Combining AutoCAD Functions for a Faster Workflow

Customer Spotlight

By Leah E. Friedman

Here on the AutoCAD blog, we talk a lot about software tips and tricks, and offer tutorials on the benefits of customization. But when we spoke to AutoCAD community member Cathleen Jones, we were blown away by the way she combined a number of useful individual features into one great way to save time—and cut down on frustration.

As the CAD designer at SJ Cimino Electric, Inc., Cathleen handles electrical, fire alarm, and security systems, as well as the occasional photovoltaic (a.k.a solar) project, and is often tasked with performing engineering calculations for electrical feeders and voltage drops in both electrical and fire alarm systems.

“As a designer of fire alarm systems, I needed blocks that work with our bill of materials (BOM) and can sequentially number or re-number themselves, to name just a few of the design guidelines,” she says. “In fire alarm system design, there are a couple of proprietary software programs that work either with or without the AutoCAD engine, but as the employee of a small design-build contractor, purchasing additional software needs to be evaluated and the return on investment calculated.”

But because work deadlines often can’t wait for software evaluations, Cathleen tweaked her workflow to make better use of AutoCAD’s existing capabilities.

How She Did It

First, she made her blocks smarter by giving them multiple insertion points in order to quickly adjust the block for wall placement from multiple sides or locations—without having to rotate the block (or rendering the embedded text upside-down and tough to read).

Combining AutoCAD Functions for a Faster Worfklow: Multi-Seg PLINEs

Next, the counting structure was changed from separate text to an attribute connected to the block. “This way, when I remove or add a block in a sequence, I can extract the attributes and renumber them in Excel by dragging the corner down the column.” She just picked the blocks in the order she wanted to number them, saved the file, and imported it using the Import Attributes (ATTIN) Express Tool.

“After that, I added a WIPEOUT to the blocks so that I can run one continuous wire either on the Riser Diagram (or in Plan view) and place or move the devices without having the tedious chore of TRIM/EXTEND-ing the wires after each revision,” Cathleen explains.

Combining AutoCAD Functions for a Faster Worfklow: Wipeout Boundary

She then renames each block to show the actual part number, which makes the information she gathers via a LISP routine even more useful. “I have a couple of LISP routines,” she says. “One counts the blocks and lists them in a table showing the quantity and a preview of the block. The other one will count the number of PLINES on a layer and list their total length.”

Combining AutoCAD Functions for a Faster Worfklow: Block Count Table

Looking for step-by-step instructions? See exactly how Cathleen improved her workflow here.

The End Result

So, how has this helped Cathleen out? “These few changes have immensely improved the time it takes to create or revise my drawings and they only cost me a little bit of design time,” she says. Plus, they didn’t require an investment in new software, which can often disrupt or delay a workflow as you get up to speed on (yet another) interface, in addition to adding to the cost of a project.

Combining AutoCAD Functions for a Faster Worfklow: Send XREF to Back

How have you customized your AutoCAD? Tell us in the comments!

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  1. Avatar

    I really wish the DATAEXTRACTION tool would give me a black handle that I could use or would somehow offer input BACK into the drawing. ATTOUT and ATTIN are close for a lot of things, but having that available in DATAEXTRACTION would be worth the annual upgrade fees!

    1. Avatar

      What other data would you like to drive back into the drawing from DATAEXTRACTION? And what would you use it for?

  2. Avatar

    I love the idea of using WIPEOUT to eliminate trimming underlying geometry. I'm going to revisit some of the blocks I've created and try that out.

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