Monday, November 26, 2012


{An idea I essayed in 2001: current time probably a lot more attuned to implementing such ideas.}


Large consultants cannot hope to compete with small specialist consultants that operate, in such areas as providing footing construction reports (FCR), and site classification. The primary reason is that these consultants have clients with large workloads. That is taking FCR's as an example, the consultants have builders of pre-designed (market/spec). homes for clients. Whilst the buildings themselves do not need designing, the footings need to be designed specifically for the chosen site. Such footing design is relatively simple and highly repetitive. Thus once you have designed one footing, designing another is simply a matter of reviewing and selecting a previous design. Most of the design is thus reduced to a matter of obtaining soil bore-logs, and classifying the site. Once the site is classified the footing and slab sizes can be obtained from tables derived from prior designs. There is no need for mysterious "black boxes" like CORD and SLOG, the problem solver is just a simple look up table.
Thus it is possible to improve the convenience and speed of service delivery by providing the service on-line over the Internet. By so doing the market place expands to the world, constraints of local standards is largely nonsense, most national standards are based on international standards, or standards of countries where research is conducted, namely America, Britain, Germany and Europe. The main restraint to an international market is language and local by-laws. Local by-laws are also a constraint to both developing state and national markets. Such variances however can be addressed as the need arises, and the potential for expanded markets develops. A web site that caters for multiple design standards will allow local designers to compare variations in the results and better question why the codes are different.


The web site should be set up and presented in such a manner that it encourages and promotes the use of engineering services, for both simple and especially complex projects. Simple projects are completed by clients themselves over the Internet, complex projects require person to person discussions with engineers.

The value of the website is that it assists to promote the idea that engineers do not sell time, but that they sell responsibility for risk : insurance. The other value is that it provides engineers the opportunity to demonstrate that they can provide more economical solutions, than those that come from comparative designs. However no one is going to pay an engineer $1000 to save a $1000 worth of concrete. In short computer programs force engineers to demonstrate their value to the community above and beyond that of crunching numbers.

The website needs to take an individual through the various steps required for producing a report suitable for building approval. Thus the following steps may be shown:

  1. Order soil bore-logs
  2. Enter bore-logs data
  3. Classify Site
  4. Footing Construction Report

To get to this point a client will have to log on and provide details about themselves and the project, they will then be allocated a project/client reference number. Irrespective of whether the client continues with the service at this point, the consultant will have obtained information about the client and the impending project. Thus information will be available for public relations and market research purposes. Thus the client can be contacted personally if the consultant considers it to be of benefit to both parties.

If the client makes use of the services then they can pay for the services using either BPAY or a credit card.
Not all services provided however will have a fee.

If the client has bore-log data then they can select to enter the bore log data into a web based database. It is the client/project number that keeps this data private to the client, a password may also be employed. Once such data is entered they can then select to classify the site. The site classification will then recommend whether an engineer needs to be contacted in person, or whether the FCR's can be obtained on-line. If not available on-line then the client can e-mail for further assistance, details of the project coming from the on-line database.

If they do not have bore-logs then these can be ordered from the web-site, this results in an e-mail going to the consultants who then forward the request to their preferred suppliers. The supplier once they have obtained the bore-logs, enters the bore-log data on-line into the database. Once this is done the client is advised of the bore-logs being available to complete, site classification and FCR requirements. The client gains access to their specific project using their project/client number and passwords.


Clients are not just restricted to project owners, they can extend to builders, architects, students and other consultants. Graduates who are familiar with the web-site become preferred choice as future employees. Builders can get their solutions quickly, and get on with building. Architects can dream as much as they like, at a price, and compare variations, and seek engineering input to provide more economical solutions.

Other consulting engineers can exploit the web site, to demonstrate that they can produce more economical solutions. But more importantly they can use the software to produce their own designs efficiently and economically. Thus the provider of such a web site earns income from just about every footing that is designed.

