Outsourcing Shop Drawings

It's a challenge to obtain drawings out-of-house that satisfy a CNC operation's need for precision and completeness. October 3, 2007

We are debating outsourcing shop drawings. I'm looking for input or firms that deal with this type of work.

Forum Responses
(CAD Forum)
From contributor Y:
Outsourcing can be a great solution for your drawing needs. But it can also become a huge problem if the process is not handled correctly. When outsourcing drawings you need to evaluate the needs and the strengths you have in your company.

I am talking from experience. I used to work for a company pushing about 2.5 million in high end casework. As the company grew, the need came to outsource some of our drawings. I used about 5 different outside guys to do drawings in different stages of our production. That time I was the head of Product Development so everything had to go through me prior to the shop. When it came through my hands it was just not consistent, sometimes very discouraging. Every individual draws whatever he believes is correct. I had some people with no experience in cabinetry doing shop drawings just because they knew how to draw lines in AutoCAD. The majority of CAD users out there go through some four month technical course in drafting and they get a job the next day because of the demand. If you can find a good draftsman who in the previous life was a cabinetmaker, that is the perfect scenario (not too many of them around).

Your company has to step up to make the process easy for everyone (you and the drafter). You need to create (if you do not already have) drawing standards. If you have a full time drafter in your company, sit down and talk about creating a library of cabinets (mainly sections and details). Also the drawing sheets can be in a standard layout and order that everybody can read and follow. If you are successful creating these standards, you will see an increase in drawing output from your in-house staff. When the moment comes you need to outsource, give these standards (with an agreement) to your outside draftsmen to use as a guide so all the drawings you receive at least match what you have in house. Also check and double check whatever you receive.

From contributor C:
Outstanding post.

We have had this come up before and some of it ended up in the Knowledge Base article below. Take what was said here and in the link and you will have a really good basis to go from!

Contributor Y, nice to see that said from the other side (I am in the outsourcing business). Far too few companies really have a good grasp of standards.

SOP for Outsourcing Shop Drawings

From contributor B:
I couldn't agree more. Standardization is vital for several reasons:
Everyone needs to know what to expect, and interpret drawings in the same way.
People that don't work in your shop don't know how you build anything.
People in a large shop don't all do things the same way.
You can't supervise what you can't see, so don't assume anything.

From contributor R:
One thing to keep in mind is that it is extremely helpful to have your standards developed by someone who knows woodworking and cabinetmaking, and has worked from drawings in the shop or field. Many draftspeople who don't have experience working from their own drawings produce confusing and hard-to-read documents that might make perfect sense to them, but not to the guys on the shop floor. Drafters with a solid working background are hard to find. I still go out into the shop and set up machines and build things, when necessary, to make sure that my drawings are correct and readable. I have worked with some highly competent drafters whose drawings were difficult to read and un-buildable. Even layers and colors can be important in your drawings; some people just don't have an eye for design, and it shows even in their choice of fonts and layer colors. A good, clear, well-thought-out drawing is a pleasure to work from, and saves a lot of time in the shop when a good builder/drafter has thought through the construction details.

From contributor A:
Yep. I agree. Standardize or die. In my opinion, though, more important than the standards is the relationship you have with your contractor. If you want to outsource, there should really be a good relationship. Outsourcing drawings can reap good benefits... if you have the right person.

From contributor S:
Standardizing is absolutely necessary. I just want to add that with today's sophisticated equipment (CNC routers), drafting of cabinets changed a lot. JBOL (just bunch of lines) does not make sense anymore; drawings must be properly engineered and all machining, holes, grooves, etc. must be drawn properly (5mm- 32mm, not 1/4"- 1-1/4"). Many draftsmen cannot understand this, and working with outsourced drawings becomes very difficult, and often jobs are completely redrawn.

I'm currently facing these problems in the company I'm working for. Company is fairly new with CNC and is going through this difficult learning process. It is not easy to make 4 draftsmen change their habits, developed through many years.

Many times, approved drawings are trashed, and reworked, just to comply with requirements derived from new technologies. In my opinion, not outsourcing is the best option, if you have good draftsman in house. You may get lucky, and find good draftsman to outsource to, but it is very hard to find somebody who was a cabinetmaker in their previous life and is a good draftsperson in the present life.

I can keep talking about this forever, because this is one of the biggest issues that many woodworking companies are facing. I'm currently fighting for standards and "properization" of drafting in the company I'm working in.

From contributor T:
I agree with everything that has been said, but please do not lump all draftsmen together (newbies and oldies). Even though the basic layout of drafting and construction are similar, they are two different disciplines. I know of very few that do both (build and then draw for others to build). Usually they do one better than the other. There are not enough hours in the day to accomplish both (full time).

