Straighten Out Multi-CAD Mayhem

10 Nov, 2009 By: Robert Green

A systematic approach will bring order to the chaos of supporting a mixed bag of 2D and 3D applications.

Over the past couple of years I've noticed a growing trend toward what I like to call "multi-CAD mayhem." More and more offices are running a mixture of 2D CAD (typically AutoCAD or Microstation) and a variety of 3D applications (which vary depending on the discipline of the work being done). These days, it isn't unusual at all for a CAD manager in a manufacturing facility to support AutoCAD, Solidworks, and Revit, or for a CAD manager in an AEC firm to support AutoCAD, Microstation, Civil 3D, and Revit. Of course, supporting all these applications can lead to chaos.

Through the next several issues of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll pass along management strategies for optimizing usage, staff training, and file portability with multiple CAD applications. I hope you'll find inspiration to help you deal with your environment, and that you'll share your ideas with me so I can forward your tips along in future editions of the newsletter. Here goes.

What's Changed?

You may be thinking to yourself, "I've been dealing with multiple CAD systems for a long time, why consider the situation mayhem now?" This is a reasonable question, and it has a one-acronym answer: BIM (building information modeling).

For companies that have anything to do with construction, architecture, facilities management, or building system engineering (plumbing, electrical, etc.), BIM tools are changing the game. BIM tools require us to learn new software, teach our users new software, and deal with new file formats before we've had time to acclimate to them. And because BIM tools won't replace their predecessors immediately, we'll have to work with both new BIM tools and the old tools we've always used simultaneously. Not an easy set of issues to deal with.

Who Uses What?

So how do we start managing the mayhem? The first step is to learn which applications are being used by various departments, why they are used, how familiar key personnel are with each application, and what data portability problems are associated with each. Having this roadmap will help you understand how departments communicate, where your CAD interface points are, and which users will need to be trained on new applications.

Understanding all this takes some thought, as well as time to collect the data. Let's use an example derived from a client company I've worked with for some time now.

Example Scenario

XYZ Facilities Integrators is a multidisciplinary firm that designs factories for food service clients. Food factories require building design, internal building systems design, floor plan layouts for machinery, controls, and safety systems. As you might expect, a company like this has to keep track of a large quantity of data, plus several different CAD systems.

The first way I analyzed the mayhem was by software application:

AutoCAD. Used by many users in almost all divisions, but typically used more extensively by senior engineering staff who perform layout and conceptual designs early in project workflows. Because many of these senior engineers don't use CAD 40 hours a week, AutoCAD has remained the tool of choice — simply because it is already well understood.

Revit Architecture/MEP. Used by project architects to design building shells, piping, and electrical conduit trays on more recent projects. Legacy projects (which are revisited often for facilities modification) were mostly done on AutoCAD, but a few were done in Architectural Desktop. Due to this disparity in data formats, key staff in the building design disciplines must be cross-trained for a number of applications.

Solidworks. Used by external contractors who produce food-processing equipment placed on factory floors. Although no internal expertise on Solidworks is required (since the data is provided by the contractor), 3D data portability between Solidworks and Revit is problematic.

Controls software. Controls engineers are experimenting with AutoCAD electrical now, but have a long history of legacy files in AutoCAD with linked Access data tables and Promis•e software as well.

Data Ramifications

Now that we have a picture of XYZ Facilities Integrators' software environment, let's analyze how data will be shared between the departments and where problems may show up.

AutoCAD information. This is usually the easy part, because AutoCAD files are supported by nearly everyone. Since every division in the company has some legacy work done in AutoCAD-formatted systems, the company has remained well versed in AutoCAD. The difficulty will arise when AutoCAD users need to access 3D information from new projects created in systems like Revit or Solidworks.

(Note: Creating intelligent plan views and section views from new 3D systems to pass along to senior engineers who still use AutoCAD for their work will require the development and testing of translation procedures.)

Revit information. Since Revit is becoming the basis for most building and building system design done in 3D, being able to import data from other applications (such as Solidworks, AutoCAD, or other systems that subcontractors may elect to use) is going to become a bigger and bigger problem. Revit's ability to import only a few basic types of 3D files indicates that Solidworks will have to export to SAT file format for import into Revit.

(Note: Testing SAT file transfers to enable communication between Solidworks subcontractors and in-house Revit personnel must be done before any project procedures can be finalized.)

Summing Up

Now your challenge is to analyze your company in the same way that I've done for XYZ Facilities Integrators above. Once you complete your analysis, you'll be well on your way to understanding the mayhem you're dealing with in your company. In the next issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll continue my analysis of our example company, and give you some information on data interoperability that can help you reduce the mayhem in your multi-CAD office.

Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

More News and Resources from Cadalyst Partners

For Mold Designers! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the mold design professional. Sponsored by Siemens NX.  Visit the Equipped Mold Designer here!

For Architects! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the building design professional. Sponsored by HP.  Visit the Equipped Architect here!