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Expert Interview with Lynn Allen, Autodesk Evangelist and Cadalyst Contributing Editor

April 10, 2015 Leave a comment

Lynn Allen, Cadalyst Contributing EditorContributing Editor Lynn Allen is a Cadalyst favorite — with readers who benefit from her prolific AutoCAD advice as well as the editors who work with her. Allen’s “Circles and Lines” AutoCAD tutorials are in their 23rd year of publication, and she is the creator of Cadalyst’s popular AutoCAD video tips.

But Allen’s day job is Technical Evangelist at Autodesk, where she advocates and instructs about AutoCAD and other technologies for the CAD software giant, speaking at events worldwide and authoring Lynn Allen’s Blog. She also has written three AutoCAD books.

We wanted to learn more about this well-known Autodesk personality, and Allen was happy to accommodate us.

A lot of people might not know when and how you got started with CAD and how you became what could be described as the voice of AutoCAD for Autodesk. Can you share that story?

While I was working at American Honda, I was handed a very early copy of AutoCAD (1.4) and told it would be my job to learn it and teach it to others. Embarrassingly, they were using it for flowcharts. Talk about overkill! I fell in love with the program and eventually went to work at one of the first AutoCAD Training Centers as a teacher. I went on to teach at the corporate and collegiate level — eventually joining Autodesk in its training department.

I eventually switched jobs within Autodesk to become the Worldwide User Group manager (go AUGI!) and started presenting my AutoCAD tips at user group meetings to help increase attendance. I was STUNNED at how many people would show up to hear me present. People knew me from my Cadalyst articles and my books and were anxious for more AutoCAD tips and knowledge. Remember that these were the days before the Internet — so user groups were an essential means of finding out Autodesk product information.

Eventually Autodesk changed my role to Autodesk Evangelist and began to use me as a full time presenter and advocate for their technology.

What does your job today entail, and what do you enjoy about it most? Do you see the job changing at all down the road?

Today I spend most of my time traveling and speaking at various Autodesk events worldwide. I no longer focus on AutoCAD alone — my expertise has expanded to include BIM, cloud technology, Internet of Things, 3D printing, reality capture, etc.

What do I enjoy most? The people — hands down. I love meeting our enthusiastic customers around the world.

You, arguably, interact with more AutoCAD users than anyone else on the planet. What can you tell us about this crowd? Has it changed over the years?

The AutoCAD crowd is definitely more knowledgeable on the product — and it isn’t uncommon for them to have more than one Autodesk product under their belts. They have many resources to find their AutoCAD answers but still always crave more!

How did you get started writing your blog?

I was asked by Autodesk to start my blog and actually had to be talked into it! Once I got started, though, I was addicted.

You’re also a big fan of Twitter, correct? What is it about Twitter exactly that you like? (Any interesting Twitter stories to share?)

I do love Twitter. I like that it’s so easy to write a quick post to educate people. I think it’s perfect for those of us with short attention spans. You can very quickly see the topic of a twitter post — explore more if you’re interested or simply move on to the next!

Even though I don’t really know my nearly 17,000 followers, it actually feels like I know them in a way. I just find the whole process very interesting!

What are a few lesser-known AutoCAD functions that you’re particularly fond of? And why should users dig into the depths of AutoCAD?

I’m fond of any tip in AutoCAD that helps my readers get their jobs done in fewer steps. The more options you know, the more likely you’re going to get your jobs done faster! A personal favorite is changing the F1 key so it does an Escape (instead of launching Help). It always drives me crazy when I hit F1 by accident and then find myself in the Help function!

Users should learn to customize AutoCAD to create a comfy design program that works just the way they like to work.

How do you decide which tips to share and which don’t make the cut?

AutoCAD is used in so many different ways and in so many different industries. I often share even the most obscure tips because I believe that someone out there will benefit from them.

It seems there’s never a shortage of interesting developments at Autodesk. What are you particularly excited about lately?

I’m excited about the cloud — Autodesk A360 project-collaboration software — and the power that will bring to the design process. I am also very excited to see how 3D printing will develop and am anticipating the many steps forward we should progress as a result. I’m especially passionate about the future of bio-printing.

Why is it especially important that CAD engineers and offices stay as organized and efficient as possible?

