More about AutoCAD Sheet Sets31 May, 2004 By: Robert Green
Learn how data fields can tie sheet sets together and replace block attributes
This month, we finish our discussion of sheet set configuration in AutoCAD 2005 by explaining how data fields can tie sheet sets together and how to eradicate block attributes from your title blocks. We started the task last month with an introduction to the concept of sheet set configurations and a checklist of resources required to build your own custom sheet sets (May, p. 34, www.cadalyst.com/0504cadman.htm)
Custom Sheet Set FieldsIn each sheet set you have the freedom to create custom sheet set fields and custom sheet fields. Yes, there is a difference. Sheet set fields are global to all sheets in the set while sheet fields are specific to each drawing within the set. Examples of a global or sheet set custom field are project number, customer name, and other parameters that remain constant for the entire sheet set. Examples of sheet-specific custom fields are drawn by, checked by, and other parameters that are different from drawing to drawing.
You create these custom fields by accessing the Sheet Set Properties dialog box and selecting the Edit Custom Properties button (figure 1). You can then assign each property a value in the dialog box. Now that you've created the custom fields you need in your sheet set, we'll move on to how to integrate them into your drawings.
Figure 1. Sheet custom properties are specific to each drawing, and sheet set custom properties are global to all drawings within the sheet set. You can access these properties with AutoCADs new Field command.
Field OverviewAutoCAD 2005's Field command lets you define an intelligent piece of mtext that displays a wide range of data from AutoCAD's design database and Sheet Set Manager. AutoCAD's Field command behaves like the one in Microsoft Word. Word uses fields to automatically display dates, page numbers, and other information.
There are a number of options when using fields, but I'd like to concentrate on a few highly useful examples.
Sheet sets: Sheet number, sheet name, custom fields created in the various sheet sets you work with.
Date and time: When created, last saved, last opened, etc.
Plot: Page setup, paper size and orientation, plot scale, plot date, style table, etc.
Document: Name, size, last user, title, subject, etc.
Objects: Block, Dimstyle, Tablestyle, etc.
Figure 2 shows how to create a field using the current sheet set field category to display the Customer Name custom property. When the field is created in the AutoCAD drawing, the output is a piece of mtext that contains the value of the Customer Name property stored in the sheet set. As an added bonus, any time you regenerate the drawing (manually or via an Open or Plot command), the field is reevaluated and updated. The only limitation is that the drawing that contains the field must actually be part of a sheet set for this category of fields to work.
Figure 2. The Field dialog box lets you select a variety of field categories and names. Note the complex field expression placed in the actual text string at the bottom of the dialog box.
For the other field cases I've listed, the drawing that contains the field need not be in any sheet set for the field integration to work. A field is, at minimum, an automated text annotation tool that updates automatically. Sold yet?
Templates and Title BlocksIn last month's article I explained how each new sheet in a sheet set is created from a template file (DWT) that you designate. CAD managers know that template files are a great way to import layers, dimstyles, and page setups, so why not import drawing title blocks as well? By crafting templates that contain block definitions for the various sizes of title blocks you require, such as A, B, D, A0, A1, and A3, you not only create new drawings with ease, but you also insert the correct title block with minimal effort.
Of course, title blocks usually have key pieces of information embedded in them to track the drawing's creator, checker, titles, project numbers, and the like. In the past this sort of information was encoded within blocks as block attributes. Though AutoCAD has become even better at manipulating attributes (via Battman and AutoLISP routines), working with them is still fraught with danger. Anybody who's ever reblocked entities to get attribute editing order correct or dealt with the Attredef command can attest to this.
The good news is that using fields to craft your title blocks results in title blocks that automatically update and link to your sheet sets.
Template Sheet SetsNow that you've created your sheet sets, custom fields, and templates, you can control virtually every aspect of how users in your office create and manage drawings. In addition to solid management control, you can drive the standardization of drawings via discipline-specific templates. Wouldn't it be great if you could control all your new projects in the same way?
The good news is that once you've configured your sheet sets, you can simply copy the DST (sheet set) file, directory structure, and required templates to another directory to start another project. The DST file is intelligent enough to reconfigure its path variables to its new environment when you copy the files so that you can start work immediately in the new project directory structure. Make sure that the directory structures and template files you create are robust enough to handle any new project.
Additional ResourcesWe've hit only the high points of sheet set configuration in this two-part series. I recommend that you investigate the New Features Workshop in AutoCAD 2005's Help system. There you'll find additional resources, along with overviews on creating paper- and DWF-based plotted file sets and a host of other little tips and tricks that make sheet sets so valuable. Even if you don't implement sheet sets any time soon, do take the time to investigate the possibilities.
Experiment and Set StandardsWith a little experimentation and standardization, you should be able to use your newfound knowledge of sheet sets, fields, and templates to create a much more standard and automated CAD environment.
Believe it or not, your users will actually like the convenience, organization, and simplicity of sheet sets as much as you like the standardization they bring. If you haven't taken the time to investigate the new sheet set and field capabilities in the AutoCAD 2005 products, you should do so before your competition does.