Behind the Scenes In AutoCAD MEP

In this month’s AutoCAD® MEP focus article, we’ll look at some lesser-known or under-utilized tools in the program. Hopefully, these few tips and tricks can help you better utilize MEP and make you more productive.

First we’ll start with something simple but extremely useful that can benefit users at any level. This is customizing the CUI, or Customize User Interface, file to maximize our effectiveness and time management while drafting.

Start this process by inputting ‘CUI’ in the command line which will open the CUI dialog box (Figure 1). All the different options and menus can be a little overwhelming, but it really isn’t that complicated.

Figure 1

The first thing to do is to ‘save as’ the current CUI file as your own. That way you can always go back to the stock CUI file that comes with AutoCAD in case something gets messed up down the road.

There are many options within the CUI interface, but we’ll look at adding custom commands that can help on a daily basis. We’ll build a custom command that zoom extents, purges the drawing, and does a save. This is something that I use every day in coordination efforts with other contractors who don’t need/want miscellaneous xrefs and layers I may use. We can easily build this command and add a button to the ribbon using our CUI file.

After saving the CUI file as your own, hit the Create New Command button (Figure 2). On the right side of the CUI editor is a properties dialog box to fill out with the information involved with the command making (Figure 3). We’ll input the actual command in the line labeled Macro. This is where we can enter the same commands that we use in the command line. There are a couple special characters we’ll use in the Macro input box:

- ^C – Escape Key
- ;     – Enter Key
- \     – Pause for User Input

For the sample command we’re building, the input will look like this:

– ^C^C_zoomextents;purge;qsave;

The double ‘^C’ at the beginning ensures we exit any possible command we’re in at the time.

Figure 2

Figure 3

Now we’ll make an actual image to use as our new button. I’m going to use the ‘Save’ button image as a place to start, then add my own text on top to differentiate it from the standard button, in this case ‘BIM’ so I know it is my own button (see Figure 4).

Figure 4

The last thing to do is add this button to the ribbon, menu, or toolbar. Do this by dragging and dropping the button wherever you want it.

Now that was a fairly easy but very useful customization that will help us on a daily basis.

Console Mode

I’m sure that most users of AutoCAD MEP use blocks in their drawings. I’m also sure there are plenty of people using LISP commands for any number of actions within AutoCAD. Sometimes we want to make changes but don’t really need the actual graphical interface opened. AutoCAD has a tool for this called “Console Mode”

Figure 5

Console Mode is a command line interface with AutoCAD that is a fast, simplified version without the graphical window. What is so great about this mode is it loads drawings extremely fast and can still use most commands. It also allows someone who normally isn’t capable of opening certain drawings to work on them.

We can purge the drawing, changes layers, insert blocks, and software developers can run workflows. This can also enable us to easily run script commands and automated operations such as LISP commands.

Custom Sizes

Now let’s look at something that we can do with the catalog editor that can help us in everyday drafting.

Sometimes we have a unique need for a certain size conduit/pipe/duct/cable tray or any number of items within our MEP catalogs. Here’s how to add additional custom sizes we may need.

For example, I am going to add sizes to the plastic conduit in the US Imperial catalog. By default the conduit only goes up to 2”. Let’s step through this process and you’ll see how simple it is.

Start by opening the Content Editor from the Manage tab in the toolbar. Once Content Editor is open, we will use the Open command to open the appropriate catalog we need to edit. In this case it will be the Conduit (US Imperial). By default, all catalogs are located at the following path: C:\ProgramData\Autodesk\MEP 2012\enu\MEPContent\USI\. For this case we will choose Conduit folder and then Conduit (US Imperial) .apc file.

With the catalog open, we can begin to edit the desired part system. We will start with the Plastic-> Glued->Conduit Plastic Glued. This gets us to the tables we need to edit (Figure 6). Start by left clicking on the last part size in the table, then going up to the menu bar and under edit->insert->row (Figure 7). Now we have inserted a row on which we can add our own size of conduit.

Figure 6

Figure 7

We’ll take the next step up and add 2 ½” plastic conduit. The first column has the overall diameter of the conduit [D1] and the second column has the inside diameter of the conduit [ND1]. We’ll add the 2 ½” to the [ND1] column and 2.9 to the [D1] column (Figure 8). This completes the process for the straight piece of conduit.

Figure 8

Now we need to repeat the process for any other parts that we may use for the plastic glued conduit.  The process will be the same. There may be more parameters to enter, such as  radius or other lengths, but it’s very straightforward.

There are a couple more steps to getting MEP to recognize that we’ve added this new size to our part catalog. First we have to run the command CATALOGREGEN.

The purpose of this command is pretty self explanatory.

Second we have to update the PVC/Plastic Routing Preference. We do this is because by default it only includes up to 2” conduit shown in the drop-down menu for conduit sizes. To update our Routing preferences, go to the Manage tab->Style Manager drop-down->Conduit Routing Preferences (Figure 9). With that menu open, update the sizes available by selecting “NONE” under transition type (Figure 10). Now press Apply and close the Routing Preferences window. We’re almost done! The only thing left to do is SAVE the drawing that we’ve been in while doing all this editing, close it, then reopen the same drawing and voila—we now have the ability to add the custom-sized part to our drawing. Not too bad at all.

Figure 9

Figure 10

Protect the Standard

I’d like to touch on a couple things that I’m sure most of us deal with within our companies from time to time: company and drawings standards. For better or worse, every CAD detailer has his/her own way of drawing, maintaining drawings, setting up the user interface, and so on. Sometimes this can cause a big headache for companies that are trying to maintain some sort of company standard.

AutoCAD actually has a tool that can help a CAD manager maintain order—the Enterprise CUIx File. This tool allows the CAD manager to make the CUIx file read-only on all user machines in the company.

The process is very simple. The CAD Manager creates the CUIx file they want the company to use and saves it to a shared network location. To ensure that no one can modify the file, the folder should be shared as Read-Only. Then each CAD machine will need to have the new CUIx file imported. This can be done on each machine individually or by using the Deployment wizard. And that is it—every machine will have the same look and feel and tools available.

I hope that these tools in AutoCAD MEP can help you on a day-to-day basis. Each year, AutoCAD grows more and more, giving us tools that help us work smarter and faster. Sometimes we just need a little guidance to find these tools and a bit of advice to be able to use them to our advantage. 

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