New and Varied Ways to Collaborate

October 2nd, 2012

Collaborating with others on a CAD-related project means different things to different people.  There are many aspects, many needs, and many methods that could be used to collaborate.  Add to that the knowledge and experience of others (or lack thereof) and you can have real nightmare on your hands.

In recent years collaboration meant emailing your work to clients, vendors, and designers.  They added to it and emailed it back.  Or perhaps they used your work as a reference in their work and emailed that back to you.  Either way, each party involved had to manage his own files and those of the other parties.  Twice the work, but only half the fun.  What if there was a way in which you could share your file with other users without giving them your file?  Interested? Good.

Collaboration in AutoCAD 2013 through DWF

AutoCAD® 2013 has several built-in collaboration tools.  Some have been around for some time while others have been newly integrated into the program.  One way to share your files is by providing a DWF or DWFx file.  This gives others access to your line work in a secure format.  They can’t change the linework, but they can easily reference it, snap to it, print it, and even manage the drawings layers.  This isn’t new.  The ability to create and reference DWF files has been around for a while now, yet the concept is foreign to many users.  You may find that outside parties request PDF files to reference. Why use PDF when Design Web Format (DWF) is made by Autodesk for the purpose of CAD data exchange?  It works very well with and in AutoCAD. 

Once a DWF file is created, it can be emailed, printed, xrefed, redlined, or archived.  How do you collaborate with a DWF file?  A DWF file contains your CAD file’s linework in an uneditable format, yet the recipient can access the linework and use it.  Users can reference a DWF in their AutoCAD files.  The linework can be snapped to, traced, and the layers can even be turned off.  As long as the drawing’s creator used good layer management (or at least good enough), then turning off unwanted linework won’t be an issue.  This also keeps your DWG files safe because they are never sent out. 

Figure 1: You can manage a referenced DWF file's layers. Select the DWF and a Contextual ribbon tab will appear.

Autodesk’s Design Review is a free program that can open DWF and DWFx files.  It can open DWG files, but it will create a DWF copy of it.  This process isn’t always ideal as Design Review has to interpret how the drawing should look.  The best way to create a DWF is to do it inside of AutoCAD.  Trueview can print to DWF just as AutoCAD can.  You will get better DWF results in DWF creation if you use AutoCAD or Trueview to print to DWF.  Open your DWG file in either AutoCAD or Trueview and print.  Use the DWF6ePlot.pc3 file for your Printer/Plotter device.  Your DWG file will be “plotted” to DWF format.  If you want the ability to turn off or on layers in a referenced DWF file, make sure to open the PC3 file and turn on the Include Layer Information setting.  Click the Properties button in the plot manager next to the device name.  Browse to the Custom Properties option.  Click it.  Then check the Include Layer Info button. 

Figure 2: Make sure to turn on the "Include Layer Information" feature before printing to a DWF to make sure you can utilize this feature.

Once you have created a DWF file and sent it to the appropriate people, they can review it.  Traditionally, drawings have been printed out and redlined, hopefully with a red pen or marker. (Can you call a drawing that has been marked up with blue pen a redline?)  Once the drawings have been reviewed and marked, they are mailed back to you or your collaborator can scan the drawing and email it to you.  This method works. 

With DWF files and AutoCAD, however, you can take your collaboration a step further.  Create the DWF, email it or upload it via Dropbox, FTP, Buzzsaw, or Autodesk 360 it (we will talk more about Autodesk 360 later.)  The goal is to get the electronic file to recipients in a way that is fast and easy.  Once they have it, they can open the DWF inside Design Review.  There, they can help to deplete the rain forests by printing out the files or they can simply review the files onscreen using Design Review. 

Design Review allows users to redline the drawings electronically.  What are the benefits?  Have you ever had trouble reading a redliner’s handwriting?  Trust me when I say that reading typed text is easier than reading sloppy “doctor like” chicken scratch handwriting.  If a long note is in the redline, there is no need to retype it.  Open the marked-up DWF, copy the text, and then paste it into AutoCAD. 

AutoCAD also has a Mark Up Manager with which users can import the marked-up DWF file directly into their DWG file.  Open the Mark Up Manager in AutoCAD and browse to the DWF file.  This will open not only the redline DWF, but also the appropriate DWG file.  Two steps in one.  This allows easy collaboration between reviewer and drafter.  It reduces confusion while communicating with drawings and creates an archive of what was done in the design process.

Autodesk also has a mobile version of Design Review for iOS and Android.  It has most of the features that are found in the desktop version of Design Review.  It can open DWF and DWFx files and mark them up.  This makes for great collaboration at meetings or in the field.  Users can take their drawings with them. It is very easy to pass around a tablet at a conference table and even easier to pass along a tablet while on the job site.  While there, everyone can see and markup the drawings.  When finished, send the marked-up DWF to everyone there.  When they get back to the office it is ready and waiting.

Autodesk 360 - Collaboration through the Cloud

Autodesk 360 is Autodesk’s free, cloud-based service.  The crux of it is an online storage facility, but it is much more than that.  It is a drawing viewer and can be used for collaboration and sharing.  Anyone can set up a free Autodesk 360 account.  In your favorite browser, go to http://360.autodesk.com.  Set up a user name and a password or use your Autodesk login.  If you have used AutoCAD WS, you can use that account. 

