DataCAD Gets Smart

25 Mar, 2008 By: Kenneth Wong

Parametric entities are the star of the latest release.

Michael Smith, a founding principal of Signature Architects believes it's time for a new chapter for DataCAD. The latest release of the software, developed and marketed by DataCAD LLC, is marked by the introduction of what the creators call "smart entities." As the author of a couple of books on DataCAD, it's fitting that Smith writes the new chapter — and updates the existing ones. The result is DataCAD 12 Project Book, published by Technology Education Concepts, an academic CAD software distributor.

Among the most requested enhancements are "Virtual Building-related tools," said Mark Madura, DataCAD LLC's president and CEO, when announcing the release of DataCAD v12. "These smart entities [intelligent wall, door, and window objects] offer many of the advantages of BIM without having to set up extensive project controls or endure a steep learning curve that would impact an entire design team."

In other words, think of DataCAD v12 as a gentle introduction to BIM.

Going Parametric
Michael Smith's workflow has significantly improved now that he can count on the walls to adjust their dimensions on their own when he needs to resize the doors and windows. Such automations are not new to Autodesk Revit users or Graphisoft ArchiCAD users, but to Smith and other loyal DataCAD users, they represent "the biggest addition" to Version 12.

In the introduction to Chapter 15, which he rewrote entirely to illustrate the workflow with smart objects, Smith explains, "So if a sliding glass door is added to the model, it will automatically cut the hole in the wall planes and add all the appropriate geometry of the sliding glass door. If the designer then decides she wants that door to be a double French door instead, she does not have to redraw anything; she just tells the program to make the door a double French door, and the wall and door geometry will automatically change."

For Smith, who's just becoming accustomed to working with parametric objects in DataCAD, the new smart entities require some getting used to. "Once in a while, I remember that, instead of drawing a window in 2D, I can draw it as a smart window," he said.

Click for larger image

Click for larger image
In Signature Architects' theater project, Smith began using smart entities — intelligent windows, doors, and walls — that made their debut in DataCAD v12. (Click images for larger versions)

File Shuffling
In one of his recent projects, a proposed community theatre with 200 seats and an adjacent retail and office space in downtown West Concord, Massachusetts, Smith has been working heavily in 3D, swapping files back and forth between SketchUp and DataCAD. "You just use the best tool for the job," he noted. "SketchUp, for example, can create shadows, while DataCAD does not."

He pointed out that DataCAD has had SketchUp import for some time, but the latest version introduces SketchUp export, making it possible to transfer drawings back and forth between the two programs with the applied materials intact.

"We would usually get the smart objects, like windows and walls, set up in DataCAD, then send the drawing into SketchUp. With DataCAD v12, all your DataCAD materials [brick, stucco, wood, and so on] appear in SketchUp," Smith said.

Click for larger image DataCAD v12 introduces SketchUp export tool, in addition to the existing SketchUp import function. (Click image for larger version)

Smith transports files not just between SketchUp and DataCAD but also between his office and home. For that, he relies on another new feature of DataCAD v12 called Pak-n-Go. "Essentially, it will gather up everything in the file — the drawing file, the xrefs, the pen tables, the textures and bitmap files you used for rendering, and all the fonts you used," he said. "You just need to take that file and open it in another computer with the option to recreate the identical file structure if desired."

Other Helpers
Additional enhancements come in the form of a new Symbol Editor window and individual pen tables for each detailed view. "When you double-click on a symbol, it opens up a separate drawing window," Smith noted. "You can make changes, then save it from right there. When you go back to the drawing, all instances of that symbol will be changed. But if you just want to implement that change for just this drawing file (without affecting the original symbol database), you can save the symbol with a new name."

Having this option, Smith pointed out, is especially handy when he needs to insert a light fixture symbol or a piece of custom furniture for a specific project, but he doesn't foresee reusing it again and doesn't want to add it to the symbol database.

Smith noted that in previous versions, when a user creates various scaled detail views and sectional views from the same drawing entities, the pen stroke (plotted line width) remains the same; therefore, the enlargement might produce drawings with unnaturally light strokes. "On the floor plan, you have an exterior wall at a certain width, so the pen stroke looks fine; but when blown up, the same pen stroke might look too thin," he said. He was glad to find that version 12 addresses the issue by providing an individual pen table for each drawing view or detail, allowing him to select a heavier pen stroke to fit the magnification ratio.

Click for larger image The ability to choose a different pen style for the detail view ensures the enlargement doesn't produce drawings with extremely thin pen strokes. (Click image for larger version)

Not the End of 2D, Not the End of Intellect
In the revised chapter on smart entities, Smith wrote, "3D parametric modeling has not yet negated the need for basic 2D drafting, so the skills you have learned up to this point in the book are still very relevant and very useful, and will aid in your understanding of how to draw these new smart entities."

On the industry's latest rush to develop CAD or BIM modules aimed at serving the emerging sustainable architecture market, Smith remarked, "People sometimes want the software to do everything for them. But it's really up to you — the licensed professional, the certified expert — to figure out things like sustainable features."

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

More News and Resources from Cadalyst Partners

For Mold Designers! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the mold design professional. Sponsored by Siemens NX.  Visit the Equipped Mold Designer here!

For Architects! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the building design professional. Sponsored by HP.  Visit the Equipped Architect here!