CAD Manager's Newsletter #103

24 Mar, 2004 By: Robert Green

In the last issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I started a summary of new, noteworthy features in AutoCAD 2005. This time I want to delve more deeply into new AutoCAD features and address how this release of AutoCAD can change the work processes in an average engineering office. I'll pay special attention to CAD management-friendly features (and the gotchas that go along with them) so you'll be ahead of the game when and if you implement the new AutoCAD. Here goes.

As I mentioned last time, the Sheet Set Manager function lets you think of groups of drawings, or sheets, rather than focusing on a single drawing. The obvious benefit to users, particularly casual users, is that AutoCAD's interface now thinks like they do: in drawing sets. Translating into CAD manager language, I see the Sheet Set Manager providing the following advantages:

* Because users can now find all the drawings they need in a cohesive set inside the AutoCAD editor, they don't have to wade through directories full of drawings at the operating system level. And as we all know, the fewer the users who manipulate files at the operating system level, the fewer the files that get deleted, written over, and so forth.
* The CAD manager can control where drawings are stored, thus automating an otherwise hard-to-enforce part of project standards.
* The CAD manager can define template files for various disciplines so that each new drawing is correctly configured automatically.
* A system of automated detail and view annotation tools allows multiple sheets to be numbered, renumbered, and summed in tables with almost zero user intervention. The advantages here are time savings and reduced errors.
* Finally, custom data fields can be integrated into title blocks using AutoCAD 2005's new Field function and tied back to sheet set properties to create a 100% associative title block with no attribute references required.

Of course, no benefit ever comes without an associated cost. You may be asking, "What's the catch with sheet sets?" The basic answer is summed up in two words: learning curve. To use sheet sets to their fullest extent, you'll need to understand all the configuration options and be prepared to make sheet sets a part of your standard work processes from the moment you begin a new project.

Before you even think of configuring the Sheet Set Manager, you must have the following minimum information available:
* Template files for each design discipline as required.
* Standard title blocks for each discipline as required.
* A basic subdirectory structure for each project that includes discipline subfolders, procedures for where to store xrefs and dependent image files, and what (if any) procedures to use for archiving the project during its lifetime.
* Standard symbology used for detail bubbles, callouts, and view labels.
* Standard cover or title sheets for each new project.
These items are all configurable options for a new sheet set. When they are properly defined, your sheet sets not only automate the management of complex drawing sets, they enforce your standards for you! Do I have your interest yet? So if you don't have 100% agreement on all of the above items, now is the time to push for it!

Once you start the Sheet Set Manager, you can create a new sheet set and view its properties. As you examine the properties of a sheet set, note that everything is geared to having the information I outlined above. Before too long you'll see that putting your title blocks and detail, bubble, and view blocks into template files is the cornerstone of the sheet set. The only other real task is to codify your filing structures into the sheet set properties by creating what AutoCAD calls "subsets" for each discipline-specific folder in the sheet set.

This may seem convoluted at first, but once you have AutoCAD 2005 in front of you and can take a few hours to get acquainted with the Sheet Set Manager, I promise everything will make sense.

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

Everything I've mentioned so far with respect to the Sheet Set Manager has been technical in nature, but one managerial aspect should not be overlooked. Simply put: Your manager will like the Sheet Set Manager because it is visually compelling and easy to use. Even AutoCAD-averse managers will feel comfortable calling up and plotting drawings in Sheet Set Manager.

Why not build management support early on by demonstrating the ease of use that the Sheet Set Manager brings to the table? Of course, you can also mention that it will allow you to enforce standards with a lot less of your billable time, thus freeing you to accomplish other tasks. There are very few instances in which powerful CAD management features combine such ease of use and managerial friendliness. My recommendation is to take shameless advantage of this convergence to build early management support for the process changes that the Sheet Set Manager will bring to your AutoCAD installation.

Sheet sets are the keynote feature in AutoCAD 2005. They have the potential to alter the way you move drawings through your office. I anticipate that sheet sets will do for AutoCAD what assembly managers and sheet managers have done for upper-end mechanical and AEC software tools. Do take the time to evaluate the technology and see how you can apply it in your own office.

In the next CAD Manager's Newsletter I'll wrap up my summary of AutoCAD 2005's new features by providing more hints for the CAD manager about new functions. I'll also provide an overview of AutoCAD's new licensing and activation features. Until then.