Archive | February 2012

Is Anyone Using that Command?

by Mark Stefanchuk, CADmanage.com

As a CAD Manager I often wonder if I’m focusing on the right things. I don’t know if anyone else ever has this issue, but I often think, as I’m updating a program or some documentation, if anyone is even using the thing.

If the number of CAD users is less than twenty, you can just ask everyone if they are using the command. It’s tedious but manageable. When you have hundreds of users however, asking everyone is not practical. So, what do you do? Just go ahead and update it anyway? Or, like some of our colleagues might do, just leave it out of the mix next time you upgrade the CAD engine and wait for someone to scream, “Hey, what happened to <insert favorite command here>”. It’s a dangerous approach, but sometimes you just have a feeling that the add-on, plug-in, or whatever is obsolete.

I think we can be a little more pro-active. If it’s your code and you still have the source you can insert a bit of code to write a log file each time the command is run. This is a good approach, especially for multi-platform environments. I’ll describe how to do this, but first let’s look at a quick way to capture command use on your AutoCAD platform without writing code.

Before we begin, here is a shameless self promotion:

AutoCAD – The Log File:

Yes, that’s right. Turn on the log file option. There’s going to be lots of files and lots of junk that you don’t need, but you’re only looking for one instance of the command to validate that the thing is being used. You turn on the log file option by opening the options dialog (command options). Click on the open and save tab and check the “Maintain a Log File” option.

Set the location of the log files, Options > Files > Log File Location,

I can’t really predict what the lasting ramifications are for doing this. The files aren’t really that big, but if you have a large number of users all writing log files to the same location then you might not want to be using up disk space for this. So, after you’re done collecting data turn off the use log file options.

The log files contain the commands your users have recently run. Now you need a quick way of searching the files. Grep for Windows is a good tool to use. Download the open source gnu version from here,

http://gnuwin32.sourceforge.net/packages/grep.htm

On my 64bit Windows 7 computer Grep.exe is installed to C:\Program Files (x86)\GnuWin32\bin\. Add the location of this program to your system path.

The basic usage is

grep <pattern> <files to search>

When I searched on the command “_qsave” grep found 2 instances – not a big surprise. It will also work when you want to find out if that older command has been used recently. If grep does not return a result then you may be able to conclude that the command is no longer needed.

To be more certain that a program is no longer in use, run this process over the course of several weeks. There are probably several old programs that you can eliminate from the maintenance cycle. So, log files and grep create a quick and fairly easy way to run an audit without having to write a bunch of code.

Write Some Code:

You have many choices when you commit to writing some code, but I’m going to keep it simple and stick with VBA. It’s a common platform for both MicroStation and AutoCAD and will give us an opportunity to re-use some code. I’m also just going to output to a text file. You can then grep or edit the file a few times during your audit period to find out if the command you’re interested in is being used. We can get much more sophisticated, but for a quick test this will work. Insert the following function in your VBA.

Public Function reportCommand(sCmd As String, sFile As String) As Boolean
    Dim fnum As Integer
    reportCommand = False
    On Error GoTo ERRORHANDLER
    fnum = FreeFile ' get next available file number
    ' report command usage
    Open sFile For Append As #fnum
        Print #1, sCmd
    Close #fnum
    reportCommand = True
    Exit Function
ERRORHANDLER:
    'Debug.Print "reportCommand: " + err.Description
End Function

And in the macro sub you are interested in, add a call to this function.

Public Sub ACADCmd()
    Call reportCommand("tempcmd", "c:\temp\test.txt")
    ' . . .
    ' run/initialize something
    ' . . .
End Sub

All we’re doing here is writing a string, sCmd to a text file specified by SFile (example: C:\temp\test.txt).

What I like most about this approach is that you can use the code in any CAD system that supports VBA. For instance, I developed the code in MicroStation, but cut and pasted it into my AutoCAD VBA without making any changes. The call to the function looks the same in both environments too. You can take this a step further by building a re-usable library, but we’ll save this topic for a future post.

“I can do this in AutoCAD, How do I do it in MicroStation”

by Seth Cohen, CADmanage.com

Here at CADmanage, I am a multi-CAD user.  What that means is that I teach/use AutoCAD, MicroStation, Civil 3D, and InRoads (and Map 3D as well).  More and more, I am noticing many AutoCAD users also using MicroStation (and vice versa), and I realized that there really wasn’t a blog that discussed tips/steps to using both.  In other words, the people who ask themselves “I can do this in one CAD product, how do I do it in the other?”

