System Sales
Graphic Design


System Sales

Tech Docs
Product Info


Contact Info.
Ken Goldstein

About CATI

Something Completely

Virtual Hawaii

Links around town!






High-Tech Times Article 002

  AutoCAD Information

Computer-Aided Drafting and Design, also known as CADD, is the creation of drawings using a computer program rather than a pen, triangle, square and protractor.  Back when I started in CADD in the early 1960s, it took a very large room full of computers to draw even a simple circle or geometric shape, and the software cost millions of dollars.  Only universities and the biggest companies used CADD back then, and no one could imagine that just a few decades later there would be tens of millions of people creating CADD drawings at home and work.

Although there were many companies that had the idea that CADD would be a real killer application, it was a small company called Autodesk that really revolutionized the industry.  In 1980, a group of 13 programmers met in northern California, and decided to create a computer "automated desk."  This desk would have drawers to store information, a calendar to schedule meetings, a telephone to communicate with other computers, and an automated "Etch-A-Sketch" for making drawings.  In fact, this desk would have been the first graphical user interface (GUI) -- if they had succeeded.  However, the group, which called themselves "Autodesk," couldn't find anyone who was particularly interested in a GUI back in those very first days of the IBM Personal Computer.  Remember those 8088 processors with 64 KB of RAM?

So they decided to concentrate on the drawing portion, mostly because they could use it to quickly lay out their programming logic diagrams.  In late 1981, this group attended the very first Computer Dealers Exposition (COMDEX) in Las Vegas, and was rather astonished to find that thousands of people wanted to buy their drawing software (this is back when a successful program might sell 500 copies), which they had named "AutoCAD." So all of a sudden, AutoCAD was in high demand, and Autodesk was in business.

As AutoCAD has been called "one of the most revolutionary computer products in history," just what did AutoCAD really do to enhance industrial processes?  Let's take a quick look at how the design process works, both manually and with AutoCAD.

Al the Architect has this great idea for a building pop up while he's slurping down dim sum in Chinatown, so he grabs the nearest piece of paper (probably the proverbial napkin), and starts sketching out his new masterpiece.  Al has just started what is called a "conceptual design."  When he gets back to his office, Al grabs a few other people and refines his overall look-and-feel of the building, working on what will be his "preliminary design."  Once he finds someone who likes his idea, and is willing to fork over a few million for construction, Al will create his "detailed design," which will include construction drawings, details of the walls, roof, windows, and a few hundred other things.  Part of this design process is getting a structural engineer to take Al's design and see if it will really stand up if there's a hurricane, or someone runs into the side of the building.  Another part is having roofers design the roof, masons design the facade, electricians design the wiring, and so on.  You can see that building design is a very complex process!

All of these design tasks have one thing in common: they're all done using drawings.  And another common element is that each of the hundreds or thousands of drawings will be changed, modified, and mangled over and over again as the architect, construction company, engineers, contractors, and the owner decide that there's a new and better way to build this masterpiece.  Here is where AutoCAD becomes especially valuable.

Once a drawing is created manually, it is reviewed and red-lined by a whole chain of people.  Once enough red lines have appeared, the drawing is completely redrawn.  Let's say that it took the drafter 8 hours to create the first drawing; when the changes are incorporated, it will take him another 8 hours to manually redraw it.  With AutoCAD, it may take that drafter the same 8 hours to create the original drawing, but only 30 minutes to make all of the changes!  When you consider that the average architectural drawing is changed approximately 50 times in the course of design, you can quickly see that using AutoCAD can save hundreds of drafting hours and thousands of dollars.  Multiply that by the millions of projects worldwide, and you're starting to save some real money!

But the advantages don't end there.  AutoCAD allows you to create "libraries" of details that are used and reused; when a drafter inserts a detail (like a window or door), he is saving perhaps an hour of time, as well as standardizing on something that has already been identified as applicable on other projects.  When the roofer needs to make a change to ensure that the roof stays up, he can do it electronically in AutoCAD, and everyone else on the project can immediately see what changes have been made. 

And if Al has decided to create his design using 3D, then he can quickly create a "rendered" model that looks exactly like the final building he designed.  I'm sure that most of you have looked at blueprints at some time; were they perfectly clear to you, and could you visualize exactly what it showed?  With AutoCAD 3D models, you'll see precisely what you'd see if the model was built right in front of you.  And another Autodesk product, 3D Studio Max, lets you create film-quality animations where you can walk through your building model and look around.  Wouldn't it make your job of choosing an architect easier if he showed you a video animation of your dream house, rather than a batch of blueprints?

There are so many advantages to using AutoCAD that even the schools are getting into the act.  As Autodesk's Area Education Rep for Hawaii, I'm working with Diana Oshiro and Vicki Kajioka at the Hawaii Department of Education to begin integrating AutoCAD into K-12 school rooms statewide.  The DOE recently sponsored "Reef Jam '97" in which 19 schoolkids from grades 7-12 designed and built an artificial reef that was submerged in Kewalo Basin to see if it will help increase the fish population.  Guess what these kids used to design and visualize their reef prototypes?  AutoCAD!  No one told them that it was a very hard program to use, so after I spent two hours teaching them the basics, the five teams used AutoCAD very effectively to create a series of reef designs that were judged by a panel of experts.  The kids then took the best design features and constructed the final reef from 4,000 pounds of concrete that was donated by Ameron HC&D, and the reef was placed in the Kewalo research corridor by Hawaiian Electric divers last August.  Even the professionals were impressed with the kids' skills, and the kids were ecstatic with using AutoCAD.

I've also set up a contract with the University of Hawaii and the nine community colleges so that all their students have access to AutoCAD in the classrooms.  And full-time students at any school can purchase a "light" version of the $3,750 AutoCAD for less than $100.  Why does Autodesk sell their educational products so inexpensively?  Well, they figure that what students learn in school will be what they'll want to use professionally when they graduate.  And Autodesk must be doing something right, because AutoCAD now holds a 74 percent share of the microcomputer CADD market, with more than 2 million packages sold.

The latest version of AutoCAD is Release 14, and it runs under Windows 95 and Windows NT.  There are still a couple of student versions that will operate under Windows 3.1, but there is such a huge speed difference with 32-bit operating systems that it really pays to upgrade.  A mid-range AutoCAD workstation consists of an Intel 166-MHz Pentium processor (AutoCAD doesn't use the MMX extensions), 32 MB RAM, a 2GB EIDE hard-drive, an 8-speed CD-ROM, and a video graphics controller with at least 2 MB VRAM.  This will allow you to work with AutoCAD drawings up to 16 MB (the 3D model of the new Hawaii Convention Center was around 8 MB), and new software features give you real-time zoom and pan.  AutoCAD Release 14 is 50 percent faster than the older versions, and is bug-free (which is a real bonus to me as an AutoCAD dealer and developer!).

If you would like to see a demonstration of AutoCAD, or if you have topics that you would like to see discussed in High Tech Times, please feel free to call me at (808) 521-2259, or you can e-mail me at        

In my next column, I'm going to discuss how to digitize video and use it in some interesting ways.  See you next month.