A good design is an organized one and lends itself more to changes later on. And with project timelines getting shorter and shorter, efficiency will be the key to maintaining accounts. As you wrap in BIM [building information modeling] and digital prototyping, design projects can have many different pieces, and organization is essential.

Any parting words of advice for AutoCAD users? And where will you be appearing next?

You can check out my next speaking gig on my blog.

As for advice for AutoCAD users? Don’t get stuck using AutoCAD the exact same way every day. You might be working harder than you need to – always be willing to try other techniques, such as the ones you find on Cadalyst.com.

For more from Lynn Allen, follow her on Twitter, and don’t miss her biweekly series of AutoCAD video tips, published on Cadalyst.com and in the Cadalyst Tips & Tools Weekly e-newsletter

A CAD Dinosaur’s Journey, Part 11: We’ve Come A Long Way

April 7, 2015 Leave a comment

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Cadalyst’s blog series by Patrick Hughes, A CAD Dinosaur’s Journey into Modern Times.” In this three-month series, Hughes chronicles his transition from AutoCAD R14 to v2015 and from an outdated PC to a state-of-the-art professional workstation. Follow along and enjoy!

Go Big or Go HomeHardware Hero

Even dinosaurs need to upgrade their computers once in a while. When I started my business in 1991, I chose to buy the most powerful, yet affordable desktop computer possible. Shopping around the local computer stores I settled on a gleaming Intel 486 equipped with a 17” color monitor. It’s almost embarrassing to remember that the price tag was nearly $4,000 back then, but this Dino was ready to work on CAD with the best of them.

Every 4 years or so, hardware technology growth justified an upgrade. Along with the hardware, now and then I also updated my software, that is until I chose to stick with AutoCAD Release 14 for an extended period. In hindsight, that may not have been one of my more astute decisions.

But now with AutoCAD 2015 running at my claw tips on a powerful workstation awarded to me for winning the Cadalyst video contest, this T-Rex is getting all he could wish for.

Powered by an Intel Xeon six-core processor and 32 GB of memory, this workhorse has not left me wanting. Coupled with a 3 GB NVIDIA Quadro K4000, I added a second 23” monitor (which is how I keep my many AutoCAD tool palettes and windows open). I haven’t had any performance issues to speak of. The only sound this machine makes is a pleasing whoosh of the fan on start up. The rest of the day this old Dino can concentrate on my design work without any computer noise in the background.

Tireless Tools

In the right-hand screenshot below you’ll see the Autodesk SEEK Design Center, a new tool I now enjoy. Design Center has been around awhile and you are probably familiar with it. I find it not only useful to insert content from my parts library, but I can also insert blocks from other drawings without opening them. A right-click on a block in a drawing gives you options to insert and redefine the blocks, open in the block editor, or create a Tool Palette. Once created, you can drag and drop additional blocks into the palette. Rawrrr!

AutoCAD SEEK Design Center

AutoCAD’s SEEK Design Center (right) offers tools that let you import objects and more into a current drawing (left).

Blocks are not the only objects that you can easily import from existing drawings, there is a whole slew of items ranging from Textstyles to Layouts, Layers, or Dimstyles to name a few. I mostly use it for blocks because my text styles are already set in my templates.

In an earlier article I mentioned the calculator that you also see in the screen capture. I find it especially useful to avoid errors in numeric entry from calculations. I’m a bit of a stickler for precision and often carry out decimals to 6 digits. The calculator lets me easily paste the calculated value after making the calculation. Any errant keystroke when dyslexia strikes is no longer a worry, well, as long as I don’t enter things wrong in the calculator.

You might also notice the status bar includes a bit of custom diesel code displaying a few items that I long ago decided were valuable. I appreciate that AutoCAD has kept so much of its legacy programmability. But, with that, you can also see that I’m still not using some of the newer tools such as dynamic input and other aids. I keep experimenting with new ones, but many times my old Dino ways seem to get the better of me.

Rawrrr!

In closing, I doubt this constant progression of more powerful computing will end. There are times when you must update and when you do, you should reach for the stars and equip yourself with something that will not just do an adequate job now but will handle future demands as well. How about that? Here’s an old dinosaur offering up advice about planning for the future — what has this world come to?

_________________

About the author: Patrick Hughes, machine designer and owner of Engineered Design Solutions in Rockford, Illinois, has worked with AutoCAD since 1991. He has developed a number of AutoLISP and other software solutions to automate his workflow and increase productivity, including the commercially available time tracking program, CadTempo.

