The Death of the Draftsman or
 “Where has all the talent gone?”


With the introduction of MBD (Model Based Definition) Boeing was convinced, since it didn’t need drawings any more, it didn’t need draftsman. The Drafting group was dissolved along with the Document Control group probably on the recommendation by Dassault that their PLM system based on Catia 5 could replace and manage the complete engineering system. The draftsman, now called engineering tech, is being replaced with the degreed engineer whose job now includes many more hats, CAD designer, engineer, detailer, data manager, etc. The "Draftsmen" are being allowed to disappear through attrition. You can see that the basic job of creating documentation for manufacturing has taken a very complex turn. I wonder if the young engineering student knows what is going to be expected of him or her.

As a Boeing trained draftsman I was shocked. Knowing the responsibility of drafting group. There really is no job description of an Engineering Tech. The community colleges are still offering drafting class.

I was up in arms, no group of engineers, could or should do this job.

Drafting had no spokesman. Draftsmen do not have 4 year degrees from a college or university and had no power as compared to engineering management or the much more powerful, BCS (Boeing Computer Services), who is now in charge of the all mighty PLM. They were a pain in the past, I can only imagine the arrogant power they wield today. Most drafters are hourly employee’s one step above a blue collar worker. Their education was basically a 2 year AA degree from a community college. Mine was a condensed drafting training program run by Boeing and sponsored by the federal government.

Here is a quote from an associate on Linkedin that describes what is happening in engineering clearly:

"Hm... Can anyone show a better example of what happens when an apprentice based profession is dumped into 'formal education' format, without any sort of a transition plan? Sure, the allure of cutting costs is appealing to those that view the world a 'fiscal quarter at a time' - but for those that have committed to a company by way of bonds or other long term commitments - it can be terrifying."

Matthew Sawtell

I have to add to Matthews statement that the introduction of the 3D model, as the basis for our design, has changed the process completely. Eliminating the drawing or layout in the beginning, and now using 3D CAD has made design a single step with the documentation created at the end instead of at the beginning of the process, being performed by a single designer. The skills of the designer with the orthographic drawing or layout are not needed and I had to face the cold hard facts:

The Draftsman is not needed.

Ref: The Death of the Drawing

But per the definition below we still need drafting. Do we need a new profession or will the degreed engineer be happy providing this level of design? 


"The systematic representation and dimensional specification of mechanical and architectural structures"

As you can see the above description can include 3D design, I will get into that later.

Drafting is an ancient art. Dating back centuries.

What is a Draftsman?

The Draftsman made drawings!

Prior to 3D CAD we made drawings. Yes, we can create what are called 2D drawings today by creating views or instances of the 3D model and adding dimensions and annotation. These are not drawings, they are what I call the AID (Associated Information Document). Yes there is the Autocad electronic drawing, but they are handled like paper drawings.

What is a drawing?

A drawing is a document that describes the part/assembly in an orthographically projected format. These were the reason draftsman were here. They were time consuming and an engineer’s time was much more valuable than doing grunt design and detailing.

This document was used to convey the information to manufacturing. It was in a standard format that was developed over centuries. When done correctly stood alone without a need for any additional information, explanation or clarity.

There was also a standard procedure for handling the drawings. The draftsman would work with an engineer or designer or develop the design himself/herself. He/she would actually do the design on a layout (a drawing with no set standards) then do the part drawings or give the layout to other draftsmen to create the part drawings. The drawings had to be detailed to meet a certain standard. Even though the draftsman may have had decades of experience it still had to be checked.

What is the Checker?

The checker was an experienced draftsman whose only purpose was to check the drawing. He/she would mark every dimension and note with a red or yellow marker. Nothing was not marked. When the checking process was done it was given back to the original draftsman to do the corrections. This process was as important as the design and drawing. This is not some quick review this is a time consuming review of the design itself. If this step is bypassed or ignored the resulting costs for a missed error are 10 fold. Below I have described the revision process handling errors. Just think of the cost of a bad titanium part? It has always been a rule "Measure twice, Cut once". All draftsman knew and appreciated this, learning many lessons from the Checkers input. Murphy's law was the draftsman's arch enemy!

