Product Spotlight: IronCAD 6.0

Autodesk has just introduced AutoCAD 2005 and the AutoCAD 2005 family of products, including those specifically for mechanical design that will be introduced shortly. The core of this release is AutoCAD 2005, a product optimizing 2D digital workflow process for drafting and design. AutoCAD 2005 provides enhanced capabilities that allow users to better manage and publish sheet sets and communicate project information for mark-up and review.

According to Autodesk, AutoCAD 2005 is optimized to meet specific industry needs so customers can reduce costs and improve efficiencies throughout their project lifecycles. Productivity has always been a cornerstone in the profitability and viability of any industry that creates, manages, and shares complex data and design information.

This release has evolved AutoCAD software from single-page drawing to the creation and management of entire sets of related drawings, directly inside the application. There can be hundreds of pages within a complete set of drawings (or sheets) that is ultimately delivered to a customer. But it is the complete "sheet set" that encompasses all the information including annotations and other critical design data used to complete the project. Customers use information contained in the sheet set to communicate effectively and ensure the consistency and the highest quality over the project lifecycle.

Today, most organizations manage sheet sets using a file and folder structure on local disk drives and network servers. This manual method is labor intensive and susceptible to error. The new Sheet Set Manager feature provides a way to collate drawing sheets into logical sets and subsets that users can define by company, project, or other industry standards. The user can quickly assemble sheet sets using existing drawings, propagate sheet standards over multiple projects, and provide simultaneous access to sheet sets within their local area network. Sheets can be easily added or removed from a full set or any subset by using the Sheet Set Manager tool palette or the context-sensitive menu.

"The newest version of AutoCAD solves some of the key workflow issues that I have been trying to resolve," said Darren Myles, CAD/IT Manager at LHT Limited, a New Zealand-based engineering and design firm. "The new sheet set manager, fields and tables will improve the consistency and accuracy of our drawings."

Another critical element to design lifecycle management is the ability to review drawings and communicate across entire project teams. The design review process has always been time-consuming and expensive because of multiple rounds of printing, mark-ups, and delivery. Autodesk Design Web Format (DWF) for publishing is integrated into AutoCAD 2005 for an easy and cost-effective way to distribute and communicate digital design data throughout all project lifecycles. Saving sheet sets in DWF lets users communicate design information electronically to anyone needing to view, mark-up, review, or print the design information. Customers can review and mark-up the drawings with Autodesk DWF Composer a new advanced collaboration tool that integrates the comments back into AutoCAD 2005 to complete the design review process. Customers can also use Autodesk DWF Viewer, a free, lightweight application that allows anyone to view and print DWF drawings.

AutoCAD 2005 will also serve as the foundation for future versions of AutoCAD Mechanical, and AutoCAD Electrical that will probably be released later this year.

For those users that want and need 2D design capabilities, AutoCAD is still the universal standard - whether the full-blown version or LT. This crux of AutoCAD 2005 is drafting and detail drawings. Sheet sets in this release sound like a great idea, but I wonder how many users will actually take the time to figure out how to exploit them to the extent they could be. This is also the first release of AutoCAD that can natively read DWF files that contain mark-up data. A feature that is likely to draw the ire of users is the software lock that is part of AutoCAD 2005 - tying the application to one computer. It will be interesting to see how this plays with customers, and I think I know the answer. Admittedly, I have not yet had any hands-on time with AutoCAD 2005, but would very much welcome the opportunity to drive it myself and report my findings to our readers.

Jeffrey Rowe is the editor and publisher of MCADCafé and MCAD Weekly Review. He can be reached at Email Contact or 408.850.9230.

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