The importance and how-to's of CAD standards.

What are CAD* standards and what should they accomplish? CAD standardization allows anyone in an organization to access, interpret and disseminate information efficiently and quickly, and in a uniform manner. What is the enforcement of CAD standards? Enforcement is the ability of an organization to persuade its employees or team members to conform to a pre-established set of rules that govern the project data and how it is published. The goal of CAD standards enforcement is an important one and one that many organizations in the industry share. So why is it that the vast majority of organizations still struggle with this necessary business obligation?

Establishing CAD standards is often mutually agreed upon by both the management of a company and the production staff. But the secret to the usefulness of CAD standards is not in having them but in enforcing them. Enforcement is often elusive because someone must monitor staff adherence and have the authority to correct those who violate the standards. Most don't want the responsibility (and the stress) of policing CAD drawings for aesthetic accuracies.

So why do CAD standards often fail, and how can organizations improve their enforcement?

[*Varying interpretations exist for CAD and CADD; the term CAD used throughout this article refers to computer-aided design.]

Why Standards Fail

CAD standards most often fail for two main reasons. The first is that the enforcement of standards is put upon the wrong person-the user! The second reason is that standards are often inadequate or incomplete. Inadequate standards provide a wide-open door for deviation. As a result, standards are not used and become rapidly abused.

For CAD standards to be used appropriately and effectively, they should be overseen by management; instead they are often overlooked. Many users in the industry have learned through experience that self-enforcement does not work. Users should have to go out of their way to NOT follow the standards. To do this, CAD standards should be built into the usage of the software so that everything is automated. Many of the manufacturers with CAD capabilities in their software offerings have gone to great lengths to provide methods for embedding CAD standards into the software. Some excellent examples to prove this exist within our industry.

Proof of Good CAD Standards

Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
The Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or WMATA, is well into a unique project to develop the city's first light rail system. One of the first things my company OutSource Inc., WMATA's consultant, accomplished with the group and their management team, represented by Don Falken, LS, was to develop an enterprise-wide set of CAD standards with input from all of the team members on the project. This included the surveying, engineering, right of way, architectural and structural departments. Meetings were conducted that established the presentation standards for each group. Then, the National CAD Standards ( were introduced and ultimately chosen as the standard for layer naming and symbology conventions. The settings for the application software, in this case, Autodesk (San Rafael, Calif.) Land Desktop, Civil and Survey, were then established to the detail of creating three-dimensional railroad track templates, configured for use by the engineers and placed into libraries for uniform enterprise-wide access. All of the settings of the system were built into the software's installation and located centrally on a server. A uniquely modular system was created into the standards that allowed for data to be entered and replaced as it was updated by either the consultants or WMATA members. The project team has performed above expectations and the project schedule shows the light rail line will be in service next year.

The figure below shows an example of a plan and profile sheet created with the standards and the Autodesk Sheet Manager software. "The first round of production contract drawings for the site prep contract, which included approximately 60 drawings, was accomplished in two weeks with two engineers and two CAD technicians," Falken says. "Delivery of the contract documents was accomplished in record time. The development of WMATA CAD standards has simplified the work process, reduced the need for many minor edits and increased production of the entire team. The cost of developing the CAD standards has been recovered on our first project."

Virginia Department of Transportation
Another good example of effective CAD standards usage is the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). The organization acquired Bentley's (Exton, Pa.) GEOPAK software for consultants working on state road projects to achieve a uniform consistency in their deliverables. VDOT went one step further than simply providing the consultant with the software; they embedded the state CAD standards directly into the software so that when it was installed it was already set up to place objects into the CAD drawing with the state required settings. For instance, contours are on the mandated levels with the required colors, line weights and line styles. Road alignments and related features are embedded into the software so that when the road is designed and ready for importation to drafting, the state mandated drafting criteria is built-in and can be applied automatically.

Manufacturer Software Products
Other proof of good CAD standards can be found in the manufacturers' lines of software products. Autodesk Land Desktop was introduced years ago with capabilities to embed CAD standards into the software during installation. The new Civil 3D product uses a library of styles that can be localized to the company or jurisdiction where the project is located. The styles dictate the design and drafting parameters for each component of the project. For surveyors, three-dimensional points can automatically influence surface data and display. Parcels can be linked directly to the right of way so if the roadway is modified, parcels are automatically realigned and related text is automatically adjusted. For engineers on site design and roadway projects, lines, arcs and text will be all but obsolete since it introduces a data-driven methodology to our industry. Users now have object technology that defines not only the aesthetics but the actual design behavior of items for roads, surfaces, parcels, etc.

Carlson Software (Maysville, Ky.) SurvCADD products essentially have a single location where all data settings can be established for each module acquired. Libraries for annotation styles and design parameters can be set and on top of that, there are localization settings for a project's particular needs. An interesting feature in this software is the single location field-to-finish library that controls the behavior of 2D and 3D line work and points.

Many software developers offer tools for CAD standardization, but many firms have overlooked these features at their own loss. The two major organizations cited in this article have huge engineering and surveying responsibilities. They not only developed a complete set of standards, but they also built the adherence into the software as well. They had a plan, made use of the technology and were highly motivated to make it happen, and will most assuredly reap the benefits for years to come. If they can do it, then your company can, too.

