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Suggestions Shop Drawing Software Recomendations

DarkerKat

design & such
Looking for suggestions on software for shop drawings. We currently use Illustrator almost exclusively, but this is not very practical as most of our designers' time is getting tied up in spec'ing details (sizing/finishes/ect) or laying out the actual pages, rather than designing signs. We are a turnkey company so our shop drawings need to be useful for customer review and for fabrication.
I have been playing around with using variable data from excel converted to XML info to import into illustrator but I have gotten stuck on the limit of one set of variable data per page. We have a custom workflow platform that we would like to be able to utilize for imputing this data so we can take some of the work of designers plates but I'm having trouble finding a program (or plugin) that would let me import multiple sets. I'm not sure how other large companies handle their drawings, any suggestions would be very appreciated.

Background - I work for a smaller (20-30 employees) family run company, we do plenty of one-off jobs but the larger jobs (apartment/business signage mainly) typically have 50+ sign types which would all need their own spec'd shop drawings.
I don't know if I am allowed to link to company websites here, but I can provide more information if it would be helpful (first post on the site, please go easy on me)
 

TrustMoore_TN

Sign & Graphics Business Consultant
Looking for suggestions on software for shop drawings. We currently use Illustrator almost exclusively, but this is not very practical as most of our designers' time is getting tied up in spec'ing details (sizing/finishes/ect) or laying out the actual pages, rather than designing signs. We are a turnkey company so our shop drawings need to be useful for customer review and for fabrication.
I have been playing around with using variable data from excel converted to XML info to import into illustrator but I have gotten stuck on the limit of one set of variable data per page. We have a custom workflow platform that we would like to be able to utilize for imputing this data so we can take some of the work of designers plates but I'm having trouble finding a program (or plugin) that would let me import multiple sets. I'm not sure how other large companies handle their drawings, any suggestions would be very appreciated.

Background - I work for a smaller (20-30 employees) family run company, we do plenty of one-off jobs but the larger jobs (apartment/business signage mainly) typically have 50+ sign types which would all need their own spec'd shop drawings.
I don't know if I am allowed to link to company websites here, but I can provide more information if it would be helpful (first post on the site, please go easy on me)

We used Sketchup for all of our CAD designs. We could export from there for fabrication in our CNC software, or illustrator if needed. They have a free trial, and tons of videos and tutorials to get you going. Good Luck!
 

DarkerKat

design & such
We used Sketchup for all of our CAD designs. We could export from there for fabrication in our CNC software, or illustrator if needed. They have a free trial, and tons of videos and tutorials to get you going. Good Luck!
We have used Sketchup a bit in the past (our CNC guy mostly uses if for BOM/3-D drawings) but the company owners haven't been interested in paying for the full version. Also, I'm not sure if it would be helpful for our needs specifically. The drawings our CNC guy does from sketchup tend to come out very clunky and hard to read even, even if you know what the actual sign is supposed to look like, I think they might be hard for our clients to understand. It does have more intuitive measuring tools than illustrator does normally, (I work with a Dynamic Measuring plugin from Astute graphics which has taken some of the pain of measuring things in AI) but as far as actual material specs I don't think it is what we are looking for.

Do you happen to have a screenshot of the type of shops you produce using sketchup? It might be my limited experience with the program making me believe it wouldn't be a good fit.

Thanks!
 

ColorCrest

All around shop helper.
We have a custom workflow platform that we would like to be able to utilize for imputing this data so we can take some of the work of designers plates but I'm having trouble finding a program (or plugin) that would let me import multiple sets. I'm not sure how other large companies handle their drawings, any suggestions would be very appreciated.

Background - I work for a smaller (20-30 employees) family run company, we do plenty of one-off jobs but the larger jobs (apartment/business signage mainly) typically have 50+ sign types which would all need their own spec'd shop drawings.
What is your custom workflow platform exactly?

Are the 50+ sign types different sizes from one another?

