Drawings in the era of Big Data

There has been a surge of interest regarding “big data” — AKA business analytics. Thanks to new ways to store, access, and process vast amounts of information, engineering and manufacturing can now reach into every process, every bit of information, and organize it for efficient reporting and analysis. On the enterprise level, working with all this data is known as Business Intelligence (BI), and it is a booming industry.

The drive toward BI is not only about technology advancement, but about finding innovation within increased complexity. Construction is finding new ways to be data-driven. Robotic and “cobotic” (robots that amplifies human labor instead of replacing it) construction, 3D printing in concrete, and manufacture-to-order for construction elements is revolutionizing the industry.

Manufactured products are becoming smart products. Automobiles have become rolling computers — and soon there won’t even be a driver behind the wheel. Such complexity requires cross-industry collaboration. The expertise needed to create an autonomous car — and get it approved for use — is a complex chain of vendors and advisors.

CAD remains a crucial technology, and drafting remains a crucial source of information. Manufacturing relies on the Bill of Materials; construction requires detailed documentation of every part of the building. Drawings remain a major data repository; the information in a drawing is formatted in a standard industry has been using for years.

“Big data” is great, but it is not the end game; fast data is. Time makes data stale. if you can’t get to the information you need quickly, you lose any competitive advantage access offers. CAD drawings from 20 or 40 years ago remain filled with useful information, accessible every time it is opened in DraftSight or read by the thousands of software products that import the .dwg format.  

Some may scoff at the idea of 2D drawing as a source of information. But technical innovation is not an on-off proposition. There is a continuum of opportunity with each new advance in hardware or software. Why are thousands of companies still using drafting software and spreadsheets? Because the cost-efficiency ratio of drafting and spreadsheets competes well in the era of model-based design and PLM, especially in smaller firms and small workgroups in larger organizations.

PLM and model-based design take a big data approach to engineering management. For enterprise-scale engineering projects, this is the right call. But when fast data is more important than big data, spreadsheets and drawings still win the day. For every Toyota or Airbus that needs to manage the work of thousands of engineers and designers, PLM and 3D modeling is great. But smaller firms are driven by access to the documents, because the context of the information is as important as the elements of data.

Data efficiency is an engine of creativity, but only when it is quickly accessible by those who need it in a form they can immediately put to use. For now, and for the foreseeable future, 2D Drafting remains the best tool for millions of users. It is why DraftSight has become so popular so quickly, and why Dassault Systemès invested in its continued development.

Randall Newton
Randall S. Newton is Managing Director of Consilia Vektor, a boutique consulting firm serving the engineering software industry. He is a Contributing Editor at Digital Engineering and AEC Magazine UK. You can follow him on Twitter.
Randall Newton
Randall Newton