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How to navigate the cad file pile-up

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Given the diversity of size, budgets and cad requirements of the many professionals, trades and manufacturers involved in the construction industry, it is inevitable that the preferred software used for computer-aided design will vary.

Indeed, to avoid a commercial monopoly, such diversity is desirable.

The downside is that file formats vary and the exchange of digital information requires the use of file-conversion software embedded into the originating software, the recipients’ software or occasionally software provided by third parties. However, file-conversion software is not without the potential for error. In recognition of this, it is common practice to issue either a hard copy or a PDF file along with the cad file. And, while paper-based “check” plots may be OK for 2D files, they are of limited use with 3D files. PDF files have the benefit that they can be digitally distributed with the cad file and can convey both 2D and 3D information. But PDF file creation is itself a form of file conversion and cannot match the accuracy of viewing a cad file in its original format.

Buying expensive cad software purely for the purpose of checking incoming and outgoing files can fortunately be avoided by exploiting the free file-viewing capabilities provided by the major manufacturers for their own products.

Autodesk provides two useful tools for its Autocad software: DWG Trueview 2012 is a Windows desktop application that allows users to view Autocad 2012 files and convert them to and from earlier versions of their standard cad file format. Autocad WS takes a different approach and is provided as a web-based, cross-platform product and an iphone/ipad-compatible app that allows 2D files up to 15 MB in size to be viewed and shared across the internet by Windows and Mac users, regardless of browser.

An alternative to Autocad’s Windows-based desktop viewer is Bentley View, which not only acts as a Microstation DGN file viewer but also incorporates a fully featured DWG file viewer.

Other alternatives

Other cad products providing specific file-viewer software include Solidview/Lite for 3D STL and SVD Solidworks files and Vectorworks 2011 viewer (www. nemetschek.net) for VWX files.

The Vectorworks solution is available in Windows and Mac versions and can handle both current and earlier file formats back to version 9.

The companies behind Archicad 14 (www.graphisoft. com), Form Z (www.formz.com) and Rhino 4.0 (www.rhino3d. com) do not provide file-viewer software as such, but all three provide demo versions that can be used as file viewers. Archicad and Form Z both have Windows and Mac versions. Rhino’s is currently Windows-only, though a Mac version is expected soon.

Downloading all of these viewing applications represents an investment in time but otherwise the ability to check incoming cad files in their native format is free.

Hugh Davies is a co-founder of IT consultant Lomas Davies. www.lomasdavies.net

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