Architectural Desktop 2006: More than just an upgrade

August 01, 2005 |

It has become tradition for Autodesk to announce a new version of AutoCAD and its sidekick Autodesk Architectural Desktop at its annual winter conference and then release the products the following spring. This year was no exception, as AutoCAD 2006 and ADT 2006 debuted.

This year also saw the release of a new version of Revit (BD&C April 2005, p.19), Autodesk's building information modeling software, and a program for mechanical/electrical design, called Autodesk Building Systems.

But it was ADT 2006 that caught this consultant's attention. As we'll see, the new software has gained favorable reviews from some early users.

For those not familiar with ADT, it is an AutoCAD-based application that allows you to design in 3-D using architectural objects such as walls, doors, windows, and stairs. Users simply drag and drop objects from a library of elements into the drawing. Each object is pre-programmed with the associated measurement and specification information.

Completed 3-D models can be automatically converted into traditional 2-D drawings that become the basis for architectural drawing sets, including floor and site plans, sections, and elevations.

Object-based design has been around for quite some time. However, with the advent of more powerful workstations that can handle the processing of objects, this process is now much more feasible and worth implementing.

List price for a standalone seat is $4,695; $795 for an upgrade from ADT 2005.

Here's a brief rundown of ADT 2006's most significant enhancements.:

  • A new interface replaces the traditional command line method that has been around since the first release of AutoCAD. You now have a more natural way of placing objects on models vs. the keyboard style method of entering coordinates and offsets.

  • The Project Standards feature allows you to establish, maintain, and synchronize standards across all drawings in an ADT project.

  • Custom tool palettes and content libraries can be assigned to a specific project to provide consistency across all the drawings.

  • A new editing feature allows a selected portion of a design to be isolated and edited in a plan, section, or elevation view.

  • A set of new tools streamlines the use of break marks, enabling you to create custom schedule tags and improving the link between ADT and Autodesk VIZ Render for material definition and visualization.

  • An expanded library of detail components includes virtually all steel shapes from all standards.

  • Detailed project design data created in ADT can be linked to a database such as Microsoft Access to assist with generating reports. This data can also be linked back to ADT for use in specifications and project updates.

"The standards manager has made a dramatic productivity improvement for our organization," says Tracy Matteson, CADD manager with Denver-based architect Fentress Bradburn Architects, which beta-tested and deployed ADT 2006.

"Manually updating each file every time there is a change is extremely time consuming. The standards manager alleviates all of this."

Matteson says the new interface is also helpful, especially for new or infrequent users who may not be accustomed to looking at a command line.

Another advantage of ADT 2006 is its AutoCAD foundation, offering AutoCAD users a familiar workflow and interface for transitioning from traditional 2-D drafting to an object-based approach. ADT users will also benefit from the upgrades in AutoCAD 2006, including dynamic input, overhaul of annotation, improvements in selection and zooming, and dynamic blocks.

ADT does have several shortcomings, however. The 3-D tools can be quite cumbersome. Autodesk says the product is not intended to be a 3-D rendering tool, but rather a 3-D modeling tool to generate sets of reports that will be used as drawing sets.

Also, because ADT is based on AutoCAD Object ARX, it has limited functionality as a true building information model. The company recommends its Revit program for firms that are serious about BIM.

Matteson sees ADT as a steppingstone for architects looking to get into BIM.

"The familiarity of AutoCAD—the underlying piece of ADT—is what helps us take architects to the next level with BIM," says Matteson. "We can train them in smaller chunks and get them used to working in BIM in specific, targeted ways. If we were to switch to Revit or another BIM product, I'd be afraid of losing time to training and getting the architects up to speed."

ADT 2006 will require a substantial amount of time and expertise to implement. Firms currently using AutoCAD-based 2-D drafting standards must convert their old standards in order to take advantage of the new features. Users fluent in 2-D drafting with the command line will require significant training to convert to ADT 2006. It will be a slow process, but will result in productivity benefits in the long run.

I recommend that firms consider upgrading to ADT 2006, especially those using pre-2004 releases. I would caution, however, that if you do so, you will almost surely have to replace workstations more than two years old. Those with less than 1 GB of RAM will need to be upgraded.

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