Outsourcing drawings

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Positive and negative experiences from those who have hired the job out. October 30, 2002

We are considering outsourcing our drafting. Does anyone have any negative or positive experiences regarding this?

Forum Responses
We outsource almost all of our drawings. We email all the info back and forth. It works great. It gives you all the draftsmen you need with few of the headaches. I have two guys I work with most of the time. We've been doing this for 5+ years since our draftsman quit.

From contributor R:
We have had nothing but bad experiences. I think this will depend on what you do. As a high-end architectural woodworking company, we need our drawings engineered correctly.

My experience with outsourcing is that they're better left for the simple box work, but nothing too complicated. We've tried more than once and just haven't had any luck finding good engineers. The drawings were also not detailed enough. This was typical on several tries.

The success that you have with outsourcing drawings will probably be determined by the factors that effect all such business relationships. Things like the quality of the off-site resource and the system within your business and theirs to direct the work flow. If you are looking for a draftsman to do paper drawings that will be transferred by fax and mail, it should be fairly easy to specify the nature of the relationship and control potential problems. Not much risk in giving it a try. If you are using one of the high-end design or CAD packages and need someone to generate computer based designs to your specs, that's a completely different animal and could be more complicated and expensive to set up and control.

I have done this with limited success. More often than not, we don't have the lead time that the draftsman needs. If you're big enough to be the draftsman's main customer, or if you have longer lead times, then it might work.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the input. My worries were that I would have problems like contributor R's. Another problem I think may happen is that the draftsmen makes a change on one section and not on another, or the draftsmen takes field measurements and makes a mistake there, or he just flat out screws up by misinterpreting the specs and drawings provided by the architect. All of these types of mistakes can potentially be in the thousands, far exceeding the amount the draftsmen may charge. You could argue that I should be reviewing the drawings before production. But sometimes these mistakes are very difficult to see even by the draftsmen himself. Even if I am partly responsible, how much responsibility should I expect from the draftsmen? Or do they possibly have insurance?

Before I go looking for someone to outsource, I just wanted to see if any of you have come across these problems and how it was handled.

From contributor R:
We found it nearly impossible to review every detail of an outsourced drawing before it was submitted for approval. When the mistakes were made, it came back on our company, and the draftsmen would take no liability.

Fortunately, we usually caught the mistakes before they were sent to the field. For instance, we had a high-end kitchen outsourced where there was a sub-zero fridge/freezer unit. The outsourced draftsman totally got the dimensions wrong (even though we provided specs), and we built some cabinetry before we realized it wasn't going to work. We had to eat the additional cost to fix the problem.

We've found it's just better to take internal responsibility for these issues. Everyone makes mistakes, but they seem to be lessened if the person works for you full time.

I do drawings on an outsource basis. I use ACAD and am an engineer/designer. How I got to be an engineer is through 25+ years of building cabinets and finish carpentry. The complaint about the draftsman only copying the architect's drawing is correct. Thatís how I ended up doing what Iím doing. We had a tech school grad doing drawings for us and he could copy anything. Even if it didnít work (which was usually the case). Great with CAD, but didnít have the slightest idea how things worked (kind of like architects). I spend most of my time re-engineering drawings so they can be built.

I only deal in the high-end. CV and the like are good for boxes. If you do the simple stuff, find someone who uses the kitchen programs, which do most of the work. Make sure whoever you use knows your capability and shop proficiency. There are a few guys out there who do know what they are doing. Check out the background of the people you are looking at. You wouldnít hire someone to work in your shop without talking with them. Give them a small job to do and go over it with them. Remember there is a learning curve for both of you. If you have an in-house guy, you have to pay him on a steady basis. By outsourcing, you only pay for the job. I would recommend that you come up with a problem and have them solve it - that way you could separate the men from the boys.

Draw them yourself. Only you know how you build your cabinets. I tried all drawing programs and all of them are useless to me.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor J:
I have been doing outsourced shop drawings for 10 years, since selling my cabinet shop. My recommendation is to outsource only your commercial projects unless you allow the draftsman to be involved with the design. As the drawings are done, a good draftsman actually builds the project in his mind and then places it into CAD. If the project is just not black and white, how is the draftsman to know what you or your client wants (third hand)? I have found that the architects of commercial casework don't know about cabinets and leave it up to us to figure out what they are thinking (see the statement in the AWI Quality Standards Book "Shop drawings are the means by which the design intent is turned into reality... the manufacturer is encouraged to make technical suggestions and raise questions based on working experience.") Perhaps those with bad experiences with outsourcing have not researched who they are outsourcing to.

Comment from contributor A:
Outsourcing drawings to an experienced CAD draftsman who has been a cabinet builder will produce an excellent product. Use outsourcing only when you need it, no overtime, no vacation, and no health benefits. Establish a good relationship with your outsource person and you will have good results. My clients have used me for over 10 years, and some have me do project management and contact with the General Contractor or architect when the need exists. Your engineer needs to be an extension of your business.

Comment from contributor B:
I would like to agree with contributor J. Outsourcing drawings for a kitchen just doesnít make sense or money for anyone and are best left to the CV or CW software programs; however, for commercial jobs such as a school or doctors office where you have shelving, cabinets, displays, book cases and the like, outsourcing works fine. Your outsourced draftsman can even email your drawings to your local printer in various forms (.pdf, .html, .tiff, etc). It is always good to review a drawing before sending it over to your contractor or paying party-that is just common sense.

Understand, though, the outsourced draftsman or company person is only as good as the information you provide him/her. Insure they have hands on building experience as a good casework draftsman, unlike an architect, will build the cabinets in his/her mind as the drawings are made. I wish I had $1 for every error I found on architectural drawings that could have cost the cabinet shop or G.C. lots of money left unattended.

Also, if the cabinet shop will field verify the site, and note any problems there, when the shop drawings are made the drawings will have better accuracy rather than say "6 equal doors VIF all dims. prior to fabrication". Or better yet, contract with your draftsman to go to the site and field verify for you and let him note on the drawings any errors or RFI (request for information) he feels relevant. This is what my cabinet shops allow me to do. It also allows them to do what they do best -line up the next project, which keeps the shop rolling.