All the time that a client is on-line, they are being made aware of other scientific and engineering services that are available and which can benefit them. Thus they do not have to wait until government regulations require them to seek engineering services for building approval. They become aware that engineers can provide benefit at other times as well.

All calculations and reports completed on-line should have some disclaimer to the effect:

That the calculations have been completed, without a structural engineer having viewed any design drawings, and that it is therefore the clients responsibility to have the design checked by a suitably qualified registered engineer, prior to seeking building approval. Or alternatively to get the designed checked and privately certified at the same time.

Since the certification needs to be by an independent party, the web-site can provide links and recommendations of certifiers.


If consulting engineers can make such sites available, then so can experienced designers with other qualifications along with computer scientists. But more importantly so can government regulators. Why would a person seeking building approval log onto a consulting engineers web site, when they can log onto a local authorities web site and obtain design and building approval for one low fee ?

One reason is that the consulting engineers can be in the market place first, and with private certification there is little need to go to council. Secondly the consultants are more likely to produce more economical designs. Thirdly optimisation of government services would eventually eliminate local council web sites and provide one national web site for building approval ensuring uniformity of application of building codes across the nation, council employees are not going to start that "ball rolling".

But most importantly is, if the software is written with proper data validation and error checking procedures, and is user friendly, and specific to given product types then the software itself can be certified by regulators. Once the software is certified, the task of regulators is to ensure that the certified design calculations and the intended construction are compatible. This is where consultants remain employed. They are employed to check compatibility of design calculations and other design documentation, and provide for the variations, plus they can provide construction/manufacturing and general project management services above and beyond number crunching. [The author has experience of fabricators who submit standard design calculations and sketches of sheds to council, without any project specific documentation. Then build a shed that bares no relationship to the submission. They then have to pay for calculations to prove that what has been built is structurally adequate, which is a far more difficult task than design.]

Engineering advise provided on-line, over the Internet is also easier to charge a fee for, and get paid for, than that provided over the telephone or in person. That information provided for a fee however as to compete against that which is provided free of charge. Thus information provided for a fee needs to be superior and of greater value than that provided for free.

The successful producer of an article sells it for more than it cost him to make, and that's profit. But the customer buys it only because it is worth more to him than he pays for it, and that's his profit. No one can long make a profit producing anything unless the customer makes a profit using it. [Samuel B. Pettengill]

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Telephone Irritations, order/scheduling and other stuff ...

In recent few years made some changes to our telephones services. First change was to replace old commander system with wireless phones and a base station. We continued with having the answering machine set to take messages and monitoring who calls, answering the phone if we know who is calling and otherwise able to answer the call.

I generally don't like the approach, as messages on answering machine represent a queue of work to be processed. It turns into a big waste of time as becomes a silly back and forth game of everyone leaving messages on each others answering machines. My preference has always been answering machine set to answer only, with no message received. Then answer phone if able, otherwise miss the call. Problem with that is cannot monitor who is calling.

Monitoring calls is important since large proportion of calls are people selling telephone services, wanting donations, selling shares or doing surveys. Basically wasting our time. Similarly daily we get a fax for either holidays, coffee machines or business cards. Whilst legitimate faxes relatively rare, as most people now moved over to email.

Due to the expense of the telephone services, we recently changed our plan for our landlines and internet, in the process we cancelled our fax line. The latter may not have been a good idea, since it now appears that cannot use the Internet at the same time as use telephone: I don't know but maybe we need a better line filter for the DSL. On the other hand the DSL now seems to hiccup on a regular basis anyhow.

Any case we got a new plan. Moved management of our domain name over and set up some emails for the business, but otherwise lost a website presence. The latter not a major loss since didn't like the simple default web page we were permitted by other supplier in any case.

