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Care to share?

The AJ's occasional agony uncle Joe Croser solves your IT dilemmas and outlines the benefits of data sharing

Joe replies: I understand your views, but I would argue against the idea that making your CAD data available to others is akin to doing their job for them. The benefits of data sharing are evident across a project as a whole because of improved coordination and a reduction in errors. This not only produces a better product but may help create a better team spirit on the project and better karma - the play-it-forward approach of investing now to reap rewards later.

What data can be shared?

When talking about sharing data, we must think about sharing all types of design information: CAD models, drawings, specifications, schedules and so on. Each different type of design information can be presented in more than one format and for the sake of this reply I am going to break them down into three distinct categories:

l Digital reusable format - in sharing your data so that others can reuse it when developing their own designs, you are reducing the possibility of people misreading your information during replication. If someone does not have to redraw your information then they will not redraw it incorrectly. The obvious example is CAD, where one consultant's CAD drawing can simply be incorporated, perhaps as an underlay, into the next consultant's drawing.

l Digital rendition - one of the side effects of working in CAD drawings with external reference attachments is that the owner of one drawing does not have full control over the way it looks at any one time. Because other people are modifying and adding to it, the file is in a fluid state.

While this is actually an enabling feature for reduced duplication and increased coordination and efficiency, it can be a hindrance should you need to grab a quick print from the CAD drawing.

Creating a digital rendition of all drawings (especially in PDF format) effectively freezes a snapshot in time.

This can then be used for reprints, as an archive record of released information, and for group commenting in the form of adding notes and bubbles to drawings during a review cycle.

l Paper copy - you can't ignore paper.

I have yet to come across a paperless building site, and courts of law expect you to produce 'best information'.

There is still no better information than paper in this arena - although cataloguing it digitally with renditions stored in a database would make search and retrieval of the key pieces a relatively simple task.

Protecting your interests When you share data it can be difficult to protect your interests. You can take some obvious steps to boost your comfort levels:

l Password-protect your CAD files to prevent editing by someone else and to allow only referencing;

l Never, ever supply a CAD file with your own border and logo so as to stop your files being printed by a third party without you having checked the content;

l Use PDF files for sharing drawings rather than model files. That way what is printed is what you intended to be printed;

l Finally, distribute all data with the usual '?do not measure from this? supplied as is without warranty?' disclaimer.

How compatible is compatible?

You ask which is the best application for data compatibility. If you are sharing data you are going to reuse, the native file format is an unbeatable option. However, there are more AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT seats in existence than there are of most other CAD tools put together, so DWG is the obvious choice. Although we all drive varied applications, it is very likely that we will have to convert data to a format that is readable by everybody, and that is DWG.

Adobe's much-used PDF format is an obvious choice for digital renditions. More than 500 million copies of Adobe Acrobat Reader have been downloaded free from the Adobe website (www. adobe. com), and engineering documents are set to become a major focus in the future PDF development path with the next release of the Acrobat Professional range of products.

As for paper, well I think the pros and cons are quite obvious.

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