Autodesk: Collaboration in the Cloud

If you are an AUGI member, I would hope that you are already using Autodesk products, but have you seen some of the new cloud/collaboration enhancements Autodesk has provided recently? Autodesk is transitioning quickly into the cloud to make collaboration with your team, clients, and contractors quick, easy, and productive.

One of the more obvious changes is on the AutoCAD Quick Access Toolbar. In the recent AutoCAD® 2019 release, there are two new icons: Open from Web & Mobile and Save to Web & Mobile. When either of these is used for the first time, you will need to install a small download to enable them. That’s a one-off install, and then (provided you are logged in to your Autodesk account through AutoCAD), you can save to AutoCAD Web and the AutoCAD mobile app to your heart’s content. Basically, you are saving to the cloud in your A360 Drive, which is linked to your Autodesk account (sometimes known as your Autodesk ID). You can access the saved drawings in AutoCAD Web and the AutoCAD mobile app with your Autodesk account on any device: laptop, tablet, or phone. This is where the collaboration workflow starts.

Figure 1: The new “Open from Web & Mobile” and “Save to Web & Mobile” icons in AutoCAD 2019

You may already be an active user of your A360 Drive or perhaps A360 Team on your AutoCAD projects. It is cloud-based storage in the same vein as Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, or Microsoft’s OneDrive. In fact, it is tied into your Autodesk account and can be used anytime in AutoCAD, providing you have signed in. It acts as another method of storage, which is great for larger drawings and/or projects, but more importantly, it gives you the control to provide access to your designs by letting you email an invitation to any interested parties who can then access your designs as well. You can provide comments on those designs in a fashion similar to the old Internet Messenger. Collaboration can be controlled with private or public access to your drawings, so any drawings that might be sensitive can be seen only by designated members of the team.

If you don’t want to provide access to any cloud-based data, you can also use the new Shared Views function in AutoCAD 2019. This provides a browser-based version of any view from a drawing, shared by way of a hyperlink, valid for 30 days. It can be viewed via the Autodesk Viewer, again, accessible by way of an Autodesk account.

The Autodesk Viewer provides access to any standard views and named views, layers, and properties of any view in any drawing, but does not allow editing, nor does it require any deep and meaningful AutoCAD knowledge. It is ideal for collaboration with non-CAD users who simply need to see a view of a design. Collaboration is done via the comment workflow mentioned earlier. Comments are stored with the shared view and can be accessed at any time, thus enabling easier collaboration, purely via the user’s proprietary browser (Google Chrome seems to work best, just so you know). The 30-day expiry period can also be extended if the need arises.

Figure 2: The Autodesk Viewer showing a shared view with the expiration period highlighted

In March 2018, there was the usual Autodesk annual version update to the 2019 range of products. With this came the new One AutoCAD subscription, which provides the original AutoCAD (2019) plus all the other flavors of AutoCAD, known as “toolsets.”

One of the new additions in this subscription package is AutoCAD Web. AutoCAD Web has been built from the ground up to give the user a completely new browser-based version of AutoCAD. It replaces the older browser-based versions AutoCAD WS and AutoCAD 360, and is being developed to be updated regularly with new features and functionality. This means that collaboration is even easier. AutoCAD Web can go on the road with you. Whilst it is not the equivalent of the desktop AutoCAD, it still allows you to work on your designs and drawings in a browser and offers an “offline” mode should it be needed.

Figure 3: AutoCAD Web with a drawing loaded, using the Google Chrome browser

As you can see in the AutoCAD Web interface (bottom left of Figure 3), many of the familiar commands are in there, and the AutoCAD Web development team intends to add more as the product matures and becomes a more well-rounded application.

So, how does all of this assist YOU, the user, in collaborating your designs to your team and clients? Well, all the aforementioned applications give you a workflow that allows you to not only collaborate, but also to mobilize your AutoCAD desktop and take it on the road with you.

Here’s a scenario for you. You’re working on a building refurbishment and need to go on-site to check the existing building details. In the old days (showing my age now), you would have taken a survey pad, a pencil, and a camera. Nowadays, you can sit at your desk, log in to your A360 Drive and upload the existing building DWG files, ready to take with you. You head to site, with your tablet and perhaps your phone. There’s a good mobile Internet signal on the site, so you can log in to the AutoCAD mobile app or even AutoCAD Web.

The major benefits for collaboration when using the Autodesk cloud apps are connectivity between the applications, plus the ability to link technology to your designs. The zoomed view of the drawing can be linked to comments via the viewer in A360 Drive or the Autodesk Viewer—perfect for snagging an as-built or assessing an area to be refurbished or demolished. These comments can then be shared with the project team by inviting team members to view the drawing and adding their own comments, thus progressing the design by way of collaboration in real time whilst on-site.

In Figure 4, you are checking that the refurbished bathroom meets the local authority’s regulations and you can load this up on your tablet to check. Comments can then be made to the team, as you collaborate with them to get the design finalized.

Figure 4: A zoomed view of a drawing in the Viewer in A360 Drive with comments added

Another great feature in the cloud-based applications is versioning. Your A360 Drive account will monitor changes to the stored files and let you know which version of the drawing is the most current. You will notice at the top of the comments panel in Figure 4 that there is one comment in that version of the drawing. Versioning in the cloud can then be tied in to revisions of your design when they are formally issued, either internally or externally. Plus, any comments dialog will be connected to each version of the uploaded A360 Drive files.

