augiIf your an Autodesk product user, whether it be AutoCAD, Revit, 3D Studio, Inventor or many of the other Autodesk software products, I would recommend you look in to becoming an AUGI member.

I have been a long time AUGI member, and a NAAUG member prior to that.  Although AUGI has always had a free membership plan, two paid membership plans are now available – premium and professional.  Last year, when the paid membership plans were introduced, I chose the professional membership because I felt it was the most valuable.  Each of the plans have their benefits, but the value will vary by individual.  Below is an outline of some of the benefits of being a member as well as descriptions of each membership level. The majority of the data included here comes directly from AUGI’s website (AUGI.COM)

Why would you want an AUGI membership? The website has tons of timely and historical information for the AEC, manufacturing and multimedia industries. No matter your title or position, there is something for everyone.

AUGI has articles in their two publications, one of which is an email newsletter (Hot News) and one is a magazine (AUGI World) that is available as a printed version.

HotNews:

AUGI HotNews, a monthly newsletter sent to all AUGI members via email, disseminates timely information about upcoming events, special offers from Autodesk and its third-party developer community, general announcements, and a number of columns and feature articles designed to deepen your understanding and enhance your use of AutoCAD and other Autodesk products.

The AUGI Board of Directors also uses HotNews as its channel to keep the membership informed about new programs and policies being offered to the membership.

AUGI HotNews…it’s the way to stay in the know.

AUGIWorld:

AUGIWorld is the official magazine of Autodesk User Group International (AUGI). Published every month, it is distributed to AUGI members around the world.

AUGIWorld issues regularly include:

  • A unique cover story with topics such as CAD Management, Salary Survey, AutoCAD add-on’s, Tips & Tricks, and more.
  • Interviews with Autodesk or industry executives answering member questions on big issues.
  • User stories portraying successfully implemented industry solutions.
  • CAD management advice column.
  • Technical Tips & Tricks section
  • Training advice column
  • AUGI events and announcements

Do you regularly search for technical information online, or look for someone to provide support or guidance?  AUGI forums are here for you.

Forums:

The AUGI forums are an online community where AUGI members can discuss what they use everyday, Autodesk Design Software! These forums are the place to ask questions about your favorite design software or help others with their questions. As you frequent these forums, please offer your own tips and share any other helpful information you might come across.

You can view the forums as a guest, without being an AUGI member. But to really take advantage of what being a member of this community means, you’ll want to post. Only members can post, so if you’re just browsing now, be sure to join AUGI. These forums are one of the biggest benefits of being a member. This is, after all, the premiere destination to get technical support, and its free!

Membership Levels:

There are three membership levels, Standard, Premium, and Professional.

Which membership should you choose?

That depends on the value that you see for each membership level. Check out the links below and join up!

AUGI-Basic-member-logo-120x148

AUGI-Premier-member-logo-120x147  AUGI-Professional-member-logo-120x152
I encourage you to become a member and participate in the forums and possibly even consider getting involved as a volunteer.  If you have technical advice that you would like to share, consider becoming a contributing author for one of the periodicals.  I currently write for AUGI World myself. (Link)

WES

au-new-logo-187x32

Another educational trip to Vegas for #AU2013! This is the third year in a row that I have been fortunate enough to attend Autodesk University in Las Vegas, Nevada and each year is more educational then the last.  This year my focus was more on customization, and Revit knowledge and as usual I have a lot to brain dump when I return home.  Although there were many classes that I did not get to attend (over 700 available), the ones I did attend were very good.

If you did not get to attend this year, it does not mean you have missed out, as much of the information is available online by just creating an Autodesk account if you do not already have one – if you do, just login.  Handouts and presentations are posted from the majority of the classes on the Autodesk University website at http://au.autodesk.com/.

Much of the AU experience though really has to be experienced in person.  Behind all the handouts and Powerpoint presentations were very knowledgeable and experienced instructors/presenters that brought the paper to life.  Although many are instructors in their day jobs, many were everyday product users like you and me.

The days started around 6:00am as you awoke and headed off to breakfast and concluded around 5:30 for classes. After that you head out for a few more hours for the evening events and vendor showcase.

Some of the funner the things you did miss out on were the nightly parties and events meant for networking and relaxing after each full day of data gathering.  The two biggest events being the AUGI annual beer bust on Wednesday evening and the closing Autodesk party on Thursday.

The weather was cold (28F on Friday) compared to my home state of Florida, but if you spend most of your time inside like me, it won’t matter.

Overall I had a great time, I attended a few evening events and enjoyed hanging out with some friends I do not get to see very often otherwise.  The final party was not anything like last years event, but was still a good time with lots of food and beer/wine.

I hope to make it again next year.

WES

P.S.  A special thanks to Autodesk and AUGI for another great year.

augi
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This is an update to my initial post about new AutoCAD features by version. This one adds AutoCAD 2014 to the list.

As was previously stated:  With each new version of AutoCAD there is typically a mass public release of blog posts, web updates and press releases with what the newest version does compared to the last or previous versions.   This is helpful for those that are considering making the move, but many skip multiple releases before taking the plunge.

The purpose of this Matrix is to let those know that may wait a long time between updates that there is often way more than just the current “New Features”.   AutoCAD 2014 for example has “4″ NEW features, but a lot of enhancements to features that exist but are probably still new to many users.  If the new features alone convince you to purchase, then that’s great, but if you are on the fence, take a look at all new features introduced since your version and be sure to look in to one some of them can do for you.

Below are a couple links with more information about the changes made in AutoCAD 2014.  The first is a series of videos from Autodesk and  the second is a write-up on the “CAD-a-Blog” blog site by Brian Benton.