It turns out we also got message bank, and caller ID. Not initially being aware that we had message bank we accumulated a fair few calls. Seems when we were talking on the phone, messages were being accumulated on message bank, also when our answering machine got full. Since now have caller ID we no longer need to monitor the calls, we now know who is calling immediately, well at least for those people we have in the phone book and who don't have multiple phones. The answering machine has been set to answer only, or turned off altogether: not sure which. Either way we are just using the message bank for messages, rather than have multiple queues.

Still personally I prefer emails, to phone calls. Last place I worked on contract there was a memo sent round to use the phone rather than email. I thought it was a silly idea. Generally type of message get from phone junky action people: the seagull managers. They are not really action people, just mouths: they get on a phone and dump their responsibilities onto others. Having done so they think they have done a worth while job. They fail to understand that their phone call was an unwanted interruption, distraction and disturbance.

In the past it has been quite apparent if ignore a message and get back later in the day, then the caller has fixed their own problem. For the most part it is not possible to describe a problem clearly over the phone, and typically graphics are required. Therefore the phone call will typically end in, a request for a fax, a drawing to be emailed, or a meeting. None of which needed the hassle of a phone call in the first instance.

If force people to write faxes, or emails, then the thought required to write such documents will typically result in the writer solving their own problem: saving the business the cost of getting a consultant to solve the problem.

So what are telephones to be used for. Everyone (except myself and maybe a few others) is running around with a mobile phone, but do people really need to be so in touch with others? The catch cry of the advertising is that mobile phones are efficient and increase productivity for business. Personally I don't see this, for I don't see any efficiency in the use of a telephone. But then again I hate telephones.

Traditionally either communicate in person or send a messenger. The emergence of industrial society is largely dependent on the increased use of the written word. A written message is likely to reach the receiver with less distortion than if rely on the memory of a messenger. A written message can be sent by carrier pigeon or other trained animal. all of this however was relatively slow, and then the telegraph arrived, and this transmitted a variation of the written word: it was much faster then anything previously. But telegraph required infrastructure, so messages were not direct from sender to receiver. With the emergence of the telephone messages could now be sent quickly directly between the individuals needing to converse: but only by the spoken word. The spoken word is not the best way to communicate, and humans tend to be highly visual: meaning they do have to look people in the eye when talking to them.or otherwise use gestures and draw in fresh air. In short a lot is lost when talking via the phone and most people are not properly trained to communicate effectively using only the spoken word. For that matter using the written word effectively is also a relatively undeveloped skill for most. Hence the development of the fax permitting the communication of a message comprising of words, pictures and any other mark that can be placed on a piece of paper.

With the emergence of the Internet we get email, a kind of back track to the telegraph. But then email is developed further and can now convey words, graphics, audio and video: a full multimedia experience. People now have access to advanced telecommunications in the palm of their hand from just about anywhere.

So it is that I don't believe that a telephone is the most productive way to communicate in business, not via the spoken word in any case  The spoken word may be considered more sociable to some than other ways, but certainly not more appropriate. Sociable is a matter of perspective, phone calls interrupt, and there is little sociable about interrupting someone.

Some businesses have receptionists or possibly sales people who deal with incoming phone calls, for small business such resources are not always financially viable. There are also some practical problems, as often new clients/customers want to speak to the people in the know, and discuss their needs. Receptionists are good for filtering calls, and booking appointments, but typically limited in ability to discuss the services available relevant to the needs of the enquirer. Whilst sales people tend to sell stuff, not necessarily that within capability to supply.

Something far better than a spoken phone call is required to cater for new business, and for many business activities for that matter. Buyers need to be able to investigate and compare suppliers whilst suppliers need to be able to filter out potential buyers and not accept all comers.

One problem in particular for service providers, is that those services typically cannot be stock piled with customers supplied from existing stock. With services it is the customers who tend to get stock piled as they are placed and queued in a waiting line. These queues can be managed in different ways, first in first out (FIFO), last in first out (LIFO stack), or seemingly at random on the basis of ever changing priority.

