Though AutoCad is the de facto standard in the construction industry, it’s not the best solution for every office or even for every seat in an Autocad-enabled office.
Other good choices (beyond Autocad lt, which we mentioned in our last column, November 1998, pg. 38) offer competent cad capabilities without the heft of Autocad.
Here are two relatively inexpensive Windows-based cad programs that read and write industry standard Autocad .dwg (drawing) and .dxf files (native file formats) without translation. Both also accept existing Autocad block libraries.
Either one could work well as the only cad program in your office or as a way to leverage, at minimal investment in time and money, an existing Autocad environment.
Not only can Intellicad 98 (Visio Corp., $349, 800/24-visio, www.visio. com/intellicad/) read the native Autocad file formats directly (from Autocad 14 all the way back to v.2.5) without file conversion and with no data loss, but it’s also compatible with many Autocad commands and tools. The program supports about 90% of Autocad commands, according to the developer.
Each draftsman can tailor the user interface (with context-sensitive pop-up menus and right click menus) to match his own cad skill level, optimizing efficiency for novices, intermediates and experts alike.
The program, which can handle 2D and 3D drawings, has the time-saving Multiple Document Interface, which allows users to open and edit multiple drawings simultaneously.
You can work on a virtually unlimited number of layers, each selectable as visible or invisible, and you can lock individual layers to ensure data isn’t inadvertently altered.
The integrated Drawing Explorer (similar in concept to the Windows Explorer) organizes drawings into accessible layers, line types, blocks, views, co-ordinates and text styles for editing and copying from drawing to drawing, making it very easy to set up new designs or make existing drawings conform.
More than 7,000 blocks reside in Intellicad’s architectural, mechanical and electrical libraries, including 700 to 800 symbols specific to plumbing and hvac, such as hydraulics, pneumatics, pipe fittings, plant process and hvac elements.
You can customize Intellicad 98 even more for hvac and plumbing with the third-party add-on, FlowTools with Intelligent Symbols v.2.5 ($99, Code Zebra, 800/356-2113, www.codezebra.com). The FlowTools package enables users to create flowcharts, schematics and other drawings by picking and placing symbols that automatically connect and stay connected when moved, rotated or scaled.
FlowTools features more than 7,000 symbols in mechanical, architectural and electrical libraries that conform to aia, ansi and other applicable standards. You can also use your own symbols.
An automated table generator module is available (for an extra $50) that creates bills of material or other customized tables or lists.
Vdraft 2.0 ($495, SoftSource, Bellingham Wash., 800/877-1875, www.Vdraft.com), reads and writes .dwg and .dxf files without translation from Release 14 back through to Release 2.5. Like Intellicad, the program supports mdi.
Sporting a user-friendly interface, the primarily 2D software uses the same terminology as Autocad as well as Autocad keyboard commands.
In fact, in some cases Vdraft follows more direct paths to perform the same types of tasks. The program has dialog boxes, for example, for many of Autocad’s change commands, reducing the number of steps.
Depending upon which command you are in, clicking on the right mouse button brings up a context-sensitive pop-up menu. The menu anticipates which commands you may need next and presents them as menu choices, with appropriate options and commands, such as rotate, move and properties.
This object-oriented feature can save time when you want to begin, repeat or end a command. You can also use this capability to enter data, undo, redo or cancel a command manually.
A fast zoom feature keeps the zooming and panning at a peppy pace. Users can also enhance speed during drawing by using Vdraft’s special “lick” tool to choose menu items. Once you’ve learned where the spatial positions of the menu would be on-screen, you can just click in the appropriate direction without calling for the pop-up menu.
Unlike Intellicad, but like Autocad R14, Vdraft is Internet-enabled, which is an attractive feature. A click on a link in a drawing connects you instantly through your browser to the Web. You can export any drawing directly as e-mail. You also can select hyperlinks embedded in drawing files either to load other drawing files or link to other Web documents.
Symbols and blocks for hvac/ plumbing as well as architectural and electrical (more than 1,000) are available on the Vdraft Web site for licensed users.
If you want a test drive, a fully functional 30-day trial version is downloadable at the Vdraft Web site or can be ordered from the 800 phone number.