Are the 50+ sign types different materials from one another?
 

DarkerKat

design & such
What is your custom workflow platform exactly?
It's a webbased dashboard that allows PMs to set up a job (listing client info, due date, delivery ect) & task out roles to individual employees using "workflows" setup in excel.
Our hope is to be able to use this platform to have the PM actually type in the materials/finishes/sizes and make the website spit out an excel that could then be imported into our shop platform.
(forgive me I'm not as familiar with the coding side of things so I may not be explaining this well)

Are the 50+ sign types different sizes from one another?
I may be exaggerating the number of sign types, I'm going to try to attach a screenshot of a plan review count page gives a rough idea of how many sign types we are working with for an average job.
We are talking about a number of sign types that having an individual live file for each sign type would be very hard to manage though.

Are the 50+ sign types different materials from one another?
Not all of them. Things in the same family typically have similar or the same specs. IE: all interior ada signs would be photopolymer, but some would be "premium" and get backers while some would not. And then there are signs that would obviously be different materials like headache bars or post mounted signs.
 

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DarkerKat

design & such
What is your custom workflow platform exactly?

This is what the dashboard looks like from a user (designer in this case) standpoint (with company/client names concealed just to be safe) Thought it might be helpful
 

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ColorCrest

All around shop helper.
Exactly as I suspected. Therefore you might take a look at the task from a different perspective…

Instead of getting data into a layout application, consider getting layouts into a data application. In your case however, you are using somewhat disparate data sources and you're working too hard by venturing into xml when you don't need to. You're involving third-party sources into your business, literally, and your challenge is precisely why certain so-called web solutions become very problematic. They are merely puzzle pieces, and in the hands of others at that.

The only solution that I know of for people such as yourself is FileMaker. Maybe download the trial, import any Excel data, create layouts for your sign sizes, export the layouts as PDF directly to RIP queues. This is a very good method to produce volume data-driven signs.

All your data will be kept in-house.
 

DarkerKat

design & such
Not sure I understand the first part response, we do keep everything in house and you mention that we are working too hard by venturing into xml but provide no real alternative or "data application" to work from as opposed to illustrator. Additionally virtually nothing we design (except maybe small banners that are proofed at full size) could go directly from proof to a print rip. We setup individual files for CNC cutting, Lasering Applique, Paintmasking, UV printing, Ect. While i do want to look into streamlining production eventually, right now I am just focusing on shop drawings.

The only solution that I know of for people such as yourself is FileMaker. Maybe download the trial, import any Excel data, create layouts for your sign sizes, export the layouts as PDF directly to RIP queues. This is a very good method to produce volume data-driven signs.

Far as FileMaker goes, I am trying to avoid making a custom app/program for this purpose at all costs. This would limit our flexibility from project to project and after a year of using this workflow dashboard i would very much like to not deal with a whole new slew of bugs. I have trouble believing that there is no industry standard for shop drawings, even if it is just Cad or Sketchup, then I'll suck it up and take some Cad courses.
 

WildWestDesigns

Active Member
Not sure I understand the first part response, we do keep everything in house and you mention that we are working too hard by venturing into xml but provide no real alternative or "data application" to work from as opposed to illustrator.

I think it's because you mentioned a "web-based dashboard". Typically, most people don't host their own web based anything on their own servers. Once that happens, it's not all in house.


Far as FileMaker goes, I am trying to avoid making a custom app/program for this purpose at all costs. This would limit our flexibility from project to project

Not necessarily, it just depends on how things are done when creating the app/program.


and after a year of using this workflow dashboard i would very much like to not deal with a whole new slew of bugs.

It depends on if the workflow is doing it for you or not. Keep on using something that has a problem, may not be the best way to go about it. It could just be the current workflow and how it's being used is the issue or it really isn't up to snuff. I dunno, it depends on the situation.