Consider following problem. Explain that cannot start anything for 4 weeks, enquirer goes away and tries again 4 weeks later: result no different. This is because an additional 4 weeks of work accumulated during the enquirers wait, the enquirer needed to be in the waiting line.

If a person goes to a shop or the bank, they can see the service queue and decide whether to join it or not. With many other services the customer cannot see the queue, and the vast majority wish to push to the front of the queue: everyone has an emergency. Meanwhile the service providers need a supply of work. Negotiation may take place over the phone, but at the end of the day many customers not interested in the agreements. They wanted the job yesterday and phone everyday, causing pressure to bring their job to the front of the queue: basically to remove the daily distraction. Phone calls are noisy and distract the whole office, and so do the phone conversations. Quieter, faster and less distracting systems are required, which get direct to the point, and answer the enquirers questions.

Phone calls seldom get direct to the answer because a lot of fishing goes on trying to find out real intent and meaning, and otherwise removing ambiguities and trying to get some clarity. Other situations simply want to just ping some system and get an immediate response, with out disturbing anyone.

A phone is more for relaxed personal conversations not for efficient business transactions. Hence online banking, online stores and online order processing systems. Let computers channel and manage the queues.

How would it be if could make an appointment to see the doctor, dentist and optician online, and otherwise make the appointment permanent? To organise getting car serviced and a multitude of other regular activities all planned and set in motion. No need to remember, no need to arrange time for the appointment, no need to organise to book the appointment. Its done once, and only once, then its set in your schedule. How much more efficient is that than business keep sending out written reminders? It is a permanent on going provision until choose otherwise and cancel.

For trades, it is not safe answering mobile phone or having it on their person whilst actually doing the job. Also customers not too pleased if paying for time worked and supplier spends most of the time on phone. For consultants its difficult to get any work done during the day due to answering phone calls or just the distraction of the noise (no volume mute). Also many with mobiles seem to spend first half of meeting talking to person at last meeting, then last half talking to person at next meeting. Thus two calls to the one party, and no real attention at any meeting: may as well stay in the office and conduct business by one phone call and skip the meeting.

Mobile phones basically encourage disorder and inefficiency. With out telecommunications would have to be considerably more orderly and efficient in conducting affairs before wasting resources attending a meeting or sending a messenger.

So don't want to be wasting time with long phone calls, nor face to face meetings, nor writing long letters, emails or faxes. Time spent on communication, should result in communication, not generate confusion demanding further interaction.

Often the use of a phone, especially a mobile phone, is preceded by a failure to put brain in gear. The task of the service providers is to predict the paths of these free rolling brains and provide appropriate direction control and brakes.

Obviously not all enquirers have free rolling brains, often its the person answering the call. The latter often being a consequence of the persons mind being else where and distracted by the call.

Other times callers don't want to get into social conversation they just want to get on with business, though they may have no real idea of the business they want to get on with.

There are different audiences to cater to. Those that only want to use a voice phone and that is the only technology they have, and those that want something more efficient and direct to their needs and otherwise have access to alternative technologies.

But whilst customers want to sort chaff from the wheat, suppliers also want and need to sort and classify customers and enquirers.

From that it would appear that at least two separate phone lines are required. One for enquirers who may or may not become customers. Another line for regular clients. Possibly a 3rd line for irregular customers to discuss issues with their job. But don't really want 2 or more lines to service, any more than want voice message banks. Rather want a single line properly filtered.

Could decide only interested in work from persons with access to the Internet  Such approach would be best suited for business to business transactions, but depending on the business may be limiting relative to private individuals. On the other hand the provision of an alternative channel via the Internet may well provide the necessary filter to the telephone calls.

If people can investigate what they need to know over the Internet and place an order, and know where they are in the queue, and keep track of their position, then maybe such system will cut down: enquiries and time spent directing people to more appropriate services. Also if the queue is reliable then may be people won't mind joining the end of the queue, even though it is months away. They can do this because they are planning, rather than turn up and find it will be weeks before can get any service, they can book the service months before they actually need it.

