AutoCAD 2007 for CAD Managers, Part 2

12 Apr, 2006 By: Robert Green

A look at new 3D features and how to best manage the inevitable transition

In the last edition of CAD Manager’s Newsletter (click here for archives), I took a first look at AutoCAD 2007 from a CAD management standpoint. In this issue I’ll continue to examine this latest AutoCAD version, talking about the organizational changes that AutoCAD’s new 3D feature set could trigger and how CAD managers can manage these changes most effectively.

Here goes.

Is This Your Year for 3D?

As I mentioned in the last issue, the greatest change you’ll notice in AutoCAD 2007 is the 3D feature set and the design interface that facilitates its use. Because this is AutoCAD we’re talking about, people who’ve been avoiding 3D might finally take a look at it. After all, if you’re on subscription and getting the new release anyway, it won’t cost any extra to investigate, right?

AutoCAD's new 3D modeling and 3D-optimized Dashboard (at right) give a whole new look and feel to its 3D modeling environment.

I’m betting on the fact that some users -- not all, but some -- are going to get curious about AutoCAD’s new 3D capabilities and start checking things out. And when they do, they might get pretty good at it. And we all know that when users start exploring a new set of features, we need to be ready to manage the change or get overwhelmed by it .

Why 3D In AutoCAD, and Why Now?

Well, essentially because Autodesk has made using 3D in AutoCAD a whole lot easier than it has been in the past. The principal changes that simplify the 3D learning curve in AutoCAD are these:

No more silly x,y-plane. In all prior versions of AutoCAD, the user was constrained to work in an x,y-plane that defined the UCS (user coordinate system). Any extrusions of 2D data into 3D space had to be along the z-axis of the UCS. But what if the z-axis wasn’t where you wanted it? You had to relocate the UCS to fit the task at hand, which meant you needed a pretty good understanding of Euclidian math to really work with the old AutoCAD 3D methodology.

AutoCAD 2007 uses many of the same types of geometric tools that you’ll find in Inventor or SolidWorks -- tools that define the user’s intentions and set up coordinate planes automatically.

Tracking on a non-x,y-planar face is easy with no UCS manipulations.

No more restrictive editing. In all prior versions of AutoCAD, the only way you could edit 3D objects was to slice or splice the existing objects using Boolean operations such as Add or Intersect rather than directly editing object properties. And you could forget more complex edits like revolving a flange around a pipe or moving a chimney a few feet along a wall. AutoCAD 2007 makes this sort of editing possible using double-click and grip editing techniques that most AutoCAD users already know.

Double-click editing a 3D feature reveals control points that can be used like grips.

Much better visualization. By offering a more full-featured on-board rendering system, AutoCAD 2007 allows users to see what they’re constructing in a variety of photorealistic modes, as opposed to the simple cartoonlike shading of past versions. Visualization modes are controlled via the Dashboard.

Setting the visualization mode in the Dashboard.

Why Does This Look and Feel Familiar?

I think the reason AutoCAD 3D is pretty intuitive for a lot of mechanical users, including myself, is that most of us have at least messed with a 3D mechanical CAD package at some point. AutoCAD makes use of that same basic feature set. Although architectural users won’t have this experience to draw on, they will still find 3D in AutoCAD 2007 a lot more intuitive than trying to perform the same functions in prior AutoCAD releases.

Action Items for CAD Managers

I hope I’ve made the case for at least examining how AutoCAD 2007 might affect your company’s use of 3D in the previously 2D-centric AutoCAD world. I encourage all CAD managers to take the following actions, at a minimum, to prepare for the possible shift:

Learn all you can. Get to some new product demonstrations, attend some user group meetings, look through Autodesk-related blogs and tutorials, talk to your reseller or even take a quick update class. If you don’t learn the new functionalities before your users do, you’ll find yourself behind the eightball very soon.

Consider file-format change issues. AutoCAD 2007 uses a different file format than its predecessors, and 3D data created with the new version won’t be handled in the same way when saved back to prior versions. If your users start out creating 3D geometry but you can’t support the new file version in other programs around your company, you could be setting yourself up for some real trouble.

Think about hardware issues now. As I mentioned in the last issue of CAD Manager’s Newsletter, users of the new 3D modeling and visualization tools in AutoCAD 2007 will want to get their hands on more RAM, better graphics cards and speedier computers. How will you deal with the hardware upgrades users will be clamoring for?

As CAD managers, we should view AutoCAD 2007 as the opportunity that it is: A gradual way to get 2D users into a 3D environment -- an effort that will require some planning and learning on our part to manage effectively.

Summing Up

I doubt the 3D capabilities of AutoCAD 2007 will lead to slower sales of other Autodesk 3D-optimized design solutions such as Inventor, Revit, Building Systems or Architectural Desktop. I do think the new features will pique the interest of many users and companies that simply can’t afford these other systems. By equipping AutoCAD 2007 with a decent set of 3D modeling and visualization tools, Autodesk simply paves the way for its customers to become more 3D-savvy and be that much smarter when they ultimately do make the move to 3D.

In the next issue of CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll look into changes in system variables in AutoCAD 2007 as well as options that’ve changed and how best to control them. Until then.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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!