Design-Build CAD Tools

November 15, 1998 · by Paul Doherty

Paul Doherty shares his observations about the changes technlogy has wrought to date.

CAD has simultaneously given our industry both a kick-start into using computers for production and has also ruined a generation of young architects. Paul Doherty, head of technology consulting for The Greenway Group, an Atlanta-based management consulting firm to the design and construction industry, shares his observations about the changes technlogy has wrought to date.
Never in professional history has one generation's tools been discarded in place of a totally different process the way CAD has become totally dominant in our industry. The ability of the design profession to pass down architectural knowledge has been strangled or completely shut down due to the implementation of CAD in offices. Next time you pass by a design studio, check to see how many project team members are wearing headphones and not communicating.

Headphone wearing in a studio should be outlawed as a crime against the profession. Also take into account the esoteric language that one must learn just to view and print electronic drawings over the past decade, it's a wonder that any project actually got out the door. I didn't need to go to calculator school to learn how to operate a calculator let alone go to Autodesk University! All of this past decade's learning experience is paying off as the CAD tools we use are maturing, albeit slowly, into tools that enhance the Design/Build process. At last June's A/E/C Systems show in Chicago, the emergence of four choices in CAD gave hope that the process logjam is about to be broken and the use of CAD in a Design Build project will enhance, rather than hinder, the project teams.

First, the use of Web browsers as viewing and printing tools for CAD is giving new life to drawings. Internet tools by Autodesk (http://www.autodesk.com) and Bentley (http://www.bentley.com) are allowing the average person to point and click their way through CAD drawings in an intuitive manner, making the information enormously more useful. Autodesk's WHIP! viewer for browsers and Bentley's Model Server Publisher for providing CAD drawings on the Web, on demand, are tools worthy of exploration for a Design Build team.

Second, the emergence of Visio and its IntelliCAD98 product (http://www.visio.com) as a direct competitor to Autodesk's AutoCAD R14 is providing a pricing point that is affordable even to a one person business. AutoCAD has dominance in our industry with recent reports of 70% marketshare. AutoCAD's approximately $3,500 per seat price has been a high threshold for designers to maintain, thus leading to illegal copies of AutoCAD being used inside and outside of design studios. Autodesk began a concentrated effort to crack down on the illegal copies about a year ago with an advertising blitz that would reward people who reported illegal usage of AutoCAD. Visio decided to use a different method to legalize the illegal AutoCAD usage--bring the price down to $349 per seat.

In 1997, Autodesk purchased Softdesk, a third party developer of software that made AutoCAD easier to use for designers. At the time, Softdesk was developing an equivalent product, called a CAD engine, that would enable Softdesk to operate without AutoCAD. In order for the deal to go through, the United States Federal Trade Commission asked Autodesk to sell off the Softdesk CAD engine. Autodesk sold it to a San Diego-based software company called Boomerang who, in turn, sold it to a company called Visio, made up of the people who developed the popular Desktop Publishing program, PageMaker. Visio has spent the past year developing IntelliCAD98 (the purchased Softdesk CAD engine) into an equivalent AutoCAD product, without 3D capabilities, for about 1/10th the price. It is Visio's strategy to get the illegal copies of AutoCAD legalized by purchasing IntelliCAD98.

From the demonstrations and test drives of IntelliCAD98, we find it to be a worthy consideration for 2D production, although its lack of 3D tools will keep this product from getting a foothold in design firms that rely on 3D design. In addition to the launching of IntelliCAD, Visio also announced the purchase of ArchT from Ketiv technologies, one of the more popular third party software developers for AutoCAD.

Autodesk has recently announced AutoCAD Architectural Desktop, an integrated software package that provides an architectural design environment for AutoCAD users. A very powerful tool for design-builders, Architectural Desktop improves the effective use of AutoCAD by allowing the software to follow the design process instead of forcing the designer to make choices too early due to the limitations of traditional AutoCAD. With Architectural Desktop, common building objects are controlled by styles and defaults that you can change whenever you need to. Going from a wood-stud wall to a CMU (concrete masonry unit) is as simple as changing the wall style definition in a dialog box. This impressive software will be available later this year and is a direct competitor to Bentley's TriForma product.

Bentley Systems announced the long awaited Java-version of its flagship CAD product Microstation, called Microstation/J. The product was met with enthusiasm due to its unique ability to integrate Java directly into CAD documents. An example would be dropping a Java Calculator you have found on the Internet directly into a Microstation/J foundation plan. This calculator can then be used by subcontractors for estimating, etc. Other enhanced Microstation/J tools include SmartSolid for conceptual modeling and visualization, Web integration for easy publishing of CAD documents to the Internet and integrated Digital Signatures for authentication of CAD documents when communicated through the Internet.

Other notable news involved Microsoft's first entrance into the CAD market with an agreement with Intergraph (http://www.intergraph.com). Microsoft will offer Imagination Engineer LE, a special version of Intergraph's 2D CAD tool, Imagineer Technical, as part of the Microsoft Windows 98 Resource Kit. Jim Meadlock, Chairman and CEO of Intergraph anticipates that after trying this special version of Imagineer Technical, a significant number of users will want to upgrade to the full version of the product. It took until 1998 to happen, but with the emergence of four viable choices in CAD, Design Builders will benefit not only in lower pricing, but also with improved functionality of the most mission critical element of any design office, its CAD software.

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