CAD users of the world unite and define a standard

A CAD (computer-aided design) system can be a godsend to some, and a curse to others.

A godsend because the flexibility a CAD system can offer engineers and architects while designing everything from furniture to aeroplanes makes DXF (data exchange file) easy. It can prove to be a curse however, when the wide array of users exchange drawings and find conflicting commands, images and modi operandi.

Of the more popular CAD systems is AutoCAD – designed by Autodesk Inc. in 1982 – widely regarded as the world’s standard for high-end computer drafting. Despite the industry-crossing repute this dynamic system holds, there is no universal standard to which design professionals can adhere.

“The confusion manifests itself to CAD and designers as the computer companies lumped users together, users who are only vaguely similar,” explained Mark Middlebrook, the sole proprietor of Daedalus Consulting in Oakland, Calif. “The difficulty is when these different people exchange drawings. There are different engineers for each aspect of a building design, in general (and) there’s quite a few disciplines that work together to meet a common goal. This means everything needs to be coordinated: sometimes entire offices and not just a few individuals.”

That’s where StanConvert v. 4.0 comes into play.

Created by Victoria-based Softco Engineering Systems Inc., the AutoCAD 2000 Standards Translation software is an enterprise solution that allows source files to be centrally controlled. The software supports all AutoCAD 2000 features.

“People develop systems based on what they’ve learned, which might not be the same as the next person,” explained Barrie Matthews, manager of marketing and sales at Softco. “When offices are exchanging drawings, the configurations and set-up they’re receiving might not be familiar to them. They have to manually massage the drawing, change the coding, this can take anywhere from four to six hours.”

With the StanConvert protocol, layers that are more generic in one system than the other are flagged with temporary prefix codes in front of the name to identify the differences. The same principle is also applied for line types, colours, plot style and symbol names.

“I applaud what [Softco is] doing,” Middlebrook said. “Where we (AutoCAD users) are now, each office organizes their drawings in AutoCAD differently. Softco provides software that allows people to reconcile the differences in their drawings.”

StanConvert also features an interface geared to select drawing folders for batch processing entire libraries of old drawings to any alternate standards of set-up. Regarding symbol and detail libraries, users can either process all the drawings in place or save them to a target folder and rename them at the same time. Plus, log files are written to each saved location, recording the translation set-up used, conversion direction and the name of each processed drawing.

“No one can make a universal standard happen, it has to evolve from the industry,” Matthews said. “Ours is a communications process by using the StanConvert protocol to flag the differences (between drawings).”

Andrew Johnston, a developer with in Toronto echoed Middlebrook’s sentiments on the need for coordination in the AutoCAD community.

“If you consider the domain of word processors for instance, it’s easy to understand how applicable the use of a conversion tool is,” Johnston said. “It’s not uncommon in the application domain to see proprietary standards set. The difficulty (for the vendor) with [establishing] a translator that is universal is the (software) vendor has to maintain all version updates of the [CAD] program, all file format changes, everything.”