The History of Boeing Engineering Documentation!

Engineering documentation is the language of Engineering.

 Engineering's total purpose is to make available concise, complete and unambiguous documentation to manufacturing.

I am probably the one of the few that know this history. This is not just Boeing’s history but probably the history of all the very large manufacturing companies. Boeing literally wrote the book on engineering documentation with the many company standards that were applied and monitored by the incredible drafting group.

First, I was a born draftsman! When I was in the fourth grade I read about hydraulics and wondered who worked with this. I found it was engineers and draftsman. Drafting? What the heck is that.

I took a look and started buying small drafting kits. When I got to high school I sign up for drafting class. Sadly, they put me in a round robin course that included a quarter of drafting, metal shop, wood shop and radio shop. Radio Shop, good gawd electronics is still FM to me. I never followed up on it. It seemed like the drafting class was always full. Not much student guidance in those days. I was a bit of a handful anyway.

I had two parents with personal problems that did not allow them to even realize they were supposed to raise children, so my sisters and I raised ourselves. I got out of high school with no plans and no job!

My Miracle

There were quite a few of us in this situation, not interested in college with no profession. I had already come back from a trip to California (Where Washington State boys went for adventure). I worked a bit down there and started college. But I was lonely and came home.

Suddenly, my friends and I got wind of a program sponsored by Boeing for Draftsman and Electronics assemblers. I had an aptitude test that show my spatial skills were off the charts and I got accepted.

This started 55 years in engineering, 17 years manual drafting, 38 years 3D CAD, 33 years selling, training, supporting and providing design and drafting services in the Great Northwest!

A little aside: I had native knowledge of descriptive geometry. Descriptive geometry was one of the basic skills of a draftsman. I was in my sophomore year in Geometry class. We had just taken the test on Descriptive Geometry. The teacher stood at the front of the room and stated "There is only one person that has ever taken this test and got a perfect score, Joe Brouwer" My fame was short lived the next tests were on theorems. 

The History of Boeing Engineering Documentation

Boeing 1965

It was 1965, when I stepped to my first drafting board.

Worked in the Triple 7 Passenger Accommodations, nope not 777, but the 707, 727 and 737, soon I was transferred to the 747 Escape Slides group! I was not happy making layouts for the new engineers that were getting paid more, so I headed out as a contract engineer in 1968.

At that time all the drawings were done on mylar! That is a plastic film using plastic lead.

We would do the drawings, review them, check them and release them to document control. They would create blueprints and stock the blueprint counters manned by young woman throughout the buildings. The originals were stored in a vault. Yes, an actual vault. Boeing knew the value of the engineering documentation. A very proven system.

Every company I worked for handled the documentation the same way. I would walk on the job and would be productive that day due to the common engineering standard.

 Boeing 1975

I got married and decided to go direct at Boeing, strange as it may be I was put right back in the Triple 7 payloads group (Passenger Accommodation) in Renton, WA.

Ten years and not much had changed.

The blueprint girls were gone, and the drawings were on microfiche.

I was at Boeing for about 5 months, contract engineering was in my blood, back on the contract engineer (jobshop) trail. More Money, more Overtime! “Have Drafting Machine, will Travel" My wife was a free spirit and moving around the country appealed to her. So we packed up our daughter and two Saint Bernard's and drove 3000 miles to Pratt and Whitney in West Palm, FL. Jobshoppers we an elite group that depended on their skills. If you weren't producing in a week you were out the door. Yes, 3000 miles.

My First 17 Years or "How did we do it without 3D CAD!"

The standard engineering document at that time! The standard engineering drawing was honed to perfection after centuries.

The Manual Drawing - The Perfect Engineering Document


I moved from job to job and in 1982 I was on my second contract with Williams Research in Walled Lake, MI fondly known as “Willy’s Rocket Shop”. I always seemed to show up in Michigan in the winter.

I was lucky to be allowed to learn Computervision CADDS 4 after work. After a couple of weeks I was put on the system and became a 3D CAD draftsman.

Why did these companies move to 3D CAD?

You can not look at 3D then with today’s 3D eyes. The systems were 3D wireframe. The selling point of 3D CAD systems that cost millions was faster documentation. The model was only used in the creation of the document. They were made by defining views from the 3D model in a documentation module and detailed and annotated per the current drawing standard. They were plotted on vellum and sent to document control where they would be handled like manual drawings. They were exactly like manual drawings except the lettering was perfect.

But these were not drawings, there was no drawing done at all.

Computer Generated Engineering Document

Sadly, they continued to call these CGEDs (My acronym) drawings, which caused a mass of confusion in the future. More on this later.

