Where would we be without our third-party apps? There are close to 1,000 apps on the Autodesk App Store for AutoCAD® alone, not to mention that the most powerful feature of AutoCAD is the ability to customize it; making the possibilities virtually endless. I can remember working for companies whose LISP routines were so massive, they had their own pull-down menus and submenus. Those who were trained on these systems found that they could not draw without these routines if they were to leave and work elsewhere.
Let's talk about these apps, explore our most favorite ones, and then dissect them to see how times have changed since the days when it was just AutoLISP, including a look at advanced web environments with Forge.
There are more than 900 apps available for AutoCAD, compared to the 700 and 32 plug-ins for Revit and Navisworks, respectively. That's not surprising considering AutoCAD has been around since the 1980s (see Figure 1).
See below the most popular AutoCAD plug-ins:
- Drawing Purge – As the name implies, this app has two modes: purge the current dwg or perform a batch purge (Figures 2 and 3).
- By entering DWG-PURGE at the command line, this plug-in will delete all the unreferenced LineTypes, RegApps, and Annotation Scale. Also, a dialog box will show a list of any xrefs attached to the drawing that need to be purged.
- To purge multiple drawings without opening the files. In DWG-PURGE-BATCH you can add the drawings by selecting individual files, folder, or drag/drop. Further options allow you to purge and save to a different location and/or rename the newly saved file.
2. SketchUp Import 2016-2018 – SketchUp’s 3D library is the largest of its kind. Now you can leverage these models inside AutoCAD. The SketchUp Import plug-in allows you to import SKP files into your AutoCAD drawings. Use the IMPORTSKP command to convert a SketchUp file, stored in a local or shared folder, and insert the model into the current drawing (Figure 4).
3. Align&Distribute – AutoCAD provides a few commands (by default) capable of performing distribution and alignment functions. These commands are very complex, making the simple task of aligning and distributing multiple items time-consuming and inefficient.
- Align&Distribute ($4.99) is a plug-in for AutoCAD that provides a set of commands very similar to align and distribute commands present in other graphics software such as Photoshop and Illustrator. Through this command, you can easily and quickly align or distribute many types of objects with different shapes in the X, Y and Z axis.
- You can get “Align&Distribute TRIAL” on the App Store and test these commands before paying for this version. The single limitation in the TRIAL version is that each command affects only seven objects per selection (Figure 5).
- For more details about this tool, access http://arsenaltechno.com/en/align-and-distribute/.
4. AutoRebar – AutoRebar is an app that provides AutoCAD (and all vertical products) with an extra toolbar containing specific objects for rebar detailing of reinforced concrete structures (Figure 6). With AutoRebar, you can now easily produce high-quality drawings quickly by automating the repetitive tasks previously involved in rebar detailing. You can now focus on the conceptual part of the design rather than deal with time-consuming traditional CAD editing work.
- There are four types of dynamic objects: Rebars, Marks, Call-outs, and the BBS.
- The Rebar objects can be created and stretched like polylines and the bar size quickly edited with a double-click. Since all AutoRebar entities are graphically connected, the linked Marks and Call-outs update automatically.
- The user can add a new Mark by selecting the Rebar to be linked, and double clicking it to edit data such as the bar grouping criteria, the bar spacing, and the size of the range. Alternatively, normal AutoCAD dimensions can be linked to the Mark and used to specify the range of a bundle of bars in the concrete structure: AutoRebar calculates the total number of bars in that range. The great thing is, whenever you modify the concrete shape and stretch the dimension, the total number of bars updates immediately.
- The Bar Bending Schedule can be either inserted in the drawing or exported to Excel with a simple click. Meanwhile, the EXPLODESEL and EXPLODEALL commands explode the AutoRebar objects into standard AutoCAD entities. This can be useful to deliver your drawing to other users who want to open and edit the .dwg file without having to install AutoRebar on their computers.
