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Every physical structure or object -- from hand blenders to skyscrapers -- has a set of design or drafting diagrams to accompany it. Inventions do not just pop out of thin air; they are carefully designed by a team of engineers and drafting technologists. Drafters support the work of engineers and architects by preparing and producing technical drawings used to build everything from mechanical products to structures. Using industry standards and regulations, they perform calculations and research prior to creating designs. Their drawings technically explain the details of products and structures, specify materials to be used and procedures to be taken. Drafters will usually write a technical report to accompany the drawings, including cost estimates.

Drafters complete the technical details of a design project, using drawings, rough sketches, specifications, codes, and calculations previously made by engineers, surveyors or architects. For example, they use their knowledge of machines to determine how to design with the proper elements or they apply their knowledge of standardized building techniques to draw in the details of an apartment building structure. They use a number of sources to help them in their design work, such as tables, calculators and computers. They are also involved in related activities such as estimating, contract administration, and specification preparation and interpretation. Traditionally, this job involved hand drawing blue prints and designs, but with the increase in computer-aided design (CAD) systems, almost all design now takes place on computers.

In fact, some drafting technologists are referred to as CAD technologists or technicians. Technologists use CAD techniques to prepare engineering plans, architectural plans, flow diagrams and schematics, layouts, maps and detailed working drawings. CAD systems create realistic geometric models of objects which can simulate and analyze the effects and potential problems of designs. The system sorts drawings electronically so that revisions, variations and duplications can easily be made. Although drafters use CAD extensively, it is still only a computer tool. In other words, drafting technologists should still possess design skills and have knowledge of drafting skills and standards in addition to CAD skills. In the rare case (but still existent) manual drafting is still is used in certain applications.

They may work independently, in teams with engineers from many disciplines, or as support for engineers, architects and industrial designers. They are able to work in a number of engineering fields, such as civil engineering, urban and regional planning, industrial control and automation, process design, machine design, or communications technology. Drafters are required to constantly update their skills and knowledge in order to keep up with technological advancements in this quickly changing field.
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  Interests and Skills  
Drafters must be able to pay close attention to detail and maintain good hand-eye coordination when drafting and designing projects. They must possess the ability to visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings and the relationships between parts in machinery and systems. Using CAD software skills, they apply their mathematics, physics, computer and chemistry skills to their designs.

Once they have completed a design, they must be able to communicate design ideas and solutions clearly and concisely verbally and in writing. Most drafters enjoy taking a methodical approach to their work, analyzing data and finding innovative solutions to problems.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Develop and prepare engineering designs and drafts from preliminary concepts, sketches, engineering calculations, specification sheets and other data
  • Study drafts, information and instructions from the client or engineer
  • Design flow diagrams and schematics, which illustrate how a machine operates
  • Operate computer-aided design (CAD) and drafting stations
  • Draft rough layouts of the planned structure, machine or product
  • Complete documentation packages and produce drawing sets
  • Check and verify design drawings to conform to specifications and design data
  • Make the necessary changes to the designs, drawings or specifications
  • Write technical reports
  • Calculate the costs and amount of materials required
  • Prepare construction specifications, costs and material estimates
  • Supervise and train other technologists, technicians and drafters.
  • Drafters usually work in an office environment, spending the majority of their time using CAD software on the computer. Most generally work standard office hours, but longer hours may be required to meet deadlines. Some senior drafting technologists may also be involved in field and site work, and project supervision.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Drafters work in both the public and private sectors. Consulting and construction companies, utility, resource and manufacturing companies, private machine design firms, architectural and engineering consulting firms, electronic manufacturing companies and organizations in the petrochemical, food processing and energy industries privately employ drafters. In the public sector, they work for all levels of government and for a wide range of other establishments.

  Long Term Career Potential  
There is definite room for advancement as a drafter. Entry-level positions involve heavy supervision, but with experience, most drafters develop greater competency and advance to positions in the management or supervisory nature. Drafters may also advance to senior drafting positions, taking on larger, more complex problems. With more education, some may go on to become engineering technicians, engineers or architects.

  Educational Paths  
Completion of a two- or three-year college program in engineering design and drafting technology is usually required for drafters. A certification in drafting or design engineering technology or a related field is available through associations of engineering or applied science technologists and technicians, and may be required for some positions.

Since the majority of drafting work takes place on the computer, taking courses in CAD systems is useful for obtaining employment.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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