Autodesk – AutoCAD 2014 Features Videos

CAD-a-Blog – What’s new in AutoCAD 2014

 Note that I am a bit behind on this versions update, so you should know that Autodesk has recently released ‘Service Pack 1‘ for AutoCAD 2014.

More Info on AutoCAD’s Feature by version Matrix:

Many companies, all over the world that take the plunge are very often modifying the new versions of AutoCAD through the menu systems, toolbar changes and shortcut commands to get back as close to the old way of doing things as they can get, because “they cannot afford to be inefficient while learning the new software”.  It would be unfortunate for these companies to be using the latest version of AutoCAD in their old way, not realizing that some of the most efficient new features are buried just below the surface.  If these users learned more than just the tools that they typically use, they could be even more productive.

To educate some of these users as to a lot of the features that they may not even know exists, I have put together an AutoCAD Features by Version list and saved it here as a downloadable and printable PDF.

What is it:
A list of AutoCAD features by version since 2004.

Why:
To address users that may not be aware of some of the powerful features now in AutoCAD because they are still using older versions or using the new version just like their previous one.

How was it assembled:
Compiled from AutoCAD’s Release Matrices and various blog and website posts.

This list is not 100% accurate, but is hopefully pretty close to the actual new features introduced for each release of AutoCAD.  This list was composed from various Autodesk’s release comparison matrices, blog posts and websites that discussed each release as they came out. The Autodesk matrices were not consistent as to how the products were indicated as new and improved and each Matrix release had an inconsistent set of categories, so the mergers of features may be off.

Although I started out showing which features were improved with each version, that become very cumbersome so I removed it.  AutoCAD gets improvements on a regular basis, so the most exciting thing is when a completely new feature gets implemented.

This is meant to be a living document that will be updated as new versions come out and corrections brought to light. If you are aware of any discrepancies or are aware of an Autodesk version or other source that has created a more comprehensive version of this list, I would love to hear about it.

Download AutoCAD Features by Version PDF

Send any comments or questions to: walt@functionsense.com

WES

Taking shortcuts in life will sometimes come back to bite you. But there are some areas in life where shortcuts come in handy and make you more productive.  In AutoCAD there are shortcut keys that you can use to increase your speed and productivity.  Many old-time CADD jockeys are very familiar with using shortcut keys either through CTRL keys and Function keys or through the ACAD.PGP file.

If you are one of the newer generations CADD Jedis that were trained in AutoCAD to do 95% of your work with mouse points and clicks – A faster way there is!   You may think you’re pretty productive that way, but adding in some shortcut keys can further improve your performance.

In this post I’m going to show the CTRL keys that are probably the most commonly used:

CTRL 1:     Toggles the Properties Palette

CTRL C:     Copies objects to the Windows clipboard

CTRL F:     Toggle running object snaps

CTRL L:     Toggles Orthomode

CTRL N:     Creates a new drawing

CTRL O:     Displays the Open Dialog

CTRL P:     Displays the Plot Dialog

CTRL S:     Saves the current drawing

CTRL Shift S: Displays the save as dialog box

CTRL V:     Paste data from windows clipboard

CTRL shift V: Pastes data from windows clipboard as a block (Use this sparingly)

CTRL X:     Cuts objects from the current drawing to the Windows clipboard

CTRL Z:     Reverse the last action (UNDO)

Some other shortcuts that are Non-CTRL keys:

F1:   Displays help

F2:   Toggles the text window (Very helpful when troubleshooting)

F3:   Toggles Osnap

F8:   Toggles Orthomode

Note that CTRL C, X, and V and F1 should be part of your everyday Windows toolkit. You can use this in all your office apps and most any program that allows copying, pasting and cutting – it is nearly universal. No more sliding up to the Edit menu and selecting copy, paste or cut.

As with the CTRL keys above these are not the only shortcut keys available in AutoCAD but more of a sampling of the ones I think that will help increase your productivity.

If you’re looking for a way to boost your performance try taking CTRL of AutoCAD. In a future post I’ll talk about ACAD.PGP file which takes shortcut keys to a whole other level.

I would be curious to know how many people are already using these keys regularly – drop me an email if you are and which ones you find most useful.

WES

FS-PURGE

 

Over the years Email has become the most prevalent method of exchanging files. As our DWG files get smarter and our users get lazier, the files continue to grow in size.  A big market now is for file sharing applications that can allow users or entire companies to exchange files through a link instead of an attachment in an email.  I do like this method for various reasons:

Email databases (Outlook PST files and Exchange message stores) are getting bigger and bigger as users send and receive large attachments every day.  This has a domino affect in that it causes slow downs on servers, eats up network bandwidth, burns through backup media and extends backup and restore times.  You can always enable compression on the servers, or buy more storage and get faster processes and more memory, but to what end?

The nice thing about file sharing applications like YouSendit or Sharefile or even Dropbox is that for Email, it is just a text message with a link included – very small and very fast.  The files are automatically uploaded to an offsite location and therefore are only on your network once so you do not have them backed up twice – unless your doing Dropbox which may also store an additional local copy that you may be backing up as well.  There are a lot of variables in this which depend on the particular service you are using and which features, but the basic file sharing service uploads a copy offsite and then allows you to share it with a link.

File sharing programs add other perks as well – they offer Email notices when files are accessed or shared and can offer password authentication for security.

I have personally used both Sharefile and YouSendit and use Dropbox regularly for personal use and backups to make my critical data mobile. I like all three and for most businesses it would not be hard to justify their costs – they can even be free for small usage.

