Software aims for efficient Workflow

DN Staff

February 23, 2004

5 Min Read
Software aims for efficient Workflow

For over two months, the press followed the mantra of "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." No longer. At Autodesk University, held December 2-5 in Las Vegas, Autodesk revealed its latest CAD program, AutoCAD 2005, kept under wraps until mid-February.

The new release offers a number of feature highlights, including a new Sheet Set Manager designed to automate and manage drawings, and DWF(TM) collaboration tools for downstream users to edit files. According to John Sanders, Vice President of Platform Technology Division, "Autodesk is doing a better job of listening to the customers."

Ear to the ground

All software companies have user groups that feed impressions, wants, and needs to them. And all act on most of that feedback. For example, PTC built Wildfire, the latest version of Pro/ENGINEER, on the suggestions of its large user base.

Apparently, Autodesk customers don't want to rummage through a series of drawing (DWG) file layouts, nor do they want single editing access to layouts for members of their design team. Instead, Autodesk found that customers want an organized system for creating and publishing drawing layouts, and they want all members of the design team to be able to access and edit layouts simultaneously.

Get organized

In AutoCAD 2005, individual DWG files may be incorporated into sheet sets, with each sheet representing a layout in a DWG file and each set of sheets referring to several layouts or drawings. Multiple sheet sets are then organized in a Sheet Set Manager, which gives users one place to create, manage, sort, and delete all their layouts. When multiple users view one sheet set, the sheet set will lock if one user edits it; an icon then posts the updated status on who edited the set.

Developers of AutoCAD 2005 were concerned with the time users spent simply trying to navigate the management of their work. As a result, says Shawn Gilmour, product line manager of the Platform Technology Division at Autodesk, "We've focused on automating former manual workflow processes."

The Sheet Set Manager automates detail labeling and sheet numbering, which-if used incorrectly-could otherwise stall production. Users may also automatically generate a sheet index, operating like a table of contents page, which lists all sheets in a set. Creating tables-formerly a time-consuming operation-is now also automated with modified table settings functions.

Smooth Operator: AutoCAD 2005 incorporates the DWF Composer, which eases the cyclincal transisition from DWG to DWF files and vice versa, enabling users to marekup and share files electronically with downstream users.

At any point, users may publish an individual sheet or a sheet set in DWG format to a Design Web Format (DWF(TM)) file in order to create a secure, uneditable electronic version to share with others. DWF files contain highly compressed, rich design data, which makes them smaller and faster than standard design files, >>like PDFs (see chart).

In this manner, downstream users are not subjected to large file sizes and slow creation times. The publishing feature works with a number of Autodesk products, including AutoCAD 2005.

Look at changes

According to Sanders, Autodesk hears common questions from customers asking "What viewer do I use? What format do I put it in?" In order to share DWF files electronically, the downstream users must have Autodesk DWF Viewer-the free downloadable application formerly called Autodesk Express Viewer-or Volo View 3, which enables users to view or mark-up DWG and DWF formats.

Other CAD software companies have incorporated their own file formats and viewers into their programs. Like Autodesk, SolidWorks also uses its own viewing and publishing application-eDrawings, an e-mail-enabled tool that allows users to share and archive 2D and 3D design information. Also, like DWF files and take less time to transmit, eDrawings are compact files. Users may publish eDrawings from AutoCAD and ProENGINEER, in addition to SolidWorks.

Beyond simplifying the publishing and view tools, Autodesk tackled the workflow process that users in manufacturing face when coordinating with downstream users. As an alternative viewer, the DWF Composer allows users to view the DWF file for any corrections, and then markup the file with redlines indicating necessary iterations. "Redlines are not being used by many companies because the tools aren't great and they aren't updated automatically," said Doug Look, product manager at Autodesk. "Our goal is not just to supply redlines, but to manage them with a workflow service."

In AutoCAD 2005, users may either markup the existing drawing sheet or access what is called the markup set, which provides a list of all markups. This redlining process is designed to improve workflow and productivity, while accelerating the drawing review, markup, and revision stages.

Doug Look insists that the new DWF Composer is "meant for people who are not technology-specific." While it is not a free product for most Autodesk programs, users of AutoCAD 2005 can expect the DWF Composer to be integrated into their new software.

DWF vs. PDF

Source: Autodesk

Viewer Download Size

File Size (willhome.dwg)

Creation Time (willhome.dwg)

Resolution Range

Rendering Speed (saskatch32.dwg)

SMALLER, FASTER: In a side-by-side comparison, DWF files are smaller in size and faster to downlaod than PDF files due to their higher compression

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