NCS v4 in the Works

31 May, 2006 By: Michael Dakan

Also, Wiley releases new National CAD Standard companion guide

Work has begun on version 4 of the U.S. National CAD Standard, which is anticipated to be a major upgrade to the NCS when it is completed in early 2007. NCS has been available and in use for more than seven years by a number of firms, to one degree or another, and has been regularly expanded and revised.

What is NCS? It’s the effort of the NCS Project Committee, under the auspices of NIBS (National Institute of Building Sciences). NCS, as stated on its Web site, "coordinates the efforts of the building design and construction industry by classifying electronic building design data consistently, allowing streamlined communication among owners and design and construction project teams." The goal is to reduce the costs of developing and maintaining individual office standards and transferring building data from design applications to facility management applications, as well as to facilitate greater efficiency in the design and construction process.

Published in 1999, NCS v1 was a simple compilation of three existing documents: UDS (Uniform Drawing System), developed by the Construction Specifications Institute; CAD Layer Guidelines from AIA (American Institute of Architects); and the Plotting Guidelines from the Tri-Service CADD and Technology Center and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Currently available as v3.1, NCS has made significant strides in unifying and coordinating these three publications and has expanded to incorporate additional UDS modules as they have become available. NCS v3.1 is considered to be fairly complete in terms of structure and contents.

The next version of NCS will fine-tune existing content, address some new issues that have arisen among NCS users and, perhaps most significantly, address the increasing use of 3D CAD and BIM in AEC, which isn’t mentioned at all in the current version. This will require a lot of thought and coordination with additional entities such as the Industry Alliance for Interoperability and BIM software developers. It's unlikely that such a large endeavor will be completed before v4 is published, but I hope the next release will establish a strong foundation in this area.

Concurrent with the announcement about work beginning on NCS v4, the National CAD Standard Steering Committee launched a new Web-based tracking system to manage the formal process of submitting and commenting on proposed NCS changes, and ultimately for voting on them. The Web site is intended only for the formal process of adopting changes or additions to the NCS and is accessible only to Task Force members. (The previously used forum will remain open for more informal discussion and administrative functions of the Committee.) I reviewed the new site, and it appears to be a big improvement over the discussion forum that preceded it. Perhaps this will focus and speed the adoption of improvements and additions for future NCS versions.

If you would like to help to develop NCS v4 and beyond, I urge you to contact the National CAD Standard Committee to apply for a spot on the committee and a task team of your choosing. When I monitored the NCS revision process several years ago, I was struck by how the discussions seemed to be dominated by only a few regular members of the task teams. We all owe a great deal of gratitude to these dedicated and hard-working individuals; however, I can't help but wonder if the lack of widespread involvement in the discussions affected the outcome. If you have used the NCS and have ideas about how it could be improved, now is your chance to make a difference.

New: The Architect’s Guide to the U.S. National CAD Standard

I would also like to point out a new reference book about the National CAD Standard that was recently published by Wiley under the auspices of AIA: The Architect’s Guide to the U.S. National CAD Standard($70), by Dennis Hall FAIA, FCSI, and Rick Green, AIA, FCSI. The book's authors have been instrumental from the beginning in bringing the NCS to fruition, and in this publication they do a very good job of explaining and exploring the structure and contents of the standard and some of the reasoning behind it.

Hall and Green explain that the 250-page guide is not meant to be a substitute for the NCS itself, and the reader should have the complete NCS available for thoroughly understanding and using the standard. Organized in the same way as NCS v3.1 and providing lots of explanation and background information for each of 11 NCS sections, the guide provides many examples that illustrate the concepts explained in the text. Several appendices delve into some of the details.

The Architect’s Guide to the U.S. National CAD Standard would be an excellent companion when implementing the NCS in an office, for instance, or for young professionals who are learning to electronically communicate the language and requirements of an architectural project. It would also be an excellent resource for CAD technicians in the architectural field and for college-level students heading into AEC.

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