These services add some efficiency to your daily workflow and on your network storage, email stores and backups, but is there a way to reduce some of the space requirements even more?  Yes, and this is what this post is really about.  For AutoCAD users, sharing data is a common occurrence.  Architects share background files and other support drawings with their consultants and consultants in turn share their drawings back with the architects and other consultants. Most of thee file shares still happen through email and it is not uncommon to have project shared through a series of multiple emails because the files exceed either the sender’s or recipient’s email limits – especially those using “Free” email services for their email (That’s a whole other post entirely).

 

There are a few steps that the person sending or sharing the drawings can do to minimize the drawing size and should be standard practice.
  • Minimize copying other jobs in other current job to do your work.  Use standard libraries and menu customization to insert your work or copy pieces as needed.  I regularly deal with drawings with more than one project inserted in model space and in some cases I have seen up to five!  Besides the file size, now everyone has to dig though the drawing to see which are the plans/elevations/sections that they need or call the architect/consultant for clarification.
  • Use Blocks – rectangles are not desks or lights, they are rectangles and a job that could be handled with a couple of blocks that uses 100 rectangles for lights is not a very smart or lean drawing. (another future post)
  • Purge!  Yes, the big one.  Since so many users still do use past projects for setting up new ones and copy items in from previous projects to address details in current ones, occasionally (regularly) purge your drawing – and definitely do so when sending them out.
What is Purge?
Deletes unused applications from blocks, detail view styles, dimension styles, groups, layers, linetypes, materials, multileader styles, plot styles, shapes, text styles, multiline styles, section view styles, table styles, visual styles, regapps, zero-length geometry, empty text objects, or all.

 

Why Purge?
Reduce your drawing size and potential for file corruption.  This keeps your drawings lean and saves load and save times, server and backup space, network overhead and email storage and sending/receiving times.

 

How to Purge?
Purge can be done via the command line “-PURGE” or via a dialogue “PURGE”and it can be automated via a Macro or script.
Add this Macro to a toolbar button to make cleanup a single click:

 

^C^Cz;e;-purge;a;;n;audit;y;-purge;a;;n;qsave;close;

 

Note: This routine also does an AUDIT to check the drawing for errors. This routine was discussed in the “Macro Mania I” post and is included in the FS-Tools add-on menu that you can download here.

 

What can purge do for you?

On a recent project, there was an issue with the size of the  drawings being shared so the sender made one attempt and received some failure notices by some of the recipients. They then started over and made them available on their FTP site. When I received the files, I typically clean them up for our use, and in this case I was curious to see just how bloated they were.

I have a  simple toolbar Macro that I use nearly every day for this that purges the drawing and runs an audit to make sure their are no errors, does a zoom extents and saves and closes the drawing.  Running this Macro which is a single mouse click on the drawings knocked them down from 35meg to 18meg – nearly a 50% reduction – and that was without removing extra “stuff” from the drawings.  I did this same step yesterday and reduced the files provided on an FTP site by 60%.  This is a regular step in my cleanup and sharing process and takes seriously a couple seconds per drawing to perform.  Doing this with a script using Scriptpro, you could do an entire project in a flash.

I see these results on a regular basis, and sometimes the results are far greater.
I am curious if others deal with this issue as well – answer these four quick questions on purging and file sharing.

 

 

WES

Image courtesy of khunaspix at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Dear Mr/Mrs. Architect,

We greatly appreciate and admire your work, and we understand that you, like us and everyone else on the team is under pressure to perform.  As our team leader, we look to you for guidance and direction, but there are a few things that would make our work on the team a bit easier and more efficient.  Over the years, we have found the following items to be most problematic. If you could please consider these items as it pertains to your work, it would be much appreciated:

Updates:
When sending background or drawing updates, please cloud the revised area(s) or provide a description of what or where you made changes.  We have spent untold hours trying to figure out where (if any) changes have been made.  And as powerful as our software is and as efficient our methods of file comparison have gotten, it still takes up too much of our time that could be dedicated to the actual design of the project in lieu of what basically equates to an Easter Egg hunt.

We do not always require a new background or section or elevation each time you make a change, getting four or five background updates a day is very frustrating and inefficient. On the other hand do not wait until the afternoon before a job goes out and send us all the changes you made this week to include in our final drawings.  The balance of this obviously requires good judgment, which tends to come with experience.

Coordination Drawings:
Note that much of our work, whether it be mechanical, electrical, plumbing or fire protection is much like yours, is installed in a  3D world,  i.e. it is affected by sections, and elevations, both interior and exterior, roof plans and details – not just in floor plans and reflected ceiling plans.  Please send us at least PDFs of your latest drawings when sending us drawing updates. If you are not sure what to send, just ask.  Sometimes we just need your latest to start our coordination efforts – not the final product. If your MEP consultant says a floor plan is all they need to do their work – you may want to look for another consultant. It may surprise you , but when I have asked for sections and elevations for coordination, I have actually had some architects ask why we needed them? Really?

During the course of a project It is very common to have an architect/owner require multiple review sets for owner review and or approval – but it is rare that we get a copy ourselves unless we specifically ask.  PDFs are cheap – send us a copy and make it a standard. And if a consultant says that they do not need a copy, see above.

Project Completion:
Speaking of plans, why do we not get a copy of the final plans when the job is completed? In the old days of paper it was common for every team member discipline to get a big fat hard copy of the plans for our use and for many it was the first time we saw many aspects of the building.  In today’s electronic world, sending a complete set of PDFs should be a no-brainer and standard procedure.

Schedules:
We like you balance schedules daily and greatly appreciate it when you ask us about our schedule and when we can fit a project in or sometimes explain that it a particular project has a tight schedule and what it is.  Telling us that every schedule (as ridiculously short as it is) is critical and that we will lose the project if we cannot meet it, shows that you either have no negotiating skills with the clients or you really do not understand what we do.

