AutoCAD 2007 for CAD Managers, Part 3

26 Apr, 2006 By: Robert Green

In the past two editions 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 conclude my examination of AutoCAD 2007 by looking into changes in system variables and options and how best to control them. Here goes.

It’s All About Options

For CAD managers who are experienced with controlling and customizing AutoCAD, the Options command is a good place to get acquainted with AutoCAD 2007. Opening the Options command to its default Files tab shows that things operate as before -- you'll find a collection of variables, settings and folders that collectively form a profile that starts AutoCAD using your personal settings.

The Files tab in the Options dialog box looks almost identical to the one found in AutoCAD 2006, so you'll feel at home.

So the good news is that the approach to managing AutoCAD hasn’t really changed from AutoCAD 2006 to 2007. However, if you’ve been holding out on upgrading from AutoCAD 2005 or 2004, the new CUI (Customized User Interface) will be a big change from your familiar menu/toolbar customization process.

3D Changes

As you begin to browse around the various interface screens, you’ll notice a few things going on, the most obvious of which is the 3D Modeling tab, which makes its debut in this release.

The 3D Modeling tab is home to options that affect how the 3D interface looks and behaves.

For 3D work in AutoCAD 2007, the graphical environment and planar orientations of the UCS (user coordinate system) are dramatically different from those of previous versions. It’s no longer just a matter of whether the UCS icon is on and if it follows the current UCS origin, but also how the entire 3D interface appears to your users.

Here you'll note a visible UCS triad, shown in arrow form, that follows the cursor and repositions the x,y,z axes graphically to show the dynamic UCS. These values correlate to the settings shown in the previous figure.

Your users might or might not want the UCS to be visible on the 2D base plane or on the object; they might want to see the UCS jump to various faces of geometry they’re working on, or they may not. The point is that you can customize the look and feel of AutoCAD’s 3D construction environment in the 3D plane. You'll need to determine how you wish to train users and which company standard for the new 3D environment you wish to craft.

I should point out that there isn't really a right or wrong way to set up AutoCAD’s new 3D environment -- you should do what's best for your users. How will you know what’s right? Experiment with the various settings and determine which variables you like, then use those settings as the basis for your standardized profiles. Go ahead and start manipulating the variables and see how the UCS icons move, appear, disappear and behave and decide which options make the most sense in your training environment.

File Mechanics

As I mentioned in the last issue of this newsletter, AutoCAD 2007 uses a different file format than its predecessors, as you can see in the Open and Save tab in the Options dialog box.

There's a new DWG in town, so be sure to keep track of the setting in your profiles.

Be aware! The 3D data created with the new version won’t behave as you'd expect when saved back to prior versions, and could create potential data-translation problems. If your users start out creating 3D geometry in AutoCAD 2007, you should plan to keep that data exclusively in 2007 format to avoid 3D degradation.

Note: In a welcome change from prior upgrades, AutoCAD 2007 offers plenty of backward compatibility to breathe extended life into Release 14 compatibile programs and old MicroStation translation work!

Graphics Controls

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, one of the big changes in AutoCAD 2007 is the display horsepower required for 3D modeling. To this end, AutoCAD has a Performance Tuner application that attempts to optimize your 3D performance when you install the software. But what would happen if you wanted to tweak the suggested settings, or installed a new graphics card, or did anything else to require changed settings?

The short answer is that you can use the settings in the Adaptive Degradation and Performance Tuning dialog box (found under the 3D Performance settings under the Options System tab) to tailor each performance variable manually, then save it into your profile settings.

Manually tweaking the 3D performance variables in the Options command.

As with the 3D interface we talked about earlier, some experimentation may be in order to get a good compromise between performance and visual quality. And be aware that wide disparities in graphics hardware among AutoCAD 2007 users will mean you’ll be spending a lot of time trying to get things to look consistent from one user to the next.

Action Items for CAD Managers

Now you can undertake your final push to understand AutoCAD 2007 and see if it really fits into your company’s needs -- or not. I can’t make blanket recommendations on this subject for all users in all industries, but if you do push ahead with the upgrade, I can offer a few action items that all CAD managers should consider when adopting this latest AutoCAD release.

  • Set up and benchmark the 3D environment. Even if you don’t think you’ll really use the 3D functionality, you can bet that users will want to experiment with the new features and will wind up requiring some degree of CAD management support as they do. Why not be ready for the questions and -- an added advantage -- develop a consistent user interface to make the switch easier for everyone?
  • Update your hardware soon. One of the things that will increase the popularity of 3D is the realistic visualization it allows. Don’t allow yourself to face a stampede of sales and marketing people who want all sorts of cool 3D AutoCAD output while you have five-year-old, low-end graphics hardware. Again, be proactive. Get your budgeting and purchasing done now!

Summing Up

Most organizations that embrace AutoCAD 2007 will probably do so because they see promising applications for its new 3D feature set. This latest version really doesn't introduce enough 2D improvements to justify the transition on 2D metrics alone.
I hope I've provided enough background information for you to begin your 3D exploration of AutoCAD 2007, as well as some suggestions about what to control and how to manage the learning process.

In the next issue of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll launch a series on trends I’ve been observing over the past six months through my speaking engagements and conversations with CAD managers. I'll try to deliver a heads-up about the changing business environment for CAD managers and how you can plot a successful course. Until then.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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