Specifier's Notebook: Blending Project Design and the Internet

Computer-aided design (CAD) can range from simply creating two-dimensional documents for engineering deliverables to generating complete three-dimensional (3D) computational database models of design intent. In either case, the Internet can increase the usability of CAD information in a variety of ways...


Computer-aided design (CAD) can range from simply creating two-dimensional documents for engineering deliverables to generating complete three-dimensional (3D) computational database models of design intent. In either case, the Internet can increase the usability of CAD information in a variety of ways, from making documentation more interactive to sharing intelligent information among project-team members. Project Web sites and Web collaboration

One method to enhance CAD interaction is the use of extranets, or project-specific Web sites. Project-specific Web sites allow the project team to have a central document repository for posting project progress and interacting with project information, including CAD documentation.

Project-specific Web sites are, however, limited in helping maximize project-team collaboration. These sites also introduce certain risks with regards to project security. In addition, the management of project-specific sites entails increased administrative responsibilities. The appropriateness of this option, therefore, is dependent on the cost of getting the necessary knowledge and the hours required to develop and maintain the site—as well as the cost incurred for the Web space.

Another method of combining CAD and the Internet is to use a Web-collaboration site that can further enhance CAD interactivity. A Web-collaboration site is a remote -server location where project information can be stored. These sites, which are owned and maintained by a variety of companies, are readily available for project use. In general, these sites are prestructured for a project and can be edited to meet a project's specific needs.

The tools available within a Web-collaboration site can improve the interaction among project-team members. These tools include: viewing CAD files and other documents, redlining CAD and non-CAD documents, document control, workflow capabilities and increased security features. In addition, if the CAD graphics contain intelligent data, this information can be extracted from the CAD file and used in a variety of ways, including material takeoffs, equipment sizing, schedule generation, automatic specification development, calculations and quality assurance. This information can then be shared using the tools available on a Web-collaboration site. The cost associated with this option is usually a nominal monthly fee, depending on the storage space required for the project. Keys to success

Each design team's particular objectives can help determine the best Web-collaboration method for a project. For example, if the needs are to share document progress with limited interactivity and security, an extranet or project-specific Web site may be a good choice. If more intensive collaboration is required—such as advanced viewing tools, redlining tools, interactive request-for-information logs, electronic bid submission, interactive design between branch offices or increased security tools—a prestructured Web-collaboration site can meet those needs.

One important thing to keep in mind is that the success of any Internet venture is often dependent on the available bandwidth at participating firms. Bandwidth should be a consideration for all team members involved in constructing and accessing the Internet site. A better connection to the Internet should increase the efficiency of a project and, more specifically, improve interaction with large CAD files. Looking to the future

The future promises more comprehensive portals that define a location for all information—a "one-stop shopping" area for a project. Additionally, a few examples of tools that can come with better Web technology and should enhance project administration include: advanced 3D CAD-model viewing; selected data extraction and linking from the CAD model; vendor interaction for pricing and specifications; equipment downloading and linking; material availability; and constructability input from subcontractors. In the meantime, considering design-team capabilities and project goals can help to optimize the combination of CAD and the Internet.

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