When you do set a schedule, please be thorough and clear about it and try to stick to it – if you cannot , be understanding that we based our schedule on your original dates. i.e. When you say we have two weeks to do a project and our only submission is the final product, it is not very fair to come to us one week in and say please send us a progress set for tomorrow for pricing. Really?

We often time do preliminary design work that never hits the computer systems until we have the latest plans that we can possibly get from you – because we know you are working directly with the owner and other consultants, and these discussions will often require changes . Much of our work depends on yours and the changes you make to the floor plans, ceiling plans and in some cases interior furniture layouts all of which will affect each of our trades a little differently, but they do affect us.  Once we feel that your plans are pretty solid, then we jump on it and get it done – we really like to do it once whenever possible.  So accurate schedules are important.

Oh, and those last minute background changes, especially those that come after we just hung up with the courier or FEDEX/UPS that you say are very minor – to you maybe, because you have not plotted yet, but to us they are not.  We have to update our background (see DWGs below), make the change, (which is not always moving something two feet to the right) print it, check it, plot however many sets of the new version and re-collate it in to the other sets, reschedule the courier or FEDEX/UPS pickups if possible or worst case now drive it to the drop off location. We understand this happens occasionally, but lets try to keep it to a minimum.

DWGs:
As well put together as your drawings are, (sometimes) we do not just drop your new or updated drawing in our project directory, reload the xref and keep working.  We typically have different priorities as to what is to stand out in our drawings, what is to fade and what is to not show at all, so we need to do some cleanup.  This cleanup varies greatly by the quality of your drawings and can take anywhere from 5 minutes to over an hour.  Every time you send an update it is rinse and repeat. Poorly put together drawings can eat our lunch on time and fees – and is another reason why we often do not update backgrounds right away, but wait for a few before we go through the process.

Planning:
I am not sure if it is the economy (as I keep hearing) or the general change in behaviors that everything has to be done “right now”, like design work is no different than “Fast Food”.  We know it takes time to do your work and then it takes additional time to do ours, and it seems the pushing is coming from the owners, but it seems like we are doing schematics, DDs and CDs all at the same time.  This week the job is split systems, tank type toilets and fluorescent lighting and next week it is package units flush valves and LED – but the job is due next Friday!  Where is the planning and what do you mean no additional fees? We were almost done!

Communication:
Obviously not all architects can be categorized by the above issues, we have all worked with the good and bad architects and architectural project managers of the world, but when we get the bad ones it really sucks.  A lot of time I bet you would be willing to make changes to how you do things if only someone told you. Well, that’s kind of what this letter is about.  I know in some cases it is a couple years late and for some of us it is very timely, but we are just letting you know these are a few things you could do to make our work a bit easier.  You could always ask us too, those that are not shy would love to let you know what things might make the relationship a bit easier on us all.

If you feel you may do some of the above and are willing to make some changes, thank you.  We, as your consultants will respect and appreciate your efforts very much.

Yours Truly,
MEFP Consultant

P.S.

This is not meant to pick on Architects, as you have an equally hard job to do.  I personally have been fortunate to spend time on both sides of the fence of Architect/Consultant over many years in this industry and have seen issues and quirks from both perspectives.  Many of the issues I have seen and heard about can be handled with better communication and team work, and some well, we can just keep praying.

 

As a follow up, I plan to do a series of letters which come from different perspectives of the various team members.  Future letters will be directed to: Dear contractor, Dear Engineer and Dear Owner.  If you have some input for these, please drop my an email or comment.

 

Disclaimer:
All of the pages and posts written by me on this blog are of my own personal opinion and in no way represent the opinions of any association, organization, affiliation or past/present employer. The voices in my head are mine and mine alone.

 

Image courtesy of khunaspix / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Efficiency in Systems

Posted: by Walt Sparling in Best Practices, Change, Efficiency

kaizenThe title of this posts has two of my top three favorite words – “Efficiency” and “Systems”, my third being ice cream, which doesn’t really fit this discussion.

Since I am calling this year “the year of efficiency”, it would make sense to talk about various methods used within our “Systems” to create efficiency.  Systems are a part of our every day life, both at home and work.  I did a post on the topic of systems on another blog which discussed a DVD by Andy Stanley titled “ “Systems – Liberating your Organization“.  Although Andy is a “church” guy and the DVD was about helping church leaders do a better job at running their organization, the concepts discussed work in all aspects of our life. Basically, our world and our life are based on established systems.

Key system statements:

  • Systems are your approach to getting things done
  • Systems create behaviors
  • The system you inherit, adopt or create will eventually impact what employees do
  • Systems have a greater impact on an organizational culture than a mission statement. (Mission Statements hang on the wall, your systems are happening down the hall).

If we want to change our world or our life we need to change our systems. When it comes to efficiency, there are two methods that come to mind right away that can be used to optimize our systems - ”Kaizen” and “5S”.

Both of these methods are commonly used in business, predominantly in manufacturing environments, but can be applied to many areas of work and personal life.

Kaizen:

A Japanese term meaning: “change for the better” or ”to become good through change”. The concept of kaizen is one of restructuring and organizing every aspect of a system to ensure it remains at peak efficiency.

 5S:

5S is the name of a workplace organization method that uses a list of five Japanese words: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke (Sorting, Set, Sweep or Shine, Standardize, and Sustain).  The list describes how to organize a work space for efficiency and effectiveness by identifying and storing the items used, maintaining the area and items, and sustaining the new order.

We will get more in to the 5s system in the next post, today we will look at Kaizen.

Kaizen, is a Japanese term and is commonly associated with the manufacturing world in Japan.  Although it has probably been made most famous in Japanese culture (think Toyota), the concept was actually taught by Americans to the Japanese after World War II, who embraced it and fine tuned it further.