5. Where is that FILE – When juggling busy work schedules and heavy workloads it is easy to forget where important files are located on your PC. “Where is that FILE” ($1.00) will, within seconds, find your file wherever it is. There’s no need to specify the search location because the app will search the entire PC (Figure 7).
Prices for these plug-ins range from $0 to $649, but even the higher priced ones are well worth their weight in gold as they can make some of the tedious tasks more efficient.
Some of our tried and true favorite apps include:
- Plex.Earth: Import Satellite Images from Google Earth and export your drawings to KML or KMZ to see them in GE (Figure 8). https://apps.autodesk.com/ACD/en/Detail/Index?id=5694471876005445115&appLang=en&os=Win32_64
- Point Cloud Feature Extraction 2015 (discontinued): CAD geometry from shape and planes in a point cloud (Figure 9). https://apps.autodesk.com/ACD/en/Detail/Index?id=8803117352142221591&appLang=en&os=Win32_64
- DWG Compare: Compares two versions of drawings showing the differences (Figure 10). https://apps.autodesk.com/ACD/en/Detail/Index?id=136068404068200943&appLang=en&os=Win32_64
These are all great if you want to purchase something ready for production. If you want to create your first plug-in, there is an eight-lesson training program for AutoCAD 2018 based on Visual Basic .NET, available here: http://usa.autodesk.com/adsk/servlet/index?id=18162650&siteID=123112
The training lessons work for the 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 versions, and all AutoCAD vertical products.
AutoCAD has four APIs: .NET, LISP, ActiveX, and ObjectARX (C++), with .NET being the most powerful API. User can pick its preferred language under the .NET umbrella, C#, F#, Visual Basic .NET, and more.
Want to Hire a Programmer?
https://www.upwork.com/hire/autolisp-freelancers/ shows rates from $8/hour to $30/hour to hire freelancers and create your own plug-in.
Autodesk Forge on CAD Files
Forge Platform is an Autodesk cloud service that handles AEC file formats in the web. Currently, we can review CAD files using BIM360 viewer, which is based on Forge. The Design Automation API allows to run scripts on CAD files hosted in the cloud.
Current functionalities for DWG files include:
- creating new DWG files
- querying for information in existing DWG files
- purging drawings and saving them to other DWF file formats
- plotting DWG files to DWF and PDF
- translating text from one language to another
In conclusion, if you are a big third-party apps fan, hopefully we’ve introduced you to a few interesting ones that you didn’t know were there. At the very least, you now realize that the Autodesk App Store has plenty of choices. If you haven’t been taking advantage of third-party apps, we highly recommend that you investigate these valuable timesavers. For the advanced user, perhaps you’ll try your hand at programming and create your own set of useful tools.
As for me, I’ll stick to what I know with macros. Speaking of which, here’s a tried-and-true macro that removes the z value of all objects in a dwg, essentially giving you a flat and clean drawing:
About the Authors
Dat Lien has traveled all over the globe for renowned architectural firms such as Gensler, PGAL, and Morris Architects. After managing a team of experts at Total CAD Systems, an Autodesk reseller, he has now added entrepreneurship to his repertoire with the formation of Axoscape, a service-based company offering BIM, CAD, and Visualization solutions. With over a decade of architectural experience, Dat combines leveraged technology with the AEC business so clients can stay competitive while maintaining flexibility. Dat also keeps busy with organizations such as the Houston Area Revit Users Group, A Child’s Hope, and helping out other non-profits. By utilizing his education, experience, and eagerness to educate, Dat enjoys helping and sharing his knowledge with others.
Xavier Loayza started using CAD software during high school. These drafting skills boosted him to collaborate very early in the AEC world to later pursue a path to civil engineering in Ecuador. After gaining experience over the years in transportation, geotechnical engineering, and surveying, Xavier got interested in UAVs (drones) for mapping, construction monitoring, and urban planning as a time and cost effective tool leading him to establish a service company. In 2015, after this entrepreneurial project, Xavier joined a Construction Management graduate program at University of Houston. Currently, he is collaborating with Axoscape, a BIM consulting company. He is always eager to learn and share.