The one thing that makes the queue unreliable is all the work not placed in the queue and often not otherwise billed. All the conversations about up and coming projects, all the additional work to existing projects, and working on the business itself to provide the service in the first place. Properly accounted for the allocable blocks of time in the queue are much reduced. If time not consumed by these miscellaneous random activities, then scheduled work from the queue maybe completed ahead of time. If not controlled then excess time is consumed by these random activities and the queue becomes unreliable again.

Getting a reliable queue is my main concern. The queue is currently not reliable, it is not managed, it simply operates by ever changing priority. Its one reason I hate telephones. People want to know where their job is, and I have no control over, and its all in the hands of my father or stuck in his head. Others are seeking services and I don't have any reliable knowledge of when anything can be supplied or completed by. All attempts to get some order fail.

Hence my reason for considering an Internet based computer managed ordering and scheduling system. People provide their details, and answer check lists and are set on the path to providing the appropriate information to get the job done. For that is another time waster, and cause of changing priorities. Projects for which all the necessary information is available, and which are quick to do, get priority, as such jobs also tend to be quick to be paid, and thus provide the basic bread and butter income. Other jobs, are slow, and difficult to extract all the necessary information so that progress can be made on the job, and then they are slow to be paid as well. Whilst better paying, they are not really the kind of jobs we want. For such longer jobs interfere with the smaller more frequent jobs. So really need to decide between small or large jobs and then stick to such decision. Smaller jobs however don't really generate adequate income. However I believe that is largely due to a lot of messing around trying to get adequate information, if had adequate information then could complete faster and therefore could complete more such jobs in a year.

Therefore an online order/scheduling system needs to place people into different servicing queues. Something of a pre-processing, basic training and induction queue. Those in the induction queue are doing the preliminary ground work necessary to get their project off the ground. Such ground work may involve being sent elsewhere or otherwise waiting for supplies from others. For example could be sent off to a drafter or builder. Or may need to order soil bore logs and site survey. As a consequence of such things there may be several stages where a customer has to wait before moving to the next stage. For example if getting residential footing construction report, then have to wait for development approval. Once approval granted, then there are trenches to dig, reo to install, and concrete to cast: for which inspections may be required or desired. Progress through these various stages can be tracked and inspections and additional services ordered as required.

Another problem is getting the business operators to work to the schedule. However such scheduling system likely to change the nature of the business, with more and more of the actual work being done in a standardised manner through an online system. So that with time more and more effort invested in building the system to provide the service rather than providing the service manually. Those who specialise in various engineering services such as residential footing construction reports haven't really put much effort into the technologies used, and enhanced the quality of service provided: no added value, no increased quality, no faster service and no lower costs. The net effect has been no real improvement in any part of the supply chain.

The current so called shortage of engineers, would be much reduced with improved logistics. The task is to know who is working on what and who is available to do what? To balance work schedules at least regionally if not nationally.

Thus far my general view has been to get certain businesses to employ either engineers or engineering associates on staff. But failing being able to do that, then need to improve access to resources required to do the job at hand. Clearly the content of most academic study programmes contain far more than required to do any specific job, the task therefore is for graduates of such programmes to inform and educate operators about the knowledge relevant to their actual work. A free telephone help line is not currently viable, but Internet based guidelines are viable. Whilst much time and effort would be required to build, it is a once only type activity. Telephone wise keep getting same questions but from different people, so not progressing. Internet wise, the question is asked and answered, and there for others to view in the future.

People buy DIY manuals and self study guides in print, but most service providers are unlikely to publish their reference materials and place on the market, and few people likely to buy such things. But businesses may publish and give away free reference materials. Not all businesses however can afford the publication, and distribution may also pose to be a problem. With the Internet and e-books, publication and distribution much less of a problem. Of course there are some who keep knowledge to themselves and see business advantage in doing so. I prefer sharing knowledge as far as is practicable.