I have trouble believing that there is no industry standard for shop drawings, even if it is just Cad or Sketchup, then I'll suck it up and take some Cad courses.

Industry standard, in my opinion, is a misnomer at times. Sometimes it boils done to who has the most money behind it and therefore, the defacto industry standard.

On materials, I tend to use CAM programs (sometimes they are also CAD programs as well), may not be the best, but it's what works for me.
 

DarkerKat

design & such
WildWestDesigns
Fair points. I think I should re-clarify that the dashboard/workflow thing was not my idea/project/I got no input in it's creation - The push to try to incorporate and use that for shop drawing data comes from my boss, not from myself. The dashboard is very helpful when scheduling complex jobs for production but from the design side of things (my area) it's kind of a nightmare. Trying to integrate the dashboard is a later priority in this project, my first focus is just streamlining designer time.

All of that aside I'm mainly recommendations on what other companies use. I get that industry standard isn't necessarily the right way to put it, but typically when we receive drawings that clients have ... borrowed... from other companies they tend to have a similar look to them. In trying to emulate that style in AI we are eating up hours of designer time and at $85/hour for clients this expense typically doesn't go over well.
 

WildWestDesigns

Active Member
typically when we receive drawings that clients have ... borrowed... from other companies they tend to have a similar look to them. In trying to emulate that style in AI we are eating up hours of designer time and at $85/hour for clients this expense typically doesn't go over well.

In my mind, without seeing what it is that you are getting and trying to emulate, it's hard to see how it could be emulated in Ai (if that is indeed the best way to do it, if it can be even emulated in Ai) or not.

Ai may not be the best tool for the job (or how Ai is being used may not be the best). Especially for the reason that you specifically mentioned.

Bare in mind, in trying to accomplish this, it may require purchasing license(s) that your boss may not like/want to do, but compared that to actually efficiently doing something and the cost cutting that it bring about, it may actually cost less over the long run then just that initial burst of an expense.
 

DarkerKat

design & such
Ai may not be the best tool for the job (or how Ai is being used may not be the best). Especially for the reason that you specifically mentioned.

Understood, at least for the actual hard data there doesn't seem a need to us AI so we're open to switching to a different program or pairing AI (for the sign layouts) with a different program (for the shops). Attached a few examples of what our complex shops and our simple proof shops look like now.
 

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DarkerKat

design & such
Maybe you're looking for the Illustrator plugin called CAD Tools as a start?
Have worked with the Cad Tools plug-in (my art director prefers this one) , I like Astute's Dynamic Tools a little better but we will probably be implementing one or the other across the board soon
 

ColorCrest

All around shop helper.
Question; Are the designers creating individual Illustrator files / layers / pages for each stair ID sign, for example?
 

DarkerKat

design & such
Question; Are the designers creating individual Illustrator files / layers / pages for each stair ID sign, for example?
not for each individual sign, just one page per style. In the case of amenity room signs or directional signs (where the content is likely to change drastically from signs to sign and should be approved) we do sometimes include a small preview of each sign but that would be under one main spec'd drawing. See attached photo for a chunk of the package that stair sign was taken from
 

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ColorCrest

All around shop helper.
I have been playing around with using variable data from excel converted to XML info to import into illustrator but I have gotten stuck on the limit of one set of variable data per page.
OK, back to your original post.
Can you wrangle your data into just a single set?
 

DarkerKat

design & such
OK, back to your original post.
Can you wrangle your data into just a single set?

No, a "Set" of data in this case is one row in excel, not one file.

So if i have my information in a table:

sign: Color: Finish: Size: Install:
1 Blue Gloss 8x6 vhb
2 green matte 8x6 vhb

I would only be able to bring in one set, so sign type 1 OR sign type 2
 

ColorCrest

All around shop helper.
My guess is you're creating the data set improperly (as far as Illustrator is concerned) or you're not quite understanding how the process could be made to work. Maybe take a look at this link when you find the time...
 
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