From Investopedia:

Some of the key objectives of the Kaizen philosophy include the elimination of waste, quality control, just-in-time delivery, standardized work and the use of efficient equipment. 

All good things to apply in our work and with the exception of maybe ‘just in time delivery’, also in our personal life.  A commonly used term around Kaizen is “continuous improvement” – not a “quick fix” or a “sudden change”, but continuous improvement.

Kaizen is applied with a few simple steps:

  • Standardize a task or process based on specific requirements
  • Measure the process
  • Compare the results to the requirements
  • Innovate to meet or improve on requirements
  • Standardize the new, improved process or task
  • Continue the cycle infinitely

Kaizen allows you to make smaller changes and continually improve on your system because it is not a one time fix or drastic change.  You can continue to tweak things to make sure they are as optimized as possible for ongoing changes in your industry or life.  So how do you apply the concept of continuous improvement?  We will walk through two examples, one from work in this post and one personal in a follow-up post to see how Kaizen can be used to improve a current system or even create a new one.

Work Example:

Let’s say you manufacture and ship products – “Widgets” – an apparent commonly manufactured item from what I have read.  So you make these widgets and ship them to customers all over the world.  You’re a small company, so the tasks of taking orders on the phone, or over the web, packaging, and shipping is handled by whomever is not already doing something else.  This has proven to not be very efficient or consistently handled as you have found out over time.  Missed Widget parts, broken Widgets due to bad packaging, late shipped orders and forgetting to bill the customer or update the inventory have been costing you a lot of money.  You have decided to fine tune things and figure out how to optimize the whole order to ship process.

To keep things standardized you want to have:

  • Orders entered the same every time
  • Widget packaging the same every time
  • Shipping and tracking handled the same every time
  • Billing done the same and as an integral part of the process

You have written out a set of steps that each stage of the process requires, some of which you already do and some of what you would like to implement.   You post the steps at appropriate workstations and have a company meeting to announce it.  Then it is back to work!?

But… You probably should start off a little different and discuss your procedural ideas with your employees first and see if they have any suggestions or see any potential issues.  If that goes well, you take what you learn and update your procedures – then hand them out at a company meeting with a discussion and a re-iteration of the point and goals for the new standardized procedures.

Was it a success?  Hopefully, but to be sure you need to continually monitor the new procedures and see if they are meeting your desired goals. This will include verifying if all the employees from full-time to part-time are following them.  If they are, that’s great, but if not – what do you do? Tell them to get with it!?  Maybe, but you definitely need to discuss why they are not following the new procedures and see if there is something that needs improvement.  If it seems to be more of a refusal to change, you may want to let them know that you can replace them with one of those newer Automated Widgets you read about!  If it is an actual valid reason – like some tasks are taking too long and are slowing part of the process down, then you need to re-evaluate the troublesome procedure and fine tune it.

At some point you will get things running smoothly, hopefully pretty quickly, but keep in mind that there will be a need for changes down the road, so monitoring and leaving it open to employees and even customers to make suggestions will keep you moving forward as efficiently as possible for many years to come.  Sometimes you just need to re-evaluate how you have always done it!

This may seem like very logical steps, and they are, but they also follow the Kaizen process.

  • Standardize
  • Measure
  • Compare
  • Innovate
  • Standardize the new
  • Continue the cycle infinitely


Other Kaizen terms you may here in a business environment:

Kaizen Blitz:

A Kaizen Blitz is a rapid improvement workshop designed to produce results/approaches to discrete
process issues within a few days. It is a way for teams to carry out structured, but creative problem
solving and process improvement, in a workshop environment, over a short timescale.

Lean Kaizen:

Lean is a methodology that eliminates waste and boosts efficiency. Kaizen means continuous improvement. Lean Kaizen helps you get rid of waste as part of the continuous improvement process.

Kaizen is a very powerful concept that can be applied to all areas of our life.   Although I will likely bring it up again beyond the next post, if you would like to learn more, there have been many books written on the topic as you can see in this link:

http://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/kaizen

Are you currently practicing Kaizen in your workplace?

WES

Now that we’ve covered the basics of macros let’s get into some useful applications were macros can further increase your efficiency.

To summarize the steps in the previous post:

  • We created a new central customization menu on the server
  • We added a toolbar
  • We created a new Command macro
  • We added our macro to the new toolbar
  • We took a step towards being more efficient

As I said in the previous post Macros can be used for a variety of tasks from auto answering prompts in commands and automating drawing processes to performing CAD management tasks.  In this post we will cover some of each.  Note that you will see “CTS” used throughout these macros which follows the previous initials setup in our first post on Macros.  These initials can be set to something that fits your organization’s naming convention.

Drawing processes:

A nuisance that I see on a regular basis when working with consultants and clients drawings is finding symbols and linework on the wrong layers.  It’s very hard to automate a cleanup process if the person who created the original drawings doesn’t put their items on consistent layers. Worse yet are the those that put stuff on the wrong layers then just change the color to the color that it was supposed to be.  Although this type of user needs a serious talking to, most of the time when stuff gets on the wrong layer it’s accidental. This accidental step is often caused because clients use a limited number of colors, and when an item is inserted on a layer that happens to be the same color that the symbol is supposed to end up, they assume that they are on the right layer. Some basic macros on their end would easilly fix this issue.  Of course these are also ways to increase your efficiency as well.

Defining layers and line-work :

Macro to create a 4-segment conduit run on a specific layer:

^C^CORTHO;OFF;_PLINE;\\’ORTHO;ON;\\’ORTHO;OFF;\;FILLET;P;LAST;

Inserting blocks:

Macro to set the appropriate layer, and insert a 2×4 light fixture (which is a dynamic block). Since it is real scale, the scaling prompts are defaulted and it only asks for rotation.