In short I'm aiming to get rid of the land line phone altogether, along with voice messages. Then focus attention on Internet based order/scheduling system and Internet based services. To use Internet based phone services where voice is necessary, and otherwise get a mobile phone and restrict who gets the number.

Telephone companies may have this desire to publish phone numbers and charge for silent numbers, since doing so generates business on their networks: but not necessarily beneficial to the recipients. On the other hand I don't believe we get many calls as a consequence of people looking our number up in a printed directory. Most seem to be a consequence of having presence and then referral. Therefore improving presence is the more important task for growing the right kind of enquiries.

One important factor regarding getting work is that we are generally the only local supplier, and that represents convenience of access compared to going into the city. Via the Internet the big city suppliers could provide a convenience of access, not the least of which they have the resources for significant websites in the first place. Though probably easier for other consultants to find the websites than any actual customer. But then big city consultants do tend to be business to business operators rather than suppliers to private individuals.

The problem is that phones calls and people turning up all represent interruptions and distractions to train of thought. Its not a 1 second or a few minutes of interruption, the disturbance extends beyond the actual event. A few hours may have been spent getting a clear train of thought, the method of attacking a problem, then an interruption, the order disturbed and more time is required to recollect the thoughts. Normally would isolate such interruptions. No telephones in a hospital operating theatre, no phones down a coal mine, no phones on a factory floor, and no general access phones in a big office. All these areas are typically isolated from outside calls. Such isolation is something difficult for small business to do.

Calls are required to get future work, but too many calls become an obstruction to doing any work. Some may say that is good, it provides for growth. No it doesn't. Growth can only occur in whole quanta of resources, not fractional units. Service industries are typically dependent on people with the right skills. Manufacturers can typically  mechanise and automate and simplify jobs so that can take anyone on and train them on the job. Service industries typically require long periods of prior education and training before can be inducted into a job. In either case people have to be available. If people not available, then means of supplying with out need for additional people have to be investigated and developed. Growth is therefore not automatic, nor altogether desirable. It is therefore a fine balancing act of servicing that sector of the market are able to with out otherwise loosing market due to incapacity to supply larger sector of available market.

So essentially seeking better service capability without the interruptions. At the moment I can only see a solution with computers and the Internet  Not the least of which is that the Internet provides an informative and linked presence.

For example may not be permitted to advertise or place a sign outside the office, the office may be in an out off the way location, where few drive pass. So that in the physical world a business may be near invisible and unknown, but in cyberspace a business can have presence in a manner not considered as advertising to professional bodies, and a manner that does not affect any street scape  and yet also becomes something people regularly interact with, when otherwise they wouldn't have anything to do with such business except in rare circumstances. The Internet provides for small business that which TV advertising provides for large business: a popular presence.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Samuel Smiles

Finished reading the books by Samuel Smiles: "Character" and "Self-Help", currently half way through "Thrift".

Seems very little has changed in industrial society, we get good times and otherwise avoid tackling the under lying problems within society which make the bad times the worst of times: namely that individuals squander and waste their own resources and try to live beyond their means.

It seems that which was starting to emerge during the 1800's if not before, has simply grown and, magnified, with the emergence of ever increasing forms of credit. Plus we have some push away from savings, as saving ties money up and so potentially shuts business down.

Its a problem: how to keep the economy going, and consider each individual as contributing fairly to society, but with out driving unwarranted consumption of material resources?

Automated Drawing List Update Acad LT (revised)

As indicated in earlier posts I use Acad LT, and automate using Excel/vba to generate AutoCAD script (.scr) file.

One of the most regularly used scripts is that for updating the drawing title blocks. This operates across multiple paperspace layouts and multiple files.