From contributor C:
Yeah, from the point of view of someone needing drawings from an outsourcer, I can see the frustration when you need "true" drawings for CNC. It is a problem. There are a lot of very good draftsmen that are even very good millwork engineers, but they still have not made the mental leap that drawings more and more cannot simply be "lines and arcs," they are still seeing drawings as symbolic, not actual representations as is required by CNC, nesting, and such.

The challenge for both sides is how to convey both the need for actual drawings and convey the information and standards required. We are far beyond "we use applied backs on our cabinets" and really we need to include info like "standard 32mm European system hinges," routing depths, laminate thickness, CNC capabilities, post processing software requirements, etc. Hard to do when people can't even decide to draw on anything except the zero layer and still explode dimensions!

We have been spending a lot of R&D time trying to figure out where the industry is really going regarding this, and it's not clear cut at all. There is some good software out there as well as some bad, and I have seen companies do well or badly with either - it's a crapshoot, so to speak.

We are getting to the point where to make the drawings well, you need people who are really power users in the CAD package they use as well as accomplished in millwork engineering. Good luck really finding that combination; it's very rare. We are one of the largest outsourcers out there and we are constantly on the lookout for them. We pay well and have good benefits, but getting people who can actually bring it to the table are rare. Usually we have to spend at least a year or two getting them up to speed where they can run projects on their own, which is quite an investment. And that's just for the millwork engineering end. The CAD end of it is even more of a challenge.

In short, I feel your pain! There is no easy answer or software package that can solve that issue either; it takes training and constant oversight to make it work. I think that's why, other than that we have such a relaxed office atmosphere to compensate a bit for that.

I feel bad for some of the independent guys providing drawing services, though. We have multiple people who spend a large fraction of time just developing standards and software solutions to try and stay ahead of the curve. That's got to be hard for an independent to do. When I have seen some of the work others have done for our clients, it's really scary where they are as far as CAD skills go; some are stuck back in the AutoCAD 14 mindset, and few are even up to the challenge of making the drawings "real." Some are very good (we would never see their work to fix, after all), but finding them must be a challenge.

Maybe it's time we outsourcing folks got together and came up with some overall standards. I suspect there is enough work for all of us and if we all could provide some consistency in product, more might outsource and everyone would win. Any thoughts?

From contributor J:

I do not think you are asking enough of your drafts people. You should ask for a complete drafting/engineering service done to your in-house specifications. You can get more than just lines on paper from them. In this day of multiple software design packages, you should get back complete job drawings, cabinet drawings, job sorted cutlists, cabinet cutlists, dxf files ready for the CNC, labels and optimization, and 3d drawings.

From contributor A:
Good point, contributor J. Those of us that do provide that contract service are certainly capable of providing the full engineering package. (Sorry, I just hate the term "outsource" - sounds kinda "overseas" to me.)

If I may, I'd like to get all your opinions on the liability issues. Believe me, I have my opinions, but want to know what you think when, say, I provide shop drawings, cutlists, and g-code to a client, and they start cutting material, and whoops... there's a problem. Who's responsible for that $150.00/sheet veneer? Me? (My work has to be 100% perfect.) Them? They should double check everything, shouldn't they?

If you do this right (drawings, bom's, g-code), you add huge value to the shop process, right? See where I'm heading?

And only one teeny-weenie issue with what you said, contributor J (although I do get your meaning). You said: "I do not think you are asking enough of your drafts people. You should ask for a complete drafting/engineering service." Point being, they're much, much more than just drafts people. Aren't they?

From contributor Y:
Contributor A has a good point. For outsource companies to provide all that contributor J noted, they have to know what it takes. I was happy not to fix someone's else drawing that was drawn with just lines. Not even think of having someone with not enough knowledge of woodworking producing cut lists and G codes - no way. Everyone that does drawings thinks it is right until you go to do a cut list; then you see what it takes. Only a few outsource companies can do this correctly and the knowledge they have has to come from the field - from actually doing it for many years prior to going into outsource drafting.

For companies looking into outsourcing, always ask for sample drawings and test someone prior, rather than just giving them a huge project, because the job can go down south rather quick. When you find the right person or company, stick with them, even if they get slow once in a while (that usually means they know what they are doing).

From contributor J:
I agree a competent company is needed to provide this service. In case things go wrong, they also need an insurance policy to cover them in case they get sued. This is a type of errors and omissions policy. It would also be important for this service to come out of an existing woodworking type of operation, not just a group of folks starting up a drafting service. I would suggest that people receiving this service use layered dxf files and create the g code themselves. Hopefully there will be a listing for this service in the various directories, as published by trade magazines, in the not so distant future.