I’m someone who has written a fair number of “Best Practice” lists. My CAD Administration book in particular was full of recommendations for everything from installing software to surfacing design. People assume that a best practice list is really a set of rules, but those people are wrong. Best practice is really a set of suggestions that are meant to serve the lowest common denominator in an engineering office. It’s a flexible attempt to standardize practices when you have people in your office who aren’t expert level.
Every office or organization has to make your own best practice. You can go to others for suggestions, but someone intimately familiar with your situation and process has to establish the best practice. Best practice for sheet metal design isn’t going to apply very well to casting design. Your best practice is customized for your process and people.
Best practice was the basis on which I used to mock “hack and whack” modeling, which was essentially using history-based modeling as if it weren’t recording your every mistake. I was called in to do some design consulting with a company that had some people who had used other CAD systems. I found models that had all of the history of how a person got to where they were – add some geometry, cut some away, add more, cut more. Create a feature that cuts away everything, and start again. Every change was a new feature, either adding or removing material. It was apparent that the people who created these models didn’t know about going back and editing existing features. From a history-based point of view, people who modeled like this looked like idiots. But when you think about it from an independent point of view, why not? They were just doing what was intuitive. Why should it matter how you got where you are?
When I made the switch to Solid Edge, what attracted me, of course, was Synchronous Technology. One of the core tenets of Synchronous Technology is that the process of how you get from A to B doesn’t matter. Only the end result. End results are not subject to “best practice” as such, because you have to design for the manufacturing process, or industry standards, where your results are judged by something more rigid than simple suggestions.
While moving from such a rigid process as history-based modeling to something as free as Synchronous Technology relieves a huge load of mental work that turned out to be unnecessary, once I got here, I found myself a little lost. It had become second nature for me to look for methods to standardize on. But with Sync, the main beauty was that it didn’t matter. Right out of the gate, I realized that one whole range of skills for me had just become obsolete. That created a second of fear, because these skills were the basis of my book writing, my consultant work, even my reputation to some extent. Folks who do hand lettering of drawings have an admirable skill, just not a marketable one.
Most of the reason to jump to Solid Edge was to move on to what’s next in CAD technology. This would really be the wrong time to start clinging to the past and old technology. Maybe being one of those proclaiming the death of best practice was really the place to be.
I don’t necessarily want to say that Synchronous Technology is killing off best practice altogether. There are still things CAD users have to concern themselves with where having a set of pre-established suggestions can still be useful. Stuff like file management, establishing libraries, collaboration, model coloration to convey specific meaning, and so on. But I am trying to say that you’re going to burn far fewer brain cells on Best Practice in Synchronous Technology than you will in your history CAD. You can put those extra brain cells to work on the design, the finish, manufacturing processes, documentation to convey your ideas to others, and so on.
When the only method you have to work with is history-based design, you have to put a significant amount of effort just into making that run properly, and fulfill all the best practice suggestions. But it turns out that most of that is unnecessary. Stop worrying about “how”, and put more energy into design. Or just go home earlier every day.