A CAD Dinosaur’s Journey, Part 10: There’s An Array of Hope!

March 31, 2015 Leave a comment

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Cadalyst’s blog series by Patrick Hughes, A CAD Dinosaur’s Journey into Modern Times.” In this three-month series, Hughes chronicles his transition from AutoCAD R14 to v2015 and from an outdated PC to a state-of-the-art professional workstation. Follow along and enjoy!

AutoCAD ArraysAs I continue my quest to conquer AutoCAD 2015 and become a thoroughly modern Dinosaur, onto the scene comes AutoCAD 2016. I must leave its study and review to more capable AutoCAD experts, of which there are many. As it is, my tiny arms are full at the moment and I’m having too much fun with AutoCAD 2015.

I am amazed that I can use these new features as I learn them, including commands that I’ve used before somewhat infrequently. For example, I was able to put the Array command (new in AutoCAD 2012) to good use on a current project.

I’ve used the polar array, so I’m familiar with its associative capabilities. However, I’ve only adjusted the number of items or modified a bolt circle diameter. After I played around with some of the other adjustments, I realized that it is a powerful tool.

While designing a small machine for a client, one of the components was a good candidate to have multiple pieces cut from a sheet of insulating millboard using a water jet. After researching a supplier, I found stock that measured 39″ square. After arranging a simple nesting pattern, I created my rectangular array. In no time, I laid out an array of 6 rows and 5 columns for a count of 30 items. Looking at the array I realized there was plenty of stock remaining that could be put to good use.

As I scanned the ribbon (which conveniently pops into contextual view after selecting the array), my tiny Dino eyes noticed the Edit Source and the Replace Item buttons. Well, that looked interesting.

AutoCAD 2015 Ribbon

I quickly rearranged my part geometry, creating a slightly different nesting pattern of the part and then clicked Replace Item. It prompted me to select an item to replace, and voilà! Because the original array was formed with the two nested items, I continued to select the other array elements. By picking an arrowed grip, I easily added an additional column and in short order my new array updated. Plus, my part count was increased to 36 items.

Arrays in AutoCAD 2015

After my update, I saw that the overall height and width slightly exceeded the stock size. I knew that a small reduction in the part geometry wouldn’t hurt the part function, so I quickly updated the geometry, ran one more Replace Item sequence, and my Dino toothy grin started to make my scaley face ache.

This tool is great. The outer square grip on the top right lets you quickly add rows and columns as you drag it to a new location or the outer arrowed grips provide individual rows or column additions. The inner arrowed grips adjust the column or row spacing. This all happens while you receive instant visual feedback during the grip dragging.

I can see that I’m going to have to come up with an excuse to make more arrays.

Rawrrr!

In closing, adding associative arrays to my repertoire really adds value to the work I produce. Additionally, my customer reaps the benefit, as in this case where the part count goes from 30 to 36 pieces — a 20% higher yield. It’s likely that I would have optimized the nesting to gain the same higher yield, but it would have taken me a lot longer.

_________________

About the author: Patrick Hughes, machine designer and owner of Engineered Design Solutions in Rockford, Illinois, has worked with AutoCAD since 1991. He has developed a number of AutoLISP and other software solutions to automate his workflow and increase productivity, including the commercially available time tracking program, CadTempo.

A CAD Dinosaur’s Journey, Part 9: Hatching, Layers, and More, Oh My!

March 24, 2015 Leave a comment

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Cadalyst’s blog series by Patrick Hughes, A CAD Dinosaur’s Journey into Modern Times.” In this three-month series, Hughes chronicles his transition from AutoCAD R14 to v2015 and from an outdated PC to a state-of-the-art professional workstation. Follow along and enjoy!

Hatching, Layers, and MoreIt has been quite a while since I’ve done actual work in AutoCAD Release 14. In fact, since I jumped into 2015, I haven’t looked back. For this article I wanted to grab a few screen shots to compare and contrast the two versions. As I opened Release 14, it struck me how quickly it started, but that’s about the only thing I miss. I can live with a longer startup because I’ll typically start AutoCAD and leave it open all day.

Hatch Updates

In Release 14 when you type BHATCH at the command prompt, the following dialog box appears. Once you make your selections and picks, you click on the Preview Hatch button to see the changes.

