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Autocad/windows automation - case studies

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AutoCAD Programmer and Drafting and Design
Name: Mark Acuna
Contact: 520-358-5701;


Purpose: These case studies demonstrate the advantage of computer customizations in AutoCAD, and the affect certain solutions had upon common production processes, and constraints for given time periods.

Background FYI:
What may be common knowledge or tech tools today in software and systems, were not always such. Many solutions I have developed have no reciprocation even today, while others were eventually developed within Autodesk and Microsoft products in subsequent years, so that some say to me, Excel or AutoCAD or so and so program does that, well at the time, it did not, and if it did it was hundreds if not thousands of dollars for the software solution, and you could not customize to specific needs. What follows are innovations in their time, for either unique programming, process solutions, or solutions provided cheaper with more flexibility, or more intensively focused than comparable third party software solutions then available. What these case studies demonstrate is that in any given computing epoch in design, data and presentation, I innovated consistently while a part of production in the trenches, whether or not the management system recognized it, it is my research and development history; I just do it. Names can be revealed if any find it interesting, all applications are in my possession, and many are available on the internet, at sites such as, and, and others.
I hope the following case studies may remind someone of current constraints they may be experiencing which they would like to remove for all time, instead of repeating past bottlenecks over and over, usually at client or company expense in the long and/or short run.
I do not change the way production does their tasks, such as everyone's own idiosyncratic software habits, a misapprehension some hold; I remove tediums, constraints and time drains that occur consistently or repetitively over time, and I use software as a tool, just as AutoLISP became a tool to some draftspersons who could operate or master it. Over years in this business, I saw owners and managers who seemed unaware that they were attacking production below the potential of tools available and believed others would progress who desired state-of-the-art problem solving, at an affordable rate.

Case Study: Cheap GPS! (2000)
I developed an AutoCAD integration for inexpensive Garmin handhelds, to speed up the common process of the Native Plant Inventory for a firm which was doing it 'by hand', and did not desire investing the $5,000 for Trimble or other comparable technologies. This solution used a $100 dollar Garmin 12CX handheld, AutoCAD and Excel.
Product: The system developed used a text code entered into the Garmin, at a marked waypoint, this was then automatically dispersed (before Autodesk Map!), with attribute information, block symbology, and tracks, to reduce time recording plants in the field. It also created automatically from Excel or Access, a corresponding plant table, of all required data, importable into AutoCAD automatically with data connectivity between the drawings points, and there associated tabulation. This turned a tedious process, full of disconnected potential for error, into the cheapest solution on the planet, which was completely data connected, in 2000. Many GPS solutions, for thousands of dollars, are still not as data connective, and more importantly are available to everyone and their competition, this solution put this firm ahead of their competition, and was customizable to the nth degree, no more remote technical assistance and wish lists.
Product: ActiveX Planet GPS application from several VBA macros. Macros could be run in AutoCAD, from the command line, the ActiveX module ran as a Windows application.
Time Savings: 5 to 10 times faster, depending on project scale.

Case Study: Visual Planting Design Interface to AutoCAD (2000)
The goal of this solution was to give designers visual access to planting design components in AutoCAD and reduce the steps needed in the standard AutoCAD command and dialog box sequence, bypassing it, to select, plant, label, tabulate and quantify landscape planting designs. This visual interface gave instant access to drawing design blocks, and disk stored blocks, for quicker design production, the tabulation was vastly superior to anything in AutoCAD, and the flexibility with which I customized for various situations, made it like the firm had a LandCADD programmer in their back pocket, accessed as needed. This allowed automation of every previously manual operation, and a new standard for innovators in landscape design.
Product: ActiveX Visual Design application The ActiveX module ran as a Windows application, developed primarily in Visual Basic 6.0.
Time Savings: 2-5 times the production speed, with automated quantification, block replace, and other automation constraint removals.

Case Study: Illustrative Artwork Product Solutions (2003)
The goal of this was to replace the artist, me! My purpose in this process innovation was to create plan renderings, completely within AutoCAD and Photoshop, that did not look computer, but retained a human looseness and variability in certain visual aspects, such as line quality, drop shadows, fill and background tonality. The idea was to take an AutoCAD drawing that looked after illustrative processing, like a hand drawn, hand colored, artistically washed or water colored effected illustrative rendering, without ever leaving the computer, as fast or faster than traditional means. This project turned into a few sub variations, but the original worked from within Architectural Desktop, and Photoshop, with sampled real art textures, from the artist, to produce an illustrative which was indistinguishable from ones done with hand rendering and traditional artwork techniques.
Product: VBA Macros could be run in AutoCAD, from command line, but this was treated as a multi-process solution, including Native AutoCAD commands, Photoshop standards, and a process description.
Time Saving: 2-3 times in most cases, highly detailed enhancements took as long as traditional techniques, but produced a more detailed, flexible end product, in Photoshop and/or AutoCAD.

Case Study: Automated Irrigation Data Tabulation (2002)
This firm was joyfully wasting profit by hand calculating irrigation zones data in large subdivision and roadway projects, upon every planting design iteration, revision or edit. The solution I developed was to automatically calculate irrigation flow and valve data, for multiple irrigation zones, sometimes up to 20 and 30 high volume stations, automatically. This eliminated hand or AutoCAD Bcounts, re-referencing and Valve Identification block attribute updating manually. This solution also tabulated and  quantified every irrigation zone separately or collectively, sizing valves, mainlines with complete zonal data, such as areas, distances, pressure losses and all associated materials take-offs, like pipe sizes, quantities, etc.
Product: ActiveX AcIrrigation application from several VBA macros. Macros could be run in AutoCAD, from the command line, the ActiveX module ran as a Windows application, and most of this was VB first, then VBA conversions as macros were created.
Time Savings: Depending on project scale, this was 5 times as fast, and completely data accurate.

