Managing an AutoCAD® MEP department within a large national corporation and a small company can be quite similar. Managing is about getting things done effectively and then improving how they are done. There are several items that, if structured properly, can make a CAD department perform quite efficiently.
You may ask yourself how this is possible if no two jobs are alike. Job 1 is different from job 2; there are difficult clients versus easy-going ones; the lead designer is a different engineer or architect on every project, and it’s either new work or a redesign.
It is easy if you start at the root and make sure your company’s document structure and management are in order. A few important objectives to follow are: software, equipment, document management, type of work, team members’ levels of expertise, and communication between members.
Regardless of company size, it is good to have a CAD manager because this allows a specific company format to be set in place and helps ensure it is followed. This also assigns one person through whom jobs and drawings will be channeled. All work should be delegated and approved by a CAD manager once the job-specific project manager gives the thumbs up to proceed. The CAD manager should filter all final drawings through the job site’s superintendent, or whomever the job specific manager appoints, once the drawings/sketches are completed. A typical hierarchy should look as follows (depending on the size of the company):
Following a specific hierarchy will help keep track of issues and hold a user or group responsible for solving them.
When building an AutoCAD MEP group/team it is important to have a variety of levels. Larger companies with multiple trades will need multiple people with specific skill sets. Also it is very important that the MEP CAD manager be knowledgeable about all the trades so decisions can be made in a timely manner.
Beginner CAD employees are good for doing the tedious work such as notes and dimensions that a top dollar employee shouldn’t be paid to do. All the CAD division employees must report back to the CAD manager; the manager will schedule their time for projects and assign what has to be done by each employee. Weekly meetings with the CAD team will help the manager stay on top of progress and allow questions to be brought forward for group discussion and resolution.
Every corporation should have a standard platform of software and a computer that is capable of handling the specified requirements for that software. A CAD manager should communicate with the company’s IT department and agree on a standard CAD workstation.
This station may vary depending on the expertise level of the CAD employee being hired; for example: will it be a BIM coordinator or a simple detailer? Obviously someone that will be involved in 3D or BIM will be dealing with multiple MEP trades and need a more ‘beefed up’ computer that can open large-scale 3D models, as well as append several large drawings into them while running thru clash detection.
The simple CAD detailer would only need a basic machine capable of running AutoCAD and other miscellaneous programs. Three important items when building any AutoCAD machine are processer, RAM, and graphics processer. These three items should be above and beyond any other computers in the office. Multiple monitors should also be a standard for CAD users; this allows users to have multiple items open on multiple screens.
Document management is a very important part in managing and organizing an AutoCAD MEP department of any scale. Spending too much time searching for files on a disorganized server is unnecessary and a complete waste of time management. An AutoCAD document management solution is easy to put together and can be customized to suit your business.
First you must have a specific spot on a server to place AutoCAD or drawing files for all jobs. This location will be known by all employees in case access is needed. Keep in mind the security of the files beyond a navigational structure must be addressed. If you are responsible for your office AutoCAD folder, it is up to you to ensure that the appropriate staff has access only to the projects that concern them. Files can be protected from deletion by setting directory and sub-directory permissions accordingly. Of course, certain individuals may need access and this would need to be addressed as you organize the network security settings for each employee. Keep in mind that some upper management may need to view certain drawings and may not have access to AutoCAD. They may benefit from a PDF file or DWG file viewer. For every job, it should be required that a PDF be made of each sketch or drawing, allowing anyone ease of viewing. The PDF folder should have open access to all personal with the exception of file deletion.
Once a location of the AutoCAD folder is in place on the server, organizing a specific folder should contain, but not be limited, to the following:
- CAD Files from GC_Engineer
- Coordinated Drawings
o Upload Files
o 3D Models
o Other Trades DWGs
Within these folders a file naming convention should be set in place as well. The naming should be broken up into about five parts: job number, discipline, floor number, area designation, and date. This will ensure you are in the correct MEP trade and most recent file. Many companies have multiple trade divisions these days, so additional information might need to be added if this is the case. For example, a division number or name after the job number would be a proper placement for this. Here is an example of a completed job file name: 12001_ELEC_01_B_6,1,12.dwg. This would let a user know that it is a drawing from Job#12001, and it is the First Floor Area B Electrical Drawing.
Within each drawing a layer management standard should be used. This way, anyone who opens the drawing knows which layers/lines were created within your company. It is beneficial to change all other layers other than your company’s to a color not used by your company standards; typically a light grey (color 8) is used allowing the background and other trades to be seen subtly while all your work appears bold and is easy to reference. Each MEP trade within the company should be assigned a layer/color set as well. A generic layer chart is as follows but not limited to:
Company_Electrical Text (Color 7)
Company_Equipment (Color 8)
Company_Dimensions (Color 8)
Company_Telecom (Color 3)
Company_Cable Tray (Color 3)
Company_Clearances (Color 1) No Plot
Company_Emergency (Color 1)
Company_HVAC (Color 5)
Company_HVAC Text (Color 7)
Company_Fire (Color 1)
Company_HWS (Color 6)
Company_HWR (Color 4)
Improved communication can be handled by implementing a wide variety of tools. Instant messaging such as Skype can help manage communication between users. Often designers have questions or comments regarding the project, so being able to get immediately answers from co-workers will result in a quick turnaround. Web conferencing systems, such as WebEx, also can help with weekly conference calls and can assure that everybody views design data at the same time. When dealing with a company that has multiple MEP divisions, communication is going to be the most critical part in assuring a successful job. It is also wise to make sure all employees have an updated contact list for all CAD personnel.
Now that you have a basic idea of what needs to be done in a management role, sit down and plan your strategy. You will need to coordinate with upper management before implementing your plan. Start by writing down your current structure and alter it to what you feel best suits the company. Once you have identified the ideal AutoCAD management structure for your office, present a final draft to upper management. Your draft should include a list of benefits the new structure will obtain. Once approved, be sure management sends out an office memo outlining and enforcing the AutoCAD document structure, and rules.
Greg Firman lives in the Metro Detroit area and works as CAD Manager for Conti Corporation in Sterling Heights, MI, USA. He has traveled all over the country for his company working on several large 3D projects. His main background is in electrical and is self-taught in AutoCAD, AutoCAD MEP, Navisworks Manage, and limited Revit. He loves being out doors, hunting, and traveling. Being from Detroit, he is also a big auto enthusiast. His future plans are to grow with his company nationwide, and to expand his knowledge with Autodesk’s upcoming products and updates.