Job communications moves to Internet

The Internet, as a business tool, is moving front and center in the construction industry. And fast. Using solutions ranging from Autocad 2000 to a new breed of hosted extranets, the increased pace of Internet-based information exchange among project participants is, in fact, irrevocably changing the way the HVAC and plumbing industries operate. The new manner of data dissemination features drawings

The Internet, as a business tool, is moving front and center in the construction industry. And fast.

Using solutions ranging from Autocad 2000 to a new breed of hosted extranets, the increased pace of Internet-based information exchange among project participants is, in fact, irrevocably changing the way the HVAC and plumbing industries operate.

The new manner of data dissemination features drawings emanating from directly within AutoCAD to all browser-equipped recipients (CAD-enabled or not) and all sorts of text- and graphics-based data distributed to those same recipients through dedicated software applications and specialty Web sites.

If you haven’t felt the impact yet, you won’t have to wait long.

What’s new in AutoCAD

Autocad 2000, the source of many construction drawings, is a lot more Internet-user friendly than earlier versions. The latest release has many new features that speed the process of sharing project drawings among all participants both through e-mail and over the Web. The program includes Web access directly from the application, enabling users to send drawings without exiting the program. (Three menu icons even offer one-click access to searching the Web, looking in Favorites or adding to Favorites.)

Other Internet features include the new ePlot (electronic plotting) functionality, which allows users to plot a secure, Internet-ready file format, DWF (Drawing Web Format), using the AutoCAD 2000 interface. You retain control of paper size, margins, line weights, pen override styles and other plotting attributes.

By e-mailing the drawings to others — directly from within the application — drafters have a way to instantly share drawing information in a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) fashion, without any compromise of data in its native file format.

The software also includes the ability to integrate live Autocad DWG, DXF and DWF files into Web sites. Users can select from DWG, DWF or DXF as the default file format in the “Save drawing as” dialog box. In addition, Autocad 2000 allows users to cross-reference and update files from url paths, so that their drawing and any drawing located on a remote Internet can automatically update each other.

Spreading the news

If you don’t have Autocad in your office or if those with whom you exchange drawings don’t, you still have a way to save money and effort. You or your counterparts could download Autodesk’s free plug-in, Whip! 4.0, from www.autodesk.com/whip. The application supports Autocad 2000 and grants access to DWF drawings over e-mail or a LAN (local area network), on a floppy, or over the Internet, even to those who are not CAD users.

In addition to letting you see and print drawings, recipients will also be able to pan out and zoom in on the drawing. Because Whip! works in numerous stand-alone applications as well as in a Web browser, it is possible to easily incorporate cad drawings into bid documents, contracts and other printouts.

Another free piece of software, Volo View Express, extends easy exchange of drawings over the Internet to include Autocad DWG and DXF files as well as DWF files. Available for free from www.autodesk.com/volo, this companion viewer works within Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator and provides users with pan and zoom and several other cad-like functions, including shaded 3D orbit, ability to view layers and turn them on and off and ability to restore saved views. The program also offers users lightweight sketch and text markup.