Autodesk 360’s main purpose is online storage of files.  Every account gets 3GB of free storage space.  If you have an Autodesk Subscription license you are eligible for more space.  You can upload files through the browser interface, through the AutoCAD WS website (http://autocadws.com), through the Autodesk 360-enabled mobile apps, or directly from AutoCAD. 

AutoCAD 2013 has built-in AutoCAD 360 integration, which means that it is built in to the natural functionality of AutoCAD 2013. No need for an add-on or update. It comes with AutoCAD out of the box (or out of the download, these days).  After you start AutoCAD you can sign in to your Autodesk 360 account.  You can even set it up so that AutoCAD automatically logs you into your account when you start AutoCAD. 

AutoCAD 2010 and AutoCAD 2011 both have add-ons that you can download via the download page on the AutoCAD WS website.  Gaining this functionality through add-ons won’t give you full Autodesk 360 integration, however.  These add-ons were designed to have AutoCAD work with AutoCAD WS.  They are similar to the integration in AutoCAD 2013 because AutoCAD WS uses the same storage services that are provided by Autodesk 360.

Why store your CAD files in the cloud?  One reason is that it allows for easy access anywhere, regardless of your location (as long as you have an Internet connection, of course.)  Autodesk 360 offers more than just a place to put your files.  It also has a history function.  It keeps track of who uploaded the file and when, and who edited the file and when. 

Because it keeps track of these details, you can download and access a drawing’s history.  If your client asks when the drawing was changed, you can go to Autodesk 360 and find out.  This is where the collaboration tools in Autodesk 360 come into play.  Autodesk 360 allows you to share your uploaded files.  Log in, access the file details, and grant access to other users.  There are two ways to share a file via Autodesk 360.  One way is to specify who can access the file.  The other is to make the file public.

Sharing with a specific user is simple enough, and yet there are several different access levels that allow you to fully control how the file can be used.  There are four access level settings.

  • View
  • View and Download
  • View, Download, and Update
  • Full Access

The View setting allows users to view the file online and see document history.  Autodesk 360 has an online viewer where users can look at the files.  At the view access level, users can only see files.  At the View and Download access level, users can view the files online, download the files, and see document activity.  The View, Download, and Update level allows for online viewing, file downloads, viewing document activity, and online editing.  This means that users can edit the files online via Autodesk 360 without any other special software.  Full Access grants all of these rights plus the ability for users to share the file themselves.  Use this setting only if you don’t care who has your file.  The only setting missing that I would like to see is a view and online edit setting.  There may be many times where I would want others to see the file and edit online, but I don’t want them to actually have a copy of the file. 

When you make a file public, it can be accessed by anyone.  There is also the option to embed the file into your website.  Careful though—when a file is publicly shared, it grants full rights to the file.

Figure 3: Autodesk 360 has many settings available that determine how your file is accessed by others.

Mobile Apps

I’ve mentioned some mobile apps from Autodesk. Autodesk 360 works with many of them.  AutoCAD WS access files from Autodesk 360, as well as via emails and other file storage services.  The mobile version of Design Review (as of this writing) can only access files that are in Autodesk 360.  ForceEffect and ForceEffect Motion both access saved files in your Autodesk 360 account.  You can upload files and access them in the cloud from mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, wherever you are.

Collaborating

There are many tools built into AutoCAD that can make collaborating with others easier than more traditional methods.  Take advantage of using DWF files and the free tools available that allow you to share, review, markup, and communicate your design needs.  Autodesk 360 is another great free tool that can help you share, track, and manage your files.  If you are on Autodesk Subscription, Autodesk 360 gives you more storage space.  Let’s face it, 3GB can get filled up very quickly.  Subscription also gives you access to other cloud-based tools such as rendering services (some rendering services are available through the free service as well), design optimization tools, energy analysis, structural analysis, and BIM tools. 

Over the last year or so, Autodesk has added many online, cloud-based, and mobile tools to its arsenal of design software and services.  DWF files were one of the first attempts to share files via the Internet.  Since then Autodesk has kept the online ball rolling and moved into the mobile market.  Autodesk 360 is the culmination of those endeavors.  Look for Autodesk 360 to continue to grow and gain more tools and functionality.  Autodesk is currently working on a mobile version of Autodesk 360.  You can go to the 360 website to sign up for an alert of its availability.  By the time this article is released, it may even be ready for us to use.  Keep your eye on Autodesk’s mobile- and cloud-based programs and services.  Many of them will help you in your endeavor to collaborate with others.

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About the Authors

Brian Benton

Brian Benton

Brian Benton is an Engineering Technician, CAD Service Provider, technical writer and blogger. He has over 18 years of experience in various design fields (Mechanical, Structural, Civil, Survey, Marine, Environmental) and is well versed in many design software packages (CAD, GIS, Graphics). He has been Cadalyst Magazine’s Tip Patroller, AUGI HotNews Production Manager, and is an Infinite Skills AutoCAD training video author and contributing author of the book Mastering AutoCAD.

 

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