Friday, April 9, 2010

The Promise Fulfilled - Part 2 - AutoCAD MEP 2011

Man, how do you improve on this application - and where can you go with it? A lot of people have been asking this question, especially with the push towards BIM becoming that boulder rolling downhill. Toby Smith's AutoCAD MEP team has been hard at it with the 2011 release, and have come up with some neat new stuff.

Conduit - new to the program is a conduit routing preference, which behaves similar to the pipe routing preference - use it to set what fittings you want to use - so it's more flexible than it has been in the past. Placement settings are no longer a separate dialog, with Autodesk pushing the old dialogs out in favor of utilizing the properties palette to control size, bend angle, etc. There's also some improvements in routing with a parallel routing option, including concentric and fixed radius bends.

Piping - there is some new content for sanitary drain, waste, vent and sewer/storm drainage systems. To keep the flow direction working correctly in sloped pipe, the user can spec male and female ends as it related to flow - resulting in a more accurate representation of a drainage pipe layout. These were features that were added as an extension to 2010 and are now improved/incorporated into the main product.  Tees are now accurately created when adding branches, and offset wyes now connect correctly to sloped pipe (including eccentric and concentric reducers). Some good tweaks here to make the program run smoother.

Overall updates include tweaking of justification of connecting geometry, such as duct or pipe) so that when a system is mirror, the justification is mirrored correctly - this helps keep the eccentric items maintain layout rules.

MvParts - In one of my recent classes, we attempted to replace some of the side view blocks in an MvPart to use a more detailed 2D block as what the user sees from that point of view - which didn't work, and in a response from support, had been taken out of 2010; it looks like the behavior is back in 2011, so the user can edit a side or symbol view block to allow for more detail...nice.

Rise drop symbols have also be improved, allowing a user to specify how a rise or drop symbol is displayed in the drawing; this works specifically for MvParts, endcaps, or fittings(including elbows, tees, and takeoffs).

Platform enhancements for the AutoCAD and AutoCAD Architecture that run under AutoCAD MEP include tools such as the Renovation mode. Released as an extension for 2010, and now incorporated, new/existing/demolition conditions are quickly identified. Existing objects within a single drawing automatically display as existing objects. When an object is deleted, it automatically changes its appearance, showing hidden lines to represent it as a demolished object. While in renovation mode, anything added to the drawing appears as a new object. For the folks doing as-built conditions and retrofit, this tool should help consolidate the tasks.

A couple of new tools have been added for walls - "intelligent" cleanup allows a user to grab a group of wall objects, then run the tool - the same rules apply as before (justification lines must touch, or cleanup radius extended, priorities still count, etc.) If you run this and still don't get the cleanup you want, the new Edit in Place feature allows you to draft what you want the conditions to be.

One of the big things I was hoping would implemented in this release was the constraints feature, which is more up-to-date method of using the anchor tools. Some (but not all) AEC objects can use a 2D constraint to align and lock objects together: for example, you can constrain a wall to a column grid line - if the grid line moves, the wall moves. I don't believe this works with MEP objects just yet, so let's see where this tool goes in the future - but it be really neat of we can constrain items like pipe runs to a wall or column grid line in the early design phases. Inferring constraints do not work with AEC objects as of this release, but who knows...

Column grid layout and numbering has been improved, as well as door/window/opening placement. You can use a column grid line with Dynamic Dimensions to locate openings in a wall - before you have to use wall ends and intersections.

The AutoCAD underneath includes several new 3D modeling enhancements, which should help users that are trying to create their own 3D solids representations for conversion into MvParts. Chamfer and Fillet commands are added, and existing tools such as extrude, loft and revolve are tweaked and improved. I also like the new transparent hatch feature, allowing a hatch to be a little see-through....kinky. Having grips on non-associative hatches is also very useful, allowing a user to use a grip to stretch, move, etc.

The drag and drop feature for materials that's been in AutoCAD Architecture is now passed down to platform ACAD - interesting they're treating this as a new feature, as we were doing this a few releases ago...I'll have to play around with that one to see what's really different about it.

Finally, the help system got an extreme home makeover, with web-based support being at the forefront - and be prepared to provide your serial number when dealing with either the reseller or Autodesk, as it's going to be required this year to get support help. they also added several videos that explain basic features, addressing the need of youger generation users that myself...but I still think are cool.

So, are we closer to fulfilling the promise of BIM? I've always believed that the AutoCAD Platform was more mature but is now hiding in the rock star shadow of Revit. It's sort of like one of my boys dating the older sister, then the younger get the idea. There's a lot of stuff here that still works better than Revit (anchors, connections through reference files, the detail component manager, etc.), and there's still areas where Autodesk could get it more like Revit and keep it moving (such as aligning interfaces - they still are not task and process related, which irks me). It's such a simple change that could really help put the user in control of the software, and learn it much more quickly. Oh well, I guess I'll have to keep creating process-based interfaces on my own...and make some money off of it...

OK, so this was a lot - I'd love to hear from some of you about what you really like, or maybe have found something that is an obscure change that wasn't documented (think of it as Autodesk's version of "where's waldo"). Send it up and I'll try it out - if it works, we'll post it right here, and you get all the credit...

Have a great weekend - David B.

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