialty is also expected—architectural CAD designers should know all required building and structural codes, for example.
Low-end salaries for entry CAD designer positions are roughly $34,979, with experienced CAD designers averaging around $43,878. The median is $38,591.
One to three years of hands-on experience are usually required for entry-level computer-aided design technicians to move up to higher level positions such as chief designer, design department head or lead designer. Another route is to open a consulting firm and freelance for clients; about 5% of all CAD designers opt for this route.
As of the 2006 US Dept of Labor survey, @ 253,000 people held CAD design jobs, with about 49% of these working on a contract basis for architectural, engineering, and other similar firms. Another 25% were employed in fabrication, computer, and electronics manufacturing, aerospace or other fields. Approximately 5% of the overall industry was self-employed.
Although demand is increasing, the computer aided design field is still expected to grow at a rate slower than the general job market, due to the lengthy process of gaining experience in the field. Outsourcing to other countries and an increasing pool of other technicians capable of using CAD programs will also dampen job expansion.
Computer-aided design technicians are in demand as industry moves towards modern manufacturing processes to bring new goods and structures to completion. But with the right training and hard work, a career in this challenging and rewarding field can be yours for the taking.