TIPniques: Why You Should Be Using Sheet Sets

What Are You doing?

Are you using any version of AutoCAD® since AutoCAD 2005 was released?  I include the verticals (AutoCAD Mechanical, Autodesk Civil 3D, and others) in that list of “any.”  If so, then what are you doing to manage your document sets?  How do you print or publish a set of drawings for submittal?  If you are opening them one at a time and printing them, you are wasting your time and reducing your profitability. 

How are you managing the data in your title blocks?  How do you populate the data in your title block? How do you manage recurring information in your drawing set?  If you and your coworkers are manually performing any of these tasks, then there is a way to reduce errors and increase efficiency.

The solution is to fully use and integrate Sheet Sets.  When fully incorporated into a company’s workflow, Sheet Sets can minimize errors, control documents, manage data, manage files, automate drawing set up, provide easy access to department drawings, simplify publishing/printing of the entire design set (or any part thereof), and archive your data.  Yes, it can really do all of that!

Printing and Publishing

One of the biggest and easiest use cases for Sheet Sets in AutoCAD is batch plotting, or publishing.  This benefit is obvious.   Drawings are added to a project’s Sheet Set (Sheet Sets can even contain subsets in order to help organize and sort the drawings in a set).  Once added, a drawing can be printed right out of the Sheet Set Manager without ever opening the file.  Users can print out a single file, a subset, the entire set, or any selected drawings as required.  The Sheet Set Manager can even manage page setups all on its own regardless of what’s set up, or not set up, in the drawing file.  If you have a base template file (a .DWT file) then you can do this.  If you don’t have one, then shame on you!  This DWT file can contain your standard page set ups.  The Sheet Set Manager can access these set ups and apply them to your sheet set.  If you know users who don’t set up their files correctly for printing, so what?  Use Sheet Sets.  Now everyone will print the files the same way.

Figure 1:  Printing or publishing from the Sheet Set Manager can reduce the amount of time spent printing drawings.

Sheet Sets can also be published.  That means you can send the files to the Publisher for batch plotting.  If you need multiple copies of a set of drawings plotted, then this is the way to do it.  Send the drawings to the publisher through the Sheet Set Manager and have at it.  The Sheet Set Manager will also plot to DWF, DWFx, PDF, or the plotter set up in each file.  The need to open files one at a time to plot is over.

Archiving and Transmitting Files with SS

Do you archive your electronic files?  Do you ever send CAD files to clients, vendors, or government agencies?  How do you ensure they get all of your referenced files and attached images or spreadsheets?  Use the eTransmit feature in AutoCAD.  Oh, and you can do that right from the Sheet Set Manager. 

There are two ways to do this: eTransmit and Archiving.  The method is the same, the end result is the same, but where the files go is different.  eTransmit sets up the files to be sent, or transmitted.  The Archiving tool simply saves them somewhere for you.  Really they are exactly the same, the intentions are different.  All you have to do is right-click on the Sheet Set, select eTransmit, and you’re off.  You don’t have to open files or browse for them. Oh, you might have to browse to where you want to save your ZIP file, but that’s all. 

The nice thing about using Sheet Sets in this way is that anyone with AutoCAD access can do this for you.  The Project Manager can tell anyone on staff to open the Sheet Set and eTransmit it or any subset.  That person is sure to get all of the needed files, as long as the person knows how to set up an eTransmit setting, but I’m assuming you have a standard template already pre-defined and deployed company wide.

Drawing Creation

How do you know if your users are creating and saving files correctly?  Sheet Sets can help you with that.  A Sheet Set can be created to create new files with a determined template file.  Just tell the Sheet Set which template file you want everyone to use.  It can also be instructed to create and save files in certain folders.  That’s called file management.  It makes things easier for everyone.  When the process is automated, it makes things even easier.  Don’t get me wrong—Sheet Sets can’t do everything, but they can do many things for us that will help to maintain control of our files.

Users start the file creation process by opening the Sheet Set for the proper project.  To create a new sheet, select the New Sheet option in the Sheet Set Manager.  If a DWT file isn’t set, they will be asked to pick one to use.  If the DWT file is set up accordingly, many of its title block fields will be automatically populated by the Sheet Set (assuming they have already been added to the Sheet Set Properties).  Information such as Project Name, Project Number, drawn by, drawn date, client name, engineer name/number, total number of sheets, or any bit of information you can think of (don’t forget file name).  And if the project name changes (as an example) all you have to do to update every drawing in the set is to change the data in the Sheet Set properties.  No need to open the files at all.

Figure 2: Sheet Sets come with several universally required properties that can be referenced throughout your drawing set.

Individual drawings can be assigned Sheet Set information as well.  Some of the obvious bits are drawing name and number.  You can also add a date field, drawn by, checked by, Section/Township/Range, site address, and so on.  This data can also be referenced in other drawings.  One example would be a section callout or a detail callout.  Another link could be in a “See Sheet xx” note.  If the drawing number changes, then your See Sheet callout will automatically be updated as well.  How many times have you had to go through an entire set to verify that every See Sheet callout had been updated because a new drawing was added to the middle of the set, screwing up the numbering system?  Sheet Sets and fields make it possible to reference the file, or even the paper space tab, and reading the assigned information to it.  Now if you move a detail from one sheet to another then you will have to go back and manually change the drawings. 

Recurring Information

Have you ever had to insert the same set of notes on multiple drawings?  Of course you have!  Have they ever changed?  Of course they have!  Most of the text in a note doesn’t change, but the square footage of your building might or maybe the total number of parking spaces will.  Add that bit of information to the Sheet Set properties and reference it though a field.  You can add a field to any type of text, Mtext, Dtext, dimensions, leaders, or even in tables.  When your number of parking spaces changes, update it once and ensure you got it everywhere.  Even if your number is wrong, all of the drawings will say the same thing.

Figure 3:  Here is a small example of some customized properties in a Sheet Set.

Accuracy & Efficiency through Automation

Decades ago we switched from board drafting to CAD.  The promise was that we could automate certain aspects of redundant work.  CAD has done that.  We no longer need as many people to create a set of drawings.  When was the last time your engineering firm hired a tracer?  Good or bad, CAD has made our jobs a bit easier.  It has its own set of issues, of course, but it has been an improvement.  We can do more with less.  Sheet Sets are a part of that promise of automation through CAD.  Using a single aspect of it is good.  Using as many of its tools as possible is better.  AutoCAD is not inexpensive, so why purchase a tool and only use part of it?  Would you purchase a claw hammer and never use the claw?  When tools that are built into AutoCAD are not utilized, but could be, we hurt our earning potential.

We all want to make better drawings faster.  Face it—we all do this for the money.  The quicker and more correctly we create drawings, the greater the profit margin.  The greater the profit margin, the happier the boss.  The happier the boss, the better our work life will be.  The better our work life, the better our lives will be.  So, to make your life better, use Sheet Sets, and use as much of them as you can.

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