SharePoint Integration with AutoCAD

By Sandeep Tiwari posted 12-07-2012 04:30

  

Microsoft SharePoint is a platform for Enterprise Content Management and Collaboration that can be used to share and exchange information across boundaries. SharePoint allows you to centrally store, manage and access documents across the enterprise and to make them available and accessible to external partners like vendors, suppliers, customers, etc.

But to provide a comprehensive solution for document management in an engineering environment, SharePoint needs to be able to manage all kinds of documents, including engineering documents like CAD drawings. CAD drawings are often created with tools that do not offer out-of-the-box integration with SharePoint, which is needed to manage these documents properly.

There are many different CAD applications that are being used by engineering companies, like CAD applications for 2D drawing and 3D modeling and CAD applications for specific design purposes, like architectural, mechanical or electrical designing. All these applications have their own proprietary file formats, which makes managing these files and integrating with these applications a complex issue.

In addition, CAD drawings are created by CAD Engineers, but are being used by other internal and external users. To work efficiently with these CAD drawings, these users are in need for typical engineering document management functionality.

This article describes the possibilities and impossibilities for SharePoint to manage the CAD files and to integrate with CAD applications. It provides an answer to the question if and how SharePoint can be used as an Engineering Document Management & Control solution to store, manage and share design information across multi-disciplinary organizations and project teams

In normal practice we see that every CAD application vendor has in fact developed its own Engineering Document Management (EDM) or Product Data Management (PDM) system. In some cases we even see that a vendor of multiple CAD applications has developed separate solutions for each application, without proper integration between them! Because of this there is no EDM or PDM system available in the market today that offers deep integration with different CAD systems from multiple vendors.

As a result, organizations and project teams that work with multiple CAD systems are facing a serious challenge where they need a flexible and user friendly solution for engineering document management.

 But to provide a solution for engineering document management, SharePoint needs to be able to store and manage design information.

Managing CAD files:

For engineering document management, SharePoint needs to store and manage CAD files and to integrate with different CAD applications. Today, SharePoint already provides the possibility to store different kinds of files and to launch the related application. But this is not sufficient for managing CAD files properly.

CAD files Challenges

Reference files

CAD files are compound files with references to other files, blocks, images, etc. It is important that not only the CAD file, but also these references are properly managed. Often multiple people are working simultaneously on the same CAD file and its references, and when files are updated, also the references need to be updated.

The relationship between a CAD file and its references is stored within the CAD file (e.g. AutoCAD, MicroStation) and sometimes additional references are stored in an external file (e.g. project file) or database (e.g. ADT, Civil 3D, Inventor). This means that an Engineering Document Management system can only manage CAD files properly if it is able to “read” the reference information and if it is integrated deeply with the CAD application it used to create and edit the CAD files.

Layouts

CAD designs can be very large, especially when the object has extreme dimensions, like bridges, sky scrapers, roads, railways, etc. As a result, it is not always possible to fit the design in one (paper size) document. This is especially true when the design is created in a certain scale, and this scale needs to bekept in the document. In these cases, often multiple drawings are created from one and the same design.

Multiple drawings are created from one design

Views of a design are mostly used to “translate” the design to a drawing on physical paper with its own versioning logic. This means that one design could contain multiple drawings, each with a different version. An Engineering Document Management system should be able to manage the relationship between the design and the different versions of the drawings derived from the design.

Title block linking

A CAD drawing includes a title block area with information about the drawing, like drawing number, project number, description, revision number, etc. The title block information is often used as metadata, and needs to be kept up-to-date. The metadata of the drawing can change and as a result it should automatically be synchronized with the title block information. An Engineering Document Management system should be able to derive title block information from a drawing and map it with the metadata.

Viewing CAD files

CAD engineers are responsible for creating the drawings and designs, while others are using these drawings in their work. To open and view CAD drawings and designs, these users would need to have access to the CAD applications. However, CAD applications are not easy to use and are too expensive to provide access to everyone. Therefore often integrated viewing applications are used to open and view CAD files, without the need for the original CAD application. An Engineering Document Management system should therefore include a viewer to allow users without the CAD application to open and view CAD files.

Mark-up and redlining

CAD drawings and designs are controlled documents that need to be approved before they are release for general usage. Approval processes are often parallel and multi-level processes where multiple engineers, managers and sometimes external users need to approve documents. In these processes it is not only crucial that users are able to view the content of CAD drawings and designs without the native application, but they should also be able to provide feedback through mark-up and redlining. Mark-up and redlining information from multiple users needs to be consolidated to one Engineering Change Note or Order (ECN/ECO), which the CAD Engineer can use to update the drawing or design. An Engineering Document Management system should include a viewer and support mark-up and redlining.

