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Dennis (Wish):

>> Other add-ons came and went as did structural engineering packages (AutoPE) which would be a pleasure to have even today. <<

It might be a stretch to call AutoPE a "structural engineering package", because it had no design or analysis capabilities (unless you count drawing rebar radii accurately). AutoPE was a structural *drafting* application for AutoCAD. Certainly drafting is an important function in most engineering offices, and as a result, AutoPE was a useful piece of software for many people. 

Some years ago, the company called DCA bought the company that made AutoPE (Acuware). DCA later renamed itself Softdesk, and continued to sell the old AutoPE as "Structural Designer". At some point, Softdesk stopped using the "Structural Designer" name, and then they got themselves bought up by Autodesk. Anyway, what used to be called AutoPE remains available as Softdesk/Autodesk's structural drafting applications (S7 for AutoCAD R13 and S8 for AutoCAD R14). 

>> Now we are seeing powerful low cost systems that have more to offer than AutoCAD, but the stability of those companies are very much an issue. It is not that you get what you pay for, it is simply that Autodesk charges much more to stay financially healthy enough to be around for a while and not leave many of us orphans. <<

I don't think it's that simple. The two biggest reasons that most structural engineering firms continue to use AutoCAD are: (1) The sub-industry that's built up around it, along with the investment that many engineering forms have in that sub-industry, and (2) the DWG file format. Of course there's also good ol' inertia, but $3,750 software and $500 upgrades can stay alive on inertia for only so long.

By "sub-industry", I mean things like third party applications and utilities, training resources, consultants, books, magazines, and AutoCAD-conversant drafters. Structural firms that have been using AutoCAD for awhile usually have a big investment in this sub-industry (e.g., third party applications, a hoard of AutoLISP programs, trained drafters, established support mechanisms), so switching to another CAD program would not be a trivial change. 

By "DWG file format", I mean compatibility with a firm's existing stock of DWG files, as well as exchanging electronic drawings with architects and other people on the design team. Most CAD programs claim to read, and in many cases write, DWG files, and DXF is another option. But anyone who's done much drawing exchange knows that complete compatibility doesn't exist. There always are translation problems. The one exception is AutoCAD LT, and it's interesting to note that few structural firms are using it as a replacement for AutoCAD (see reason #1).

I wouldn't argue that AutoCAD is the only legitimate CAD choice for structural engineering offices. Building and maintaining a fully-functional structural drafting system based on AutoCAD is expensive and complicated. For some companies, one of the lower cost CAD programs might make sense. But I think it's important to understand why, despite the apparent economic disincentives, most structural firms stay with AutoCAD.

- Mark Middlebrook  73030.1604(--nospam--at)  MarkMid(--nospam--at)