Creating a CAD income from home (initially)
September 29, 2012 9:09 AM   Subscribe

I need to get my head around the best path to retraining myself on (nominally Solidworks) with view to (in the longer term) doing CAD piece work from home - However there are several issues relating to software types and costs that I am not sure how to approach.

This is possibly a bit of a broad question, but part of what I need is a direction so here we go anyway. Possibly long, so my apologies.

Background: Many years ago I used Solidworks at a previous employer. I got pretty efficient pretty damn fast and ended up using it regularly for about 2 years. I enjoyed it, consider myself to have an aptitude for it, but am not in a position to have an employer get me properly trained on it, nor is it likely any time soon. I was designing and producing models and drawings for machined components and assemblies (for an engine and the build fixtures and tooling) pretty well by the end of it, although castings was a bit beyond me in the limited time I had to do it as it wasn't at all my main job. I have a Mech Eng (vehicle) degree and significant experience in parts production and design.

Current situation: In order to continue specialising in my normal job (Race Car Engineering) in the current job climate I am having to resort to 'fly-in' style employment of several short periods of around a week at a time through the year rather than full time. As such, I will have lots of chunks of time that I either want to learn or earn within. The idea of doing some CAD piece-work has come up and seems to be to some extent realistic from my initial looking. At the very least, even if it isn't profitable, I am wondering if it would give me enough experience after a while to pursue a more serious job in CAD when I tire of running after race car teams and actually want to be at home for weekends. So my initial thoughts/directions/issues are as follows:

1: Solidworks is hella expensive. It is too much of a commitment right now to spend $4K on a license for me to noodle around for an indeterminate period until I am proficient again. So there is the chicken/egg problem there which I think I can approach in two ways:
1a: Download a cracked copy of an earlier version of the software for personal training. It is clear (and deeply inadvisable I am fully aware) that this is untenable for any paid work in the fullness of time, but if I was good enough at it again, I'd be fine with taking the risk to get a fuller copy at that stage. It just seems a risk too far to buy it, and then find out I am too slow or lacking ability to make money with it. This is doable from my research, but I'd like to avoid it unless it is the only way. I have the time to learn this stuff, but not the money at present.

1b: Use a cheaper legitimate version of an alternative software for long enough that I can get back up to speed on it and then make a more painless switch to Solidworks to decrease my 'paying license versus earning money' interim period - What are my options? Is there anything more cost effective for learning on that would transfer to Solidworks or would work with Solidworks files (open and produce them)?

2: How realistic is it for me to self train and try and get piece work? Is the market flooded with out of work Solidworks qualified and experienced people that I'd be wasting my time? My first idea was to offer a reduced rate and try to hit the back catalogue requirements of companies that would need older catalogues of parts updated to the new system but don't see the financial rewards when paying a proper Solidworks seat to do it. Or very small volume manufacturers. This is something that will likely supplement my main income (and my wife is ok with supporting me during this) so I can be Captain Budget CAD if it gets me in the door.
Disclaimer - I am going to actively avoid contract work as these are likely the staple of people who will be much better than me, but there seems to be a decent freelance style small workload market starting out there that I can maybe pick up paying gigs until I have enough experience to progress. I am considering this a relatively long term aim - 2-3 years away from being able to support myself fully on this, potentially. Filling in some income in around a year or so, given how much time I will have and need to get proficient enough to present myself to a company as capable.

3: How realistic is it for me, at 40, to try and retrain myself, pick up some practical experience and then try and break into CAD professionally? Do people only accept official Solidworks course completion now? Am I thousands of dollars away from being able to get anything other than some guy making something in his basement?

4: Am I looking at the right software package as my ultimate aim? Is ProE better/more prevalent/more sellable? Mechanical Engineering, possibly with a slant to more automotive/aero/engine/transmission style companies is the kind of slot I'd be good with filling.

So. Direction please. Initially I am looking for a software direction, but longer term ideas/viability/direction would be great if anyone has any insights.
posted by Brockles to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
My brother is a mechanical engineer who uses Pro/E, and I use services of companies that do mechanical engineering. My impression is that SolidWorks and Pro/E are both common in the industries you mentioned, and Catia is common in aerospace.

SolidWorks apparently has a Student Edition that is only $150 but not sure if you can find a way to quality. Presumably you can't use it for commercial projects, but you could use it for learning obviously.

Qualifications:

"The SolidWorks® Student Edition is available to high school and degree-seeking students or full-time faculty members using the software for personal learning or academic purposes. Proof of eligibility is required before you can complete your order."
posted by Dansaman at 9:18 AM on September 29, 2012


You could also get an extremely limited SolidWorks academic seat for free, at least 2 years ago. Same eligibility requirements that Dansaman mentioned applied there too. It put watermarks EVERYWHERE and it would not generate any kind of tool-path or other output aside from (super-watermarked) printouts. I threw up my hands in disgust and decided to self-teach myself Autodesk Inventor (since their student version is free and actually lets me output to our 3d printer), but if your primary goal is to re-learn the environment and you're OK with not generating any output, the super-limited freebie option might work if you can meet the requirements somehow.
posted by Alterscape at 9:33 AM on September 29, 2012


I don't know exactly how SolidWorks verifies student eligibility, but all Microsoft uses is an .edu email address from an accredited college. So it's worth looking into a cheap online course from a community college somewhere, teaching underwater basket-weaving or whatever, as long as you can be officially enrolled and get the email address.