^C^C-LAYER;M;E-LIGHTING-CEIL;C;R;;;ORTHOMODE;1;^C^C-INSERT;LF2x4;INT;\;;

Macro to set the appropriate layer, and insert a fire alarm device (which is a dynamic block).  Since it is not real scale, the scale is determined by the current dimscale and it only asks for rotation.  Note: If your Dynamic block has the “Alignment” parameter, rotation can also be removed. (I have found this option a bit quirky for many users and have stopped using it for now).

^C^C-LAYER;M;FIRE_ALARM;C;G;;;^C^CORTHO;ON;-INSERT;FD1;NEA;\(GETVAR”DIMSCALE”);;\

Yet another annoying trend is the use of AutoCAD’s “Standard” styles for use as company standards.  The “Standard” styles, just like Layer “0″ are in all drawings, and cannot be renamed. The built-in standards should be used as a template to create your own standards.  Note although you cannot rename the “Standard” style in the style dialogue, you can with the rename command, which is used in this Macro.

Scenario:

Architect adapts the “Standard” style as their default text style and just changes the font to “Hand1.shx”  and sets the width to .8.   Our default Standard style uses the “txt.shx” font with a width of “1″.  When we block in room names from an Architect’s drawing (so that we can move them around), they change to the standard ugly TXT font.  We don;’t use “Standard” styles, we leave them as is.  You might think that changing them to the architects font would be a quick fix, and it would if we only worked with one architect that does this common mistake.

The Standard Style Fix: (Do this in their drawing prior to import)

^C^C-RENAME;S;STANDARD;ARCH-STD;

Some other useful Macros to save Keyboard and mouse clicks.

Drawing Setup:

Import all company standard layers via a master drawing and set all settings for a specific scale (this one is 1/4″ scale) and assumes you are not using annotative scales for everything (this all one line – copy and modify for other scales):

^C^C-INSERT;F:/STANDARDS/CTS.DWG;0,0;^C^C-DIMSTYLE;R;CTS-48; _fillet;r;4.5;^C^Cdimscale;48; ltscale;.5;psltscale;1;msltscale;1;DIMASSOC;2;-STYLE;NOTES;;4.5″;;;;;VISRETAIN;1;

Note: the above also sets some commonly changed variables as well as being useful when working on an existing drawing setup by someone not following your standards. (Say it isn’t so!!)

CADD Management:

On  the CADD management side another use for a macro is updating your template files and your standard layer states.  Many people use template files to start their projects because it allows them to get their standards in place as soon as they start a new drawing. This is good but sometimes you need your standards brought in after your drawing is already in the works or because of purging you need to get your layers back to where they were.  Regardless of the reasons, you need to keep various master files up to date, especially early in your standards setup.

To keep these Master files into their Proper locations takes a series of steps.  The following macro uses your master drawing to update your master template, master CADD standards file and export out your master layer states.  Speaking of layer states, this is another very efficient tool that can be used to automate and control your drawing files.  We will talk about this in a future post on efficiency.

^C^C_SAVEAS;S;F:/CUSTOM/TEMPLATES/CTS.DWS;Y;_SAVEAS;T;F:/CUSTOM/TEMPLATES/ACAD.DWT;Y;E;CTS-MASTER;_SAVEAS;2013;F:/CUSTOM/TEMPLATES/CTS.DWG;Y;-LAYER;A;D;CTS;S;CTS;;EX;CTS;F:/CUSTOM/LAYER_STATES/CTS.LAS;Y;;;

If your company has a set of standards that you want implemented in your drawings, macros make typical processes a lot faster and maintain consistency and accuracy.  Time is money so faster is more efficient.  Keep in mind that efficiency is not just about speed – accuracy is an essential factor.  With good accuracy you have less to revise or fix.

Background  Cleanup:

If you get a lot of background updates on a project from an architect and he/she uses a consistent Layering scheme macros are a great way to clean up the drawing to meet your needs.  It is not uncommon for myself and I’m sure some of you to take 10 to 30 minutes on a background cleanup process.  You can whittle that process down to a couple minutes or even seconds with a macro.  For instance, the following macro reduced a thirty minute typical cleanup time for a co-worker on a repeat client’s work from 30 minutes to less than a minute – including visual checking.  And since it seems like were getting background updates every other day – some last minute, this has become a huge time saver.

The following routine sets our preferred units, sets all changeable items to color by layer, erases what we do not need, purges and prompts for a SAVEAS.  NOTE: “WX-D” is the name of the Layer state that we are restoring.  This routine took about 30 minutes to write, tweak and test. (This routine can vary greatly by the type of background you are cleaning up).

^C^C-UNITS;4;16;1;0;0;N;-LAYER;T;*;ON;*;UNLOCK;*;;SETBYLAYER;ALL;;YES;YES;Z;E;-LAYER;A;I;F:/CUSTOM/LAYER_STATES/CLIENT/WX-D.LAS;R;WX-D;;;SELECT;ALL;;ERASE;PURGE;A;;N;ZOOM;E;-LAYER;UNLOCK;*;;SAVEAS;

When writing macros be sure to draft them out on paper before you jump into the CUI editor.  No matter how fast your machine as it takes time for the CUI editor to launch modify save and get you back to your editing session.  The more corrections you have to make the MoreTime your CUI editor takes away on your productivity.  Use the F2 key to watch your commands in the text window to verify what your prompts are and what your answers need to be.

Call External Scripts:

Another trick you can use to save time and also make your updates instantly available to others without requiring them to reload their menu, is to create a short macro that calls an external script.  You can quickly edit the script on the fly and changes are available as quickly as you select “Save”.

The following macro string calls an external script file called “setvars”.

