Building Design

Implementation Tips for the United States National CAD Standard (NCS), Version 6

9 Jun, 2016 By: Greg Jordan

What is the NCS — and should your organization adopt it for building design?


The United States National CAD Standard (NCS) is a standard that classifies electronic building design data consistently for use throughout the building design and construction industry. It’s a product of the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) buildingSMART alliance, with contributions from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). Adoption of the standard is voluntary, but can yield multiple benefits, as NIBS asserts:

The United States National CAD Standard (NCS) streamlines and simplifies the exchange of building design and construction data from project development throughout the life of a facility. It coordinates the efforts of the entire industry by classifying electronic building design data consistently allowing streamlined communication among owners and design and construction project teams. Use of the NCS can reduce costs and produce greater efficiency in the design and construction process.

Implementation of the newest version of the NCS, which was released in September 2014, can benefit your company in multiple ways. Version 6 eliminates the development and maintenance of a unique office standard or multiple interoffice and multidiscipline standards, and minimizes the cost of downtime by reducing staff training. This nationally recognized standard also has the potential to reduce errors, improve consistency, facilitate quality assurance, and refine quality control processes in your organization. You may also gain additional marketing opportunities by promoting the benefit of your implementation of this national standard to prospective clients.

To identify the need for one concise standard, ask yourself these questions about your company’s workflows: How much time is spent converting multiple CAD files to a single standard? How long does it take to prepare one discipline’s file to be used as background for another discipline’s design work? How much time and how many materials are wasted plotting with the wrong plot configuration? Once you’ve identified how much time is wasted, multiply that by the number of projects your company designs per year. Now ask yourself this question: Does your company need one concise standard?

The burden of development and maintenance of the standard is shared by those companies involved in the tried-and-true consensus update of each version of the NCS, allowing organizations who use the standard to concentrate on what they do best: generate revenue in the design and maintenance of the nation’s infrastructure. Companies can start recognizing benefits as soon as the implementation process begins, as the NCS streamlines the transfer of design data between team members and reduces the time and cleanup required in the transfer of electronic data to various project stakeholders.

Keys to Starting on the Right Foot

Each organization’s implementation approach will depend on a set of unique circumstances, and on the amount of time set aside to allow for the adoption of the Standard. NCS version 6 (V6) – Appendix I describes in detail a six-step “Phased Implementation Program” to achieve a successful implementation of the NCS within your organization. These strategies have worked for many organizations and are provided as examples, but how you implement the NCS is ultimately up to you. You can begin your adoption process without having to know it all, while learning the system at your own pace.

Secure support. Support from upper management, for both monetary and enforcement reasons, is essential. You will need acknowledgment that implementation of the Standard will take time and resources. Assist management in identifying measurable goals; these will keep you on track and help you retain management’s support as you achieve each milestone.

See what you’re starting with. Once management is on board, start the implementation process by compiling your company or organization’s existing CAD standards. Pull together all standard symbology, typical details for all disciplines, and plot configurations. If possible, plot the entire collection using a single best plot configuration. Ask yourself if management would be happy to present this output to a client. Present your findings to management to solicit support and enforcement. The return on investment — in the form of productivity gains and higher-quality deliverables — will be well worth the time spent in implementing the standard.

Identify support personnel to lead the effort. Find champions in each discipline and if applicable, lead personnel in each office location. Encourage these leaders to join the NCS Project Committee. Make everyone aware that this is their chance to have a voice in the update of the standard they will be using.

Develop a customized step-by-step process for a phased deployment. While being 100% compliant with the NCS is the goal, you can start by adopting only those sections and modules that will help your company appreciate the benefits of the NCS. Then continue to implement the remaining sections and modules that best enhance and promote the use of the NCS. Not all companies will implement all sections or modules; adopt those that are appropriate for your organization.

Choose a pilot project. This is typically a smaller project, something you can build from, with known milestones. Make sure you meet or exceed all of these milestones. Ensure that all members of the project have a thorough understanding of the components to be implemented. Build upon this success in future projects by implementing more components. Identify any deficient areas and re-train staffers to ensure their understanding.

Continuing the Implementation

It will take effort and a well-organized plan to make it through these steps, but then you’ll only have completed Phase 1! See NCS V6, Appendix I for more information and the additional five phases that make up a complete implementation.

The costs associated with implementation of the NCS include several variables:

  • the cost of the publication itself
  • an investment in time
  • employee involvement in collecting old standards
  • work related to the conversion
  • the ongoing commitment in automation, training, and enforcement.

There are three types of licenses available for the current NCS: single, site, and enterprise. A single license allows one to two employee(s) of your company or organization — within a single office at a single location — to access the NCS. A site license allows a maximum of ten employee(s) of your company or organization — within a single office at a single location — to access the NCS. The enterprise license is the most expensive, but also the most cost-effective. It allows company-wide access, including multiple offices with a single domain name.

All three license types are available at list price, member price, and academic/governmental price: The list price of a single license is $410; the AIA, CSI, and NIBS member discount price is $290; and academic institutions can purchase the NCS for $200.

To qualify for member rates, you must belong to one of the following contributing organizations: American Institute of Architects (AIA), Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), or the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS). Ownership of the NCS entitles you to participate in the revision cycle of the next edition of the Standard.

Get Involved in the National CAD Standard Project Committee

The National Institute of Building Sciences buildingSMART alliance (bSa) is calling on all building professionals to participate in the development process of the NCS, and is looking to every sector of the industry to submit amendments in the form of ballots to update the standard. This involvement can have a big impact: Ballots can amend or revise current NCS content or can address the latest technologies, processes, and practices not yet included in the Standard. To get involved in the NCS development process, individuals and organizations need to join the National CAD Standard Project Committee. (Start by submitting the online NCS application form.) 

You may also be interested in joining the National Institute of Building Sciences. As a member of the Institute, you will become eligible to participate in a number of Institute Councils, including the buildingSMART alliance. For more information on the NCS or the NBIMS-US Project Committees or to submit a ballot item, contact Dominique Fernandez.


About the Author: Greg Jordan


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