Pain-Free Implementation in AutoCAD MEP

July 25th, 2012

With the release of AutoCAD® MEP 2013, you may be considering an upgrade. First, you look at the new features available compared to your existing release. That is, deciding whether to upgrade might depend on where you are currently. For example, if you are using AutoCAD MEP 2012 now, this upgrade might not be worth it at this time. But if you’re on AutoCAD 2007, 2009, or even 2010, then 2013 would be a valuable upgrade.

So upgrading can be a very exciting proposition, but it can be a daunting task. Depending on what version of AutoCAD you are currently using, there are a lot of questions. How will my files transfer over? Can my custom CUI file easily load into the new version? If you have CAD standards, how easily will those tools, plot styles, pen styles, layer states, etc. transfer over? These are all appropriate concerns and, fortunately, there are answers to all your questions.

The first thing to establish is what level of AutoCAD® your company may need. It could be AutoCAD LT, AutoCAD MEP, or any of the other trade-specific offerings from Autodesk. With the growing demand for 3D modeling and BIM coordination in the construction industry, a more fully-featured suite is probably the most suitable solution.

Price always plays a role when purchasing new software, so that will be another thing to consider. AutoCAD® LT comes in at $1,200, with AutoCAD MEP in the middle at $4,995 and AutoCAD® Plant Design Suite Premium at $9,500. (These are all retail prices per license, according to Autodesk.com.)

This leads right into the next question you should ask yourself: How many licenses will my company need? Should I purchase individual licenses for each machine or should I use Autodesk’s built-in Network License Manager (NLM) system to share licenses across our network?

This decision should be based on the number of users in your company and the specific needs of your detailers. You might have a full-time CAD department with many staffers working from their home offices. In this case, purchasing individual licenses might be your best option. On the other hand, if the need for CAD support varies from job to job, you might have the ability to share a couple licenses amongst a larger group of users. A network license system might also allow you to purchase a more expensive program to share between multiple users instead of getting a less expensive program with a reduced feature set. 

When purchasing individual licenses, the installation process is simple: Insert the supplied DVD and follow the prompts. Once installation is complete you can begin to customize and migrate settings, standards, styles, and so on from your old program. We’ll look into this process in more detail later.
When sharing licenses across a company-wide network, it’s a little trickier, but nothing too difficult. First, you must decide how you want to store your licenses: all on one server, split up amongst multiple servers, or multiple servers with the same licenses on each server for redundancy. 

You will then need to obtain a network license file from Autodesk and configure your server(s). Both these processes are thoroughly explained on the Autodesk website, which has very helpful step-by-step descriptions on how to do both. Once you have your network license(s) and have you server(s) configured, you can install NLM on each machine.

This process is also explained in detail on Autodesk’s website.

Now that AutoCAD is up and running on your machines , your users will want their specific settings, CUI files, plot styles, pen styles, and layer states transferred to their brand new, up-to-date program. Autodesk has a solution for this also: the ‘migration’ tool. This tool allows you to migrate almost anything you need into the new version of AutoCAD MEP you’ve just installed, including customized menus, files, commands, layer states, and even script routines. One benefit of doing this is that you can bring a sense of familiarity to the new program while still having access to the new features the program offers.

If your company has established CAD plot standards, now is the time to add those plot styles and pen styles. This is easily done using by opening the Print submenu in the main AutoCAD toolbar. In that submenu there is an option to “Manage Plot Styles.” Selecting that button will open an Explorer window that will allow you to add any existing pen styles/plot styles.

If your company has not established standards, now would be a great time to begin. You could begin with layer names, layer colors, plot styles, pen styles, and title blocks. The possibilities are almost endless. One example is writing a command in CAD to automatically add cross-references to a specific layer. If that layer does not exist yet, you can build a command to make the layer and specify the properties of that layer. There are many very powerful tools built into AutoCAD that you can utilize to help your company standardize drawings across the company.

Another great feature of AutoCAD MEP is the tool catalogs. These are electronic libraries of standard parts, pieces, components, and equipment that are commonly used in today’s mechanical and electrical industries.

What is so great about this library is that you can edit it at any time and share that updated/modified library with all your users.

For example, if you’re a pneumatic tube contractor, you may only need 6 ft. radius bends in your pipe runs. The standard bend radius is normally calculated using a formula multiplying the outside diameter of the pipe by a constant value. But this can be changed to fit your specific needs and you can update the library to only use a 6 ft radius bend in all pipe.

Again, you can reference AutoCAD’s Help command or refer to the Autodesk website for a how-to guide. Once you’ve updated your library, you can share that library file with other users and they can update their AutoCAD to reference that library. Again, this is just another example of how AutoCAD can make work easier and more efficient for your users.

Another valid concern when updating a piece of software is, “Will my existing files be compatible with the new version?” Fortunately, AutoCAD 2013 is backward-compatible with all old versions of AutoCAD drawing files. However, Autodesk has updated the drawing format for AutoCAD 2013 and this new drawing format can cause issues with old versions of AutoCAD.

There are a couple of options to consider when faced with this issue. The first (and easiest) option would be to update every version of AutoCAD on your network to the most current and up-to-date version. This may not be possible in all cases, so AutoCAD does give you the option of saving to quite a few different drawing formats.

The most common of these would be AutoCAD 2010, 2007, or 2004 drawing formats. The main issue in using an earlier version of AutoCAD’s .DWG format will be the loss of information contained in the drawing. You will need to establish your company’s needs as they pertain to the ‘save formatting’ of the drawings. In some instances, an earlier version might allow you to keep older versions of AutoCAD installed and functioning. The flip side of this argument would be that every computer needs to have the most recent and up to date version of the program. In that case, you can easily set it to save in 2013 file format.

The last idea I’d like you to consider is the ability to attached detailed information to objects in your drawings. As BIM becomes more prevalent in the AEC industry and with 3, 4, and 5D modeling growing, you’re going to need to be able to stay competitive in a tight market. We’re talking about the ability to attach product data, submittal information, and/or manufacturer’s specifications to an object within AutoCAD. Imagine how convenient and easy it would be for the user/owner to review a BIM model using Navisworks and be able to select an object and all the information about that object instantly shows up on their screen from the intelligence embedded in your AutoCAD MEP objects. We’re at this point and the demand for that level of detail is only going to increase.

We have highlighted quite a few ways to implement new and existing versions of AutoCAD MEP in your workplace. Each of these ideas can be taken into much more detail. You can get details on Autodesk’s website or the Help resource.

We wanted to give you an idea of all the powerful tools that Autodesk has to offer. All of these things will allow your CAD users to work smarter, more efficient and quicker. If you’ve been considering an upgrade, there really is no time like the present. The 3D and information-intensive requirements of construction are growing, and having the right software to satisfy those requirements is a necessity.


Elisha Sage currently works for Walker Engineering in San Antonio, TX. He is the BIM Coordinator and CAD Engineer for Walker’s San Antonio branch. Elisha grew up in Michigan and attended Lawrence Technological University where he received his Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering. He has had almost 4 years of experience in the BIM coordination and CAD field working for electrical and low voltage contractors. He plans on utilizing his CAD and BIM skills to allow him to continue to grow with his company.

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