^C^Cscript;f:/custom/scripts/setvars.scr;

 If you’ve written some really cool macros that you would like to share or need help with a macro you’re stumbling with, email me.

In upcoming posts, we are going to get a firmer Grip on efficiency by performing common actions in AutoCAD without actually typing any commands and we’ll look at dynamic blocks as a way to reduce our workload.

 WES

Macro Mania – Part I

Posted: by Walt Sparling in AutoCAD, Efficiency, Standards

 

Moving ahead in our year of efficiency, we need to find ways to do more in less time while not reducing the quality of the end product.  With AutoCAD being a major tool in our daily workflow, it is a prime target for optimization.  In a recent article I wrote (not yet published) I used the following definition for efficiency when working with AutoCAD:

Having and using requisite knowledge, skill, and industry experience to competently perform or function within AutoCAD to create drawings in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort.

 

With this concept in mind, the first post in our two-part series is going to be about creating and using macros in AutoCAD and how they can speed up your work Tenfold.   Macros can be very powerful and can be used to perform a variety of tasks, including automating command prompts, controlling CADD standards and even automating CADD management steps.  I will cover some examples of each in this series.

No matter what field you’re in, after a while you find yourself doing the same steps over and over again.  Some are on a weekly basis, some daily and some even hourly or shorter.  Anytime we repeat a step, task, process, or command there are certain questions or prompts that need to be answered like; Yes, No or Return.  We are also prompted to pick points, set layers, set styles and choose rotations.  These are things that are repeated so much we answer them without much thought, all while caring on a conversation with our cube mate and planning the next two commands and the answers to their associated prompts.  Although we can practically enter these choices in our sleep, my question is why are we?

Well I for one am not going to do it anymore and neither are you. Something has to automate this process so we can use our brain for thinking about more important things.  ”Macros” to the rescue.  I do not recall when macros came in to play in AutoCAD, but I know I have been customizing and using them since AutoCAD version 9.  No matter your experience level, macros are one of the easiest customization tools you can do to increase your productivity and you are only limited by your creativity.  In the current company I work with, 95% of our work is accomplished through Toolbar Macros, including customized replacements of standard AutoCAD commands.

For this exercise we are going to need a toolbar to place our custom macros on, so we need to take a quick look at the CUI editor (I miss the old MNU text editor days).  I am currently working in 2013, but some variation of the CUI editor has been around since version 2006.  If you’re a visual person, I created a PDF of version of this article with screen shots here.

 For a more in-depth look at the CUI editor, check out Melinda Heavrin’s article from AUGI World on AUGI.com labeled: 

 Understanding the Customize User Interface (CUI)
 

 Macro Mania – Toolbar Creation:

To keep our customized work separate from the main menu (highly recommended) and make it available to everyone in the company, you are going to want to have this in your central customization file on the company server.  Don’t have one yet – let’s get one started (If you already have one, skip past this section):

Central Customization Menu File Creation:

At The command prompt type:  ”CUI” (no quotes) and when the editor comes up (see below), select the transfer tab. In the transfer tab on the right, you will see the words “New File” and a Save option to the right of that.

Select Save and browse to a shared folder on your server that everyone has access to.  This should be in your central CADD standards drive (preferred) or CADD standards folder.  If you do not have one, we have some more work to do, but we will have to address that another day.  Email me if you need some help on that.

Assuming you or someone else set this up already, under your “Menus” directory save the file with a logical name (other than custom).  Precede it with the same thing you preceded your other standards with… I mean if you have them…  If you don’t have this type of setup, let’s use your initials to get the ball rolling, we can rename it later once your actual standards are in place.  Let’s assume your initials are “CTS” for Carol or Conrad Smith.  Save the file as CTS-Custom.  Yes I used “custom”, but the trick is to use a prefix that makes it unique.  You can call it CTS-Master, or CTS-Standard or whatever you like, but make sure it has the prefix.  You will understand as we talk more about this concept in future posts or you can email me if you need to know now.

Now that you have a new customization file, let’s add a toolbar.  Right click on the word “Toolbar” in the right hand pane and select “New Toolbar”.   Name it “Efficiency” (no Quotes).  Now select “OK” at the bottom of the screen and you will be back in AutoCAD.  Now type “MENULOAD” (no quotes).  Select Browse and browse to the folder where you saved the CTS-Custom menu, which will be called CTS-Custom.cuix.  Highlight the file and select “Load” and then “Close”.  When you are back at the AutoCAD screen, you will see an empty floating toolbar, and if you roll over it with your mouse it will be called “Efficiency”.

Now on to get the Toolbar populated

Get back in to the CUI editor by typing “CUI” (from here on out, remember “no quotes” unless I tell you).  While on the “Customize” tab, on the same line as the “Customizations in All Files” line, pick on the down arrows to show all your customization menus.

Scroll down to “Partial Customization Files” and keeping selecting the “+” signs to get out to your “Efficiency” Toolbar. Now switch down to the bottom pane and select the “Create a new command” symbol.

We are going to address all the important items here.

Command1
This is what your new command OR Macro will be called, and you will replace this with what you want the actual name to be. This will auto-populate the “Name” field to the right.

Source – “ACAD”
This is the current Menu that the command is registered to.  Once you add it to your Efficiency Toolbar, this will show up as “CTS-Custom”.  (We will do that shortly).

Name
(see Command1)

Description
This is where you will place a description if necessary – Although I rarely do, it is always good practice to describe what your macro does for future folks that may inherit your menu system.

Macro
This is where the action happens and your efficiency increases!  To see more specifics about the command options in Macros see “Writing Macros” below.

Element ID
An ID name that you give your macro. I always use ID_name, with “name” being what the tool is.