Does the college where you earned your bachelor's degree offer free email addresses for alumni? If those end in .edu, it's possible that that is also enough to qualify.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:44 AM on September 29, 2012


I had success by writing to the head of training (in my case Autodesk) and appealing for a copy, explaining that I am not a student but a former user who now wants to catch back up. A couple of days later I had full cuts of 3D Max and AutoCAD in my hands along with a box full of training materials.

It may not work with SolidWorks but there is little harm in trying. You can also offer something in return such as feedback as to what would help to make either their learning materials or the software itself more applicable to, say, race car engineering.

You may be surprised.
posted by bz at 9:47 AM on September 29, 2012


You might be eligible for a free trial. I know someone who just used to reinstall his entire system every 30 days to repeatedly use an AutoDESK 30 free trial. It's worth filling out the form and seeing if you qualify and how long the trial is.

Also educational licensing is usually pretty forgiving. Often all you need is to be taking a single credit course at an accredited college/university in a field related to the software to qualify and usually distance learning courses qualify (if they university even differentiates between self paced distance learning and in class course; my local university barely does).

"Use a cheaper legitimate version of an alternative software for long enough that I can get back up to speed on it and then make a more painless switch to Solidworks to decrease my 'paying license versus earning money' interim period - What are my options? Is there anything more cost effective for learning on that would transfer to Solidworks or would work with Solidworks files (open and produce them)? "

I wouldn't bother with this. You already know the concepts or will readily pick them up; what you really need is experience in the particular interface and work flow of your desired software.

"How realistic is it for me to self train and try and get piece work? Is the market flooded with out of work Solidworks qualified and experienced people that I'd be wasting my time? My first idea was to offer a reduced rate and try to hit the back catalogue requirements of companies that would need older catalogues of parts updated to the new system but don't see the financial rewards when paying a proper Solidworks seat to do it. "

I'm not an expert but I'd caution against doing piece work at a significantly reduced rate. A) you are already going to be several times slower than a solidworks expert and B) it's piece work; the end result is worth what it is worth. Pricing yourself below market will just get you the kind of customers who won't pay market rates.
posted by Mitheral at 11:49 AM on September 29, 2012


3: How realistic is it for me, at 40, to try and retrain myself, pick up some practical experience and then try and break into CAD professionally? Do people only accept official Solidworks course completion now? Am I thousands of dollars away from being able to get anything other than some guy making something in his basement?

In the CAD world, this happens every once in awhile, just because of changing software. I'm pushing 40, and I'm currently retraining myself to use Revit, since it's just about completely replaced AutoCAD for architectural applications. In my experience, coursework doesn't mean anything - firms hiring Revit users are more concerned with how long I've used the program and what I can do with it, even to the point of testing job applicants. The two courses and 800 page tutorial book haven't done anything for me yet. For me this has been one of those things where practical experience is worth far more than coursework.
posted by LionIndex at 1:32 PM on September 29, 2012


I don't advise getting up to speed on cheap alternative software intended for roughly the same application, your time should go into mastering industry-standard packages, because at this level of software/interface complexity, you'll easily spend far more than $4k of your time unintentionally learning stuff that doesn't translate, and even adopting paradigms that actively trip you up or slow you down when you switch to a package that takes a different approach.

Additionally, much of what it means to have mastered this kind of thing is simply to have become fast at working within its paradigms and pipelines. You can't get any of that from another package.

If Solidworks is the standard, do what it takes to work in solidworks.
posted by anonymisc at 1:51 PM on September 29, 2012


Have you looked at Alibre? I've used SolidWorks since '01 because that's what my employer's had, and by now has become pretty standard. But, when I went off on my own I had to seriously consider whether to stay with SW or find something cheaper. $4k plus $1.5k a year in service fees is a big outlay, especially when you're just starting. Alibre was interesting one for the price, two for the similar workflow to SW, and three because it would read native SW files which most of my client's use.

In the end I bit the bullet and got SolidWorks. Mainly because time is money and even with Alibre's similar workflow and file import I am good enough at SW that I can get more work done faster and work natively with client files.

So, that may or may not have helped you.
posted by highway40 at 4:33 PM on September 29, 2012


I have looked at Alibre, yes. It was finding out about that package that prompted me to try and find out if there were others I needed to be aware of.

even with Alibre's similar workflow and file import I am good enough at SW that I can get more work done faster and work natively with client files.

That's kind of where I am leaning. I think I'll have to pursue the student version in some way. Thanks all.
posted by Brockles at 5:47 AM on October 1, 2012


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