Programming for CAD Managers, Part 2

28 Apr, 2010 By: Robert Green

Don't be intimidated — online resources and starter projects will help you learn the basics of customization.

In the previous installment of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I began a discussion about programming for CAD managers, and I provided a short assessment quiz to help you decide where to begin building your skill set. If you haven't had a chance to review the last issue yet, I suggest you do so before proceeding further with this topic.

In this installment, I'll provide you with some helpful resources and ideas for customization projects you can use to practice your programming skills. Here goes.

Web Resources

Before we explore example projects, let me first suggest some resources that provide online help specific to particular CAD programs. (Please send me any useful links you find so I can add to the list!)

Autodesk Users: Create an account at and look in the Forum and Education sections for a wealth of resources on Autodesk products.

Bentley Users: Go to and use the Wiki tab to locate articles on customization topics.

For other CAD products, contact your reseller to see what specific resources are available for your applications.

Customization Project Ideas

For those of you who need to begin your programming quest with software customization techniques (e.g., menus, ribbons, and toolbars), here are two great ideas for projects that thrust you into a learning environment and yield real-world results. I'll give an overview of each project concept, along with learning objectives and resources.

For the purposes of illustration, I used AutoCAD 2010 in my video lessons. Please understand that I can't create a different tutorial for every CAD program available; I chose AutoCAD simply because it is the most commonly used program on the market and the one I receive the most questions about.

Menu-based block/detail libraries. You've been meaning to clean up all those blocks/symbols/details but you never seem to get around to it, right? That procrastination ends now, because you're going to clean up all the files and directories, then deploy the correct versions of these symbols via toolbars or palettes in your CAD application.

Objective: Make it so easy for users to insert the correct symbols into drawings via toolbars or palettes that they'll never go back to the disorganized way they used to operate.

Learning topics: Create toolbars/palettes that allow users to simply click the symbol they want, then have it insert automatically. After you've verified that the code is working properly, deploy the toolbar/palette to other users' machines.

The steps to follow:

  • Collect all required blocks/symbols
  • Organize them into network directories
  • Build toolbars/palettes that refer to blocks from network
  • Test
  • Deploy tested toolbars/palettes to other users via network.

Video example: Symbol Libraries via Networked Palettes.

Title block insertions with fields/attributes. Want your users to employ the right title frames, on the right tabs, with the right information inserted into them? Of course you do! But you've never been able to automate the process before, so you've never been able to control whether standards are followed. No more excuses — you'll create title frames with the correct attribute/field information embedded in them, then deploy the title frames via inclusion in the menu/ribbons of your CAD application.

Objective: Make it easy for users to use the right title frames, and have those title frames update intelligently so users don't have to update files manually.

Learning topics: Create title frames with attributes/fields that make sense for your organization, then integrate each title frame into a menu/ribbon element in your CAD interface. After you've verified that the code is working properly, deploy the new title frames and menu elements to other users' machines.

The steps to follow:

  • Create title frame graphics
  • Add attributes/field to title frames
  • Store title frames as blocks on a network drive
  • Include code for insertion of title frames into CAD menus
  • Test
  • Deploy tested title frames and menus to other users via network

Video example: Smart Title Block Insertion via Menus.

Your Challenge Exercises

Now that you've seen a couple of examples, I'd like you to get your hands dirty and try the following:

  • First, create a project similar to one I've illustrated above, using my instructions as a guide.
  • Second, cook up something on your own using the customization concepts I've described.

As you embark on your own customization projects, keep the following things in mind to minimize problems:

  • Back up all files in your CAD program directory before you modify anything.
  • Consult with your IT department to make sure you can create the required network drives with proper permissions to deploy files across your network.
  • Keep your customization work separate from your production CAD environment, so any errors you make won't affect other users.
  • Try to perform testing at non-peak work times so you can really concentrate rather than being distracted by other tasks (early morning is good).
  • Keep a positive attitude and remember that if you aren't making mistakes, you're not learning anything.
  • Keep at it — you will get it if you keep trying.

Now go have fun, and see what you can learn!

Summing Up

I hope you've got some ideas for projects you might want to undertake, and a rough idea of how to get started now. Why not pick a project that is within your learning objectives and give it a try?

If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me. You'll find my e-mail link at In the next issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll answer your questions and cover more ways to help you expand your programming skills. Until then.

Click here to read "Programming for CAD Managers, Part 3."

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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