In the Boundary Hatch dialog box in AutoCAD Release 14, you make your selections and then press Preview to see how it all looks.

In the Boundary Hatch dialog box in AutoCAD Release 14, you make your selections and then press Preview to see how it all looks.

In AutoCAD 2015 when you enter the command, the Ribbon switches to the Hatch Creation tab where you can easily access all of your settings (you can also set HPDLGMODE to 1 to display a dialog box). As you make changes, updates dynamically appear as you make them so there is no need to go back and forth to preview your changes. Rawrrr! This is a definite improvement.

In AutoCAD 2015, updates are made to your hatch patterns as you choose them in the Ribbon (or dialog box).

In AutoCAD 2015, updates are made to your hatch patterns as you choose them in the Ribbon (or dialog box).

But wait, there’s more. In Release 14, once you create your hatch, if and when your underlying geometry changes (you just know it will), you must rebuild your hatch almost from scratch.

So, you think you’re going to grip edit a Release 14 hatch? Nope. Think again, Little Dino.

You cannot grip edit a hatch in AutoCAD Release 14.

You cannot grip edit a hatch in AutoCAD Release 14.

But in AutoCAD 2015, you can.

But in AutoCAD 2015, you can.

What about in an AutoCAD 2015 hatch? Yes, in AutoCAD 2015, you can zoom in to see fine details that can be easily updated by grip editing. Usually hatching updates as you go in AutoCAD 2015, although in this example below, it didn’t. I’ll need to dig deeper to figure out why.

autocad-dinosaur-part9_05

For some reason this hatch didn’t update as I stretched some geometry in AutoCAD 2015 — I’ll need to dig a little deeper to figure out why.

In general, I like that for some modifications I don’t need to recreate the whole hatch. Granted, there may be times when recreating the hatch is the easiest solution if numerous changes are needed.

Oh, before I forget (remember my walnut-sized brain), I also much prefer the more defined solid-filled grips in AutoCAD 2015.

Layer Upon Layer

Layer management has also gone through a great transformation. As I’ve mentioned, I try to keep things simple, but simplicity does have its limitations. In the past, I’ve performed most of my layer operations through the dialog box (or home grown AutoLISP routines) rather than the menu drop down. Here’s the simple Release 14 Layer dialog box:

Release 14's Layer dialog box is fairly simple.

Release 14’s Layer dialog box is fairly simple.

I’ve grown accustomed to keeping the AutoCAD 2015 Layer Properties Manager on screen at all times. It makes quick work out of making adjustments to my layers. Unlike the Release 14 Layers dialog box, AutoCAD 2015 lets you to resize the window.

AutoCAD 2015's Layer Properties dialog box makes it easy to adjust layers.

AutoCAD 2015’s Layer Properties dialog box makes it easy to adjust layers.

More New To This Dinosaur

Oh my! Here’s something new. Transparency — this is handy whenever viewing in Conceptual, my new favorite fancy view style. I noticed under Object Properties (which I also keep on screen) that objects have transparency as well. Normally I set this to BYLAYER, but it’s good to be able to adjust each object independently. Within the Content Manager there is easy access to filtering capabilities which I’ve yet to put to use. I generally use my trusty old AutoLISP routines for filtering, but I can see where I can make good use of these tools, especially when dealing with sub-assemblies.

The Laywalk command (dialog box) has been around since Release 2007, but it’s a new tool to me. This useful tool dynamically displays layers as you select them either individually or as multiples. I’ve used it a number of times and the only drawback with it is that the dialog box must be closed to work with displayed objects. There are numerous new layer tools — I will delve more into them and report back to you once I learn more.

Rawrrr!

In closing, as I work with AutoCAD 2015, I find that I’m able to keep things as simple as I like. However, there are times that when it’s important to make a more professional-looking drawing and it’s good to know I can easily I can do so.

When I first learned to draft on the drawing board as a wee T-Rex, I learned to use lineweights to make the drawing “pop.” Over the years working only on CAD, I’ve let those drafting techniques lapse. It’s time for me to ratchet things up and make my drawings a bit prettier (says the ugliest dinosaur in the room).

_________________

About the author: Patrick Hughes, machine designer and owner of Engineered Design Solutions in Rockford, Illinois, has worked with AutoCAD since 1991. He has developed a number of AutoLISP and other software solutions to automate his workflow and increase productivity, including the commercially available time tracking program, CadTempo.