Case Study: Hydrology Handmaiden (2004)
A design engineer at a certain firm, was wasting countless hours weekly, transferring data from AutoCAD, to Excel for mathematics, to HecRas for summarization, back to AutoCAD. My solution to this tedious constraint was an AutoCAD selection and associated data keystroke automator and ActiveX GUI injector. The gist of the innovation was to mine all data from AutoCAD once, input it into several Excel spreadsheets, return the calculations, inject those into HecRas legacy GUI's, mine those associated data files for the final data, and plug that all back into AutoCAD tables or site specific AutoCAD drawing locations automatically. This allowed design engineers to have the flexibility of running numerous design iterations, for improved design development, instead of taking whole days doing tedious data entry, switching from application interface to interface, cutting and pasting etc.
Product: VB ActiveX app could be run between AutoCAD/Excel/HECRAS, from command line, but this was treated as a multi-process solution, including Native AutoCAD commands, Excel processes, and a process description.
Time Saving: 5-10 times, and allowed better design development from this.

Case Study: Multiple Images in AutoCAD (2002)
This producer was having to attach thousands of digital images, of varying formats into AutoCAD manually, sometimes site specific, sometimes as masses of hundreds of photographs. I made a visual interface to allow this to be done with single clicks, for hundreds at once, and to attach others, faster than inserting blocks in standard AutoCAD. The eliminated lost time surfing around for photos, and image attaching them through the standard AutoCAD interface, a tedious multi-stepped operation.
Product: This was a VB developed ActiveX GUI.
Time Savings: 10-50 Times, depending on operation process and final product.

Case Study: Planners Nitemare Resolved (2002)
This planner was spending hours offsetting center lines of streets in huge sub divisions, for pavement, curbs, row, sidewalks, lot boundaries and setbacks. The solution developed would offset from a given alignment, all the needed offsets and associated plines or lines, to specific layers, with customizable distances, and a default. This turned a tedious nitemare, into an automatic dream!
Product: ActiveX Polyline Bomber application from several VBA macros. Macros could be run in AutoCAD, from the command line, the ActiveX module ran as a Windows application.
Time Savings: easily beyond three times faster.

Case Study: Quantity Takeoff Controller (1999)
This firm was spending hours, and half days, quantifying various parks, roadways, and commercial landscape planting, irrigation and hardscape quantities. The solution developed would quantify entire projects, quantify them in a database, spreadsheet, text file, and/or AutoCAD in minutes, the VBA version would do it in seconds. This was later integrated into a developed landscape database to allow additional components and graphically invisible costs to added as needed.
Product: This was a VB developed ActiveX GUI, which borrowed Excel or Access in a multi-step process which could also be a seamless routine, but different steps were taken depending on the project anatomy being dissected and quantified.
Time Savings: Even in it's primitive form, it was hundreds of times faster, and more accurate than manual tracking could allow.

Case Study: AutoCAD Multiplex
This was a drawing management aid formulated to migrate legacy drawings to various current standards, such as sub entity properties, of thousands of blocks, in thousands of drawings. This solution allowed a CAD manager to manipulate layers, block, styles nomenclature across drawing groups, to process in batches, or single, within batches of blocks in drawings or individually, to update current standards to drawings of past creation, which were often 'frankensteined' for various parts, which invariably cluttered current organization by introducing non-standard names, colors, layers etc.
Product: This was a VB developed ActiveX GUI, which borrowed external sources for standards, or had names hardwired in. It was more of a multi-process record of how to do multiple modifications to thousands of drawings.
Time Savings: This was infinite because no one knew how long it took to fix 200 blocks and layers in 20000 drawings, but it was substantial, it was more for ongoing maintenance in it's possibilities of modification and customization.

Case Study: Design Matchline Dissector
This solution created multiple layouts for various site design projects, from a set of AutoCAD entities, such as polyline rectangles windowing design areas, in groups, updating title blocks per layout nd automating certain tediums in division of sites to corresponding plan sheet layouts. It also corresponded a set of design views, to associated view ports, allowing site views and schedules and legends to become standardized by defining them as visual areas, to be set into view ports of various sheets, for various plan design types.
Product: This was a VB developed ActiveX GUI, which referenced standards according to design type. It was a multi-process record of how to arrange spatial design into paper sheet layouts, and to assemble design tabulations to appropriate 2d plan views, as is commonly done when creating plans manually for drawing sets.
Time Savings: This was probably faster, but also required standardizing project types, and practicing on projects, which at some point woud have logically connected to a project database for previously manually entered drawing project information.

Case Study: Attribute Interpreter
This solution was developed to not only extract attribute data, a common procedure automated by AutoCAD and many third parties now, but to also reduce steps of subsequent calculations upon the data in Excel, Access, or within the program itself. This eliminated the step on many projects, of sifting through thousands of drawing records in Excel, and reformatting or formulizing them after extraction. This application and concept did this during extraction, it was then easy to make the new information and data exportable to other destinations, also automatically.


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