Embedding CAD standards directly into software programs allows for automatic object placement, a set library of styles, weights and colors, specific drafting criteria and designed project parameters.

Assembling and Enforcing Complete CAD Standards

Now that we've discussed the advantages of adhering to a solid set of CAD standards, let's discuss how an organization goes about developing a satisfactory and enterprise-wide set of guidelines for the use of a CAD system. And once CAD standards are in place, how do firm managers persuade employees to adhere to them?

To achieve CAD standards and enforcement, an organization should follow five steps:

Step 1: Develop Presentation Standards
A decision needs to be made as to exactly what the presentation standards are that the company wants the CAD system to portray. It is wise to have one format for a cover sheet, all detail sheets, plan and profile sheets, and utility drawings. This uniform style includes a standardization of fonts, symbology and title block. Without a standard format, the CAD technician cannot draw the CAD system in a uniform way.

Once the presentation standards are established they can be "localized" for jurisdictional differences. Sometimes a firm can achieve a single format and look by which to govern CAD publishing. However, a multi-disciplined company that works in multiple jurisdictions may fare better with an office-based set of presentation standards. Either way, the established presentation standards provide a prototype for future development.

Step 2: Evaluate Presentation Standards for Effectiveness in CAD
A brief study will inform management how much of the presentation standards can be automated and how much will need to be done by hand. If a firm truly desires efficiency, traditions sometimes need to be adapted to new technology.

One example of this is a proposed spot shot indicating a grading elevation. It might be shown as $142.67. This costs money in labor to calculate, enter and ultimately edit this piece of data. In fact, it has been estimated at $0.75 per spot shot! It is also useless for automatically computing grades because it is simply text or an attribute and it is not recognized by the software as a computational item. Instead, management should consider alternative ways to display a spot shot, perhaps using a different font, italics, or a rotation factor or style.

"˜We have always done it that way' doesn't cut it anymore unless there are regulations or codes governing it. Once presentation standards are evaluated for effectiveness in CAD, a set of standards to automatically produce the desired published effect can be established.

Step 3: Develop CAD Standards
When asked, most organizations claim to have CAD standards. Imagine their chagrin when they discover that all they have are layering standards! A layer listing should be but a small subset of a complete set of CAD standards. When a company sets out to develop or re-establish CAD standards, they should be well thought-out. These standards become valuable intellectual property for an organization and will likely guide the company for many years to come.

The box on page 32 shows an example of good CAD standards, in which each item integrates with the others. All of the parts should be distributed digitally or embedded in the software used. Recommended CAD standards include:

  • presentation standards (so everyone knows what each plan should look like)

  • CAD standards (which standardize the drafting of objects such as font styles, heights, layers, CAD variables, etc.)

  • plotting standards (which standardize plotters, plot styles, plot stamps, resolution quality, color versus black and white, etc.)

  • CAD standards (which standardize how traverses are reduced and corrected, how profiles are computed by jurisdiction, how contouring and labeling are done, etc.)

Step 4: Build the Standards Into the Chosen Software Solution Digitally
Generalizing from the example given, notice that there are drafting standards (or presentation standards), CAD standards (the settings in the CAD drawing files), plotting standards (or publishing standards), application software settings (the design algorithms and style libraries) and workflow standards. Most of these can be built into an organization's software. Users will inherit the settings when a new project or CAD drawing is created. Most even allow for settings and standards to be retroactively embedded into project data.

This step is the enforcement step. Rather than developing and referencing standards in a giant, voluminous book, users will be more productive with the automatic settings. In addition to digitally building standards into the CAD software, companies can also publish them on their respective intranets for dissemination, easy modification and rapid access.

Step 5: Conduct Routine Meetings
To keep the investments of developing standards maintained and relevant, it is wise to bring key staff together on a routine basis for feedback and modification of the standards. This can keep management updated on the needs, upgrades and expansion of the settings.

Successful CAD Standardization

Individual companies must define presentation standards to identify what is to be standardized. The published format look of drawings should be evaluated to determine how much of that can be automated in the software used. Management should be kept abreast of items that do not work well within the software and asked to choose the look they want according to the efficiencies inherent in the CAD software. Then a comprehensive set of standards that covers drafting, CAD drawings, CAD design, CAD publishing and workflow can be created. To enforce the standards, firms should digitally build them into the software used. And the last piece of the puzzle for successful CAD standardization is to keep the users and management in the loop with regular meetings in order to keep the standards robust and relevant. With smart and efficient practices, CAD standards can exist in a company and help in every project undertaken.

Good Standards Should Include:

  • Corporate Policies and Procedures on CAD Usage
  • Information Technology (IT)-Oriented CAD Standards
  • Foundation Software-Based CAD Standards
  • Application Software-Based CAD Standards
  • Project Maintenance-Based CAD Standards
  • Project Closeout-Based CAD Standards
  • WorkFlow-Based CAD Standards
  • CAD Standards for Data Transfer
  • CAD Standards for Data Types Within the Project Data
  • Discipline-Oriented CAD Standards
  • Hardcopy-Based CAD Standards
  • CAD Standards for Ancillary Files
  • CAD Standards for Project Collaboration