What is 3D wireframe? Look at the lower image, are you look up or down at the part? Yes, that was a constant problem. Especially when working with the poor engineers. 3D CAD was in the realm of drafting, since it was to create the documentation.

The Death of the Drawing

After 10 months I was a seasoned user. Being the quintessential jobshopper I sent out my resume and found that Computervision CADDS 4 users were in huge demand. I took a job at Comdial in Charlottesville, VA! My rate went from $20.00 to $35.00!! Not only that I did something unheard of, I jumped engineering disciplines from aerospace to plastics. I soon found that 3D CAD was flourishing in these two disciplines.

I went from Comdial to Solar Turbine, back to Williams and then back to Boeing with a week stop off at Goodyear in Akron.


I took a contract at Boeing in 747 Flight Deck in Everett, WA. It was a board job and the only reason I took it was to get back to my family and my newborn son.

All large manufacturing firms skipped electronic drafting and moved directly to 3D CAD. Boeing gave Computervision a try, they had a CADDS 3 system. But Computervision was developing a poor reputation with its mini-mainframe and Boeing started looking at other systems. They look to the Dassault product, Catia. It ran on IBM computers. No one was fired for buying IBM.

Catia 2, like CADDS 4 was wireframe. It seemed like there was no documentation being created out of Catia 2 that I can remember. They seem to be creating section lofts for us to use for our manual drawing. If they did create documentation, I don’t remember seeing it. They only let direct prima donna draftsman on Catia.

Again the engineering world was about to change.

I was whining about being a “3D CAD” design draftsman and the horror of being back on the board. One other draftsman said “Joe, there is a PC based 3D CAD system on two Compaqs in the small office”. Hmm PC based 3D CAD???

Interestingly, I was already familiar with the PC and had played with Autocad on my IBM Luggable with a 5-inch amber screen. It was a horror show. I did a fence for my back yard. I was a 3D CAD designer, and this was a huge step backward.

I jumped on the system and it was CADKEY! It was very much like CADDS 4 but instead of using a dig pad it used a UGI. It had a color monitor, CADDS 4 was monochrome, green on black. It was 3D wireframe and within 2 weeks of lunch hours I talked the management into doing a test project.

Joe, I thought this was about Boeing documentation?

Hold on I am almost there.

We did the 747-400 first observer workstation. This was the beginning of a two-person flight deck crew. I worked with an engineer and the project went flawlessly. Boeing had the plotting in place using the HP plotting file standard: HPGL. My CEGD (electronic documents) were plotted checked and released into the system just like a manual drawing.

We could get loft information from Catia via IGES. I am shocked how well both systems worked together at the time. Later I found that CADDDS 4 also worked with CADKEY with IGES.

Soon we had every draftsman and board engineer on CADKEY.

I was the training and CADKEY manager and still doing design work.

The 1980's - 3D CAD - The Beginning

These were not drawing but CGED (Computer Generated Engineering Document) which the Boeing Draftsmen fondly called “The Flatfile” as compared to the 3D model.

Until 1987 the 3D model was only used to create these CGED or “Flatfiles”, again since they were plotted and released like manual drawings, they were called drawings even though there was no drawing involved. This misnomer moved to all drawing like documents and became the "2D Drawing", which caused a mass of confusion as the implementation of 3D CAD was introduced to engineering.

1986 to 1987  - Model/AID Documentation

The Boeing Authorizing Engineering Document delivered were manual drawings or CGED “Flat Files” from CADKEY or Catia 2 and delivered as Prints!

Seeing the future of PC base 3D CAD I founded TECH-NET and became a CADKEY dealer.

A new milestone was going to appear.

Enter 3D surfacing 1988

This was by far the biggest advancement in engineering and 3D CAD.

With surfacing came CNC program software. It was interesting that they were released on the PC, programs like MasterCAM, SmartCAM, SurfCAD and many others.

Where were the surfaces coming from?

CADDS 4 and Catia were getting better at creating usable surfaces delivered as IGES files. Pro/e was introduced right on the cusp of this movement and could export the solid models as IGES surfaces.

CADKEY had a 3rd party surfacing program called FasfSURF and joined the high-end systems providing IGES surface models.

This was the surfacing manual from FastSURF! It was 3D in CADKEY and we could use them as actual examples. We sold hundreds of FastSURF as CNC and 3D printing was being widely introduced.

1995 Solid Modeling On the PC - CAD productivity Soared!

Boeing and the industry documentation changed.

Engineering documentation: Model/AID

We now had the 3D model available for milling machines and sheet metal to use CNC programming.

The CGED were much easier to create in the documentation module with introduction the solid model and hidden line removal, prior to this we would have to do the hidden line removal manually. A tedious chore.