Whilst paperspace layouts can be beneficial they do have some disadvantages when it comes to repetitive detail across projects, consequently I have been tending to move back towards individual file for each drawing sheet, and lots of xref's, especially for workshop details. For example it is a lot easier to copy a file, and modify the detail, than messing around copying detail modifying and setting up new paperspace viewports. Other times it may be easier to copy layouts, and add some extra layers for some additional detail. Hence need to update drawing title blocks across multiple layouts and drawing files.

Last year I made a simple modifications, by writing the script file to a common default folder, and automatically launching Acad LT, compared to previously generating script in drawing folder and then dropping in Acad LT editor. At that time also added extra worksheets to allow different title blocks, to cover common variations: such as calc's sheets used for simple sketches, versus drawing sheet used for residential footings, and the typical drawing sheet for all other project types. To do that I also added look up tables which listed the attributes for each title block. Providing drop down lists to select which of drawings the title block script should be generated for. That was all working good, and saved a little bit of extra time over the previous version of the script.

But work shop detailing involves a lot of drawings and tend to get slightly lost in all the drawings. Also the batch of drawings did use two title blocks: proper drawing sheet and frame for the main part details and then a simple document control block for some steel sheet setouts. The current project however introduced the need for a larger sheet. Most part details are standard and on A4 sheets, but the larger building currently working on as parts which are too large to conveniently fit on A4, I can squeeze them onto A4, but have chosen to place on A3 instead.

So for the batch of drawings have three different title blocks which want to automatically update, and a problem working through all the files and details, to determine which exist and which are relevant.

So modified the Excel/vba script. It now permits each drawing to have a unique title block, on condition that it has attributes which belong to a common sets. The vba macro now checks if the attributes are in the title block, if so then writes the value from Excel to the Acad script (.scr), if not then skips to next attribute. Also the macro now checks if the drawing file exists before including in the script, if not then the cell is coloured red.

At one stage I also experimented with Hyperlinks to open the Acad drawing files from Excel worksheet, this didn't work to well because of need to keep paths updated. But now created a vba macro and short cut key (Ctrl-e), to open drawing file currently selected in the worksheet. This didn't work too well using the vba shell command as it opened each drawing in a separate instance of Acad LT. However a simple experiment with vbs, and determined that the windows scripting host (WSH), shell object run command was able to open files by association, whilst the vba shell command required the executable command. That is using vba I needed to build correct command line including reference to Acad LT as well as file name, whilst using WSH shell command only need to pass the drawing file reference. Therefore created a WScript.Shell object in Excel/vba.

So I can now get from Excel description of drawing file, to the actual Acad LT drawing. Now that is something I wanted to do for a while.

For now have potential to mesh my bill of materials (BoM), or product structure tree to workshop details, and otherwise build model in Excel. For can otherwise get lost figuring out which part files belongs to which part, and have I drawn all the necessary parts and counted them all. Sure I could buy building information model (BIM) software, but where's the fun in that. Plus BIM software is expensive and I don't have the demand for workshop detailing to justify its purchase. Programming, well that's just kind of play time.

I had experimented with XYplorer, attaching tags to part drawings, but problem with that, I need two sets of tags: one for local work on laptop, and another for files on shared drive in office. Additionally adding tags to files, produces an ever increasing database of tags which have to be scanned through. By using Excel tables, I am not adding to over head of using XYplorer, and I can add data fields as I choose on an as needs basis, sort and filter and otherwise connect to other data sources.

One other objection I have to BIM, is that it is an enforced approach to building design, and that approach is built around 3D graphics, whilst the majority of people in the supply chain have no use of 3D graphics. Revisiting the concept of data as raw material, and information as data organised to assist decision and action, then the typical BIM software application, is a long way from being an information model. It is largely a data model BDM, and less than informative to other parties who don't want the graphics but do want to get at the data and present in formats which suit them, rather than formats that suit the authors and or users of  3D graphic software.