Figure 5 shows you a drawing open on an iPhone 8 Plus in the AutoCAD mobile app. (A Plus model of a phone gives you a lot more screen real estate in the app, by the way. Consider that on your next phone upgrade.)

Figure 5: A typical AutoCAD drawing open in the AutoCAD mobile app with redlined revision clouds and comments

You can see that comment #3 is telling me that I put a comment on the drawing via my phone to check the column set out (note my name at the top of the comment). I am putting that comment there whilst I am mobile, on-site. No paper drawings required. No holding down large sheets of paper on the hood of your car with whatever you can find on-site, right? Plus, your comments automatically sync with the cloud-based drawing after a browser refresh. THIS is the benefit of mobile collaboration. Figure 6 shows you the same redlines and comments after a browser refresh in the A360 Drive viewer.

Figure 6: The same drawing open in the A360 Drive Viewer with redlined revisions and comments shown, as well as the versioning number

The versioning number is always shown in the viewer (at the top of Figure 6, shown by the red arrow) along with any associated comments as described above. If you click on the drop-down arrow next to the version number, you can go back to each version of the drawing that has been saved in the cloud, thus creating an audit trail of what revisions and comments have been made. A great way to sanity check if everything has been completed by way of design editing. You can select any version in the viewer to go back and refresh your memory on what has been done at any time, in real time.

Figure 7: The versioning drop-down in A360 Drive that shows the versions of the uploaded drawing file in the cloud

The benefits of this connectivity for mobile collaboration are huge. You’re out on-site with just your phone, sending comments back to the office in real time. These comments can be acted on immediately, saving many hours of traipsing back to the office with redlined drawings that then must be drafted up. That kind of repetitive, time-intensive activity just isn’t needed anymore. Plus, you have a phone. Any detailed conversations that are needed can be done over the phone to discuss the finer points in more detail. Yes, it IS still a phone you can have conversations on, right?

As I mentioned previously, there are considerable benefits to be had from mobile collaboration, and Autodesk provides you with all the AutoCAD collaboration tools you need.

1.  AutoCAD (more specifically the One AutoCAD subscription)

The traditional desktop AutoCAD application, when used via the One AutoCAD subscription, gives you the latest version—AutoCAD 2019. This version of AutoCAD is fully connectable to your A360 Drive by signing in to your Autodesk Account in the application. It provides you with direct saving and opening of files to and from the cloud via the Quick Access Toolbar, thus making your drawings available for mobile collaboration.

2.  AutoCAD Web

AutoCAD Web is available as part of the subscription. It is a completely browser-based version of AutoCAD built from the ground up. It gives users the ability to work with a cut-down version of AutoCAD with none of the installation file baggage. It is perfect for your team members who do not need to work intensively in AutoCAD but might need to add small edits and comments to project designs when on-site. Team members can also act on comments made via the AutoCAD mobile app immediately as they will show up in the latest version of a cloud-based drawing as soon as the comments are made and the drawing is refreshed.

3.  AutoCAD mobile app

The AutoCAD mobile app quite literally takes the traditional AutoCAD desktop mobile. Drawings can be opened on a mobile device (a phone or a tablet); redline revisions and comments can be made, along with simple editing. Since the drawing is cloud-based, it is completely collaborative and can be worked on by various team members simultaneously, and as mentioned, it takes your desktop mobile, allowing you to work on the road or on-site.

4.  A360 Drive

A360 Drive is your cloud silo for all your collaborative designs and drawings. Activated by your Autodesk Account, it can be used to not only store drawings, but also ALL your project documents—and all are viewable in the A360 Viewer. It provides folder and sub-folder functionality, plus versioning and the ability to add version-specific comments to any file stored there.

5.  Autodesk Viewer (combined with Shared Views in AutoCAD 2019)

The AutoCAD 2019 desktop application allows you to share views from your designs via the Shared Views command on the Collaborate ribbon tab. These shared views can be opened in the Autodesk Viewer in any browser, providing you have an Autodesk Account. Each shared view has its own hyperlink that is valid for 30 days. This is a superb resource to get views from your drawings and designs out there immediately for comment to the project team. The viewer is browser-based so there is no installation needed and the interface is quick and easy to use for non-AutoCAD users, thus making collaboration via the cloud quick and easy.

Cloud-based collaboration is becoming the norm. Technology has reached a point where the cloud is easily accessible from mobile devices and the desktop, and the mobile Internet provides the conduit between the desktop, devices, and the files stored there. Autodesk has realised this and is providing and developing tools all the time to make that collaboration easier. I have just touched the surface by showing you what can be done with AutoCAD and other AutoCAD associated cloud-based applications.

There are amazing leaps forward for products that work with Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Revit®. The BIM 360 suite of products gives users cloud-based worksharing and coordination of projects, along with visualization and quality management tools, even down to safety and issue management. These tools provide an entire project-based toolbox with which Revit projects can be handled and managed effectively.

On the 3D design side of things, you even have the entry-level Tinkercad now talking to the cloud-based 3D modeling tool, Fusion 360. Again, designs can be stored in the cloud and used for 3D printing. Models can be added to the appropriate A360 Drive silo and still be viewed and commented on.

Slowly but surely, the advance of cloud-based collaboration will continue. The benefits of this are yet to be seen in full, but they are huge. And with Autodesk software, you can use the cloud-based tools provided to make anything, to use a well-known Autodesk phrase.

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