Standardization Comes to CAD

There are probably few things worse in the life of a professional engineer than encountering an incomprehensible CAD drawing. The fact that so many engineers feel this way may have been a strong incentive for development of the U.S. National CAD Standard (NCS). The latest good news concerning efforts to standardize CAD is that NCS version 3.


There are probably few things worse in the life of a professional engineer than encountering an incomprehensible CAD drawing. The fact that so many engineers feel this way may have been a strong incentive for development of the U.S. National CAD Standard (NCS). The latest good news concerning efforts to standardize CAD is that NCS version 3.0 will be unveiled at the A/E/C show in Orlando, Fla. next month.

The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) have spearheaded NCS development. (For more, see CSE Newswatch, 08/15/03, at our web site: .)

"Over the past quarter century, some of the most significant projects in which NIBS has been involved have made use of the Institute's finely tuned consensus process," NIBS President David Harris, FAIA, said. "None have been more important or have had greater far-reaching impact than this work on the development of a National CAD Standard. The devoted efforts of more than 200 volunteers on 22 separate task teams have produced an American standard that raises the bar globally."

Actually, initial development of NCS goes back much earlier, and one must give credit to the U.S. military—in particular, the Army Corps of Engineers, who played a vital role in its development. The original edition of NCS was published in 1999, followed by a second edition in 2001. Now, the efforts of many organizations and hundreds of individuals has resulted in version 3.0.

But why is a national standard for CAD necessary? Anyone who regularly consults and interprets CAD drawings knows the answer right away. Before NCS came along, owners, designers and construction professionals confronted the obstacle of understanding and organizing computer-generated building design information in any number of different formats.

NCS provides a streamlined means of organizing and classifying CAD data in a format that any of these building team members can understand. The NCS defines standards for many aspects of electronic building design data. Moreover, through the consensus process, future NCS versions will keep pace with evolving technology by defining standards for such things as object data, graphical display of information and printed output.

Participating organizations agree that, based on the current rate of success, their partnership will broaden and deepen. This will lead to continuing enhancements for NCS, including an electronic edition accessible to users via single-user, workgroup and enterprise-wide licenses. NIBS is also authorized to license building industry software developers to include the content of NCS within software applications.

What's in it for you?

Here's what one already finds in version 2.0 of NCS:

  • Introduction and Amendments to Industry Publications, by NIBS.

  • CAD Layer Guidelines, by AIA, with layer lists for survey/mapping, geotechnical, civil works, landscape, structural, fire protection, plumbing, mechanical and telecommunications, as well as a detailed commentary on ISO layer format compliance.

  • Uniform Drawing System, Modules 1-8, from CSI: 1. Drawing Set Organization; 2. Sheet Organization; 3. Schedules; 4. Drafting Conventions; 5. Terms and Abbreviations; 6. Symbols; 7. Notations; and 8. Code Conventions.

  • Plotting Guidelines of the United States Coast Guard, as promulgated by the U.S. Dept. of Defense Tri-Service CADD/GIS Technology Center.

Much of the current NCS version is geared toward 2-D graphical information. But for version 3.0, the NCS project committee has focused on developing the standard for newer, state-of-the-art CAD technology such as object data, which displays geometric information at different scales and in different views.

Also, there is the desire to move even further toward standardization and uniformity of printed output. The NCS project committee has worked closely with other organizations, such as the International Alliance for Interoperability, to facilitate the convergence of standards for organizing and classifying data with more technical, data format and exchange standards such as the IAI's Industry Foundation Classes (IFCs) and extensible markup language (XML).

In a nutshell, here's what the NCS web site ( ) lists as the advantages to building design professionals:

  • Consistent classification of data for all projects, regardless of the project type or client.

  • Seamless transfer of information between architects, engineers and other design team members.

  • Reduced preparation time for translation of electronic data files between different proprietary software file formats; predictable file translation results.

  • Reduced data file formatting and setup time as a result of adoption of the Standard by software application vendors.

  • Greatly reduced staff training time to teach "office standards."

  • A streamlined drawing checking process for references, omissions, etc.

  • Automated updating of data files as the Standard evolves.

  • A new opportunities for expanded services and revenue that go beyond traditional design services.

  • New marketing opportunity; design firms complying with the standard can feature that compliance as a benefit to prospective clients.

The ultimate goal of NCS developers is quite simply the voluntary adoption of the standard by the building design and construction industry in order to streamline and simplify the exchange of building design and construction data from project development throughout the life of a facility.

"The National CAD Standard will continue to contribute to the industry in a major way, providing a common language for CAD data in the same way that MasterFormat does for specifications," said CSI Executive Director Karl Borgstrom, Ph.D.

The continuing development and success of this standard can only prove a blessing for design professionals.

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