CAD Manager's Newsletter #102

10 Mar, 2004 By: Robert Green

I've been working with AutoCAD 2005 for a couple of months now, and I believe it's the best AutoCAD release since Release 14. AutoCAD 2005 does some things that should have been done a while ago (we'll get to those shortly) while making compelling strides in usability and interface construction.

Though it may not be sexy to talk about plain old AutoCAD in a market filled with complex 3D modeling products, many CAD users are still in the 2D-only mode of operation. For these users, AutoCAD is far and away the market leader in desktop CAD. So why talk about 2D AutoCAD? Simple. A lot of people out there are using it.

In this edition of the newsletter I'll cover some of the basic new features in AutoCAD 2005 that set the stage for changing how you work with and manage AutoCAD. Here goes.

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The big news in AutoCAD 2005 is the new Sheet Set Manager function that actually allows rudimentary grouping of drawings into an electronic drawing set that mimics how many AEC and mechanically oriented offices already work. The fact that Autodesk obviously took the time to understand how people work and speak in their offices and make its software mimic these concepts speaks volumes. After all, what better way to design a CAD interface than to imitate a physical concept like a multisheet drawing package?

I find the execution of AutoCAD's Sheet Set Manager a triumph of humility on Autodesk's part as much as a technical achievement. A software giant goes out of its way to speak the language of its users rather than making users learn new acronyms and archaic computer speak.

Author's Note: I'll be delving into sheet sets in much greater detail in my CAD Manager columns in the May and June issues of Cadalyst.

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Once you gather drawings into sheet sets, doesn't it make sense that you should be able to plot the sheet set? Of course this concept makes sense, but we've never had a good way to control AutoCAD plotting in collated sets before. As a result, CAD managers end up expending many hours on plotting tasks.

AutoCAD 2005 lets you plot the entire sheet set in order with collation and copy controls so that large-format plotters and laser printers can be controlled with ease. In addition to controlling the plot operation, AutoCAD 2005 performs plotting in the background so your workstation is not tied up. In short: AutoCAD worries about the plotting while you keep working. Plotting to DWF files or even PDF files can be controlled in sheet set batches as well.

Plotting isn't the most elegant function AutoCAD performs, but it's something virtually all CAD users must do. Therefore, speeding up the plotting process yields huge payback for users and CAD managers alike. I'm betting that the batch and background plotting functions in AutoCAD 2005 drive more sales than any other aspect of the program.

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Any AutoCAD-focused CAD manager has at some point wrestled with blocks and block attributes. Attributes have traditionally been the only real way to input data into title blocks so that the data can be extracted to other programs. If you've ever worked with fields in Microsoft Word to provide automatic dates or page numbers for file headers or footers, you've got a pretty good idea of how AutoCAD's fields function.

Fields are also the connecting "glue" between a drawing and any sheet sets it belongs to. AutoCAD 2005 uses sheet set properties that you define to automate the tagging of detail callouts and labels. All this is hard to visualize until you actually get your hands on AutoCAD 2005, but it makes perfect sense once you try it.

Finally, AutoCAD 2005 supports real Excel-style tables that you can edit, stretch, and annotate with mtext. Tables can include fields, and you maintain full control over text styles and properties. The mechanics of the new tables are controlled via the new Table command, which allows setup of table styles that are very much like text styles. When you paste information from Excel tables, the Paste Special function now lets you paste data into AutoCAD entity types that understand how to format the inserted table.

The results you get with AutoCAD 2005 tables are very intuitive. If you have to create schedule tables, BOMs (bills of materials), or even simple aligned text tables, AutoCAD 2005's table functions are greatly superior to 2004.

I believe that AutoCAD 2005 has enough compelling new features to merit taking a look. Even if you didn't budget for a new AutoCAD release, you may be able to realize real time savings and error reduction by taking advantage of new sheet set features. At a minimum, CAD managers should do whatever they can to attend seminars or product launch events so they can get their hands on the new product for a real world evaluation.

In the next CAD Manager's Newsletter I'll provide additional coverage on new AutoCAD 2005 functions and some methodologies that you can use in conjunction with AutoCAD 2005 to gain efficiency in your workplace. Until then.