AEC From the Ground Up: Are You Up to Standards?

14 Sep, 2004 By: AIA ,H. Edward Goldberg

Homegrown standards vs. the U.S. National CAD Standard.

One of the best ways to ensure that your CAD department is productive is to create and work according to a set of CAD standards. Doing so helps new employees learn their jobs quickly, speeds projects to completion with greater accuracy, and facilitates more effective data exchange with clients and collaborating firms. Because the AEC industry is now dependent on CAD data and because project collaboration is so common, the absence of CAD standards can cause expensive problems that are frustrating to design firms and their clients. In the absence of universal standards, many design firms have developed their own standards or implemented the United States National CAD Standard.

Proprietary Office Standards

Many firms create their own proprietary CAD and operational standards that are often quite viable. Proprietary standards should guide an operator through the process of opening and plotting existing drawings. They should also include enough information about office equipment to get a new CAD operator up and running on the first day at the job. Beyond this, operators need to know the office standards for numbering, editing, and annotating drawings. The CAD standards should also explain your company's layering (or levels) system.
 The National Institute of Building Sciences sells copies of the United States National CAD Standard.
The National Institute of Building Sciences sells copies of the United States National CAD Standard.

Well thought-out CAD standards must include information on how to set up new projects and drawings and provide guidelines for exchanging CAD data with clients and other companies. A FAQ (frequently asked questions) section can help users troubleshoot on their own. Appendices impart additional information in a way that doesn't detract from the overall focus. If an office intranet is available, all office standards can be organized there in an easy-to-access format.

Your CAD software likely provides tools such as drawing templates, libraries, and so forth to help enforce your chosen standards. In addition, third-party applications may be available. ProSoft's NETSpex for AutoCAD and MicroStation, for example, creates a central database to store components and layer definitions. Softco's S-Man is a set of utilities for managing AutoCAD standards.

Online Resources
Online Resources

The United States National CAD Standard

Although proprietary CAD standards work well in small, isolated firms, offices that work on larger projects or need to collaborate with other disciplines should consider adopting the U.S. NCS (National CAD Standard) for architecture, engineering, and construction.

The latest version of the NCS, v3.0, was published in June 2004. The NCS codifies information for the building design and construction industry by consistently classifying electronic building design data to help streamline communication between owners and design and construction project teams. According to the publishers, NIBS (National Institute of Building Sciences), using these standards reduces costs associated with developing and maintaining individual office standards and transferring building data from CAD applications to facility management applications. NIBS also claims that the National CAD Standard offers greater efficiency during the design and construction process.

whats in the NCS?
whats in the NCS?

The National CAD Standard is a compilation and modification of three existing standards documents published by members of the FIC (Facility Information Council): the CAD Layer Guidelines by the AIA (American Institute of Architects), the Uniform Drawing System Modules 1-8 by the Construction Specification Institute, and Plotting Guidelines by the U.S. Coast Guard. The FIC, a council of the NIBS, formed the National CAD Standards Project Committee to develop the standard. The committee reviewed and commented on the documents and produced a report that describes the relationships of the documents, one to another, resolves discrepancies among them, and ensures the full integration of all previously independent parts.

Implementation of the NCS, in whole or in part, is voluntary. Individual firms retain the right to determine their degree of conformity with the NCS. The agreement between owner and design professional or between design professional and consultant may specify the degree of conformity required for a project. Projects that claim substantial or partial conformity with the NCS include an NCS Statement of Substantial Conformance.


Advantages of the NCS

Using the NCS helps consistently classify data for all projects, regardless of the project type or client, and it helps transfer information between architects, engineers, and other design team members. It also reduces preparation time for translation of electronic data files between different proprietary software file formats, giving predictable file translation results. Use of NCS also greatly reduces staff training time compared with teaching proprietary office standards. If your CAD software supports the standards, time needed for setup and data file formatting is reduced.

NIBS anticipates that not all project documents will fully conform to the NCS in every respect and detail and that most projects will include several minor variations. Provided these minor variations are listed as part of the Statement of Substantial Conformance, the project is still considered to be in substantial conformance.

NIBS' ultimate goal is voluntary adoption of the National CAD Standard by the building design and construction industry to streamline and simplify the exchange of 2D design and construction data in the project development phase and throughout the lifecycle of a facility.

Standards for 3D computer models—those produced by object-oriented programs—are not currently part of the NCS, although the council is considering their inclusion in a future release of the standard.

Any software vendor, manufacturer, material supplier, or other organization, commercial or nonprofit, may apply to the NIBS and register as a publisher of electronic data. On acceptance of registration application, agreement with the terms and conditions, and payment of the yearly registration fee, the organization can advertise its products as fully or partially in conformance with the NCS.

You can buy a copy of the United States National CAD Standard from NIBS at Members pay $400, nonmembers pay $540, and those in education pay $267.

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