Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"Keeping Current with Cad Technology"

"Why, When, and How to Stay Current with Cad Technology in Today’s Changing World”

Does just the mere mention of change make you nervous? You are not alone, people fear change it is a natural human emotion. It is not easy to change your way of thinking especially when you feel comfortable with the way things are.

Have your concerns like; which product should I buy, is this the right time for our company and most importantly what will the cost be (not only in software, but in hardware and training for employees) kept you from making the transition to new software?

Keeping up with technology is most often more cost effective and efficient than catching up with technology. Technology is a live and growing thing, constantly evolving and becoming more efficient at doing its job. Thirty years ago a computer was as large as an automobile, today we have handheld devices that perform tasks that the creators of the original computers could only dream about, and they are only getting smaller and faster. Fifteen years ago creating a drawing in 3D was a technological marvel requiring countless hours to create, today it is almost a by-product of 2D design, becoming easier and more user friendly all of the time. The bottom line is, technological growth is not slowing down, anyone who has ever purchased a computer can attest to that, almost by the time you have taken your state of the art computer out of its box something better is available.

Do you remember when you first started using CAD software? It seemed as though the technology would be overwhelming. Not only did we have to learn the software, quite a few of us had to learn how to simply operate a computer. Over the years we have refined our design workflow to optimize the use of computers and CAD software so that today a person producing construction documents on a drafting board is almost as common as someone using a slide rule. The point here is, it was not an easy transition to CAD after spending years on the board, it took a new way of thinking and adjustments had to be made to our workflow, but not only did we survive the leap, our designs and construction documents are now created faster and more accurately because of it. The transition from your existing software, without a doubt, can also be survived and our work will only get better, faster and more error free.

In our industry programs like AutoCAD have evolved discipline specific object and style based technologies like Architectural Desktop and Building Systems. Newer database type programs like Revit that have a single parametric building model are being refined, perfected and are quickly becoming the standard rather than the exception.


A huge push is on in our industry toward Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Green Building Design (Sustainable Design). An ever increasing number of Government entities (GSA and USCG to name a few) and Municipalities have made these requirements for any project that they undertake. Do not be surprised if within the next 5-8 years the bulk of the projects will require some degree of BIM and Green Building Design.

The reasons for these requirements are many. BIM allows you to keep the information about the entire project within one location. All aspects of the project from the heating and cooling requirements for any given space all the way to the owner’s phone number all of these things can be contained within the model. Instead of having mountains of calculation books and numerous project files, you can now have one location that contains all of that information and only takes up virtual space. Construction information and lifecycle management data are also contained within this model, making the model a one stop shop for all data about a building for it’s entire lifecycle, from design to demolition.

The desire for Green Building Design should be apparent for many reasons. First of all our environment, with the amount of pollutants that are being generated and the population growing at an exponential rate the need to reduce emissions has never been greater. An estimated 40% of all airborne emissions in the U.S. come from our buildings. Also consider the current pinch on fossil fuels (no end in sight), an estimated 42% of all energy use in the U.S. is from buildings, the need to find alternative energy sources has never been more important. The more we deplete our natural resources, 30% of all raw materials use and 25% of all water use in the U.S. if from buildings, the more the need to use alternative building products will be. And the list goes on.

My simple point here is that BIM and Green Building Design are not going to go away, quite the contrary, these things that were once only good ideas are quickly becoming standard practice, so we had better get used to it and figure out how to make them work in our favor. Let’s face it, our industry is changing and we had better “get on the train or be left at the station”.

You may be asking yourself “Can’t I just use my current software?” The quick and simple answer is no. Programs like AutoCAD just cannot store and provide this type of information. AutoCAD is just a drafting tool consisting of lines, arcs and circles not a design tool consisting of intelligent objects. This kind of information is what the Revit family of products (Revit Building, Revit Structure and Revit Systems), and to a lesser extent Architectural Desktop and Building Systems, were developed to produce. AutoCAD was not built to retain this type of data or to share information with analysis software ADT, ABS and Revit were. They were specifically designed and refined to do that very thing.


We have all heard the hype about Revit, Architectural Desktop and Building Systems. We would all like to consider ourselves “Cad Savvy”, however all of this talk about 3D, 4D, object and Style Based Technologies and Databases can strike fear into anyone who does not understand the technology.

The first step is assessing your needs as a company in order to choose the software that best suits your specific disciplines, clients and workflow. Meet with an Autodesk VAR (Value Added Reseller), this is what they are trained to do. They can help you make an informed decision on what software will be the right fit. If you are an MEP firm for instance, will Building Systems or Revit Systems be a better fit. What information will you need to extract from your designs to meet your typical project requirements?

A VAR will also help you in planning the aspects of your software implementation. It is easy to become overwhelmed by new technology without a specific plan of how and when to implement it. Implementation of a new technology does not mean installing the software and walking away. You have to plan, what are our system requirements, how much space is required on our server, do we need to re-think our file structure, which users will we train first, what project will we roll-out the software with and the list goes on. The old saying “If we fail to plan then we plan to fail” has never been more true.

Choosing the correct VAR for your needs is as important as choosing the right software. As with anything else that is worthwhile “Cheaper” does not always mean “Better”. Prepare a budget that allows for concessions in price for quality of service.

Let’s use this analogy:
Which home would you trust to have your family live in for 30 years, one that was put together by the lowest bidder using sub-par materials and the cheapest, least experienced labor or the builder that uses quality materials, experienced tradesmen and honestly cares about the quality of their work?

Your VAR should be able to produce an ROI (Return on Investment) report to back up their findings and recommendations, making it easier for your company to justify the expenditure of funds and resources.

Start by looking for a VAR that has an established record of implementations with your particular software, with some packages like Revit Structure or most recently Revit Systems this may not be possible, in this case look for a VAR with a proven track record in your industry. These companies are not just salespeople; they consist of some of the best and brightest minds in the industry when it comes to their particular discipline. Do your homework research the companies, ask for references (success stories), look at the experience of their staff, etc... All of these things can help you make an informed decision about which company is the best suited to meet your needs.

The VAR you choose should see themselves as your partner. They should make your concerns their concerns and value your opinion. Any good reseller should have the attitude that “Failure is not an option”. This however is a 2-way street, listen and learn from your VAR, they have experience and are willing to help you learn and put into practice industry proven methods that will help you stay productive while getting up to speed with your new products. Utilizing your VAR’s knowledge and expertise can mean the difference between being productive and profitable, or stumbling along loosing valuable man-hours and going over budget because no one knows how to properly use your new products. I am not saying that you will be able to “hit the ground running”, chances are you will see an initial slow down in your workflow, but it can be kept to a minimum and with a little time and experience your firm can become more productive and profitable than ever before.

Use your new technology as fully as you can. There are a lot of firms out there using ADT and ABS who do not fully utilize their capabilities, only using them as an enhanced tool for drafting. These products were designed to work together, using the full capabilities of the software makes tasks like collaboration between disciplines, interference checking and scheduling easier and more efficient. Your workflow for the overall project lifecycle can be streamlined, reducing re-work, RFI’s, addendums and increasing your overall profitability.

Last but certainly not least, keep up with technology. Get on subscription, Autodesk has a 12 month release cycle, meaning that the new versions of software come out once a year. At this rate it does not take long for your existing software to become outdated. Take regular update classes to learn what’s new in the current release of software. Become a member of a local user group or if one does not exist, start one. You can learn a wealth of information from your peers in the industry. Schedule “Lunch and Learn trainings”, what a perfect time to teach new things. Encourage your users to join AUGI, the resources found there can prove to be invaluable in maximizing your efficiency and productivity.


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