A CAD Dinosaur’s Journey, Part 8: Something Old, Something New

March 17, 2015 2 comments

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Cadalyst’s blog series by Patrick Hughes, A CAD Dinosaur’s Journey into Modern Times.” In this three-month series, Hughes chronicles his transition from AutoCAD R14 to v2015 and from an outdated PC to a state-of-the-art professional workstation. Follow along and enjoy!

Dynamic UCS, Dynamic Input, and Dynamic Blocks At some point, the AutoCAD programmers decided to add dynamic functionality to some AutoCAD features. Dynamic UCS, Dynamic Input, and Dynamic Blocks to name a few! When you typed in DYN at the command prompt, you’d see 13 system variables appear! You would think that the word dynamic would appeal to this dino and, to be honest, it does have a nice ring to it.

While I’m trying to like how these features work, I am struggling with dynamic UCS. I’m still trying to understand how it affects some of my customizations. For instance, one function restricts movement to a specific axis. If I want to move objects only in the Y-axis from picked points, it’s supposed to only move on the Y-axis. Sometimes things go wacky and the objects move unexpectedly and the value that is echoed back to the command line shows X or Z values. Perhaps there are other factors, such as Osnaps affecting it. I suppose that I’ll eventually figure it out, but for now I’ll just think of it as a ghost in the machine.

Lost, But Not Forgotten

An old friend of mine is the Blipmode command. As it is now in AutoCAD 2015, it’s a zombie command — it exists, but it’s not as easy to just turn it on. I dug around and discovered that I could redefine it in my ACADDOC.LSP by adding (command “redefine” “blipmode”) to get it working again. I use the little blips as a visual confirmation for pick points, often as a clue to where on the screen I picked for a selection window. If I mistakenly selected a location, I know not to select the same spot again. Now AutoCAD displays a colored window as you begin your selection, blue for contained selection, green for crossing, and a new cool colored Poly Drag mode. Along with enabling selection preview, these can make it easier to select objects. The blips do still come in handy to see that I correctly picked the endpoint of a line or the quadrant of a circle, etc.

 

T (that’s me) loves blips — they can make it easier to select objects.

T (that’s me) loves blips — they can make it easier to select objects.

Another old friend is the Aerial View command. Not many users were familiar with this little tool and I suspect that’s why it was discontinued. Like Blipmode, you can redefine it, but when I did, the viewer did not display the screen graphics in the viewer window. On the other hand, now that I’ve gotten used to AutoCAD 2015, I don’t miss it like I thought I would. Believe it or not, Release 14 did not let you zoom in and out with the mouse wheel. For the most part, that’s how I’m now navigating large drawings. In fact, you should see how muscular my stubby dino finger is.

Side note: Did you notice that the Explode ribbon icon with a stick of dynamite has been replaced with an image of a broken apart cube. Really? Bring back the dynamite image!

New Awesome Tools

So, enough reminiscing of old dead things, what’s new that’s exciting to this old Dinosaur? For one, the right-click menu that pops up when you select an object. My number one favorite tool is the ability to hide objects (Isolate / Hide Objects) which initiates the Hideobjects command (introduced in AutoCAD 2011). Or, you can select to isolate selected objects. If I need to see hidden objects again, it’s just another right click away. Additionally, there are commands that are available from the menu; a list of recently used commands and input, clipboard functions, filters, properties, a powerful integrated calculator. I find the calculator especially useful.

One of my favorite new tools is the menu that comes up when you right-click on an object.

One of my favorite new tools is the menu that comes up when you right-click on an object.

This little brain of mine gets so easily distracted! I was talking about all things dynamic and I planned on talking about another new-to-me AutoCAD feature, dynamic blocks, and how I plan to put them to use. Alas, my time is running out for now, so I must leave that subject for another date.

Rawrrr!

In closing, old habits can be hard to break away from. Although some may still hold value, I continue to be surprised at how much more efficient the new environment can be. In the past, I’ve always thought that customization was key to delivering greater efficiency, but I’m discovering that AutoCAD 2015 has many of the tools I need right at my fingertips — just the ticket someone with tiny arms!

_________________

About the author: Patrick Hughes, machine designer and owner of Engineered Design Solutions in Rockford, Illinois, has worked with AutoCAD since 1991. He has developed a number of AutoLISP and other software solutions to automate his workflow and increase productivity, including the commercially available time tracking program, CadTempo.

