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It’s a Mistake to Deny CAD to Future Engineers

By Steve Robbins

I received a call the other day from a professor at a well-known Midwestern university. I often get calls or e-mails from engineers who have a problem and are looking for a solution, and some of them are pretty strange. This call was no exception, but somewhat surprising.

The professor, a mechanical engineer, was up against the leadership at his engineering school. The other professors believed that all engineering students should learn drafting using mechanical pen and board before any introduction to CAD. The professor also said that some of the teachers believed that students shouldn’t bother learning 3D CAD as it would never be useful to them. On top of that, he said some engineering students, having been taught this, believed it was the truth. The professor was desperate for data that showed hand-drawing mechanical designs was not going to help students and that they should be allowed to start their careers using modern engineering tools.

What’s going on? This couldn’t be happening, I thought. I mean, just look around us. A recent news article reported that a new school superintendent in Torrington, CT thought that students use of i-Pods and media players in school was distracting, so he proposed a policy that allowed the devices on school grounds, but they “may not be used, heard or displayed during the school day.” According to Torrington-based Bill Dunn, a freelance writer, these kids “have never known a time when people did not have personal electronic devices.” The students’ parents didn’t agree with the superintendent and threatened a lawsuit, so now the superintendent is looking for a new job.

Talk about the two extreme ends of the spectrum.

When I attended school there were no computers, i-Pods, cell phones or any of the electronic devices that we have all come to depend on. The first computer I used was a terminal in my local college that was connected to Dartmouth College’s mainframe. Programming had just changed from punch cards to actual programming languages. The hot program was a bio-rhythm generator. For years I struggled with the writing of papers for class. I would research and write and make mistakes and correct and then worry and struggle, and then type on a manual typewriter using correction tape for the mistakes.

In 1983, I went to work for a publishing company that gave me my first personal computer, a Tandy Model 100 laptop, and I quickly had an epiphany. I realized that the reason I struggled all those years with writing was that my brain moved much faster than I could manually write. Thanks to my mother, I had taken typing in high school, so I was quickly typing on my Tandy at about 65 words a minute. I was writing what I was thinking without worrying about mistakes. Just hit the back button and fix the problem. My life was changed dramatically; by a tool.

So, do future engineers need to learn mechanical drafting with paper and pencil? What do you think? I know I would have been better off with better tools at a younger age. Anyone today can get CAD. There are low-cost and free versions out there. They are easy to learn and there is plenty of help, both online and with user groups. The CAD companies are competing with each other to get their software into school systems. And our future engineers need to learn to use the tools that will help them compete in the global workplace they are poised to enter. It’s time to move to the new millennium.


Steve Robbins is the CEO of Level 5 Communications and executive editor of DE. Send comments about this subject to DE-Editors@deskeng.com.

About Steve Robbins

Steve Robbins is the former co-owner and publisher of Desktop Engineering.
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