The CGED or “Flatfile” became what I have coined the AID (Associative Information Document) since they were still calling anything that looked like a drawing a drawing, or worse “The 2D drawing” as if there can be another kind.

The Death of the Drawing

Yes, Boeing and all of the large manufacturer were now supplying the machine shops and sheet metal houses with 3D models in the form of IGES to use as patterns and paper prints of the AIDs to define things like material, finishes and tolerances. The AID was fully detailed and annotated and could stand alone. This confused those that did not understand the concept as they thought only the AID was being delivered. Truly this was still misunderstood well into the next century.

PTC Creo Totally Misunderstands MBD

Solidworks Totally Misunderstands MBD

A Short Primer and History of Dimensioning

The Model/AID engineering documentation continued at Boing until the turn of the century. Most of the engineering world uses this concept today. MBE/MBD/PMI is very expensive to implement.

The PDF closed the door on paper prints.

After the introduction of the PDF around 1998 the manual drawings and AID were delivered as PDFs. This made the engineering documentation deliverable by email or assessable on a network. This opened the door directly between engineering and manufacturing. There were specific channels to report problems with parts and assemblies, this blurred that process. Today it is quite common, it should have been nipped at the bud in the beginning. There should be a wall between engineering and manufacturing and the only source of information it the released engineering document.

The Turn of the Century!

What Happened to CADKEY?

Before we move to the next milestone. I would like to explain why Boeing did not select CADKEY as their primary CAD system. It was much more functional and than Catia 2/ 3 and even Catia 4 and wide spread with approximately 1500 seats.

But it ran on a PC.

BCS (Boeing Computer Services) were in charge of all computing and they didn't like the PC and any software that ran on it. They were losing control to those with layman PC skills. So they opted for the networked Catia, costing millions and stifling Boeings 3D CADs growth for 10 years. Boeing could have led the way with sophisticated direct edit modeling on the PC instead opting for Catia 5 that was a clone of the complex history based Pro/e paradigm 10 years later.

CADKEY or Catia? Boeing’s Billion-Dollar 3D CAD Mistake!

Enter Catia 5 and PLM

The complex history based and constrained sketching paradigm of Catia 5 is not conducive with aircraft design where change is the only constant.

The engineering documentation world changed at Boeing with the incredibly overly complex implementation of Dassault Catia 5 PLM, a poorly designed Pro/e clone.

The Worst to Best 3D MCAD Systems Expanded!

This started Boeing engineering on a downward path.

Boeing, was the greatest engineering/manufacturing company on the planet they wrote the book on engineering documentation and handed over all the engineering documentation responsibilities to Dassault Catia 5 PLM with virtually no evaluation period.

"Chaos is always the result of trying to reinvent the wheel
 in a place where the wheel is very well defined.

Product knowledge, proven standards and
work force continuity is the formula for design success.

Boeing InfoTechs or IT (Old BCS) working with Dassault moved to PC based Catia 5 at the turn of the century. Prior to that they used a Catia 4 on an IBM networked system.

Prior to Catia 5 Boeing was sending IGES and STEP files along with a print of the AID. I am sure they never thought what the suppliers were using, which was PC Base CADKEY. TECH-NET supplied Boeing, all of their suppliers and many other industries with CADKEY in the NW. CADKEY was the only effective and compatible PC Based 3D CAD package at the time.

The 1990's - 3D CAD/CAM Moves to the PC!!

With the implementation of Catia 5 Boeing recommended that all suppliers get a seat of Catia 5 to be compatible.

Soon CADKEY and IronCAD included the ability to read Catia 5 files. My customers were still using CADKEY or IronCAD to import the native Catia 5 files by passing the Catia 5 seat that was used to satisfy Boeing.

The Moment Boeing Disconnected from the Proven Standards they Created

I got a call from one of my Boeing suppliers and they told me that Boeing was not including the prints with the model and they were just sending the native model. They now had a new authorizing document!

The 2000's - The Age of 3D CAD Un-Enlightenment!

Enter MBE/MBD and the PMI

The PLM folks were struggling keeping the 3D model and the AID synchronized.
Someone came up with the bright idea:

MBE – Model Based Enterprise MBD - Model Base Definition

This was strange since we were sending the 3D model with the AID since the late 1980’s with the introduction of surfaces and CNC. We were already MBD since 1988!

But this new idea solved the two-file problem by including all of the dimensional and annotation information in the 3D model. No draftsman would ever agree to this type of documentation. But drafting had very little input at Boeing, engineering has always considered drafting as engineering’s ugly stepchild.