A CAD Dinosaur’s Journey, Part 7: Get A Grip! (Editing Solids Made Easy)

March 13, 2015 1 comment

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Cadalyst’s blog series by Patrick Hughes, A CAD Dinosaur’s Journey into Modern Times.” In this three-month series, Hughes chronicles his transition from AutoCAD R14 to v2015 and from an outdated PC to a state-of-the-art professional workstation. Follow along and enjoy!

AutoCAD SolidsAs you know by now I’m a dinosaur. We T-Rexes like to eat meat and I’ve been anxious to sink my teeth into the REAL meat of AutoCAD 2015. I knew there would be plenty of meaty stuff in 2015. I was right, and it’s tasty too.

Lately I’ve been gnawing on AutoCAD’s solid modeling tools and it’s been a treat. Since the early 1990’s, I’ve used AutoCAD for my machine design work using simple wireframes — I preferred to not even use polylines. After a while, I finally committed to solids and began to appreciate the benefits of doing so. I can’t say it was easy. Early versions of AutoCAD right out of the box tended to be a little cumbersome and required some nimble AutoLISP programming.

AutoCAD 2015 comes with two Workspaces for working in 3D: 3D Basics and 3D Modeling. Both 3D Workspaces present a plethora of tools on the ribbon to help you get your work done. Because there are so many new (to this crusty old beast) 3D tools, what I find especially useful are the popup Help topics with graphics that appear whenever you hover over a tool for a slightly extended amount of time (introduced in AutoCAD 2010). These pop-up tool tips are pleasing to this dino’s eyes!

The popups make it easy to learn what AutoCAD can do and they make it easy to start using these new tools.

The popups make it easy to learn what AutoCAD can do and they make it easy to start using these new tools.

One of my first discoveries when I began using AutoCAD 2015 is that I can now edit solids, for instance I can easily size or stretch a solid using grips.

The arrow grips let you stretch the solid in the given direction.  The arrow grips let you stretch the solid in the given direction.

The arrow grips let you stretch the solid in the given direction. In the case of the cylinder, you can easily resize the diameter. In AutoCAD Release 14 these operations could get tedious and often it was more efficient to reconstruct the solid.

Change is Constant

Once a solid has been unioned with other solids to form a compound solid body, these stretch grips disappear.

Once a solid has been unioned with other solids to form a compound solid body, these stretch grips disappear.

That made for a very sad dino. That is until I discovered Presspull. After issuing the Presspull command, you can select a face of the solid and stretch it further than my tiny arms will ever reach. Here’s the operation in process.

After issuing the Presspull command, you can select a face of the solid and stretch it.

Oh, but wait! There’s more! What if I need to slope one of these sides? No sweat off of these brows (wait, do dinos even have sweating brows? Hmmm….). In any case, just select Taper Faces from the ribbon, click a few times, enter an angle, and the job is done.

select Taper Faces from the ribbon, click a few times, enter an angle, and the job is done.

What’s that you say? You want to rotate that face along the sloped edge? Here you go, Start Solidedit, select Face, enter Rotate, pick the axis of rotation, and enter the rotation angle.

Start Solidedit, select Face, enter Rotate, pick the axis of rotation, and enter the rotation angle.

I’m telling you, I could have fun doing this all day. Back in Release 14 days, stretching a solid involved making a copy of the solid, moving it to the desired position, and then either subtracting or unioning the copy, depending on the desired results. Tapering a face often involved setting a UCS, slicing the solid — often keeping both sides of the resulting slice (just in case you needed to stitch things back together), and deleting the side you didn’t want. I’m glad those days are over.

These tools couldn’t have come at a better time. Historically most of the machine design work I perform consists of rather simple shapes. A new job I’ve been assigned involves creating a few molded plastic parts. Now, I know what a molded plastic part is and how they’re made. I know the die requires draft angles and fillets, and the shape itself can be complex with curved surfaces and all sorts of other considerations. I’m finding AutoCAD 2015 gives me the means to create a design that while I could have eventually done in Release 14, I doubt these arms could have done it nearly as easily.

Rawrrr!

In closing, I’m discovering new design capabilities on a near daily basis. Even better, I’m able to apply them to my work as I get acquainted with them, creating parts and components in ways I haven’t previously thought of. You might say I’m becoming quite the modern dino.

