March 14, 2005
Autodesk Platform Technology Focuses on Core Drafting
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Welcome to AECWeekly! In a couple of weeks, AutoCAD 2006 and AutoCAD LT 2006 will ship. This year, according to Mark Strassman, director of marketing, Platform Technology Division, AutoCAD 2006 release focuses back on core drafting, which really hasn't been a core schematic release of AutoCAD for awhile. Why is that important to users? Find out in this week's Industry News.

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Industry News

Autodesk Platform Technology Focuses on Core Drafting

By Susan Smith

Autodesk's Platform Technology, is in essence, AutoCAD, and this article will focus on the new release of that product, AutoCAD 2006, and its lighter version AutoCAD LT.

AutoCAD is in its 20th software release with this release. The areas that AutoCAD encompasses are drafting, publishing (electronic, DWF), presentation and visualization, workflow and customization. Over half of AutoCAD customers heavily customize the product.

For the past two releases, Autodesk has been focusing on specific themes with the releases. 2005 last year focused on workflow, introducing Sheet Set Manager, which allowed users to take many pages of the drawing set and put them together into a cohesive whole. It was intended to change a way of thinking from a page at a time to an entire drawing set.

This year, according to Mark Strassman, director of marketing, Platform Technology Division, AutoCAD 2006 release focuses back on core drafting, which really hasn't been a core schematic release of AutoCAD for awhile. Why is that important? “Over half of our AutoCAD core users, licensed users that are actually paying for it (including LT), say they are regularly using 3D. But even those who have adopted 3D as part of their workflow still spend 80% of their time doing 2D drafting, doing the documentation, producing the drawing sets that people need to build something,” said Strassman. “We actually worked with the University of Berkeley design practice group who came in and
looked at the changes we made in AutoCAD between the 2002 and 2005. They took users independently and saw we were actually saving users on the common drafting tasks about fifteen hours a week on the 2005 release. Preliminary studies predicted that we were going to save them 7-8 hours a week on the 2006 release, so by making drafting enhancements you can really save people time.”

The question might arise, what can you do to 2D drafting to save all this time? AutoCAD has been around for 20 years, and it would seem that they have 2D drafting pretty well figured out. Yet the following areas could use some improvement:

Migration. “We've focused on some core areas,” explained Strassman. “When you first get an AutoCAD release you need to install it. Previously when we did a release every two years, they would end up taking a week or more of their time to install their AutoCAD, moving all their customizations over, and almost 80-90% do some customizations. It was like when you buy a new cell phone (prior to GSM) you had to manually take all the phone numbers and put them on the new phone. People were not upgrading phones because it was such a pain to move from phone to phone. Our users were having the same sort of problem.

“When you install the AutoCAD 2006, it sees if you have a previous version of AutoCAD installed, asks if you want to move those customizations over, and copies them over to the new release. The new release looks just like the old one. Additionally, we haven't changed the DWG format so you don't have to convert any files over. All third party applications that worked on the previous version will just work on the new one when you install it, total API compatible, so installing it and using it is really plug and play.”

Heads up design: One complaint about previous versions of AutoCAD has been that you must go back and forth from design to command line while working. “One customer said using AutoCAD is a lot like watching a foreign film with subtitles -- you look at the top where the design is and then you have to look at the bottom of the screen to see what they're actually saying. You might miss what's going on up top. Our users are focusing intently on the area where the cursor is, but they have to look down at the command line to see what to do next. We've added heads-up design, we've taken the power of the command line and moved it right to the graphics cursor -right where the pointer is
is all the information you need,” noted Strassman.

Annotation and Data Extraction: There are many components added to drawings that tell the builder how to build the design. Components can include hatching, i.e., when you have a pattern that represents brick or patterns to a fill color. In the past, hatching could be difficult to do. According to Strassman, “We used to have to draw squares (polyline objects) over a hatched area to figure out the areas of those to figure out the area - how many square feet were there? Now anything that's built with any kind of fill, you can click on it and find out the area of it. How do you line up those hatches? Previously this involved a lot of manual work. Now we have hatch origin, which tells you where the brick pattern begins and ends and should line up exactly at the edge of the wall. We've added calculation in tables much like in Excel. You have the hatch areas and you want to add together the hatch areas from all different sides of the building. You can add a sum cell to the table that will automatically add it up for you. What was manual before was counting things. In a building you may need to count the number of light fixtures and the number of different types of light fixtures in a drawing and put them in a table, or a schedule, then you can order them and know what they cost. Previously users would print out their entire drawing set, and manually color in and
count. They would manually create a table and put that in AutoCAD. We added the data extraction wizard that automatically counts the blocks that contain the fixtures, and you can choose the information you want to display, and can make automatic changes if you want to subtract fixtures.”

Dynamic Blocks within a Design: 100% of AutoCAD users use blocks, and they are used repeatedly in a drawing. Blocks are libraries of symbols, “so if you have light fixtures you'll place the symbol 20 or so times in the drawing to represent the light fixtures,” suggested Strassman. “You might have a building where you have 20 different doors of three different sizes, that you can automatically put in, place the blocks five different times.” Customers have created millions of blocks and believed that there ought to be a better way to manage them, rather than having a different block for every block a customer creates. In order to manage these the CAD manager has 20 different size doors, each with a different block file, and for each of those doors they might have a right hand swing and a left hand swing so the number has just doubled to 20 blocks. The problem with having all these blocks is managing them. They must be stored somewhere, moved from project to project, if you need to change something about them you have to change every one. Dynamic blocks in AutoCAD 2006 allows users to take many different but similar blocks and basically condense them into one block, i.e., bolt, or door. “So you can have a door that you can dynamically change the size of. You can constrain it to
certain sizes. You can insert the door or bolt and then choose how you want to interact with it. We have an editing environment for blocks so users can easily create their own block libraries and customize their own blocks,” Strassman said.

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