This single file was called the PMI (Product Manufacturing Information). I have always thought the InfoTechs used the word “Product” quite broadly. PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) or PDM (Product Data Management) when they were really working with documentation which defined parts and assemblies.

Now we had the PMI.



PMI Annotation and Notes. Yes, that is in 3D Space!

It is impossible to check or review.


This is by far the worse engineering document ever devised. It is a top down solution. It was never something that was developed by Drafting, the group that handled all of the documentation.

I have many articles describing the huge limitations and convoluted process to use these documents.



Can the 3D Model Be Used as the Design Authority?

PLM/MBE/PMI Absurdity!!

So, what were the ramifications of implementing MBE and the PMI?

Of course, for some reason Boeing management does not believe in an evaluation period. They seem to go cold turkey into totally unproven technology.

First Problem

The PMI replaced the AID (drawing). If they don’t need drawings, they don’t need draftsman. This is how incredibly short-sighted Boeing management was. They eliminated the complete Drafting Group and let the draftsman, now called Engineering Techs, go by attrition. You have to have a BSME to get a 3D CAD engineer job at Boeing today.

They also eliminated the Document Control Group that was manned by inexpensive admin people. Replaced by expensive PLM consultants managing an unworkable system.

The Death of the Drawing

The did this without any transition plan to get the engineers up and running handling the documentation, release and revisions. Sadly, it is still this way. Where it was draftings job to totally manage the documentation, it now became part of the 3D CAD engineers job. The engineer was now responsible for the design, CAD development, documentation and document control with wonderful unworkable PLM software.

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

Educating the New 3D CAD Engineer

Should the New 3D CAD Engineer Learn Drafting?

The Millennial 3D MCAD Engineer

Engineering Technologist? Engineering Technician?

Engineering Yesterday & Today
Engineer's Job Description
The Search for the Purple Squirrel

Second Problem

Boeing and MBE demands that the supplier use the native CAD file. So, if they did not have a seat of Catia 5 CNC they were required to have a $5000.00 validation software that would compare the native Catia 5 model with the model they would use for CNC. It was, of course, apple to apples. This software would generate an 8.5 x 11 sheet that had to be filed if Boeing would come by and check.

Why is validation important?

The drawing had all of the part information as with the fully detailed AID. So you had a definition of the part in stone.

The model offers a bit of a problem when making sure it is duplicated. A few CAD companies created a compare programs that would validate the CAM or Neutral file was the same as the native CAD file.

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

Catia 5 and many of the major CAD system file can be corrupt. This could be a huge problem if discovered by the manufacturer. The model should go through a checking process to assure that they are good models.

Lost In Translation! A Guide to 3D CAD Translation Formats

Talking to Catia!! and other Popular 3D CAD Packages

Corrupt 3D CAD Parts

Another situation is the Boeing sends manual drawings to the supplier for them to convert to 3D Models using Catia 5 and I am not sure if they are to supply the 3D Catia model with the finished parts.

You would think they would have an in house group that would do this. This would give the newbie engineer some valuable engineering and Catia experience.

Sending manual drawings from a company that has based its documentation on MBE/PMI is inexcusable.

If you would like to see an actual situation take a look at "A Drawing to 3D Conversion Failure!" at the end of this article.

All You Wanted to Know About Drawing to 3D Conversions

Third Problem

There was no standard for PMI! There was no way to read it without buy a seat of Catia 5 or Inovia, this is the same problem with the other native files with PMI from the other major CAD programs. There were 3rd party programs. My CAD software ZW3D reads the PMI native files of Solidworks, Catia 5, NX and Creo. There were no standards so no free way to view these files.

There may be a STEP file format, but again they are not delivering the native file.

Years ago Adobe Acrobat 3D read Catia 5 PMI and delivered a STEP file and PDF with the PMI!

There are programs that allow you to detail the part for quoting. As you can see below there are no overall dimensions whatsoever. Besides inspection and CNC it is virtually worthless without a compatible CAD system.

Quoting Tools: CAD Dimensioning
Another Band-Aid for MBE!

Forth Problem

I really do not know how they will handle assemblies. Assemblies in the past have been nothing but schematics showing how it goes together. A 3D model is pretty much useless since the assemblers have the parts in front of them. Plus how do they define an inseparable assembly?

Fifth Problem

Revisions, being model based they can not just mark up a drawing and send it to the supplier. They have to revise the model directly. As you know Catia 5 is based on the PTC Pro/e paradigm of strict history and constrained sketching that can be very complicated to change depending the complexity of the model. This, of course, is very dangerous. You would almost have to have a validation function to check the model to see it there were no other problem. Since you have not got an AID (drawing) for a comparison this would be be visual only. This a playground for Murphy.

