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The Job

The drafter prepares detailed plans and specification drawings from the ideas, notes, or rough sketches of scientists, engineers, architects, and designers. Sometimes drawings are developed after a visit to a project in the field or as the result of a discussion with one or more people involved in the job. The drawings, which usually provide a number of different views of the object, must be exact and accurate. Such drawings usually include information concerning the quality of materials to be used, their cost, and the processes to be followed in carrying out the job.

In developing drawings made to scale of the object to be built, most drafters use computer-aided design (CAD) systems, and are often known as CAD operators. Technicians work at specially designed and equipped interactive computer graphics workstations. They call up computer files that contain data about a new product; they then run the programs to convert that information into diagrams and drawings of the product. These are displayed on a video screen, which then acts as an electronic drawing board. Following the directions of an engineer or designer, the drafter enters changes to the product's design into the computer. The drafter merges these changes into the data file, then displays the corrected diagrams and drawings.

The software in CAD systems is very helpful to the user—it offers suggestions and advice and even points out errors. The most important advantage of working with a CAD system is that it saves the drafter from the lengthy process of having to produce, by hand, the original and then the revised product drawings and diagrams.

The CAD workstation is equipped to allow drafters to perform calculations, develop simulations, and manipulate and modify the displayed material. Using typed commands at a keyboard, a stylus or light pen for touching the screen display, a mouse, joystick, or other electronic methods of interacting with the display, drafters can move, rotate, or zoom in on any aspect of the drawing on the screen, and project three-dimensional images from two-dimensional sketches. They can make experimental changes to the design and then run tests on the modified design to determine its qualities, such as weight, strength, flexibility, and the cost of materials that would be required. Compared to traditional drafting and design techniques, CAD offers virtually unlimited freedom to explore alternatives, and in far less time.

When the product design is completed and the necessary information is assembled in the computer files, drafters may store the newly developed data, output it on a printer, transfer it to another computer, or send it directly to another step of the automated testing or manufacturing process.

Drafters are increasingly using software systems such as building information modeling (BIM) and product data management (PDM) to do their jobs. Architectural drafters, engineers, and designers use BIM software to see how various elements in their projects work together. Mechanical drafters are using PDM software to track data, such as technical specifications, during projects.

Drafters often are classified according to the work they do or their level of responsibility. Senior drafters use the preliminary information and ideas provided by engineers and architects to make design layouts. They may have the title of chief drafter, and so assign work to other drafters and supervise their activities. Detailers make complete drawings, giving dimensions, material, and any other necessary information of each part shown on the layout. Checkers carefully examine drawings to check for errors in computing or in recording dimensions and specifications. 

Drafters also may specialize in a particular field, such as mechanical, electrical, electronic, aeronautical, structural, or architectural drafting. Although the nature of the work of drafters is not too different from one specialization to another, there is a considerable variation in the object with which they deal. The following paragraphs detail specialties in the construction industry and other fields.

Commercial drafters do all-around drafting, such as plans for building sites, layouts of offices and factories, and drawings of charts, forms, and records. 

Civil drafters make construction drawings for roads and highways, river and harbor improvements, flood control, drainage, and other civil engineering projects. Structural drafters draw plans for bridge trusses, plate girders, roof trusses, trestle bridges, and other structures that use structural reinforcing steel, concrete, masonry, and other structural materials.

Cartographic drafters prepare maps of geographic areas to show natural and constructed features, political boundaries, and other features. Topographical drafters draft and correct maps from original sources, such as other maps, surveying notes, and aerial photographs. Architectural drafters draw plans of buildings, including artistic and structural features. Landscape drafters make detailed drawings from sketches furnished by landscape architects.

Heating and ventilating drafters draft plans for heating, air-conditioning, ventilating, and sometimes refrigeration equipment. Plumbing drafters draw diagrams for the installation of plumbing equipment. Mechanical drafters make working drawings of machinery, automobiles, power plants, or any mechanical device. Castings drafters prepare detailed drawings of castings, which are objects formed in a mold. Tool design drafters draft manufacturing plans for all kinds of tools. Patent drafters make drawings of mechanical devices for use by lawyers to obtain patent rights for their clients.

Electrical drafters make schematics and wiring diagrams to be used by construction crews working on equipment and wiring in power plants, communications centers, buildings, or electrical distribution systems. Electronics drafters draw schematics and wiring diagrams for television cameras and TV sets, radio transmitters and receivers, computers, radiation detectors, and other electronic equipment.

Electromechanisms design drafters draft designs of electromechanical equipment such as aircraft engines, data processing systems, gyroscopes, automatic materials handling and processing machinery, or biomedical equipment. Electromechanical drafters draw wiring diagrams, layouts, and mechanical details for the electrical components and systems of a mechanical process or device.

Aeronautical drafters prepare engineering drawings for planes, missiles, and spacecraft. Automotive design drafters and automotive design layout drafters both turn out working layouts and master drawings of components, assemblies, and systems of automobiles and other vehicles. Automotive design drafters make original designs from specifications, and automotive design layout drafters make drawings based on prior layouts or sketches. Marine drafters draft the structural and mechanical features of ships, docks, and marine buildings and equipment. Projects range from petroleum drilling platforms to nuclear submarines.

Geological drafters make diagrams and maps of geological formations and locations of mineral, oil, and gas deposits. Geophysical drafters draw maps and diagrams based on data from petroleum prospecting instruments such as seismographs, gravity meters, and magnetometers. Directional survey drafters plot bore holes for oil and gas wells. Oil and gas drafters draft plans for the construction and operation of oil fields, refineries, and pipeline systems.

A design team working on electrical or gas power plants and substations may be headed by a chief design drafter, who oversees architectural, electrical, mechanical, and structural drafters. Estimators and drafters draw specifications and instructions for installing voltage transformers, cables, and other electrical equipment that delivers electric power to consumers.

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