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CAD was the year that was

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architect - It was business as usual in 2004 as the ever-changing world of computer-aided design went update crazy

Hands in pockets For users of AutoCAD, this year started the same way as 2003 and 2002 before that: Autodesk killed off another release of AutoCAD, forcing users to put their hands in their pockets and upgrade. This year it was the turn of the R2000 product range. As 2005 starts, it will be the turn of the R2000i range to bite the dust when more AutoCAD users shell out to upgrade to the latest version, imaginatively named AutoCAD 2005.

Thankfully, with AutoCAD 2005 (launched in March 2004), there was no change in file format, just a raft of new features and functions to improve its look and feel. Of course, Autodesk LT and Architectural Desktop followed suit with R2005 derivations.

Testing times A new version of Cadtest was launched in September 2004, sporting new exercises and an improved set of guidance/instructions. Providing online, hands-on CAD skills assessment and feeding the results anonymously into a central database for maintaining a national CAD skills assessment benchmark, Cadtest is proving popular with many large architectural practices.

Many witnessed the hasty launch of MicroStation v8.5 in time for Bentley's annual conference. A dotrelease quickly followed, ironing out some of the bugs that slipped through the net with the initial product. The key features of v8.5 are its ability to read and write AutoCAD's 2004 file format and its ability to create Adobe's ubiquitous PDF files using Adobe's PDF libraries.

Acrobat learns new tricks Adobe continued its efforts for greater penetration of the AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) industry with the release of Acrobat 7. Adobe's PDF enables all project participants to share CAD drawings in a format where content cannot be changed but comments can be added.

Acrobat 7 is faster than its predecessor (version 6 took a week and a half to launch on screen) and contains many more engineering-oriented functions, like snapping to lines and measuring distances and areas.

Autodesk also improved its chances of market penetration for its own drawing-rendition format (DWF) by launching a windows print driver so that vector-based DWFs can be created from any CAD application.

In 2004, two of the key parametricCAD vendors launched new versions of their applications. Autodesk raised the bar in January with Revit 6, offering among other things improved coordination and quantity take-off.

And in September Graphisoft countered by launching ArchiCAD v9.

Substantial improvements in performance combined with a greatly simplified, yet enhanced, interface delivered the ability, for the first time, to dock palettes and menus on the interface, making the working area much cleaner. We are reviewing it in detail early next year.

Prize-winning geometry Because the parametric approach to three-dimensional modelling is often supported by limited geometry-creation tools, such applications can prove restrictive when you are trying to design and construct unconventionally shaped buildings. Indeed, Foster's 2004 Stirling Prize-winning 'gherkin' was designed using a conventional CAD application (MicroStation) in an unconventional way. The Foster team used a two-dimensional form of parametrics called 'dimension-driven design' to generate the geometry, enabling the kind of flexibility of design and absolute surety of fabrication and assembly that is absent in many three-dimensional parametric modelling tools.

Merging and storing I think over the next year or two we will see continued sculpting of existing CAD applications and a closing of the gap between two-dimensional drafting and three-dimensional parametric applications. I see two dimensions getting smarter, incorporating many of the extended object attributes already present in the three-dimensional parametric systems, and I see these extra goodies being passed through to the drawing renditions in PDF or DWF format for a more portable view of the design.

Looking slightly further ahead, expect to see shared-access databases making a real impact on the industry, with CAD files stored in a managed environment and smartdrawings served up to the user following a query in an immutable format like PDF or DWF. These smartdrawings will effectively be a graphical snapshot in time of the model database, retaining a true spatial awareness and including links back to the database and across to other drawings, for true coordination of mark-up.

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