Is 3D CAD Productivity an Oxymoron?

Sixth Problem

Since there is no real standard the engineers start bypassing the process and go directly to manufacturing. Where in the past the engineering archive was the only source of engineering documentation. This creates parts and assemblies that are not documented. The reason we have standard documentation is also for legal reasons. You have to be able to prove the design was safe or not when confronted with a legal suit.

This article is quite shocking! Engineering should be thoroughly reviewed and checked prior to release.

Engineering Documentation Today!

Engineering Documentation - A Primer for the PLM Guru!

So, there you go. I could probably find seven, eight, nine and on but I am sure you get the idea.


Boeing moved from in stone manual drawings, to safe 3D models/AIDs to a virtually unworkable documentation MBE/MBD/PMI system on an unworkable associated overly complex CAD system.

When PLM was implemented, the InfoTechs and PLM Gurus took over engineering documentation. Engineering management was now working in this newly defined processes. The engineers were creating workarounds.

It is quite interesting, document control pre-computer was a standard process developed by those that created and maintained the documentation. Yet, Boeing thought nothing of tossing the most important aspect of engineering to a group that would not look at how it was done in the past and decided they were smart enough to reinvent the wheel.

The results are devastating, but not only at Boeing, but across the aerospace industry. Many of my associates working in the field for decades have stated they do not think it can be salvaged.

Imagine trying to create a functional system with virtually no knowledge of the the past workable system? We are a minimum of 20 years past the point of no return. Those that were in the know are now into their 60s and retired.

It is going to get worse and crumble. I wonder if this is how civilizations come to an end.


 Of course, I have a solution. It is all very simple.

When engineering stopped managing the documentation and lost control or handed it to PLM other groups started filling in the gaps with very convoluted solutions.

Dimensional Engineers, Produciblity Groups, Quality Groups, Many Manufacturing solutions were created trying to make the computer work for them. But they created a mass of confusing overlapping processes.

Engineering and manufacturing were completely separate entities in the past. Now they seem to be an intermingled mass of confusion.

Engineering created an archive of released engineering documentation that was available to many different departments, in manufacturing you had purchasing and planning, you had marketing, Tech Pubs, it was even accessible to upper management.

Engineering and Manufacturing

The Space Between Engineering and Manufacturing

Solution 1 - Standardized Cloud Based Document Control

I have a concept called Cloud Based Document Control. I define it in these two articles. You really have to get a better control on the documentation not only in the archiving but in the creation. It is the only place you cannot have any short cuts.

Standard Cloud Based Engineering Document Control

Standard Cloud Based Engineering Document Control Part II

Here is a simple way to make sure the supplier is always working with the latest version. I really wonder why no one thought of this.

The Embedded Title Block! A PLM Solution!

We need to eliminate PLM at least in the area of engineering and documentation and put engineering back in charge of the the quality and correctness of the engineering archives.

Solution 2 - Engineers need to be well trained in "Standard" engineering documentation

We also have to have well trained engineers to create the standard documentation or a group responsible for the quality and correctness. We need them proficient in detailing and tolerancing no matter the format.

Can Engineering Survive without the Drafting Group?

Recommendations to the New CEO of Boeing

Solution 3 - Eliminate the dependency on associativity in the CAD system

Associativity is a bit of a fraud. While in the beginning of a design it shows a bit of added collaboration it becomes a nightmare with document management. We have to realize the 3D model is part of our documentation.

Document management has to be outside the CAD system in a cloud based archive. The parts and AIDs are easy, but we need to have the assemblies in there own single file or folder. I use a single model environment which is much easier than the major programs that would have to be packed and unpacked.

3D CAD Single Model Design Environment

The Integrated Drawing in 3D CAD

Solution 4  - Educate engineering managment on the past engineering processes!

Our engineering managers are far removed from an effective engineering environment and process. There should be classes on the history of engineering processes and documentation of the past. We truly need to put engineering back in the hands of engineering management professionals.

In conclusion I will restate these two definitions.

Engineering documentation is the language of Engineering.

 Engineering's total purpose is to make available concise, complete and unambiguous documentation to manufacturing.

TECH-NET Engineering Services!

We sell and support IronCAD and ZW3D Products and
provide engineering services throughout the USA and Canada!

 Why TECH-NET Sells IronCAD and ZW3D

If you are interested in adding professional hybrid modeling capabilities or looking for a new solution to increase your productivity, take some time to download a fully functional 30 day evaluation and play with these packages. Feel free to give me a call if you have any questions or would like an on-line presentation.

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Joe Brouwer