So let’s talk about one of the basic functionalities in AutoCAD, OTRACKing; how do you do this in MicroStation?  The equivalent functionality in MicroStation is a combination of using AccuDraw and AccuDraw shortcuts.  Let’s say I want to start a polyline perpendicular from a point.  In AutoCAD, you acquire the point, and as long as you have Perpendicular on as a running OSNAP, AutoCAD will track it, and you can type in a distance you want to be from that point.

Perpendicular Tracking

Perpendicular Tracking

To do this in MicroStation, first type RE in the AccuDraw Window (make sure it has focus).  RE runs the ACCUDRAW ROTATE ELEMENT command, which will rotate the AccuDraw compass to the angle of any object.  Make sure you toggle on Move Origin in the Tool Settings window, and click on the point that you want to be perpendicular from.

AccuDraw Rotate Element

AccuDraw Rotate Element

Lastly, move your cursor in the general perpendicular direction, and invoke the Smart Lock shortcut by pressing Enter on the keyboard, and enter your distance.

Press Enter for Smart Lock, and Enter Distance

Press Enter for Smart Lock, and Enter Distance

Keep looking to our blog for additional multi-CAD tips.

Thanks for reading.

by Seth Cohen, CADmanage.com

State of Standards

by Mark Stefanchuk, cadmanage.com

I’ve been exchanging some emails with our good friend Bob B. – a long time cad developer, cadguru, cad manager etc. The exchange has gone a little like this…

Bob – “Mark, CADD is getting killed out here! CADD professionals are being tossed out and the Standards are non-existent, no one seems to care, no one is checking drawings.”

Me – “I’m sure the overall economy is the main factor here. Standards are still relevant.”

Bob – “I’m sure part of the problem with jobs is just the economy…but with even the CADD companies removing the “D”…I think there’s more to it. I know Engineering has been trying to get rid of “Drafting” since the early 90’s. and believe me, whether they know/admit it or not…the drafted product is suffering.”

I did a little bit (very little) of informal surveying and others are still seeing a significant reduction in staff especially among the drafting teams. If the projects aren’t there then the people aren’t either. Whether or not it’s just the overall economy or it’s a new paradigm is uncertain and it’s also unclear when hiring will pick up again.

What do you think? Is there an underlying desire to change the way we do things in the design office and thus eliminate some older professions like the drafter and drafting supervisor?

I think there has, for quite some time been a shift towards using the junior engineers as drafters. When I started there were very few computers in the office and CAD was only used in the largest design offices. So, if you couldn’t draw very well, you weren’t allowed to draft. Today computers and CADD stations are essentially commodity so drawing ability is not really a factor. It’s possible then that economic pressures have forced many organization to reduce staff and if business leaders believe anyone can run a CADD station then why do we need drafters – as the logic goes, if I can type my own letters in MS Word then engineers and architects can use CAD to draw.

I’ll get some of you mad at me for saying this, but this isn’t necessarily bad logic. Here’s my partial theory. Engineers, and architects (and design leadership) should be able to do their own CADD work – most of them just can’t. They haven’t had to know how to use the technology and they don’t know the details of their design practice. This most recent economic downturn, more so than any previously has accelerated the move from drafter as a separate hire to integrating the role into the skill set of the engineer/architect. Consequently, most organizations are not prepared. And, as Bob has pointed out, no one seems to care to check the CAD standards and drafting practices.

I suspect, in the short term this will continue to be a problem. Organizations are cutting staff because they don’t have enough work to go around. In the long term we, engineers, architects and design professionals. will likely be doing more, if not all of our own CADD work. When I got a computer with Word Perfect I knew then that it was going to be a long long time before I got my own assistant – I’m still waiting. I can type now too. Design automation is, of course more complex than a word processor. It’s much more difficult to learn, but it’s not impossible.

I’m not a futurist, but I can make a few more predictions. There will be more automation – design programs that do stuff for you , design programs that integrate with downstream systems like financial, construction and so on. (I hope so because this is how I make my living now.) To some degree, these solutions exist today, but they will get better, easier to use, and easier to integrate.

So, what do you think? Are CADD (emphasis on the second D, drafting) professionals getting killed out there? Are standards being ignored? Is hiring picking up? Leave a comment. Let us know.