AutoCAD 2013 from the CAD Manager’s Chair

27 Mar, 2012 By: Robert Green

You've heard about some of the new features already, but how will this release affect your users and their workflows?

As you read this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, the latest version of AutoCAD is starting to ship out to customers. No doubt you’ll want to read up on all the new features as soon as you can by going through Bill Fane’s comprehensive AutoCAD 2013 Cadalyst Labs review. For the purposes of this newsletter, however, I won't be concentrating on the nitty-gritty details. Instead, I’ll focus on drawing some conclusions about how this release will affect CAD managers and their users.

So here, in no particular order, is a summation of what to expect in AutoCAD 2013 — from a CAD manager’s point of view.

No User Interface Shock

Experienced AutoCAD users will feel right at home with the new release. Of course, there are some new bells and whistles in the status bar (Quick View Drawings and Layouts, and Annotative Monitoring) and the top border (which now includes Help, Exchange, and Autodesk 360), as highlighted below, but nothing that will require serious retraining.

Although it has a few new bells and whistles, the user interface of AutoCAD 2013 is similar to previous versions. Note the floating Command line.

Longtime keyboard users (myself included) will like the new Command line enhancements, and may find themselves using the Command line more often as a result.

Bottom line:
You won’t need to make a major effort to get your users comfortable with the AutoCAD 2013 interface.

New and Different File Formats

AutoCAD 2013 uses a new DWG file format, so saving backward to prior versions will require use of the Save As function, or a trip to the Open and Save tab of the Options command to set file save preference defaults. (Every third release of AutoCAD introduces a new DWG file format, and with AutoCAD 2013 we have reached that point once again.)

There is substantially better support for 3D mechanical CAD files in this release of AutoCAD, so those of you who work with Autodesk Inventor, Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks, or other MCAD programs will be pleasantly surprised to find that intermediate translations may not be required anymore.

Bottom line:
We gain improved interaction with mechanical CAD systems, but we do have to pay attention to backward compatibility in-house to prevent legacy projects from getting saved with 2013-format files.

More Internet (or Less?)

The new Help system, Exchange, Exchange Apps, and Autodesk 360 functions are heavily reliant on Internet connectivity to deliver not just software help, but extended resources including videos, startup guides, and the ability to store user profiles and drawings in a cloud-style environment. The obvious benefit to having your CAD system linked to live Internet support resources is that these resources can be updated easily, and are therefore always evolving and improving.

The downside to a more Internet-integrated AutoCAD is that your IT department may not want every CAD user eating up your company’s bandwidth. To this end, AutoCAD 2013 does give you a way to download localized help files, and provides switches to turn off Internet-rich features such as the startup screen. For other functions, like the Autodesk Exchange and Autodesk 360, the management issues are less technical but more IT-based, depending on whether your policies permit constant Internet access or not.

Instead of connecting to the Internet, users can download offline help files.

Bottom line:
Whether or not you want your users to have access to Internet-enabled features is purely up to you and your IT department. Just be warned that AutoCAD 2013 requires you to think a lot more about Internet connectivity than past releases did, and managing it may well require coordinated CAD and IT policies. By the way, the time to think about these issues is before implementation, not after!

Content Explorer Updates

Content Explorer, a browsable/searchable way to share standard files between your users, has been upgraded in two major ways that merit mentioning. First, the universe of files that can be indexed into the Content Explorer results has grown substantially.

Content Explorer manages more file types than ever before.

Second, Content Explorer has morphed from a server-only architecture (shared files located in one place) to a peer-to-peer architecture (you can see files on other users' machines). This change brings a whole new management challenge: How should you manage your standard component files, now that they can be stored on any number of machines?

Bottom line:
Content Explorer is now much more powerful and configurable, but that means you’ll need to think more about it to make it work for you. I expect that the peer-to-peer topology will be fantastic for those branch offices that experience slow network transport to a remote server.

Model Documentation Workflows

As mentioned above, AutoCAD's new ability to work with SolidWorks or Inventor files means that your internal workflows for generating 3D documentation may change. Consider the example below, where a model airplane engine assembly can be imported, views and details created, and annotations applied — all in AutoCAD. How might this capability affect your company’s approach to technical documentation or field service manuals?

In AutoCAD 2013, it’s simple to generate views, details, and sections of models that you import from Autodesk Inventor and other MCAD software applications.

Bottom line:
Companies that do a lot of mechanical design work are going to be able to do a lot more in AutoCAD than they have before, and this could mean big changes in training and technical documentation preparation. No more translating out of MCAD to read into AutoCAD, and then spending hours cleaning up the geometry! Instead, you’ll work with native files from MCAD systems via direct import, then quickly move to annotate drawings with powerful hidden-line and shaded views in a matter of minutes. CAD managers should jump on this technology — and the time savings it will bring!

Summing Up

I hope this column, combined with Bill Fane’s excellent writeup on AutoCAD 2013, will help you get accustomed to what’s new and start thinking about how you’ll manage the new tools at your disposal. Of course, this is just the beginning of our management discussion of the new Autodesk 2013–based products, especially the cloud-like AutoCAD 360. As I spend more time with the new tools and implement them at client sites, I’ll pass along tips and strategies throughout the coming year.

Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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