Budget Drawing Markup Tool: AutoCAD 360

By Brian Rhodes, Published May 13, 2015, 12:00am EDT

When it comes to drawing software, even simple tasks like markups and redlines require software that can cost thousands. Many security professionals have a hard time finding a CAD solution they can afford, much less that does the job they need.

The same company that produces AutoCAD is now offering a web version that costs $5 per month.

But is it useful in security? In this note, we look at the strengths and weaknesses of AutoCAD 360 for use in video surveillance design.

Product Overview

Autodesk's flagship computer-aided design software is available in a stripped-down mobile version named AutoCAD 360. The demo video gives an overview of the web-app based version:

The mobile app version is stripped down to include mark-up features, but overall lacks the drawing management and full tool palettes in the full desktop or web app versions.

Product Highlights

The biggest advantage AutoCAD 360 offers users is inexpensiveness. While a full version of AutoCAD starts at ~$5000, the mobile/cloud based '360' version sells for $5 per month or $50 per year [link no longer available]. A 'free' version of the software is offered, but most professionals will need the additional for-fee features (camera symbol libraries, markup symbols, note boxes) in order to use the software. For most users that need occasional access to AutoCAD, but are not engineering or architectural firms, the expense of a full license often cannot be justified, and AutoCAD 360 is an option for those users.

Other advantages include:

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DWG Support: Many low-cost CAD programs lack filetype support of Autodesk products. For a big swath of the architectural market, .dwg files are the common format of blueprints and plans. Converting .dwg files to other formats (like .dwf) often means losing some data or incompatible values.  AutoCAD 360 supports .dwg files, which offers a big advantage over other low-cost CAD programs.

No/Limited Training Needed: Most users that carry a tablet or mobile device will be able to control the features of AutoCAD 360 without additional training.  For example, drawing a redline area involves swiping your finger inside the drawing window, and adding a note is a click to add function. Unlike drafting training that can take months and be thousands, AutoCAD 360 is stripped down to focus only on the most likely tasks a tradesperson would need.

Mobile Platform Support

Unlike traditional versions of AutoCAD that require Windows or Apple OS running on workstations, AutoCAD 360 is more flexible and can run on a variety of platforms and hardware. The software runs on a Windows, Android, or iOS App [link no longer available] and can be installed on smartphones or tablets.

This flexibility is appealing to tradespeople working in the field or out of the cab of a work vehicle without access to an office based PC.

Project Collaboration Core

AutoCAD 360 is one element of a bigger project collaboration platform named Autodesk 360.  In some cases, the features of AutoCAD 360 are based on the fully configured use of the general Autodesk 360 platform. For example, being able to search revision details, view markup history, and push 'latest version' updates is premised on each user being a member of and using Autodesk 360.

Autodesk 360 (or simply A360) is a much larger cloud management platform that encompasses all Autodesk products. The cost of using A360 is typically 'free' as part of a service agreement unless advanced features like 'cloud storage' or CRM/BIM software integration is needed. As such, the expense of administrating users simply for the use of AutoCAD 360 (a rather minor offering in Autodesk's portfolio) may prove to be a hassel.

Users of AutoCAD 360 should expect that 'buy-in' to the bigger Autodesk 360 ecosystem is necessary for being able to import, export, and to quickly communicate changes to parent plan sets.

Disadvantages

However, for the advantages of low-cost and ease of use, AutoCAD 360 comes with potential showstoppers for some security tradespeople:

  • Not full featured CAD: Name aside, AutoCAD 360 is not a replacement for a formal AutoCAD license. A full version of AutoCAD includes a number of 'power tools' not supported in 360, including architectural feature 'wizards' like cabling and electrical plan palettes, block support, and plot management. AutoCAD 360's ability to markup drawings and verify measurements on the fly is one thing, but a surveillance draftsperson charged with drawing from scratch will still need the more powerful, granular AutoCAD to develop prints.  For example, drawing lines AutoCAD 360 is a kludgy mess of imprecise finger swiping and dragging into place, where a draftsman with a workstation, keyboard, and mouse will be much more productive and efficient with a traditional AutoCAD version.
  • Internet Required: Being that the '360' platform is cloud-based, internet access is vital to keep updated data on the device. While the version does allow off-line drawing viewing and changes, no updates can be shared outside of the Autodesk 360 portal, and access to that area requires an internet connection.  If work is done on new construction or remote sites, internet access may not always be present, and unlike other CAD software that can download to a USB drive or printers, AutoCAD 360 requires web access.

 

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