Monday, 18 January 2016

Making use of CAD file exports as spreadsheets

Perhaps one of the biggest things happening to CAD is the way BIM, is adding such richness to the drawings we produce, and so much of this is being exported as Cobie files, a posh way of saying structured spreadsheets. Its here I want to take a look, and I have added a specific section to my CPD to look after this subject.

I often teach this to students, and I look at spreadsheets as Four distinct areas of learning, I will briefly list these, but they will take separate blogs to expand on them.

  • Drawing aid
  • Detailing with a view to export
  • Exporting as Cobie files and it use
  • Data Manipulation

So first off as a drawing Aid

This is were I started, so long ago, playing with spreadsheets on a very old mac, the spreadsheet was basic, and did not have many commands, but it allowed the usual multiply div and subtract, enough to work out petrol us and millage, this I added to over the years to allow area calc, and working out ventilation rates for area or volume, it served me well for simple lists, and some minor accounting.

In Vectorworks this is taken a little further, as its so easy to embed the sheet in the file and use it to take information from the drawing, which I suppose is taking us onto the next level. I will expand on this, but Jon Pickup has some very useful lectures within his archive, his free stuff is located on YouTube under Archoncad, but his paid for membership, which I can recommend, is via his web site at

Detailing with a view to exporting

Most of my specs in my 2D drawing, are text blocks, placed near to the detail, and are ones I have used over the years to describe a product, material, or a way of construction, simple instructions to the contractor. This is, or will stop as I move into drawings that need to be exported with a view to 3D ifc, or Cobie files, I need to attach information so that it can easily be picked up, and used in the right context. The simple move to 3D does not mean its full BIM, yo have to work at it and add a lot of data and BIM compatible objects to draw with that will have the correct information, properly set out and formatted.

Exporting as a Cobie file

This is the main way data will be exported, and I as I stated earlier, we need to understand how and why, and make sure we add data in the correct way. On big jobs the cobie file may well be large, well over 2000 rows, and might be part of a complex set of spreadsheet files. We need to understand the way they are used so that we can ensure the correct data is applied, as we will see later, spreadsheets to be used effectively need consistent data, when they are used with a big data format such as Hadoop, or Hana, its a different matter, but spreadsheet to spreadsheet, it needs to be correct.
But the trick we as Technologist must now learn is how to make the best of these files and bring to life a lot of data that may be hidden away from just scanning the endless lines of data.

Data Manipulation

To do this we need to start learning how to link and use this data with commands like Vlookup,  Fusion tables and most of all Pivot Tables

Now depending on what you use, Excell, Google spreadsheets, there is a slight difference in the way you might approach this problem, so I think I am going to concentrate on Google Sheets, I use it more than Excel, which I might add, has the more functions, but Google Sheets is what I use.

I have a couple of videos embedded below, they are just a taster, the bulk of this I will handle later in a more detailed blog, here all I want to do is introduce the problem and a route of CPD. They are, as usual off subject, but I will take the time to produce videos that as on subject and will look at the use within an Architects /  contractors office. We may not used these commands, but we should know what is being used and why, so we produce the correct information. You may be wondering why I have listed Fussion tables, they don't realy fit, but the way they are used in interesting, and again I will expand later.

As a suggestion think about the way materials are purchased and delivered to site, the delivery note should have on it the product number, this can easily be linked to the cobie spreadsheet and compared, perhaps even a location added. sand added to a mortar mix or screed.

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