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Structural Drafter


Every physical structure ever built -- from town houses to skyscrapers -- has a set of design or drafting diagrams to accompany it. Structures do not just pop out of thin air; they are carefully designed by a team of engineers and structural drafting technologists. Structural drafters support the work of civil engineers and architects by preparing and producing technical drawings used to build every type of civil engineering or architectural structure. Applying industry standards and regulations, they perform calculations and research prior to creating designs. Their drawings technically explain the details of structures, specify materials to be used and procedures to be taken. Structural drafters will usually write a technical report to accompany the drawings, including cost estimates.

A structural drafter serves as the link between structural engineers and construction workers. They adopt scientific, mathematical and engineering theories in order to draw computer-generated images. Drafters develop designs and drawings from preliminary concepts and sketches and prepare construction specifications, cost and material estimates. Most structural drafters specialize in a type of structure once they gain some experience, such as residential or commercial, or by the type of material used like concrete, steel or wood.

Structural drafters complete the technical details of a design project, using calculations previously made by engineers, surveyors or architects. For example, they use their knowledge of bridges to determine how to design the key elements or they apply their knowledge of standardized building techniques to draw in the details of an apartment building structure. They are also involved in related activities such as contract administration, specification preparation and interpretation. Traditionally, this job involved hand drawing blueprints and designs, but with the increase in computer-aided design (CAD) systems, almost all design now takes place on computers.

In fact, some structural drafters are referred to as CAD technologists or technicians. Structural drafters 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 structural drafters use CAD extensively, it is still only a computer tool. In other words, structural drafters should still possess design skills and have knowledge of drafting skills and standards in addition to CAD skills.

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  
Structural drafters are interested in mathematics, science and technology. They enjoy working with scientific equipment and computers in offices and laboratories, but also like to switch working environments, and work on-site or outdoors. Structural drafters analyze information and draft sketches in order to solve problems.

Attention to details is an important trait to possess, as well as working effectively under pressure with deadline situations. Since many structural drafters are constantly designing, creativity and artistry is also desirable. Finally, they should also enjoy working with people because they deal with engineers, construction workers and architects.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Develop and implement structural designs and drawings from preliminary concepts and sketches
  • 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.
  • Ensure that safety and design specifications are followed and pollution control requirements are met
  • Structural 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 structural drafters may also be involved in field and site work, and project supervision. A structural drafter may also travel to a structure site and then take their findings back to the office.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Structural drafters work in both the public and private sectors. They are employed by government agencies such as the departments of transportation and the environment (especially in the municipal sector), engineering consulting firms, construction companies, architectural and urban design firms, research and educational institutions, communications companies, the manufacturing, processing and transportation industries, among many other industries.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Entry-level structural drafters may begin their career by performing routine duties under the close supervision of an engineer. They usually work in a civil engineering office helping to draft construction documents, or with a contracting firm helping to control the design and drafting of an engineering project. As drafters gain experience, they are often given more responsibility and more challenging assignments, often with less supervision.

Certain structural drafters may eventually move into more managerial roles and become supervisors. Additional experience could lead to work as a building inspector, CAD operator, or a draftsperson for a municipal engineering department. Possible career options for structural drafters include employment as designers, surveyors, cartographers, building and construction specialists, photogrammetrists and surveying technicians.

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

Since the majority of structural drafting work takes place on the computer, taking courses in CAD systems is a useful idea 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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