Setting CAD Standards (CAD Manager Column)

1 May, 2008 By: Robert Green

The key to writing successful standards is knowing why you need them.

Almost all CAD managers are responsible for CAD standards in some manner. The typical level of direction that CAD managers receive is along the lines of "We want you to set up some CAD standards around here." This directive leaves CAD managers scratching their heads and asking questions: "What does a good CAD standard consist of?" and "How might I get the CAD standards in place?"

CAD Standards Process Flow
CAD Standards Process Flow

To address these questions, I'd like to focus on a process that will help you navigate the standards process and gain maximum results with minimum hassle.

Process First!

Over the years, I've used a process that leads to good CAD standards. The critically important concept behind the process is that it forces you to understand your company's needs, technical limitations, contract requirements, and collaborative limitations. Then — and only then — can you write standards that make sense for your company.

Find Motivation

Before any CAD manager is asked to "set up some CAD standards," there has to be a reason why, right? Did senior management see legal liabilities that could be addressed by implementing standards? Are users clamoring for standards to make their jobs easier? Are project managers tired of seeing CAD rework eat away their project budgets? This list is just a sampling of some of the motivations for CAD standards I've heard.

Your mission is to dig into why CAD standards are becoming more important, why your management wants you to enact standards, and what problems standards are going to solve. The only thing I can guarantee is that until you understand what's motivating the need for CAD standards, you'll never create standards that address those motivations.

Find the Problems

Let's say that after some digging you find out that one of the things motivating standardization is a desire to speed printing and plotting operations. Nothing more specific, just more speed. The question now becomes, "What can I do to speed the process via standardization?" Furthermore, you need to understand the problems that are slowing down plotting.

Perhaps objects not being on correct levels/layers is an issue, perhaps colors are applied inconsistently, or maybe basic concepts such as scales and paper size continue to be a problem. Now you're actually starting to hone in on the problems with plotting and will be able to address those problems in the CAD standards you create. Don't skip this step because it is the portion of the process in which you really begin to understand what's happening with your users and how you can best help them via standards.

Company Type

As you assess motivation and problems, also be aware that the type of company for which you work will dictate what types of standards you'll need. Let me give a few examples, and you'll see what I mean.

Supplier company. If you work in a supplier company, you're producing CAD work for other companies, and as such you'll have to subscribe to that other company's CAD standard. The easy part here is that you don't have to write the CAD standard. The hard part is that you have to understand or interpret someone else's standard and make sure that yours complies.

Contracting company. If you contract other firms to provide work to you, then you will be responsible for authoring CAD standards and enforcing those standards when receiving submissions from other companies. This case is simply the inverse of the supplier company model.

Independent company. If you work for a company that produces its own products and has very little interaction with outside suppliers, then CAD standards are entirely for your company's convenience and productivity. Because you don't have to coordinate CAD data transmissions with outside firms, you're free to craft standards as you wish.

Some companies are hybrids of the above scenarios. I've worked with a number of firms that run some projects as the contracting company while another division functions as a supplier company. I've also seen scenarios in which larger independent companies do limited collaboration with outside suppliers and therefore find themselves bordering on a contracting company role. Keeping your company type (or types) in mind will help you manage standards later, so think about it now.

Organize Your Data

No doubt part of your CAD standards will specify the use of blocks, title frames, drawing symbology, standard mechanical parts, and standard architectural details. These data elements need to be organized before you roll out any new standards. So take the time to get all your directories established, get your network permissions set, and make sure all your files are properly named. This type of organization is not glamorous (or fun), but it must be done before authoring CAD standards.

The First Draft

Now you know what is motivating the move to CAD standards, what problems need to be addressed, and what role your CAD standards will play based on your company type. The time has come to take an initial stab at writing some CAD standards. Consider the following:

Look at existing standards. In the "Web Resources" sidebar, you'll see information about the U.S. National CAD Standard and some resources from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to get you started in the right direction.

Look at other company standards. If you are a supplier company (as outlined above), you'll want to see the standards documents from the companies for whom you are working. Because you'll have to live up to their standards anyway, why not start here. If you're a contracting company, you may want to ask some of the firms you contract for their CAD standards.

Make It Easy

Look at the first-draft standards you've produced and ask yourself, "How can I make these standards easy to follow?" Here are a few examples of what you can do to make your standards accessible for users (they'll love them) and a lot less hassle for you to enforce (because users love them):

Use templates wherever you can. Don't tell users to create 100 layers; give them a template where the layers already exist.

Create standard toolbars, palettes, and navigation views. Users love having the tools they need organized in their CAD interface instead of having to type commands or trudge through complex menus. Any user would rather drag-and-drop symbols into a drawing than to have to hunt for them.

Make directory structures intuitive. If users must look through directories, make them easy to navigate. Don't put title blocks in the \\SERVER_05\SHAREDCAD\BLOCKS FOLDER. Put them in the Q:\BLOCKS directory, which more users understand.

Obviously, I've only scratched the surface here, but I think you'll see the point. Users are more likely to follow your standards if you make it easy for them to do so. And setting up your CAD environment to be both standard and easy to use is like achieving CAD standards Nirvana. Keep asking how to make standards easier to use, and everyone will embrace them, guaranteed.

Make It Binding

If your company fits the contracting model I discussed above, you'll want to contractually bind your suppliers to use your CAD standards. The easiest way I know to achieve this goal is to make CAD standards a part of your overall job contract. To this end, check the AIA Contract Documents (see "Web Resources" sidebar) for an excellent starting point.

Web Resources
Web Resources

If Contract Documents seems like overkill for your company, remember that where CAD standards are concerned, nothing is binding until you have it in contract form. So, at minimum, make sure you've got a basic contract with a copy of your CAD standards signed by any firm with whom you work to assure its compliance with your standards. You'll be glad you did.

Adjust and Repeat

Simply go back to the beginning of the process and reassess motivations, problems, company type, data organization, and ease of use as you continually revise standards for your company. Each iterative loop should get a little easier until you ultimately get your standards under control. Of course, new clients, projects, and software changes could cause periodic overhauls of standards, but that is the nature of changing technology. The main point I want to make is that CAD standards are a never-ending, evolutionary process.

Summing Up

Setting up a CAD standards program is a lot more than writing a dry technical document. In most cases, it is at least as much about efficiency and psychology as it is about technology. In fact, the truly successful CAD managers I know approach CAD standards as a unified combination of all these factors.

Editor's Note: Robert Green will provide additional information about the creation of CAD standards in the May 14 and May 28 issues of his CAD Manager's Newsletter. Be sure to check for more standards-related tips, tricks, and techniques.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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