Cadalyst AEC Tech News #120 (May 20, 2004)

19 May, 2004 By: Michael Dakan

In our last AEC Technology newsletter, we discussed the newly rewritten Detailer portion of Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2005 and its history and heritage in the Autodesk product lineup. In this issue we'll look at how this set of tools is used to produce construction documentation for architectural practice.

As I said in the previous newsletter, I've been a fan of this application and similar tools since their inception years ago. I'm occasionally surprised to learn that many ADT users have never really used the Detailer or discovered what it can do. With the emphasis on 3D modeling and BIM the past several years and the de-emphasis of 2D CAD as a tool for drawing, the 2D aspects of CAD have not received as much attention from developers and users. But there are still many uses for 2D drawings in architectural practice, most notably in the category of construction details to illustrate how the parts and pieces of a building fit together and how they are arranged to best fulfill some of the building's functional requirements, such as water- and weather-tightness and the structural soundness of connections and fittings.

The Detailer module of Architectural Desktop allows you to draw using building materials such as sheets of plywood, steel or wood studs and joists, finishes, and gypsum wallboard. These materials are placed using parametric, data-driven information to generate the many sizes and shapes of building materials. You don't have to build up representations of these materials using CAD lines, curves, and hatches. Once you place them in a drawing, you can edit them as objects and don't have to deal with editing individual CAD entities.

Detailer objects are not the same as the 3D AEC objects created by Architectural Desktop, but are a separate type of 2D-only object. For placement and editing purposes, they behave much the same as standard AutoCAD blocks, but they also have additional data associated with them that identifies what building material they represent. This makes automatic annotation possible using Architectural Desktop's annotation and callout tools. These objects also fit with the new Architectural Desktop keynote system for setting up standard notes and callouts that can be used consistently across a project. The associated information can also be used by other applications that require material takeoffs from the project model, such as programs for cost estimating and generating material specifications documentation.

You can label materials with a standard alphanumeric symbol such as a CSI Masterformat designation, a standard note, or both. This annotation information is maintained in a standard Microsoft Access database table. This makes it easy to ensure that any changes are automatically used and that everyone on a project or in an office is using the same callout notes and designators for the same materials. You can easily create keynote legend tables for all the materials that appear on a sheet of details, or on all detail sheets in a project.

Because the Detailer tools are completely integrated with Architectural Desktop, you can also use all the project management and new sheet set tools to manage the individual drawings and sheet layouts for a project. Detail callouts and titles are hyperlinked together, and the 2D details become integrated with the 3D model for easier sheet coordination and checking.

Placement tools for finding building materials and inserting them are the same as for the rest of the design content in Architectural Desktop. Parametric tables of material sizes are readily visible, and it's easy to add a new size of an existing material table or edit the parametric sizes. Search tools help you find materials quickly if you don't want to walk through the palette menu system.

A new tool palette for the detailing tools is available alongside all the other Architectural Desktop design palettes. You can customize the detailing palette as well as move, copy, and export it. Once you select a material category, the familiar Properties window shared by the other design content tools allows you to select specific sizes and views of materials before placing them in the drawing. This window is also used to modify materials that have been previously placed.

Adding entirely new types of materials and building parametric tables is more involved than just adding a size for an existing material, but it can be done. The routines for drawing a new material may require some programming expertise to accomplish, but just placing a new block type of object is relatively simple.

The building materials available out-of-the-box are extensive, but you may not find every material you want to use and detail for a project. As stated, you can add to the materials that are available, and Autodesk seems committed to quickly adding material content to cover a complete range of materials and to enhancing the basic tools.

Overall, this is a real productivity improvement over drawing construction details with straight CAD tools and entities. The Architectural Desktop Detailer can significantly speed up this portion of creating construction documentation. If you are an Architectural Desktop user who hasn't bothered to learn what the Detailer does, or a CAD user searching for a more full-featured set of tools for creating drawings for buildings, you'll certainly find that this set of tools is well worth the time invested in learning how to use it. It makes the Architectural Desktop feature set more than competitive with other architectural CAD tools on the market.