The draftsman learned from every job. Soon he/she became very knowledgeable in the standards of their industry. They became the designers of the products. Every large manufacturing company had a drafting group. Even though the drafting group was part of engineering it was basically separate with its own responsibility.

This is another reason for creating a complete AID (model based drawing) from our parts instead of allowing the minimizing of the information to manufacturing that is now being promoted by MBE. It is much easier to review and check. I will go into this later.

What was the drafting group?

The drafting group was only composed of draftsman. Sometimes a large company, like Boeing, would place the new engineers in the drafting group for a year to get an understanding of the industry standards. Drafting was all about standards.

The drafting group was responsible for creating the drawings and making sure they were correct and met universal and company standards. Much of the design was done by a one or a few draftsmen under the supervision of a lead engineer.

Drafting was responsible for releasing completely defined and checked drawings to manufacturing. This was a standard process that may be composed of many drawings that made up the assembly. The drawing was taken around for review and approval by specific engineering groups, such as manufacturing, materials and stress analysis. The title block had all of the basic information of the drawing. The drawing name and number and space for approval signatures. It also included UOS (Unless otherwise specified) information, such as tolerancing, view orientation and used on. When the title block was signed off the engineering was complete and it was delivered to Document Control who created the blue prints and delivered it to the relevant groups, like purchasing, manufacturing or out to suppliers for bids plus the blueprint centers. Then the originals were stored in vaults. Yes, actual vaults.


What is Document Control?

It was basically an admin group that would take the drawing bundle and create the prints, as blue prints or microfiche and deliver to the appropriate areas making the available to all of the other relevant departments such as purchasing, tech pubs and other engineering groups. This group like Drafting was associated with but separate from engineering. Today this is part of engineering included in the PLM system. But it only handled the drawings which were standard deliverables from engineering. PLM handles the native CAD data as standard deliverables. Data inside engineering and documents to deliver outside engineer should be separate and handled by different groups. This is why PLM will never succeed.

What is purchasing?

Purchasing is the department that would deliver the drawings to manufacturing, in-house or outside suppliers for quotes. Purchasing would keep track of the revisions and where the parts were used. The drawings would include used on information. For example, Boeing would have the different effectivities (blocks of airplanes) for the different assemblies used. Many times one drawing would have many different configurations for the different airplanes defined as dash numbers. This is another place where PLM has failed. Due to the way the Pro/e paradigm is set up, you have to handle referenced external parts. While this may be advantageous for conceptual design it is a horror show for final released projects and to be used as deliverables. They should be in one single file where all information is available without resorting to the convoluted native file system. I describe a more logical system below.

What is manufacturing?

I know this seems like a silly question, but as I read articles from the MSME and PHDs that are so called PLM experts thinking they know how all of this works, it is very apparent to an experienced Draftsman they have no clue. They sit in some ivory tower and just think how it should work. None have ever created a design or a parts list and probably never poured over a drawing seeing how the parts are made. I chuckle how they use BOM (Bill of Materials) never knowing that was basically an architectural term. I never saw it until working with Autocad, and now it seems to be part of the lexicon of industrial/mechanical engineering. Sadly the PLM folks are trying to expand their sphere of influence into manufacturing. But luckily there is much more common sense in manufacturing and they will not fall for their failed solutions. Manufacturing "has" to deliver or they don't get paid.

Ref: PL or BOM?

Manufacturing takes the drawing and creates the parts. When the parts are made they are inspected to the drawing and delivered for assembly.  Manufacturing is not part of engineering or drafting. Once they get the drawings they usually put them in a different format to use in different processes. Many companies have planning groups that manage the manufacturing process.

At assembly, engineering may or may not supervise the process assuring that the assembly meets the functionality of the design. After that engineering will step out of the picture unless there are “Problems”!!