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About the author: Patrick Hughes, machine designer and owner of Engineered Design Solutions in Rockford, Illinois, has worked with AutoCAD since 1991. He has developed a number of AutoLISP and other software solutions to automate his workflow and increase productivity, including the commercially available time tracking program, CadTempo.

A CAD Dinosaur’s Journey, Part 6: Take Me to Your Mleader!

March 10, 2015 Leave a comment

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Cadalyst’s blog series by Patrick Hughes, A CAD Dinosaur’s Journey into Modern Times. In this three-month series, Hughes chronicles his transition from AutoCAD R14 to v2015 and from an outdated PC to a state-of-the-art professional workstation. Follow along and enjoy!

In my last post I discussed Mleaders. I’ll make good use of them, but to my dismay I’ve run into a little stumbling block. Nothing insurmountable mind you, but forewarned is forearmed as they say. Perhaps my problems started when I first established my standards. Rather than load my drawings with custom styles, I simply modified the Standard styles. I set my standard dimensions to display dimension and extension lines to one color and dimension text to another color. These standards applied to leaders as well.

It became complicated when I began to work with the thousands of legacy drawings I’ve accumulated over the years. Now when I work in a legacy drawing and execute Mleader, the resulting object doesn’t conform to my standard. And, yes, I have updated Mleader’s standard style in my template files. This should solve it, right? Unfortunately, it proved cumbersome getting the revised standard style into the working drawing.

An Eon Ago

Long ago I wrote a simple AutoLISP routine, Reset, that resets all system variables and other working environments back to a known state. This is handy if a macro or other tool cancels a command and doesn’t reset certain sysvars and settings such as running OSnaps, UCSIcon display, Pickbox size, and the like. When AutoCAD added the Dimassoc variable, I solved the problem by adding that to my Reset command. Things were different with the MLeader standard style because that object type was not in my legacy drawings resulting in a variable search being none. Furthermore, there isn’t a command line alternative to the MLeader Style Manager.

One of AutoCAD’s shining strengths is numerous ways you can automate tasks, including its simplest form, the Script command. Before going in that direction, I tried the Action Recorder (introduced in AutoCAD 2009) that would hopefully allow a one-click solution. Unfortunately, the input into the Mleader Style Manager failed to be recorded — the recording merely displayed the dialog box and did not record my interactions within the dialog box. While this was disappointing, I do see some potential with the Action Recorder.

I also tried Design Center, another new tool, but that also proved fruitless.

Batch processing to the rescue!

Batch Processing

I chose batch processing to overcome my dilemma. I briefly looked into using ScriptPro, however ScriptPro would have to open and close an AutoCAD session for each drawing. That would not be good. There may be a solution available in the Autodesk App Store, but I grabbed my own CadTempo batch processor that I’ve wanted to put to the test. Again, I felt it was going to be problematic to import the Standard Mleader style.

Many years ago, a chief engineer I worked for advised me on a problem solving technique that I’ve put to the test on many occasions. Essentially it involves inverting an unsuccessful attempt at a solution. In philosophical terms, if you cannot bring Mohammad to the mountain, bring the mountain to Mohammad. In dinosaur speak it goes something like: Grrr gnash gnash, Riiip, tear… Rwar.

So, I created a script template that issued the following command sequence:

New

acad

-Insert

Filename

0,0,0

1

1

0

Zoom

All

Explode

Last

-Wblock

Filename

Y

*

close

y

My first attempt replaced the FileName with the selected drawing names and then created final scripts with all the files to be processed. Unfortunately, the resulting drawings didn’t contain the correct Mleader style. I revised using a SaveAs sequence. The resulting script template is as follows:

New

acad

-Insert

Filename

0,0,0

1

1

0

Zoom

All

Explode

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Finally, success!

Rawrrr!

In closing, AutoCAD offers an enormous amount of customization in how you work with the software, as well as how your drawing appears both on screen and plotted. You can’t expect a dinosaur with a brain the size of a walnut to see millions of years into the future and make the right decisions. But if he chooses badly, there thankfully is always a good workaround.

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About the author: Patrick Hughes, machine designer and owner of Engineered Design Solutions in Rockford, Illinois, has worked with AutoCAD since 1991. He has developed a number of AutoLISP and other software solutions to automate his workflow and increase productivity, including the commercially available time tracking program, CadTempo.

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