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AutoCAD Tutorial

Tips on Managing AutoCAD Using S-MAN Tools

Barrie Mathews, Softco Engineering Systems December 8, 2003

In my article “Preparing You for the Next Boom Time” I outlined the merits of implementing a high- level CAD management system for your company. I discussed keeping up with new technology, maintaining a clear understanding of why you have applied a particular process, integrating your processes into the whole, and monitoring performance. The bottom line is to be able to mutually adapt the processes employed by your staff with the new capabilities of CAD software in a way that meets your company's business objectives. Achieving top level efficiency to bring wealth to your company and its staff is an obvious objective, and working conditions that are the pride of the entire team is another. Consistency and predictability are key. Here are some tips to help you achieve that.

Rules on Scaling

Scaling in CAD is one of those slippery things with which almost everyone has difficulty maintaining a firm grasp. Yet it is fundamental to the programmability of your system. You have to adopt governance for scaling, because it will dictate the outcome of the entire system.

Nail down the fundamentals, and then set up your software and your blocks accordingly. For example, just because your plot dialog works inches and millimeters (for measuring paper) does not mean that you should. If your design work is predominately in feet, then all of your settings, and all of your blocks should be in feet.

a) When you transfer your design to paper, you use 1 = 12 in your plotting setups (design unit = paper unit).

b) When you scale your viewport for 1:100 its 1/100 X Paper, not 1/100/12 (I hope that's right!)

c) When you insert a symbol or a detail block, you insert at 1:1, or whatever scale it is relative to the scale of your view (e.g. Block Scale/View Scale) not 500/1000/25.4 and without needing to change your Insert units setting or calculate conversion factors.

d) When draw text and dimensions in a view scaled at 1:100, you use 100 and not 100 X 12 or 100 X 25.4

e) Your drawing border and title block is scaled in feet and it is always inserted in the layout at 1:1.

Abiding by these rules give you the predictability that your processes can always accommodate drawing units and scales in the same manner. To help you implement this, the S-MAN standards management utilities offered by Softco Engineering Systems will define all of your system settings and dimstyles in whatever drawing unit that you use. For example if you normally design in feet or meters, you can switch the system settings and dimstyles of an old drawing set in inches, to feet or meters. For whatever drawing unit you are working in, any settings required for scale are always the actual scale and no conversion factors are needed.

Automating with Standard Setups

Determining the best configurations to use for your standard setups is a matter of classifying the things that you do, while still accommodating exceptional cases. That is, most all of the proper settings are applied with only one action, but one or two minor adjustments can still be made. This is a big job and must be considered carefully, but worth it because your output, your drawings, will always be consistent among operators.

System variable setup, dimstyles, textstyles, linetypes, layers, plotstyles, standard blocks, and standard plotting setups, are some of the things just to name a few. Being able to select standard setups for these things in one single step, are all important to achieving consistency.

The prototype setup procedures offered by S-MAN explain conventions to help you to classify your setups by the way you will use them. For example, a choice from 8 standard plotting setups will allow you to print in alternate sets of standard color schemes and sets of standard lineweights for standard objects. These setups are coupled with 8 standard sheet sizes and configurations for more than 60 standard page setups. This ensures that all operators will plot consistent output every time, just by making one correct selection at plot time. To give you an idea of the savings you can realize with S-MAN, it would take you 2 months of study to fully understand how plotstyles should best be used, and then another 2 months work just to develop and create the plotting setups. Does it make sense to get this advice, and then modify these setups to suit your needs instead of starting from square one? I think that’s a no-brainer.

Managing Annotation

Reusing the elements of a building, a ship, a piece of machinery, or electronic circuitry in a drawing as the base for another presentation is where the power and usefulness of CAD is fully realized. Much of the descriptive information could be reused as well yet so many users still classify all of their descriptive information like dimensioning and text by its data type rather than by its use.

