Working with AutoCAD Sheet Set Manager

Automating the Project Setup Process

One of the most time-consuming parts of any project is the initial files setup. When you begin a new job, you need to determine the appropriate sheet size, scale, and orientation of your drawings before you can do anything. Then, you'll need to create the actual plans, create and insert title blocks for each, add viewports, general notes, bar scales, legends and a half dozen other items for each individual type of plan.

This is all billable time since you're doing it for your project, but it's not a cost-efficient use of your billable hours. Initial setup of a twenty drawing project can take a full day of your CAD staff's time. Each subsequent drawing you add can take an additional hour or more. Do the math on the cost to set up a 100+ drawing set and you can see how quickly budgets can be chewed up, and you haven't even begun the design yet.

Using Sheet Set Manager to Set Up Projects

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a way to simplify and automate the setup process? That's where AutoCAD's ​Sheet Set Manager (SSM) comes in. SSM has been around for a long time but not a lot of firms make use of it and those that do aren't making full use of its functionality.

How Sheet Set Manager Works

The idea behind SSM is simple; it's nothing more than a tool palette that resides on the side of your screen with links to all the drawings in your set. Each link in the SSM palette lets you open, plot, change properties, even rename and renumber all the drawings in your set. Each link connects to the layout space of an individual drawing saved to your project. SSM can link to multiple layout tabs within a single drawing as well, but it's not the best method to work with. The simplest and most flexible, way to work with SSM is to separate your design model and plotted sheets into distinct drawings. Essentially, you're splitting model space and paper space into separate files. This way, you can have one drafter working the design model, while another is modifying the sheet layout.

A screenshot of Sheet Set properties.
James Coppinger

For example, if you add three more detail sheets to your set you don't have to go into each one and update the total sheet number, you can simply change the "9" to a "12" in the SSM properties and it updates all plans in the set. It works the same way for all the properties listed above. You add new links via right-click, choosing either an entirely new drawing or to link to the layout of an existing file. The SSM list above was created from scratch in under two minutes.

Project Prototypes

You can use SSM to add sheets manually to your set but that doesn’t really give you the times savings I promised. Instead, what you want to do is set up a Project Prototype, with all your folders, files, xrefs and the SSM control files already in place so you can just copy the prototype to your working folder, rename it, and the setup is completely done. Now, there is the savings!

What I’ve done at my office is create a set of standard folders already populated with the drawings commonly used for that type of project and border size. In the example above, I have a Prototype folder with different project scope and border sizes already built. You can see that I have both Model and Sheet folders to keep my design and layout spaces separate and that I’ve created sub-folder under my “Model DWG” folder to organize all my reference data for my design. The most important time saver here is that all my reference files (xrefs and images, etc.) are already attached to each other, even though the files are blank. In other words, if I open my Grading Plan, it will already have xrefs of the Basemap, Dimension and Layout, and Utility plans in place. I’ve also already built my SSM in the “Sheet Set” sub-folder (highlighted.)

To have my entire project set up in a few seconds, I can just copy the correct folder from my Prototype location to where my projects reside on the network, and then rename the top level folder with the project name or number. From there, I can open any drawing in the set and use the drop down at the top of my SSM palette to brose to the new folder and select the “Sheet Set.dss” file. Once I open that file, the SSM is populated and all I have to do is fill out the properties for my job. After that, I just open my design files and start working.

Just by setting up a simple prototype project folder, with my SSM file inside it, I’ve cut hours of billable time off every project I’ll ever create. At my firm, we average around a thousand new projects each year, so this simple process saves us at least 5,000 man-hours each year (probably more.) Multiply that times you average CAD drafter’s billing rate and that can save you a few hundred grand.

How does your company handle project setup? Do you have a formal process or is it just an “on the fly” type of thing?

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