Building Information Management, 3D, and the Real World.
the facts that many of my clients are Architects and that almost all of them provide me with base drawings in AutoCAD format,
I get to see a lot of different ways of using the program, none of which have impressed me, and more than a few of which have
been the cause for much gnashing of teeth on my part.
continues to add useful capabilities with every release, I have never been asked if I could work in an Architectís 3D
model instead of providing 2D MEP drawings, and have only rarely seen my clients use any but the slightest portion of the
programís information management and parametric design capabilities.
ABS (nťe AEC) and ďstandard symbolĒ
add-ons encourage better use of AutoCAD, but itís the old
story about leading the horse to water. They can
also bite you in the fanny. More later.
Not to get
ahead of myself, but I just read a review where AutoCAD 2007 is the release which will make 3D so easy that we in the community
of facility design professionals could be falling all over ourselves to turn out packages similar to those which have been
produced by aircraft and automobile manufacturers for a decade or two now.
I first saw AutoCAD
when CP/M was the dominant PC operating system, and taught it for a few years beginning with the transition between releases
11 and 12. In all the intervening time, I have had, count Ďem, 2, of approximately 540 projects
where I received base CAD drawings which reflected the use of some of AutoCADís advanced features, but even they were
implemented in a way which made my life (and therefore the production of the projectís design/construction package)
more rather than less difficult.
We all (well,
many of us, anyway) have read about how some (usually, but not always, large) project was executed by implementing
cutting-edge CAD/BIM techniques and capabilities which, after an initial teething period, was agreed by all involved to be
the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Why then, is
one of the most constant complaints we engineers make, the one about how much effort is required to turn the base drawings
we receive into something we can actually use?
to the real world. This part was actually easier in the days of halftone mylars.
a one-person shop, I have to be many times more productive than a conventional professional design house, Iíve come to use lulls between periods of frenzied production to develop and
refine the way I use the product. I canít tell you how happy Iíd be if someone upstream in my various
project design chains had a clear understanding of how to use AutoCAD, just in terms of turning out a clear, well-integrated,
and efficiently produced, project package; BIM and 3D can wait a bit.
me tell you what I think does not contribute to such an end.
(or any other) Layering Standard.
see, everything we do is such custom work that our profession is as much art as science, but we gotta wrap it around standard
layers, or to compound the counterproductivity, standard symbols developed by some committee or another.
who take the old ďeach draftsman/designer turns out packages which look so different from each other that they look
like they came out of different officesĒ affliction to levels only attainable via CAD. (ďTo err is human, to really
foul up, requires a computer.Ē)
This is a real
shame, and shows the huge disconnect between the AutoCAD knowledge of principals (not infrequently near zero) in some design
offices and their CAD operators or CAD manager. One hopes, that as CAD fluent graduates become principals, this will
-Add-ons such as Autodeskís
Architectural Desktop and
This is the
fanny-biting I was referring to earlier. I mean, we canít even get ourselves to the point where we can get clean
unencumbered base drawings when delivered by straight AutoCAD, and this is supposed to help???
I just completed
a 28 drawing MEP design package where the base drawings I received did not, thankfully, contain the usual gazillion layers
thrown in by the add-on the upstream design office happened to be using. There were other issues, however, which sent
me in a direction where I shot myself in the foot on productivity, spending time on things that didnít require the effort
I put into them.
Live and learn. OK, so whatís
the good news?
last project I was speaking of, was the latest in which Iíve used the technique of putting the work of all trades on
the same base plan, and halftoning it as I do the architectural background, for all trades except the one being shown in the
That is, while
I show all the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing/sprinkler work on the same externally referenced background, on, say,
the electrical drawings, all work except the electrical work will be halftoned. Carrying this further, the electrical notes
and callouts are only on the electrical drawings, with similar treatment given to the work of other trades.
This is great
for coordination of the work between trades, and is easy for me to do since Iím the only one who works on the drawings.
This should, however, be implementable in a multi-person design house via clever use of the office network, file-locking,
and automatic writes of temporary ďworkingĒ files from the individual designerís workstation to the central
file server. (I am NOT a big fan of what has become the de facto standard in some offices, where a designer works on
one huge file of all the projectís plans, sections, and elevations, and ends up pushing a lot of electrons around, as
this begins to become impossibly unwieldy as a project matures.)
Iíve taken to doing (for quite a while now) is to embedding things like equipment schedules and electrical panel schedules
in drawings as live spreadsheets, editable in the source program via a double click on the item in the drawing. This
is merely cool in the former case, and a real time saver in the latter, as the spreadsheet is doing all the necessary bookkeeping
math vis-ŗ-vis loading and balancing.
also embedded bitmapped copies of correspondence with agencies and utilities in the drawings showing work dependent upon that
correspondence. What Iíve been toying with doing next (in addition to figuring out how to make Autodeskís Field
and Sheet Set data capabilities work for me) is adding electrical and plumbing layer and symbol information on my mechanical
equipment symbol blocks so when I insert, say, a condensing unit on my MEP background plan, it already includes a local electrical
disconnect on the electrical layer as part of the inserted drawing.
Now, if only
I could get immediately usable base plans.