Consider that it is inappropriate to use a multi-million dollar flexible machining centre to make bolts and other high volume repetitive parts. It is preferable to have highly specialised machines to make bolts. The current BIM software tends towards being highly flexible, that makes it ill suited to more specialised purposes.

It is a common trend in software development that more and more features and flexibility are added, the problem is that something which previously took a few clicks now requires a multitude of irrelevant parameters to be set.

For example the modification I have just made to my spreadsheet, now requires I define the title block for each and every drawing, where as previously I only needed to identify the title block once. However, it is not a major problem because it is simple to copy cells in Excel, or to make one cell equal to another. It is that reason why I type project titles and drawing titles into Excel rather than directly into Acad.

By making software too flexible it then becomes necessary to expend time customising the software for something more specific and repetitive. The problem of creating a front end, to simplify input, is that there is a lot of over head associated with the flexibility. So whilst using an advanced flexible system may reduce development time, it does not produce a tool which is efficient. The resultant product uses more resources than necessary and operates slower than required.

Hence there is a need for custom tools. So comments like if not using the newest tools then behind the times, are largely nonsense. Should not be using the newest tools, but the tools most appropriate to the job at hand. A lot of modern software is becoming more video game than productive tool, whilst it may ease people getting familiar with the software and using, its not all that productive there after.

So some of these high end software vendors really need to pay more attention to the needs of the end-users rather than how they consider design and documentation should be carried out. There are still people producing workshop details freehand, and buildings plans freehand, that is people who are not using any form of drawing instruments and not drawing to scale: they produce simple concept sketches and that is all they need to get approval and to build. Drawing is a tool to solve problems, and many of those problems only need resolving by freehand concept sketches. So builders for example are not going to start using CAD, because drawing is not their business, they produce drawings as an aid, a means to an end. Whilst many modern architects, engineers and drafters are producing drawings as an end in itself: more concerned with document control than what is conveyed by the documents.

End-users buying BIM software also need to pay more attention to where they need productivity improvements. If 3D graphics contributes little value to an end-users activities then current array of BIM products probably of little value. That is do you really need a picture of an object to input all the other data and extract useful information about that object. If not then BIM is not a suitable solution, and other software likely to be more useful. For example MS Excel/ MS Access, or the array of MRP I, MRP II, software and various other specialist packages.

I go from Excel to Acad, because with Acad scripts (.scr) I can only really generate Acad drawings, there is little that I can do to extract Acad data other than extract block attributes, or export a DXF file, and extract data from that.

The first data for most things is symbolic, some kind of analogy, this then has to be expanded into graphics and other data. For example want a building or a machine. These are word symbols and not very specific, the definition thus has to be  refined until define something specific. This refinement can take place using more words, various kinds of charts and diagrams, or using pictorial graphics. Much can be done long before any graphics are produced, but seems in the modern world consultants dive straight into CAD drawings, when should have dismissed an idea almost immediately using simple freehand sketches.

A crazy world in which it seems only typed reports and CAD drawings seem to be accepted. Very wasteful.

Related Posts:

AutoCAD Speed Test
Automated Drawing List Update Acad LT (revised)

Cold-Formed Steel Shed Industry: part:#1 (Shed Framing Drawings)
Cold-Formed Steel Shed Industry: part:#2 (Shed Framing Drawings)

Thursday, November 08, 2012

2012 week 45 : State of Play.

I was getting worried. My father has a habit of calling me "Conan the Destroyer", because most structures I look at, calculation wise, I tend to break. Not particularly good for retailers who have been getting approval on the basis of standard calc's-for-council from multiple councils over period of some 20 years or so.

Now in assessing a sports net, I was challenged that wind load I adopted was too low. But I have now seen calculations for an adjacent net, and applying my approach I have broken it. So now happy.

Easily amused.

PS: Of course breaking the structures makes everyone else unhappy. So stage 2 of the exercise is typically working considerably harder than everyone else to justify the status quo: so everyone can go about business as usual.