Small/Large Image
This is the graphic image that shows up on your toolbar that users see and select to run your macro.  Typically these are set to the same. If you have a lot of people who use the LARGE icon option, you may wish to create one for each.  Starting out, especially if you are not a creative wiz, I would use an existing button image with a splash of color. I.E. use the save button image for a special file save macro, but color the inside red – then ‘saveas’ a new icon.

Writing Macros
At its most basic level, macros are simply automating the prompts that a command throws out to you.  Although this is a powerful feature in itself, by stringing multiple commands together, loading and running lisps combined with commands you can do amazing things that will drastically cut back on your keyboard and mouse time.  Below are some basics that you will need to know and common issues that you run into when writing macros.  Note that this list is not the entire list of macro options, but represents the most commonly needed or utilized.

Basic Macro Options:

^C^C
Cancel and is the default and most common way to start a macro.

;
Equal to a keyboard Return. Note: Spaces can also be used but are easily lost in a macro string. I personally do not recommend their use.

\
Pause for mouse or keyboard input

/
Use when specifying paths outside of AutoCAD. Note that this is the opposite of what you would see at a command prompt or path description.  Example: a command prompt to a network share drive and folder would look like this:   “F:\MSTRSYMBOLS\BLOCK.DWG”  In a script it looks like this:  “F:/MSTRSYMBOLS/BLOCK.DWG”


Quotes – Encapsulates a group. This comes in handy when specifying paths that have spaces in them. For instance the path above has not spaces, but if there was a space between MSTR and SYMBOLS, the macro would assume that was a return.  Putting quotes before and after will cause the whole group to be read as one parameter.

-
Hyphen – this is used to run commands without Dialogue boxes popping up.

^O
Turns ORTHO ON or OFF

.
Period – This allows you to use built-in commands even if they have been undefined. Useful for CADD managers that have undefined commands.

Now let’s do a quick macro to get your feet wet.  We will call this “Super Save”.  The purpose of “Super Save” is to zoom extents to get a full view image for previewing (which gets updated on saves), purge our file, audit it, purge it again, save and close it.  If you type each of the commands out at your command line, you will see what each letter is answering – remember that the “ ; “ symbol is a return. Time yourself by typing this command out manually and then pick the button and see how much faster it is.  And this is just the beginning.

As you may have noticed, this routine is for the still common model space users in the group, it would be simple enough to add a switch to PaperSpace before running the “Zoom” and “Save” options – I’ll leave that for you as homework! (Email me if you need help).

Super_Save:

Command1:                  SuperSave
Source:                      ACAD (Will become “CTS-Custom” once we drag this to our toolbar)
Name:                        Super Save
Description:                 Zoom Extents, Purge, Qsave and Close
Macro:                       ^C^Cz;e;-purge;a;;n;audit;y;-purge;a;;n;qsave;close;
Element ID:                 ID_SuperSave
Small/Large Image:    super-save

For the Button image, I selected an existing image icon from the Button Image dialogue above and selected Edit (Notice the existing name is RCDATA_16_SAVE) and I chose ‘Both’ for my image option.  On the right, color in the center area red, select “Save” and give it a new name, then select “close”.

Select Apply to save your work.

To get the Macro button added to your toolbar, drag it from the left lower window pane to the top left window pane until you see a small arrow next to your toolbar, then, drop it.  You should see something similar to the right side graphic now.

Yea!!  You are on your way now!

In the next post we can skip the toolbar work and concentrate on some more practical macros.

WES

2013 is a brand new year and thankfully the Mayans were wrong. As is a tradition every new year, people are wanting to change their ways, from diets and fitness to how they handle their work and personal schedules in hopes of being a trimmer, fitter, better organized and all around better person. To help get things moving in the right direction this year I’m going to be doing more, shorter posts on ways you can increase your efficiency both in and out of AutoCAD. These things may cause you to change your ways, but hey change is good! In the end, if you follow through you’ll be more efficient.

I myself am constantly looking for ways to spend less time doing any kind of process. By spending less time, I do not mean taking shortcuts – the end result must be equal to or better than the original in quality. In this constant effort to shorten my time requirements and multitask I must still maintain quality in whatever I do.

An example of one thing that I do to be more efficient is in how I write my posts. The majority of my posts are now written while I’m doing other things, like shaving, dressing for work or actually on the drive-in to work. It may seem like it could get messy or even be unsafe, but it actually works out great. I use voice recognition software on my smart phone and dictate in to a note app. I can either email myself the articles or login to the Cloud and finish the editing there before I post it (as I am doing right now). Thanks to the accuracy of the recognition software my editing time is reduced drastically and I am able to do two things at once. This also allows me t be spontaneous about my thoughts on an article or blog post.

Another area where I spend a lot of time, as i am sure you do as well is AutoCAD. Being efficient in AutoCAD is paramount for Architectural and Engineering design firms that use it. We produce drawings to communicate our ideas and designs to clients, reviewers and ultimately to the actual builders. In a business, profits are the key to survival, and you make profits by being able to produce a desired product quickly and efficiently. And no – quickly and efficiently are not the same. In this production process, speed alone is not what makes us efficient.

As an AutoCAD designer or even a regular CADD technician, profits may not be the first thing on your mind. But keep in mind profits are what pay your wages, your bonuses and any other perks you might receive. The more profitable your company is the better you (should) do. By doing your work more efficiently, you create shorter production times which translate ultimately in to more profits. So how do we go about being more efficient? In the next post “Macro Mania” , I’m going talk about about an old AutoCAD customization tool called toolbar macros and how they can automate many of the steps you do every day. These tools will reduce the time you spend doing manual steps, and in the process, increase your accuracy – increasing your productivity and efficiency.

WES