Solutions

To integrate SharePoint with CAD applications, integration modules are needed for the different CAD applications. Microsoft does not provide CAD integration modules for SharePoint, and they do not have the intension to do so, since they lack the necessary knowledge and expertise. Therefore CAD integration modules have to be developed by others.

There are many CAD applications available today which are providing solutions to integrate SharePoint with AutoCAD like Brava, CADnection, AutoDesk, AutoCAD vault, CADAC etc…  They are providing applications for 2D drawing and 3D modeling and applications or add-ons for specific designing, like architectural, mechanical or electrical CAD. These CAD applications are all very different and they all have their own proprietary file format. Understanding all these file formats and understanding how to integrate with all these CAD applications, requires a huge effort. And not only to develop the integration, but also to keep it up-to-date with new versions of the CAD applications and file formats. For that reason, it is impossible for a single solution to integrate SharePoint with all possible CAD applications.

Benefits:

There are number of benefits after the integration which gives many users a hell relief in viewing the AutoCAD drawing.

  • Now every member of the organization, who is able to access the SharePoint Site, has the approach to see the CAD drawing on his machine. Everyone is updated with the latest drawing and provide their feedback to the relevant persons.
  • Through SharePoint mangers can create customized workflows on the AutoCAD files, so designs will be approved by the proper authorities and will be forwarded only after the proper recommendation.
  • User can enter the AutoCAD Metadata inside the SharePoint, so that it will help the others users in searching the files and content quickly.
  • Through SharePoint it will be easy to manage the AutoCAD files by providing users or groups with proper access and rights, so that data will be secured. Also in SharePoint we can maintain the versioning of files and retrieve the previous version whenever required.
  • SharePoint 2010 Business Connectivity Services (BCS) make it possible to combine information from a variety of systems as if all of it lived in SharePoint. Users can create, read, update, delete, and search the data using external lists, working online in a browser or in Microsoft Office. For example, a project manager on a construction site might need financial information, schedules, design data, and work resources information—all from different systems. With SharePoint’s composite capabilities, she can view it all in one place, allowing her to work more efficiently.
  • As AutoCAD files are generally heavier in size, so it can be stored in RBS (the inline storage medium in SharePoint).
  • SharePoint has OOB features like Backup, recovery and archival, which can help the organizations in maintaining their files in a planned and a systematic manner.
  • The ability to share design data and business information across and beyond the enterprise, companies should be able to increase productivity, respond more quickly to change and make better decisions.

Summary:

SharePoint is a powerful platform for document management and project collaboration. Many project-driven engineering companies that intensively share and exchange documents with internal and external project partners are looking into SharePoint as a solution for their engineering document management needs.

Businesses need every advantage to succeed. They must innovate faster, make smarter decisions, increase productivity and control costs. To do so, they need team within and beyond the firewall to communicate and  collaborate  as efficiently and effectively as possible, workflow that automate routine processes and access to data and business intelligence that facilitates improved decision making. With the integration between AutoCAD and SharePoint, many business organizations can achieve all that and more.



#AutoCAD #SharePoint #sharepoint
1 comment
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Comments

07-10-2013 19:12

Sandeep,
This is a very informative article. And it's written so that people that don't use CAD can begin to understand some of the complexities that we face as CAD & Data Admins.
But in your paragraph about "Solutions", I'd like to clarify some things that I don't think you explained correctly.
CAD applications, like AutoCAD & MicroStation, are not what integrate with SharePoint. CAD Content Management Systems, like AutoDESK Vault and ProjectWise integrate with SharePoint.
CAD applications are used to create and maintain CAD content - they produce proprietary file formats like DWG and DGN.
Engineering Content Management Systems are databases which are used (among other things) to manage CAD files.
I don't have any experience with AutoDESK Vault, but I do have extensive experience with Bentley's ProjectWise.
ProjectWise is capable of doing everything that you have discussed in this article, including the things that you say are impossible (with the exception of handling Revit files).
Generally speaking, in an organization with thousands or millions of CAD files and hundreds of users, the way to integrate CAD workflows with SharePoint would be to start with the Engineering Content Management System, not with SharePoint.
Thanks for your contribution!
DMC