Sometimes engineering is not present at assembly. Imagine an aircraft assembly line. The plane starts down this line. There is a part that doesn’t fit or the assembly instructions are vague. They have a liaison engineer that instantly handles the problem with a temporary fix. Nothing can hold up the assembly line. He/she will write up a rejection tag describing the problem and the fix. This rejection tag is sent to the responsible group. 

What is a revision?

The responsible group gets the rejection tag and assigned it to a draftsman. Why a draftsman? The drafting group is the most familiar with the design and documentation of the product. The draftsman investigates the problem and working with the lead engineer and creates a fix.

How are revision handled?

The original drawing can be difficult to change every time there is a small error and is very time consuming. Engineering needs a fast way to communicate the correction to manufacturing. Manufacturing is happily creating what may be incorrect parts, thereby wasting time and material. It is very important to get that change to them as fast as possible.  Many times manufacturing was notified to stop making the parts.

What is an ADCN?

Advanced Drawing Change Notice. This was a document created on 8.5x11 sheets describing the fix and stapled on or added to the prints. They were released to Document Control and handled like initial released parts.

What is the DCN?

Drawing Change Notice. This was when the original drawing has to be changed. Sometimes the correction is too large to define as an ADCN. Also it maybe done just to incorporate the outstanding ADCNs when times were slow. Drawings were stored in vaults, yes real vaults. You would go to the vault and check out the original drawing.  Again a DCN is released the same as the initial release to Document Control.

All of the above process were done by Drafting. Engineer were never involved in this process except for the review and approval of the design. They felt assured that the drawings were done correctly since it was not their responsibility and they trusted drafting.

That is drafting in a nutshell.

Enter 3D CAD!

In the beginning of 3D CAD it was the same as what I described above. The draftsman did all of the design under the scrutiny of an engineer. An engineer was always involved with the design and was always the last word with approval.

I was introduce to 3D CAD in 1982 with Computervision CADDS 4. 3D CAD was in the realm of the draftsman. Engineers did not have time to learn 3D CAD. Draftsmen continued to do the design and creating drawings. But we did not create drawings we created what I have coined AID (Associated Information Documents). Yes they looked like drawings and functioned the same. They would be checked and corrected by revising the 3D model and AID.

Ref: The 1980's - 3D CAD - The Beginning

Ref: The Death of the Drawing

I get criticized for making the distinction between the drawing and the AID. But you just do not create a drawing when you design in 3D. I created manual drawings for years, and the AID is something very different and much, much easier.

On a drawing you design by "drawing" separate orthographic project views on a 2D plane. I even hate to use the 2D reference, since it is so obviously redundant. We did the manual drawings on a drafting board, calling it a 2D drafting board would be just silly. If you could read a drawing you could see the real world 3D part. Today, I have been told of young engineers that need an Isometric view just to understand the part.

For years 3D CAD was in the realm of the draftsman. I would like to say that when Pro/engineer showed up in 1988, that was the time the engineers started using 3D CAD. But it wasn’t so. While on contract at Solar Turbines in 1985 they let all of the 3D CAD draftsman go. They told the engineers that they had to get trained on Computervision CADDS 4X. They balked but Solar management said “Get on the CAD system or you are fired”. I was the last of the contractors left and trained the engineers. They became very good users when they finally put their minds to it.

I was introduced to PC based 3D CADKEY while on contract at Boeing 747 Flight Deck. I was told there was a PC based 3D CAD system on a couple of Compaq’s. It sparked my interest since I was working on the board. CADKEY was 3D wireframe and very similar to Computervison. I was up to speed in 2 weeks of lunch hours and convinced the supervisor to start a test project  We designed the first observer’s station, passing 3D wireframe graphics back and forth to Catia 3 using IGES. We would get the station loft lines from Catia to do our design. I was instrumental in introducing CADKEY into Boeing. They would have been miles ahead if they would have adopted CADKEY instead of Catia.

