A conversation with another old school pattern maker brings this topic to the forefront -if you’re a highly skilled pattern maker accustomed to manual work, is it worth getting a CAD system for pattern making? For that matter, if you already have a CAD system but it is aging, should you upgrade to a newer version or get another software program altogether? The latter has been a real sore spot lately so I’ll try to tease these two out. This is a real crisis and I hope this gets through.
First, keep in mind that I’m old school too and I haven’t been using CAD very long myself. I know all of the reasons against it so let’s deal with that first. Oh wait, should I start with why you seriously need to consider it? Gosh, it’ll be hard to read but this is my personal opinion -not saying I’m right, it’s what I believe to be true.
Let’s be honest -how old are you? When do you plan to retire? If you plan to work another 10 to 15 years, the time to seriously consider it is past; it’s time to set a deadline for a decision -say January 1st? The key reason is that by failing to keep up with technology, we are defecting the trade. Yes, self attrition from what we love, we’re marginalizing ourselves. Today’s customer is looking for a soup to nuts pattern provider. This means patterns through markers. Yes, I know, grading and marker making was never part of our job description but this doesn’t make sense to today’s customer so the very best pattern makers out there are being pushed aside precisely at the time when we are most needed. Sure, it was typical for us to make our patterns and then pass them off to a grading and marking service for the rest of it but you know what? Stand alone grading and marking services are on the way out. It’s getting harder to find G & M services because the newer services are full package so if you don’t have CAD, you’re not going to have anyone to send your patterns to anymore. And if you can’t refer your customers to grading, you’re not going to get anymore work either. Today’s customer is savvier in this respect -if you don’t have CAD, you’re losing customers.
This is a situation that has caused me a lot of personal anguish: Over the past 20 years, I’ve sent a lot of work to a friend who owns a grading and marking service -that’s all she’s ever done and she’s very good at it. Last year she had her best year ever so I can’t get her to see that she’s on the edge of a precipice. The reason? I can’t afford to send her any more work; there are too many problems working with her archaic Gerber* files if they come back for correction or later revision. It takes hours of clean up that I cannot charge my customer for. I can’t charge my customer for that part of the job because I recommended the grader and it wasn’t the customer’s fault that my colleague uses outdated software (a case could be made that if I did charge for clean up, it was an indirect way of increasing my own receivables, knowing that the files would need work later on). So now, I reach the painful decision of not referring anymore work to my friend -and it kills me because she needs the income and she does wonderful work! My colleague has made noises about upgrading or getting another program but nothing has ever come of it. I can’t afford to eat the costs of her obsolescence in the interests of loyalty anymore. I don’t know what to say to her that I haven’t already said before. Since I don’t know how to have the conversation, I probably won’t say anything.
~An aside~*This is not intended as an indictment of Gerber. If anything, these problems are a testament to the stability and ubiquity of the program in that users don’t feel that they need to upgrade. Reason is, most enhancements focus on the drafting segment of the program and most of the users I have worked with are strictly grading and marking services so justifiably, they have little reason to upgrade. The conflict is that newer and competing CAD programs such that I use, can only be backward compatible to a certain extent. It is not reasonable for another software programs to create import utilities for Gerber files created on 10, 15 or 20 year old software. What I find troubling is that there is less awareness of the costs that my colleagues’ continued use of obsolescent software imposes on the community overall. At the same time, many don’t want to upgrade or migrate to other software because it cost them an incredible amount of time to learn the program. For many -perhaps as much as 60% of the market- Gerber is the only program they’ve ever used. Since it has such a towering reputation, users can’t imagine anything else would be as dependable or easier to use. But trust me, other programs don’t take as long to learn and they are a lot less work. It is hard to imagine but it is true.
If you have 10 or more years before you retire, consider taking a CAD class to try before you buy. If you can’t take a class, ask around to try a friend’s program. If you’re in my part of the world, you’re welcome to take a spin on mine. I cannot speak for everyone but the main barrier I had was that the CAD programs I had experience with, left me very unsatisfied. I didn’t feel I could do my best work that way. Everything was such a hassle, it took too long and I felt I could do better by hand. But finally, I knuckled under and yes, it took time to adjust and learn the software but I’m so glad I did. And yes, it was very difficult to summon the courage to do work I had little experience doing -such as making markers- but I’ve learned. It’s been good. It feels good to be able to still learn new things and acquire new skills. Making markers was terrifying at first but now, I’ve come to enjoy it.
I created a forum to support users of StyleCAD. I haven’t done much with it. Just me and another customer of mine are the only users but we’d be more active with it if there were any interest. Before I forget, I’m not paid to sell this software. I just think it saved me when I’d given up. I had tried another program before that and it was the worst and most expensive decision I’ve ever made. I lost a lot of money on buying that program.
Speaking of costs, you’d be surprised how amenable CAD sellers are to a personal approach. It’s not like buying a car or even a house, if you buy from given companies. StyleCAD isn’t the only company that will give you terms. Some will give you a discount if you’re a refugee from another CAD program. I got a discount by trading in my other software. I know that they will also let you make payments. I can’t speak for all of them but StyleCAD will let you pay out the cost over a year with no interest.
So ask me questions, what’s holding you back? Are you ready to pack it in and call it a day or will you stick around? We are losing the very best pattern makers in the trade because so few of them have CAD. It’s not useful to criticize younger pattern makers -they may be great with software but they need tutelage with patterns and who is there to do it? Will everything you know die with you because you can’t approach the abyss? Think about that.