For example, all of the dimensions are grouped on one layer called DIMS and all of the text is grouped on a layer called TEXT. Many even continue to group their text by its height just so they can assign lineweight by its color and assign the color by its layer. Much of this information can be re-used in a different presentation and for a different purpose, but never all of it.

To do this you need to group the descriptive information by the classes of drawing elements so that some of the background information can be retained and re-used. This means you maintain ancillary layers as a child of the layer on which the element is placed. It also means that lineweights, color, or named plotstyles need to be applied by the annotation object.

The S-MAN annotation and lineweight tools have been specifically designed to automate all of this for you and deal with any problems. You can just choose the text or dimensioning command, pick the element, and the correct layer and lineweight properties are applied. You don't even have to set the text height or scale because each standard height has its own command, and the commands know when they need a different scale. Forget about grouping dimensions and text by its data type or its height. You'll never want to re-use all of the 2mm or 5mm high text drawn for some other trade or presentation, but the generic parts of it, you can indeed.

Applying S-MAN Annotation Tools

The S-MAN StanAnno and StanUtil utility packages contain lisp commands in open source for each dimensioning object and for each standard text height. A Cad Manager may configure these commands for desired lineweights, colors, plotstyles, and many other settings that you can define as the company defaults. You can add other capabilities, employ the functionality to make derivative programs and you can even call up to 16 useful built-in functions that are exported to the native environment for use in your own custom programs. Here's one example.

Suppose you wanted to define a text command called HEADINGS that ensures that the correct font, text height, and other properties settings are used every time, including the grouping of headings with classes of drawing elements as I mentioned above.

1. Copy the T4.lsp source file to Headings.lsp and change the C:T1 command statement to C:HEADINGS

2. In the Textstyl.dat setup file, define a standard textstyle called Stan1_Bold that uses the Ariblk.ttf font.

3. In the "User Defined Systems Settings Section" of Headings.lsp, change the STM_STYLE1 variable to "Stan1_Bold".

4. In the "User Defined Text Height Section" of Headings.lsp, set the STM_HEIGHT1 variable to the desired height for headings.

5. Add the statement (print (load "Headings.lsp" "Headings.lsp file not found in search path")) to the aCADdoc.lsp startup function.

6. Restart AutoCAD, and type Headings from the command line.

In the BaseAnno.dat setup file, ensure that the group code "N" is applied to the layer name of objects that require headings. For example, your general layers and your view layers may all display the drawing element where you will also need headings. You can then add a button to a "Company Standards" toolbar that calls your "Headings" command. Open any drawing. When you press Headings, the built-in functions supplied with the S-MAN Annotation Tools will make sure your textstyle is created, handle the scale, and place your heading on a child layer of the desired drawing element you choose.

The Future for Named Plotstyles

Named Plotstyles will be the ultimate replacement for many of the layers you now use. Since names are unlimited, you are not restricted by the number of distinct colors that can define the plotting properties of an object. Conceivably, there can be a distinct set of plotting properties for every single design object on the planet. Some of those plotstyles might need only be applied to a single object in the drawing. It is estimated that about 95% of all AutoCAD users are still using color dependent drawings, but I recommend that you start making the change.

The classification of plotstyles is similar to the tradition for layers, but is useful for a far greater degree of specialty. One could begin by using your layer names for the plotstyles, or you can start fresh by developing a system of classification that deals specifically with plotting properties. Another method is to start classifying your colors (and color dependent plotstyles) by the objects.

Softco Engineering Systems supplies tools to apply named plotstyles to your old drawings by color as you develop your own system, or apply them to layers. If you want to jump in with both feet, the S-MAN Standards Management system explains all of the angles for implementing named plotstyles, and has been fully developed for named drawings. Implementing the S-MAN standards for named drawings gets you going at square 5 with an expert system that is already operational.

About the Author

Barrie Mathews is president and manager of product design and engineering at Softco Engineering Systems Inc., developers of the S-MAN AutoCAD Standards Manager.

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