I saw the writing on the wall. Computervision cost $250,000 per seat with a minimum system consisting of 3 Seats. CADKEY with a PC, 19” Monitor was around $9000. The only difference between both Catia and Computervision and CADKEY was a bit of rudimentary surfacing. Which was soon included in CADKEY. I founded TECH-NET, quickly becoming a CADKEY VAR and proceeded to supply not only Boeing but all of their suppliers in the NW. I think because of Boeing the NW quickly adopted 3D CAD, mostly bypassing the Autocad electronic drawing horror show.

Ref: All About Telecommuting and Online Collaboration

Enter PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) & MBE (Model Based Enterprise)

Things were going well. Boeing was supplying 3D models and complete AID (drawings) from their Catia 4 system to theirs suppliers. Then the suppliers started calling me telling me that Boeing was not supplying drawings any more. They were delivering something called a PMI (Product Manufacturing Information). This was what could only be called a 3D drawing with the dimensions done in a 3D space on different planes. It was a mess and could only be read by a Catia 5 station or some expensive Dassualt provided viewer. The suppliers were up in arms, they did not want to spend money on software that Boeing demanded they have to view the parts.

They went from an easy to duplicate drawing to an electronic mess. Soon Boeing was demanding, or I should say, suggesting that the supplier also get a 3D party validation program to make sure the solid models were the same, basically comparing apples to apples. It was and still is a horror show.

Ref: Compare and Validation Programs? Band-Aids for Self Inflicted Wounds!

How are Revisions handled today?

MBD (Model Based Definition) or MBE (Model Based Enterprise) demands that the solid model be the authorizing document.

Let's go back to the earlier description of the error on the assembly line. What does the liaison engineer do today. Does he have to get to the original part in Catia? Does he dare to make any changes? Of course not. There are no drawings to mark up. How does he get the problem defined and corrected and sent to the responsible group. The rejections tags were all done on sketches tracing the affected views on 8.5x11 sheets. I do not know how it is handled today.

Okay, let's say the error is delivered to the responsible group. They have to change the model directly. The Catia 5 system, basically a Pro/e clone, is not conducive to change even when done by the original designer, with the turnover of personnel, especially engineers, it will probably go to another engineer. Depending on the complexity of the part and the experience of the original and the new designer this can become a horror show.

Ref: Is 3D CAD Productivity an Oxymoron?

Ref: The Worst to Best CAD System and Why!

I was at a seminar and they had a Boeing rep explaining the MBE process. I asked him how liaison was handling the problems on the assembly line. He said "Oh, yes, we are looking into that." I realize at that moment that the MBE decision was not thought through. I guarantee this concept can only work in a very tightly controlled design environment where all design and manufacturing is done in-house or with very few selected suppliers.

Ref: Next Generation CAD Technology Applied!

The model has to be completely reviewed to assure that it only reflects the current change. This is a hugely time consuming process as compared to the ADCN. But MBE has made it a requirement that the supplier can not modify the model. It is strange that in the past manufacturing was trusted with only the drawing to make correct parts. What makes anyone think the solid model is some sacred object?

Now I have seen this rule being violated for the sake of time. Manufacturing is all about correct parts and schedules. The engineering is now more of a problem than a solution.

I am an active member of Linkedin and saw this discussion:

Engineers as Draftsman, my how times have changed...

Kevin Willey

CIO at I4See

At one time, engineers considered producing drawings as a job that was for the worker bees.

Almost as if the labor was beneath them, probably for good reason since a company could hire several draftsman for the price of one engineer.

Then along came Cad. The idea was to make the drawing faster and increase the number of project completed over any given time period.

Someone got the idea that all those draftsman could be replaced by the engineer doing their own drawings.

So today, an engineer spends a disparate amount of time doing the work formerly done by a draftsman and far less actually engineering.

Think about the work for a second, near 90% of the drawing is cookie cutter work. This requires five years of university? Once it only took two years of college.

Now consider that the new engineer, when entering a company has to be trained on whichever software that company uses.

One has to wonder who is doing the cost/benefit analysis on this and what color the sky is in their world.

My, my, how times have changed...

