Spring into Standards, Part 1: Start Crafting Standards for the Modern CAD Ecosystem

13 Mar, 2018 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: The CAD environment has changed, making CAD standards a much more complex — and perplexing — challenge than in the past. It's time to rebuild your standards to reflect this new reality.

It all used to be so simple: You worried about basic parameters such as layers, linetypes, and text styles. You documented your CAD standards, printed them out, and distributed them. Networks were uncomplicated, smartphones were in their infancy, and only standards enforcement was a real problem. Well, it’s a different world now.

Welcome to CAD standards in the collaborative, distributive, building information management (BIM)-enabled CAD environment we now reside in. Things aren’t so simple anymore, and CAD managers are worried about far more than just file-formatting standards. In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, we’ll begin a series that takes a fresh approach to managing standards in the modern CAD ecosystem, using the same process I use with my clients. Here goes.

Diagnostic Questions

Before you embark on the process of revising your standards environment, it pays to take in the bigger picture and consider all the factors that will impact the project. The best way to do this is to answer some diagnostic questions — and take a bunch of notes along the way. Let’s get started:

  • Which software products are affected? Don’t think only about your CAD tools; consider analysis applications, rendering/video tools, model coordination tools, etc. Ultimately, it isn’t just CAD that you are standardizing, it is everything that connects to CAD via file sharing.
  • What file formats will you need to deliver? Your clients may not care about how you capture renderings or which structural analysis tool you use, but they may require you to deliver projects in certain file formats and versions, and those requirements will affect your CAD standards.
  • How will you standardize the software itself? How will the software be deployed, configured, and updated over time? How will you keep everyone on consistent versions? (After all, how can you expect people to use the software in a standard manner if the software itself isn’t standard?)
  • What best practices should be included? You may only be contracted to deliver SolidWorks models or AutoCAD files at the end of the project, but what are the most efficient ways to produce those deliverables? What types of component libraries, families, and blocks should be used, and where will they be deployed from? Your CAD standards will need to reflect these best practices.
  • Where will all your information be stored? Gone are the days when everything resided on a locked-down server in your IT data center. Will you use cloud file sync/share utilities, such as Dropbox or OneDrive? Will you use vendor-specific cloud services, such as Autodesk’s A360 products? If you don’t standardize your file storage, users will start storing files wherever they please, and an expensive loss of control could result.
  • Who will have access to everything, and from which devices? How will you control project teams and permit remote users to access CAD files with tablets or online-only client utilities? Who will have the power to modify and delete files? Remember that as cloud-based file-sharing services become more common, these types of questions involve more than just your internal network, so your CAD standards must reflect this new reality.
  • How do you communicate/train it all? How will users know what the standards are? How will you train them? Will you have standards for the training itself? As standards become more complex, the need to communicate them clearly becomes ever more crucial.

Run though these diagnostic questions as many times as it takes to capture your thoughts, so you’ll be ready to start building a standards plan. Avoid the temptation to skip forward without undertaking this key phase, because what you don’t consider today will almost certainly cause you problems tomorrow.

Guiding Principles

When I take CAD managers through these diagnostic questions, I often receive comments like, “That’s a lot to worry about” and “That’s so much more than just CAD.” Both comments are on the mark, because they point out that CAD standards must take into account many factors that affect how CAD operates.

So given all the variables and concerns, how can you attack the problem without driving yourself nuts? In my experience, it starts with thinking about the entirety of the problem while using a few guiding principles to keep things on track. Here are a few things I always keep in mind when helping design a standards program:

  • The CAD ecosystem is a multi-disciplinary beast. The ecosystem comprises many elements, all linked together: Users operate software, software runs on workstations, workstations populate networks, and networks now encompass mobile resources such as cloud- and browser-based apps. And to understand all of it, you must have software, hardware, and IT skill sets.
  • Each piece of the ecosystem requires attention. Users require training in order to follow procedures consistently, software must be configured for uniform support, workstations have to be specified properly to support the CAD tasks at hand, and networks and files need to be secured. You can’t worry about just one part of the ecosystem — you must pay attention to all of it.
  • Error is often introduced at the beginning. Of all the pieces of the ecosystem, the user is the one most prone to error — and the one that comes first in the data creation and transmission process. It is therefore easy to conclude that any meaningful standards program must focus on having great procedures that users find easy to follow.
  • Management and IT must be involved. Since workstations and networks must be specified and budgeted for, you need to have plenty of involvement from those who can help you with the financial and technical issues you may not understand.

If you think about your total standards environment using these guiding principles, a few interesting things will start to happen:

  • You’ll see the entire standards problem.
  • You’ll realize that the problem is multi-disciplinary.
  • You’ll realize you can’t do all this on your own.

Now take the notes you made and go back through everything using the guiding principles presented here, and see how your thinking about standards changes. And as you do, be sure to capture your thoughts before you forget!

Start Writing Out Your Plan

Now that you’ve thought through it all, it is time to start making a game plan for which standards you’ll start creating or modifying. Here are a few recommendations for starting your plan that seem to never go out of style:

  • Get your software and hardware fixed up first. After all, you can’t standardize anything else until everyone is using consistently configured software on robust hardware that performs well.
  • Standardize those things that cause users the most problems. If a standard is perceived as fixing a problem, users are much more likely to follow the standard.
  • Include training for every standards change that impacts users. Remember that users can’t follow a standard they don’t understand.

As you build your plan, be honest about where you’ll need help with IT issues or budgeting. In fact, use the conversations with IT and management staff as a chance to further educate them about CAD — and about how CAD standards can help make everything work better.

Rely on Reiteration

Keep going back through all the outlined steps and capturing more thoughts as many times as necessary to craft a thorough, well-written plan. Whether that means three iterations or ten, I assure you it’s worth it to check and recheck all your thoughts and assumptions, so you don’t miss anything.

Summing Up

It’s my hope that this first installment of my Spring into Standards series has made you more aware of the size and complexity of the task of creating CAD standards. If you apply the methods outlined, you can arrive at a well-structured plan that will allow you to get started on your own system of standards.

The second installment in the Spring into Standards series will focus on building consensus for CAD standards with users, management teams, and IT departments alike. Until then.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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