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Autodesk Design Review

Is The Paperless Design Firm Finally Here?

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Autodesk Design Review
Image Courtesy of Autodesk

The CAD world is changing rapidly with the advent of mobile and entirely digital focused technologies. More and more we see managers working from their tablets and smart phones, while the sharing of PDF’s has become a common occurrence. We’ve even begun to work in the almighty Cloud, sharing work and design spaces among different teams, even different design firms. The changes are dramatic, exciting, and offer great time and money savings to firms that embrace them.

Why then are we still marking up drawings on giant pieces of paper, with a red pen?

What Is The Alternative?

In the AEC world, the status quo for designers to markup drawings for their CAD, or junior design, staff hasn’t changed since the middle of the last century. The process is ridiculously outdated, as well as expensive and ecologically unsound (let’s save some trees, huh?) In most firms, the plans are printed out, usually on oversized 24x36 or 30x42 sheets, and then given to the senior designer for review. The designer spends hours going through the plans with his trusty red, felt tip, pen and sketching in all the changes and notes he wants to add to the project. The sheets are given back to the drafter, who then goes through them –one at a time – usually checking off each change with a highlighter to (hopefully) ensure that nothing is missed. Now, that may not sound so bad but when you consider that in my office we regularly work projects of 100+ drawings and that each will go through this review/markup process at least a half dozen times, you can see how quickly those costs add up.

Why not have the designers make their changes directly in CAD, you ask? The reason I get most often when I’m silly enough to ask such an impertinent question is: “Well, Mr. Professional isn’t a CAD guy. His time is far too valuable to waste . . . drafting!” As condescending as I find that attitude, in the end I have to admit their answer is usually right. It’s not cost effective to have senior level staff spending their time struggling to present their changes in a CAD format. What’s the answer then? Well, have you considered digital markup software, like Design Review from Autodesk?

What Is Design Review?

© Tsmolek | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Design Review is a simple, free, yet powerful program that allows designers to open digital version of their drawings (DWF) and add notes, sketches, and callouts; pretty much anything they want through a simple interface. These markups can then be sent to the drafter, who can import them directly into their drawing, and make the appropriate changes to the plan set. More importantly, Design Review gives you the ability to have the drafter zoom to each comment you make and “check off” that it was done. When the changes are made, the drafter sends the revised file back to the designer, who then can click on each markup that’s been checked as “complete” and review them himself to make sure it’s exactly what they want. If it’s not, just repeat the above. The entire process is electronic and it can save your firm tens of thousands of dollars in printing and lost time each year.

Think I'm exaggerating? Do the math: a 24x36, black line print, on bond paper costs an average $2.00 per sheet. If you have a set of 50 drawings and you go through a markup/review process six times over the life of the project (I've never worked a job with less than a dozen rounds, but let's keep it low for argument's sake.) That's $600.00 just to print out plans to draw on. Now multiply that by how many projects you work each year and the numbers get staggering very quickly.

How Does Design Review Work?

The entire digital review process begins by printing your drawing files out as DWF files. All AutoCAD products have the ability to create DWF files. DWF’s are similar to PDF files in that they can’t be modified, they’re essentially a digital print, with the added ability to zoom in/out and do some layer controls as well as getting areas, distances and other basic CAD info. Design Review opens DWF files and allows you to zoom quickly in on the area you want to address and beginning marking it up through a series of very simple tools. For example, you can add notes and different shaped callouts (circular, rectangular, etc.) with a leader line to specific points. You can draw basic shapes like ellipses and rectangles. Design Review even has built in revision cloud functions so you can quickly define areas that your drafter needs to address. To add comments, just pick the shaped tool you want, then click a point on screen to begin placing your text. Each time you use a new tool a new “markup” is created so that both you and the drafter will have a checklist to make sure nothing is missed.

Once you’ve finished your markups, just save the DWF file and send it to your drafter. They can then open AutoCAD (or any of its verticals) and use the “Insert Markup Set” function. AutoCAD reads in your comments from the DWF and displays them in a tool palette on the side of the screen. The drafter can zoom to each place on the plan you’ve placed a comment by just clicking on it in the list. When they’ve completed your change, they can toggle the status of the markup to “complete” and plot the file back out as an updated DWF. After that, you can just open the file once more in Design Review and you have the ability to approve or reject the changes that have been made. Further, you can add additional notes and sketches as needed and repeat the entire process. Best of all, the entire process is digital so your company won’t have to spend cash for every single plot you make.

But Wait, There’s More!

© Amorphis | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

As I said at the beginning of this article, I'm amazed at how new tech is changing the face of CAD. One of the most impressive tie-ins for Design Review lies in the free app that you can download for you tablet and smart phone. In particular, I'm thrilled with the tablet app. On my iPad, I can sketch with just my finger, which I find a lot easier than struggling to draw unusual shapes with a mouse. Best of all - and I can't stress this enough - iPad has dictation ability! Typing your comments is a thing of the past. Just tap the dictation icon on the virtual keyboard and talk. You thoughts are instantly typed out as notes on the plan. Now that is what I call a time saver, particularly for management types who don't always have great typing skills.

The mobile app gives you the ability to have anyone open, review, and comment on any drawing without the need for you to maintain AutoCAD licensing for them. Instead of giving your staff expensive laptops, loaded with software, how about a simple tablet with a free app installed that will let them discuss, review, and markup files from wherever they are? Design Review lets them do just that. Imagine sitting in a meeting with your client, his attorneys, and a township planning engineer and marking their comments directly onto the drawings as you talk. When the meetings over you save the DWF back to the Cloud, send a quick message to your drafters to start making the changes, and the plans are ready for you to review again before you get back to the office.

That's technology at work!

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