It was an article I could have written. I was surprised that someone else saw this happening. I was the first to comment, this was posted over 3 years ago and has 8628 comments. I was actively posting about the waste it was to have engineers do form, fit and function design. Many engineers joined the discussion. All were 3D CAD experts. They all claimed to be able to create fully dimension AIDs (Model based drawings). Surprisingly besides the BSME’s, there were two P.E.s and one MSME. You rarely saw a P.E. show up in the drafting rooms of the past. When they did they walked on water. I never saw or met one MSME in my career.

So today with  these Engineers touting their design and detailing skills. What chance does the poor draftsman have? The engineering world is truly upside down!!

The Paradigm Shifted

But Slowly, my viewpoint started changing.

How do we design today?

3D CAD is the today's tool of engineering. All design is done on CAD. We don’t design by drawing separate orthographic views anymore. We design 3D parts directly. It is very simple and easy to do once you learn the CAD system.

 Ref: Learning Mechanical CAD

This is really 3D drafting. It serves the exact same purpose of the process we did in the past. We have the same design challenges, nothing has changed. We still have to put screws in holes and make sure they will fit. Nothing has changed except a degreed engineer is now doing it. They will now design non-critical products not using any of their analysis skills. They will be low end designers, known in the past as the "draftsman". Sadly, they will not know any better. But the engineering management path, that many young engineers dream of, has just become much more narrow.

The engineers I have talked to seem to be happy to do the simple grunt work of form, fit and function design that was left to the draftsman in the past. But this type of design is not taught in college. I wonder if there will be a smooth process of learning this on the job as it was done in the past with the draftsman. I am not even sure that CAD is taught in college yet today. It will in the future as soon as the type of CAD system becomes irreverent.

Ref: Educating the New CAD Engineer - 2015

Ref: Universal CAD Compatibility is Here!  

Many have tried to keep the draftsman in the loop. By creating parts and giving them to draftsmen to detail. I have laughed many time when an engineer complains about the drawing not being done correctly without giving the draftsman the complete assembly. In the past we would give prints of the design layouts to the draftsman for detailing, so they could see the relationships of the parts. It is the draftsman fault for accepting this limited amount of information. Many act like the draftsman is just low experienced detailer. But many, like myself, are senior designers and have taken on many design projects and lead positions. We have trained and supported many young engineers.

If the engineers are willing to do this type of design then more power to him/her. But if they are going to do it, the system has to change.

All of the standard processes that used to be the responsibility of drafting have to be re-implemented. Today the engineers are doing peer checking. This is a very weak process. You need a experienced engineer dedicated to the checking process. Murphy’s law sit on all of our shoulders.

We will have levels of engineers where their designs and documentation will be reviewed by other engineers. Are egos going to get in the way? The manufacturing, material and stress engineer are also going to have their input. I just wonder how this is all going to work out. The draftsman was a worker bee and, yes, many times spoke up when he/she saw a bad decision, but mostly went along with the program. Part of a draftsman’s job was to make an engineer and engineering look good. Many times we carried a young engineer. Draftsmen virtually had no path to management, that was the reason contract engineering was a great option for the skilled draftsman. We would watch the politics played by the engineers and shake our head and get back to work.

I do agree there is no place for the draftsman in today’s engineering design process. There will be no non-degreed engineers as in the past. Engineering is going through a transition and the draftsman’s viewpoint, which was the glue that held engineering together, is not there to help mold it. This truly is the cause of the chaotic state of engineering today.

Today engineering is managed by PLM and its ugly step child, MBE.


To the PLM expert, data management is engineering's priority one problem. The high end CAD programs do not push their design prowess. That technology is available at a much lower costs today. So what makes them more valuable? Ah, yes, PLM, which is nothing more than data management, created by the convoluted minds of the PLM suppliers.

MBD (Model Based Definition) seems to be pushed by inspection, where GD&T is their religion. They are trying to minimize the engineering documentation in the form of PMI (Product Manufacturing Information) delivering what you can only call a 3D drawing. It truly is the worst attempt to deliver complete information to manufacturing. Sadly, there are no draftsman there to protest and engineers seem to be oblivious to the lack of continuity in this process.


