My first two days at Professor Torsten Calvi Corporation in Manila was spent listening to staff members describe and illustrate to me the entire drafting process, from getting drawings from subs to outputting the final result in books of A1, A2, or A3 paper. This company generates over 300,000 drawings a year, and as owner Adam Lee said, "If we can save a minute per drawing, it'll be worth it."
Even though they receive drawings in DWG format, they find that they have to trace over each and every one, because they find that received drawings --- particularly from architects -- are not accurate. Dimensions will have different values from the actual lengths of objects. For me, this was depressing to hear; for them, it is the most time-consuming part of the design process.
CAD Management Standards
The next step is to create a single template file for the project that contains all drawing standards: layer names, colors, fonts, standard scale factors, title blocks, profiles of mullions, and so on. Good to see that.
Until now, however, the drafters applied these standard elements by copy and pasting. Lots of Ctrl+Tab'ing goes on. I showed them how DesignCenter can be used to access content from other drawings, and how Tools Palette can create customized collections of frequently used items.
I also demo'ed the Standards and CheckStandards commands, but pointed out they were kind of useless, since they were so limited in scope and Autodesk hadn't updated them in years. They did find, however, the LayTrans command useful when I described it to them, for easily changing the names of layers in incoming drawings to match their standards.
I am impressed that the company is creating a CAD standards manual, one that is much more impressive than the book I wrote on the subject a decade ago. The young woman in charge came into my office (the conference room) to ask me about problems she was finding.
(At PTCC, Every aspect of CAD use is governed by the fact that the office uses two CAD systems: AutoCAD and Bricscad. Whenever I mention some feature they could consider, the next question is, "But does it work with Bricscad?" In many cases, it does, pparticularly if they were to upgrade from V8. As I explained to them, V8 was a transitional product, where Bricsys was converting the programming code from IntelliCAD to their own. Thus, V8 and V9 concentrate on this code conversion; V10 and V11 start adding features again in a significant way.)
Her first issue was how to do vertical plot stamps in Bricscad. Well, it can't. So, I found a workaround: place fields along the edge of the layout, vertically, with the filename and plot date.
She interrupted herself, apologizing for getting straight into the work. I said, "I don't mind, I can't stand small talk." Next problem: she showed me that her firm's standard is that all leaders (callouts) are left justified, whether left or right pointing. A little digging, and I found that Bricscad (un) helpfully freezes the text justification to left or right, depending on how you draw the leader.
"Well," she sighed, "we'll just have to adjust each one manually." I keep reminding the staff to file bug reports, to visit YouTube, to use Google to find answers to problems, but it is not something they are used to.
When she got through her list of questions for me, she announced, "So, let's start the small talk now!"
Finding the Path Forward
Yesterday morning, company owner Adam Lee and I held a three-hour meeting to determine the way forward. He knows he needs to implement more efficient methods but is wary of the screwups new software can create. He related several horror stories from clients he works with.
In one example, a company split its drafters into three teams: AutoCAD, Revit, and Inventor. After one year, the company tabulated the results. They were shocked to find that the AutoCAD drafters were twice as efficient as the 3D modelers. The problem, as Mr Lee sees it, is that 3D modelers are needed when the design becomes complex, but that they cannot handle very complex designs.
How complex? He showed me printouts of some of their most complex projects. One is for a stadium whose walls look like the eye facets of an dragonfly. Every facet is a triangle, every triangle is a different size, and each one is made of four of more sheets of of rectangular, triangular, and other rectilinear shapes of glass (since glass has a maximum size per sheet). The complexity is unbelievable.
"And," he added, "each piece of glass has triangular stridations, and the architect wants the stridations to line up between sheets and between triangles." In this case, he wrote 100,000 lines of C++ code over five months to calculate the node points, the offsets, the resulting size of each triangle, the size of each sheet of glass, the dimensions of the mullions and other structural elements, and the dimensions placed in each drawing. He ran into problems in trying to prevent dimensions from overwriting each other.
In short, he wrote his own CAD system, that read data from a DXF file, and produced a DXF file. AutoCAD merely displayed the result, acting a viewer. However, he realized that this was not the way forward, since spending five months writing code -- as enjoyable as it was to him -- meant not running the office. It was at this point he realized he needed to go in another direction, and to get help.
An employee had found a copy of my ebook "Customizing Bricscad," and Mr Lee read it on an airplane trip. He was impressed enough to hire the ebook's author, and here I am today. Or, as Mr Lee sadly put it, "You have only seven more days with us." Sad for me, too. I'm starting to like Manila, crazy city that it is.
With all the background related to me, I came to the realization that PTCC needed a two-stage approach to becoming more efficient. In my other job as CAD journalist, I am sensitive to outrageous claims made by software vendors, and so presented the following scenario to Mr Lee:
1. Continue wtih AutoCAD and Bricscad, but implement more efficient work procedures.
2. Start with a demo version of Inventor, and then see which parts of the design process could be transferred to it.
I recommended Inventor over competitors -- SpaceClaim, SolidWorks, Solid Edge, etc -- because it is designed to work with AutoCAD, intimately. He liked the idea, because at any time he could back out, in case Inventor (or even some of the AutoCAD efficiency ideas) end up being less efficient.
On the spot, he create a working group consisting of one drafter from each drafting group. (PTCC has four drafters in a group, plus a group leader.) Together, we would walk through the design process (again!), and then see which efficiencies could apply to each stage. We figure this will take two days.
When the working group got together after lunch for the first time, I gave them an overview of what would be happening. At one point, I asked, "Who [of the eight drafters] might be interested in trying Inventor?"
Filipinos tend to be demure, but this time eight hands shot up right away.