Change Management in DWF

23 May, 2007 By: Kenneth Wong

Autodesk Design Review fosters paperless collaboration sessions

Over the years, assistant CAD manager Mark Douglas has become one of the gatekeepers of engineering redlines at MKM & Associates.

MKM, a structural engineering firm, keeps electronic DWF stick sets, or the digital equivalent of printed project racks, just a few mouse-clicks away from the staff. By hyperlinking the annotation callouts on the sheets to the actual detail views on other DWF sheets, MKM has found it easy to address the questions of those in the field right from the comfort of an office workstation.

“We want to limit the amount of paper prints we generate,” said Douglas, "so we send our staff engineers DWF files for them to review and comment. Sometimes, when a field technician or contractor calls, the engineer receiving the call will immediately open up the relevant DWF file and log the conversation with notes.”

Usually, during the review cycles, various annotations from the staff engineers, field technicians and architects funnel through Douglas and several others. Douglas has the unenviable task of consolidating all the markups. To make sure nothing is inadvertently omitted, he relies on his diligence. But that’s clearly not enough. The human eye can discern only so much; it can only detect a finite number of circles and lines at a time. He’s now getting some help from the free software utility Autodesk Design Review.

What You Don’t See Might Hurt You
“Sometimes, an architect might send us a file,” Douglas explained. “He might say, ‘Here are our revisions, just a couple of small changes.’ ” In some cases, what the architect considers a small change -- for example, moving a second-floor wall a few feet or adding a window or two -- may create significant structural imbalance, forcing MKM to address it with additional revisions to the other floor levels or structural design and details.

Because Design Review can compare DWF documents and identify the differences between them (much in the same way Microsoft Word does with text documents), Douglas can easily pinpoint all the changes made by the architect, then decide how to properly deal with them.

According to Autodesk, this feature compares multiple versions of drawings in a lightboard style. With the different versions overlaid one upon another, the application automatically highlights additions, deletions and other modifications.

Furthermore, Design Review keeps track of the changes made by different parties, making it easy for Douglas to distinguish the revisions and comments from the consultants, the MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) engineers, the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) engineers, contractors, subcontractors and the rest.


MKM & Associates’ assistant CAD manager Mark Douglas relies on Autodesk Design Review’s ability to compare multiple drawing files and identify the subsequent changes and additions made on them to keep track of the changes made by architects and field technicians.

More Preferable to PDF
Between the paper markup era and the DWF markup era, MKM briefly used PDF files for exchanging annotations. But today, if a client or a contractor asks for PDF, Douglas and his colleagues encourage the requester to accept DWF instead.

“The file size is much smaller,” he pointed out, “and it’s made for CAD data.” According to Autodesk, PDF files are often three times larger than their DWF counterparts (“Comparison of DWF and PDF,” June 20, 2006, Beyond the Paper).

You Are Now Free to Roam
For James Vandezande, an architect and one of the digital design managers of SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill), a household name in the engineering and architectural sectors, the name Design Review aptly describes how the software is used on the job.

“We have production teams [comprising junior architects and designers] working on a set of documents -- renderings, drawings, details and so on,” he explained. “When they’re done, they publish DWF files so the senior members can review them. And we’ll have some of [the senior team members] offsite, in the field. They carry tablet PCs loaded with Design Review. So they don’t have to be chained to their desk or to a set of oversize drawings.”

Being an international firm, SOM trades DWF files among its branch offices in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai, London and beyond. The company also uses the same digital medium to send and receive shop drawings and submittals from its project partners in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and nearly every conceivable corner of the world.

“More often than not, the fabricators and contractors are using AutoCAD,” said Vandezande, “so they can just publish DWF files, then transmit them to us via Buzzsaw [Autodesk’s collaborative project management platform] or email. We review them in Design Review, annotate them and send them back.”

Vandezande said this approach takes merely a couple of days, whereas sending rolls of drawings via FedEx or postal service takes two or three times as long.

Beyond the Audit Cycle
SOM’s Vandezande sees Design Review as much more than an annotation and markup tool. It can, for instance, be an effective cost-estimation tool.

“In some large, complex projects, it doesn’t make sense for us to send the entire 3D model to some people,” he said. “Maybe we only need to share certain areas of the drawings, like a corner where some curtain walls intersect. So we can extract that specific view from our Revit model and send that along to the contractor or the project manager.”


At Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, digital design manager and architect James Vandezande is considering using Design Review to exchange sectional project views in 3D DWF.

Because relevant dimensions and construction specifications from the Revit model will also be exported to the sectional DWF view, Vandezande foresees that it can also be an effective way to estimate costs. The person who receives it can click on a wall, for example, and find out the volume of concrete needed.

At the present, SOM uses Design Review as a visual inspection tool, but Vandezande is researching the possibility of deploying it as a fully automated submittal review utility. “Currently, we can’t link Design Review to an online project management program like Constructware or Primavera,” he said, “but if we could, we’d simply populate the status fields in these systems based on the actions taken in Design Review.”

For instance, if an SOM architect has reviewed the submitted DWF file, he or she could change the markup status in Design Review as “Done,” and the corresponding field in the project management system would automatically update to reflect the action. “The proposed functionality is to customize the Status field in Design Review, which is not currently possible,” Vandezande explained.


If the status field in Design Review could be customized and linked to a project management system, such as Constructware, then the free utility could potentially become an automatic submittal tool, in the view of SOM’s Vandezande.

 Improvements since Beta
Both MKM’s Douglas and SOM’s Vandezande were beta testers of Design Review. Douglas was glad to see the drawing-comparison feature in the final version of the software, because it was something he’d actively petitioned for in the feedback forms.

Vandezande remarked, “There was a significant improvement in how it handles 3D models, like navigating the models or cutting sections out of them.” That pleases him because SOM uses lightweight and portable 3D models extensively.

The Circuitous Paper Route
In Vandezande’s experience, architects, especially the principals at his firm, are not as careless with their penmanship as doctors. So if he ever receives a comment or two scribbled on a printed sheet, he can decipher the instructions without too much effort. But even so, the typed instructions captured in Design Review are admittedly a better choice.

“You can’t easily bring the paper back into the computer,” he reasoned, “and you can’t use the [software’s] search function on the printed sheet.”


About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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