View the image on the right. There are virtually no dimensions, just overly complex GD&T Feature Control. Oh, yes, add GD&T expert to the CAD engineer's required skills. As you can see it is a simple sheet metal part that in the past would mostly be covered by UOS (Unless Otherwise Specified) standard industry tolerances. As a senior draftsman you can only laugh at what is being called important today.

Ref: Redefining 2D/3D

Ref: The Embedded Title Block! A PLM Solution!

Boeing bought this concept hook line and sinker and it has been a horror show requiring Band-Aid after Band-Aid trying to make it work.

Today there is no standard deliverable that can be given to manufacturing that equals the simplicity of a standard drawing. Manufacturing has to jump through many differently defined hoops for each large customer and their customized PLM system trying to complexly automate some very simple steps.

From a simple but very complete drawing that takes no special software to view and understand, to incredibly complex CAD programs and viewers just to view the design. Integrated or 3rd party PLM and PDM data management programs that are managed inside engineering. MBE's complex idiosyncratic requirements, defined by groups outside engineering. 3rd party validation programs that basically compare apples to apples. It truly is a mess.

Can engineering get back to a standard process equal to what was done in the past?

There are many vested interests that would suffer if any effort to do this was attempted. Is there even the applicable knowledge of the past process to understand what needs to be done? CAD has been here for over 30 years. How can we expect them to design a system that would equal a standard system that was developed over centuries?

Now the smaller companies have not fallen for this PLM/MBE fiasco and never will. This process is very costly requiring expense software solutions and specific expertise to maintain it. The solid model and a complete AID (model based drawing) is the deliverable that is necessary for completed engineering to be delivered to manufacturing. I believe engineering should again take charge. I believe that a completely dimensioned drawing not only adds clarity but gives the designer a second look at the design to find errors or even a better design. I always find some error when I completely detail my parts and I have 50 years experience, what chance does a young engineer have? It also provides an easy to reviewing and checking format that requires no special software or even a computer. Paper is very cheap, easy to handle and recyclable.

Here is a comment on my article "Why MBE, MBD and PMI Will Fail"

"The big problem is, any failure will be blamed on the responsible engineers and not an unworkable system. MBE is already being backstopped by drawings in many organizations that are forced to use MBE, but the drawings are frequently not in the release control process because they are not the "primary" data driving fabrication. A fine mess..."

The standard deliverable from engineering should not be a native file. It should be a PDF that includes the solid model and an AID (model based drawing) or other necessary documentation that is written directly from the CAD system in a standard format defined by the industry. Today most programs deliver a 3D PDF. What would it take to have Adobe create this format? Most of it has already been done!! This is just all too simple.

Ref: The Embedded Title Block! A PLM Solution!

Please remember, the only thing that CAD added was the 3D model. How can we now be in such a convoluted mess?

Yes, the death of the draftsman left a hole that may take a century to fill.

Here is a comment on this article from a Boeing Technical Designer (Draftsman)
The "flatfile" was what Boeing called the AID (model based drawing).

"Hi Joe,

It's been many, many years since we talked so the first order of business is to wish you a Happy and Healthy New Year!

I just got an e-mail from you and your discussion of the death of the draftsman was excellent. It is right on the money (one of the reasons you never heard from me was that I was employed by Boeing as a technical designer - fancy for drafter). Boeing is in the process of eliminating not only drafters but a large number of engineers. They're in the process of creating "Design Centers" in southern California, South Carolina, Texas and Russia, but you probably know this.

I was part of the Interior Responsibilities Group and I tried to tell everyone that the next 777 will be all model based definition and that all the bullshit we were doing with pdm and creating documents would go away. I remember leaving a meeting and betting a co-worker that he couldn't find a flat file anywhere in engineering (remember those?).
With the new 777 there will most likely be a new version of Enovia that will promise more ease and faster engineering turn-around time but given the fact it comes from Dassault and Boeing it will end up carrying more baggage than ever!

Anyway, enjoyed the article.
Take care

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