As a CAD or computer-aided design technician, you'll use software to create design plans for buildings and machinery.
You could work in a wide range of industries from engineering and construction to manufacturing.
So, what will I actually be doing?
You could work in 2D design, which is known as surface modelling, or 3D design - called solid modelling.
Initially, you'll use surface modelling to draw a flat representation of the product, for example a new car design. Clients will then see the plans and give feedback, before engineers build and test a prototype.
In solid modelling, you'll create a 3D display of a structure or component. Engineers could then use this to take a 'virtual tour' around the inside of a new building, for example, to plan where to fit electrical cabling. Or they may 'look inside' a piece of manufacturing machinery to see where improvements could be made.
You'll also use your designs to help prepare cost estimates on projects, and produce assembly instructions and maintenance manuals for installation, service and repair technicians.
You will normally work in a small team, with each technician working on a different part of a project under the guidance of a design engineer.
Note that CAD work may have different names depending on the industry, including:
- Computer aided industrial design (CAID)
- Computer aided engineering (CAE)
- Computer aided styling (CAS)
- Computer aided manufacturing (CAM).
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The nitty gritty
Typically, you will work 37 to 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday. You'll be based in a design office, working at a CAD design workstation or on a PC.
For construction and engineering design work, you might be asked to work on site for part of the project.
If you are an experienced CAD technician, you could register with the Engineering Council to gain EngTech status, which could help your professional development.
As well as light and heavy engineering, you can find work as a CAD technician in many other industries including construction, aerospace, railways, electronics, broadcasting and telecommunications. Vehicle and consumer goods manufacturers are other common employers.
Your options for career progression include promotion to team or section leader, project manager and site manager. With further training, you could become a design engineer.
Money, money, money
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
Junior CAD technicians earn between £15,500 and £19,500 a year.
Average salaries for experienced technicians are between £22,000 and £26,000.
Senior CAD technicians can earn upwards of £30,000 a year.
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The good points...
Want to be your own boss and make your own hours? In this job you may be able to work freelance if you're an experienced technician
...and the bad
Don't want to be stuck infront of a computer for hours on end? This definitely isn't the job for you.
Is there study involved?
You may be able to become a CAD technician by starting as an apprentice with an engineering or construction firm.
To get onto an apprenticeship scheme, you may need some GCSEs (A-C), such as maths, science, engineering, design and technology, or equivalent qualifications. However, enthusiasm for the industry is often just as important as qualifications.
An alternative way to gain CAD skills is to take a college course that covers computer design skills, such as:
- BCS Certificate in 2D Computer Aided Design (ECDL CAD) Level 2
- BTEC Certificates and Diplomas in Engineering levels 2 and 3
- BTEC National Certificates and Diplomas in Mechanical, Manufacturing or Civil Engineering Level 3
- City & Guilds Certificate in Computer Aided Design Parametric Modelling levels 1 to 3
- City & Guilds Certificate in 2D Computer Aided Design Level 2
- City & Guilds Certificate in 2D Computer Aided Design Level 3
College courses tend to use AutoCAD for learning, which would offer you a good understanding of technical design. Some colleges may also run more specialised software packages, including AutoCAD LT, Autodesk Architectural, CATIA, PRO/Engineer, SolidWorks and 3ds Max. Check with your local college for exact details of the packages they offer.
Usually, you'll receive further training on the job in specific CAD software relevant to your industry. For example, you might train on PDS (Plant Design Systems) if your company designs petrochemical facilities.
You could take one of a number of work-based qualifications which cover CAD but the exact award you take would depend on your job. Qualifications include:
- NVQ Performing Engineering Operations levels 1 and 2
- NVQ Engineering Technical Support Level 3
- EAL Advanced Diploma in Engineering and Technology Level 3.
You could also work towards a BTEC HNC, HND or foundation degree in engineering, construction or civil engineering.
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OK, I'm interested... But is it really the job for me?
To be a CAD technician, you'll need:
- A sound knowledge of engineering design principles
Good numeracy and computer skills
- Good communication skills
- A knowledge of material properties
- An understanding of manufacturing processes and construction methods
- Good problem-solving skills
- The ability to work as part of a team
- The ability to meet deadlines.