Trying to Follow Those Standards!

31 Aug, 2003 By: Lynn Allen

As I've toured the world doing presentations on the new features in AutoCAD 2004, I find that very few users have actually tried to incorporate the CAD Standards tools into their drawing regime. Didn't Autodesk promote these cool features enough, or do we just need to be better educated on them? I'm going to vote for option B here, and try to rekindle some excitement for these design tools (and show you how they've been improved in AutoCAD 2004).

Nearly all of us have some design standards we need to follow in our AutoCAD drawings. These might consist of layer standards, specific linetypes, dimension styles, or text styles. The aforementioned standards are the ones AutoCAD is prepared to keep an eye on for you. You set up the standards and let AutoCAD be the watchdog! It doesn't get much better then that.

As a refresher, let's create a file with the correct setup for layers, linetypes, dimensions styles, and text styles. If you already have an existing drawing file that follows your standards, by all means use that one. You might want to make a copy of that file and delete all the objects, just to keep the file as small as possible (for faster checking). After you've set up your standards file, you'll need to save it to a DWS format (Drawing Standard). This can be done in the SAVEAS command. You can create as many drawing standards files as needed (should you have multiple projects that require different standards).

Let's say you're the CAD Manager and you'd like to check your CAD users' existing drawing files to ensure they're following the company standards. After opening the drawing files, you'll need to assign the proper Standards file for checking. This can be done by using the STANDARDS command (Tools > CAD Standards > Configure ...). Hitting + will allow you to add as many DWS files as you choose to use for checking, although I strongly recommend you keep it to just one. Multiple standards files can get very confusing. If you do choose to include multiple standards file for the same drawing, the one at the top of the list always has priority (and you can easily move them up and down the list to place them in the proper order).

The Plug-ins tab in the updated Configure Standards dialog box now provides the ability to choose exactly which standards you wish to check for. Perhaps you want to check for everything except for dimension styles. That's no problem with AutoCAD 2004. Simply check the standards you're interested in.

Figure 1. The Settings option in the Configure Standards dialog allows you to set up an automatic standards watchdog.

You'll also find the new Settings button, as shown in Figure 1, that contains some great options. Would you like a friendly reminder to pop up whenever you (or your CAD users) attempt to break a standard, as shown in Figure 2? This notice can be disregarded by selecting the "don't fix" button, or you can ask AutoCAD to help you correct the mistake. The notification options include a choice between a blatant dialog box that displays in the middle of the drawing area, a more subtle balloon in the new tray section of the drawing editor (lower-right corner), or nothing at all (now if only there were an option to send an electric shock as a friendly reminder).

Figure 2. AutoCAD 2004 has the capability of letting you know when you've broken a standard.

You can also set up your system so that properties are automatically modified to follow the selected standards file. For example, you create a TEXT layer that is blue, and the standards file indicates the TEXT layer should be magenta. AutoCAD will wave its magic wand, behind the scenes, and correct that little error for you. Just think how lazy you can be now!

After setting up your configuration to meet your needs, you're ready to check the drawing file by selecting the Check Standards button. AutoCAD will go through the drawing file, one standard at a time, sharing with you any discrepancies it comes across, as seen in Figure 3. Here you'll have a chance to fix the offender or simply accept it and move on. AutoCAD will attempt to offer up the proper solution for you in most cases; however, sometimes you may have to do a little legwork yourself.

For example, your standards file has a text style called NOTES that uses the Ariel font, and the drawing you're checking has a dimension style with the same name, but uses a different font, say, Romans. The Standards Checker will give you the option of changing to the standards text style (Ariel) by selecting the FIX button, or not--it's your choice. There are two means of overriding a standard: you can choose to simply pass for now by selecting the Next option, or you can choose to ignore the standard forever by selecting the "Mark this problem as ignored." If you choose the latter option, the next time you check this drawing AutoCAD will NOT prompt you about this text style discrepancy (those of you with a fear of commitment should opt for the "Next" option).

Figure 3. The Standards Checker makes it easy to fix any standards discrepancies.

In some cases you'll need to solve the discrepancy yourself. For example, your standards file has a layer called Detail Text. The Standards checker comes across a nonstandard layer called D-Text. AutoCAD will not make an assumption and try to assign the proper layer here (it's a program--not a psychic!); you'll need to select the proper layer name yourself.

If you've selected the "Automatically fix non-standard properties" option in the Settings dialog (as mentioned earlier), you may find that some of your standards have been updated automatically for you. If your text had been placed in your drawing on a layer that was yellow, and the standards file has assigned blue to the text layer you'll notice your text is now a different color. You'll even find an option in the Settings dialog that permits you to display those ignored standards you bypassed earlier, which means you didn't really make a commitment after all! After completing the Standards Checker dialog, AutoCAD will provide you with a summary to let you know how many problems it found, how many were manually fixed, automatically fixed, or ignored.

For those of you who need to check multiple drawings to ensure they've adhered to your standards, try the Batch Standards Checker program that comes with AutoCAD. This external program makes it easy to run a quick check with the end result being a beautiful HTML file. Simply select the drawings you want to check, indicate the Standards file you want to use and go! You could easily attach the final report in an email back to the designers so they can fix any broken standards.

I think you'll find the CAD Standards tools in AutoCAD 2004 to be very helpful and simple to use. If following standards is an issue for your company, be sure to give them a try. You might just find yourself shaving minutes or even hours off of the final design time! Until Next month ... Happy AutoCADing!

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