U.S. National CAD Standard Assimilates Industry Technologies

Latest version’s improvements benefit all users


By Melcher Mack

If you have ever traveled to a foreign country, you know how difficult it can be to navigate your way around if you don’t know the language. The same is true in the building industry. Whether you are a commercial or residential building professional, it is critical to introduce a standard for drawing sets, symbols and layers. Typical projects have multiple parties involved, for example one firm handling architecture, another mechanics. The U.S. National CAD Standard (NCS) covers all these in its standards which assist with collaboration between these disciplines.

NCS has been streamlining industry collaboration for the past 10 years. It has done this by classifying electronic building design data, facilitating communication among owners and design and construction project teams. Using a single standard helps increase productivity and reduces staff training time.

In January 2008, the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) and the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) released an updated version of NCS (Version 4.0). The new standard provides an updated and more efficient system for uniformly organizing electronic design data.

All users can benefit from the latest version’s improvements. Adopting NCS Version 4.0 helps organizations lower costs (e.g., reducing errors and change orders) because it provides guidelines for the graphical representation of drawing sets, which improves communication among team members.

Currently, NCS is working to incorporate aspects of Building Information Modeling (BIM) into the next version of the standard by introducing file naming conventions and other features to help integrate model-based designs and drawing-based systems and output. As the next version is further developed, we will be working with the National BIM Standard to cover the graphical portions of BIM.

If you have not yet tried Version 4.0, this latest version adds many improvements, including:

• Refined CAD Layer Guidelines that feature better descriptions and designations, and provide alphabetical lists to make locating layer names easier.

• New or revised symbols for security, fire suppression and other areas in the Uniform Drawing System, as well as updates and clarifications for common drawing practices.

• Revised Plotting Guidelines (e.g., the requirement to map line widths to color numbers was removed).

NCS Version 4.0 can be downloaded in Adobe PDF file format. The download includes specific sections in Excel and .dwg file formats. The Excel files include example spreadsheets depicting the schedules shown throughout the NCS and searchable spreadsheets for layer disciplines and groups, as well as terms and abbreviations. The .dwg files consist of more than 1,000 samples from the Symbols module. These include everything from drawing title blocks to manholes to tree symbols.

Since 1999, more than 5,000 workplaces - including public agencies, A/E firms, consultants and others - have adopted the NCS across the nation. In California, Santa Clara County and water systems firm Watershape Consulting, Inc. recently adopted the standard.

Many different organizations have adopted the NCS because it provides a consistent method of communicating design, construction and operations information among the various disciplines comprising a project team. It saves companies and organizations the expense of developing and maintaining their own in-house standards, and also makes it easier to transfer building data from design applications to facility management software.

Updates and modifications to NCS are determined by its users. In December, NCS opened a new revision cycle to members of the NCS Project Committee. Designed to keep NCS current and responsive to industry needs, the revision cycle allows members to propose, debate and ultimately vote on changes and improvements to the current version of the standard. NCS Version 4.0 users are encouraged to participate. The consensus-based process is dynamic by design and relies on your input to help shape the next version of NCS.

To learn more about the revision process or the latest version of the NCS, or to participate in an NCS committee, visit nationalcadstandard.org.

Melcher Mack leads Bergmann Associates’ Computer Aided Design & Design Technology Group, which includes overseeing all Building Information Modeling, Software and Design Technology. He is involved in numerous organizations, including the National BIM Standard and U.S. National CAD Standard where he serves as chair of its BIM Task Team.