The importance of integrating CAD and IT – An interview with Ken Shigemitsu

Washington, DC, USA — As Director of IT at Shalom Baranes Associates, the lead design firm working on the Pentagon after the terrorist attack of 2001, Ken Shigemitsu knows the importance of keeping everyone on the same page. The project, when it is finished in 2012, will have rebuilt space equivalent to two Empire State Buildings. As busy as Ken is, we managed to persuade him to take a few minutes to answer some questions for MicroStation Today.

From karate to mountain climbing to 3D, Shalom Baranes’ Ken Shigemitsu loves a challenge

MicroStation Today: Hi Ken, you work on a variety of high-profile MicroStation projects at Shalom Baranes — like rebuilding the Pentagon, for example. What are some of the problems you encounter in your position?
Ken: There have been plenty. I mediate and coordinate technical issues with our consultants and clients regarding CAD standards and IT-related issues. Technical issues such as translation between various CAD programs have become very common. There have been several occasions where large projects required that we incorporate the CAD standards specified by the client into the drawing set. In one situation, the implementation of the CAD standards established by the client’s CAD department was required for all of our consultants working on the team. Many of our clients have become very CAD savvy and understand the importance of CAD quality control. Therefore, our clients have started to require that we submit a set of coherent CAD drawings that adhere to their standards. Because of this, it has become imperative that our CAD applications are interoperable and offer the capability to quality-control check the CAD drawings we produce.

We use a variety of tools on a daily basis to help us accomplish these objectives. One of these invaluable tools is Axiom’s MicroStation Productivity Toolkit. We use CellManager, I and I (to name a few) to manage the working drawings. These tools allow us to automate processes, which saves us many laborious hours. As an example, I provides us with the capability to manage and repair problematic cells used throughout the drawing set. I allows our CAD coordinator to ensure the quality of the DGN/DWG files and compliance with the CAD standards required by the project. We have just started to use RefWriter and Title Block Manager to manage reference and sheet files to ensure that the most current changes made in the reference files are being updated on the sheet files. These applications are essential because they improve our users’ productivity by many times. We are exploring other tools that Axiom offers and are hoping to incorporate these applications soon.

MST: Shalom Baranes has worked on the restoration of the Pentagon, the Treasury Building and Washington National Airport among other major facilities. What are some of the issues with working on those projects?
Ken: One of the common requirements for government projects is to produce a set of CAD drawings compliant with the CAD standards published by the government. The demand to produce a set of coordinated and organized CAD files, from pre-construction to post-construction, is becoming more and more common. For this type of project, we must implement an additional set of CAD standards to satisfy the requirement.

On one of the projects, we actually developed and distributed the CAD standard to all of our consultants working as a team. We then used SpecChecker to monitor, update and manage the files.

Another challenge was to convert, audit and repair various versions of DWG (r14 – 2004) and DGN (J and V8) files. In early 2000, we also realized the importance of creating 3D visualization models. Since then, we have utilized various 3D applications to help us address these design issues. The 3D tools range from an interference detection application to virtual walk-through.

Lastly, we are preparing ourselves to be BIM-ready by closely following the National Standard for Building Information Modeling published by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS).

MST: How did you get into CAD/IT?
Ken: After receiving my master’s degree in architecture, I worked as an architect for five years. During that time, I became fascinated with the digital revolution, specifically in CAD, 3D modeling/rendering, computer networking and the Internet.

I began my IT career in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, working for a variety of AEC firms in the early 1990s. I then accepted a full-time position as an architect/CAD specialist at Shalom Baranes in the mid 1990s. I am now the Director of IT there.

It has been a blessing for my career to have been given the opportunity to work with so many talented architects, engineers and IT professionals. I have learned a great deal of invaluable working knowledge regarding CAD/3D, graphics and IT systems. This has helped me set my foundation to be more involved in the CAD/IT management arena. Shalom Baranes has a reputation for its expertise in government, commercial, residential and institutional design. We work with a variety of consultants and clients who use various types of CAD applications. This has made us extremely versatile and competitive in dealing with CAD/IT issues, regardless of the size of the project or the application required by the project. I enjoy these CAD/IT technical challenges because it keeps us on the cutting edge.

MST: What would you like to be doing in ten years?
Ken: For work, I hope that our in-house 3D training will have made a difference so that in ten years everyone, including the designers, would be proficient in various 3D applications. I hope that my day-to-day challenges will switch from dealing with 2D drafting issues, to solving complex 3D design issues.

When I am away from work, I enjoy many different types of outdoor sports. I am also an active Karate practitioner, which keeps me physically and mentally fit. I hope to be able to continue to climb mountains and stay fit so I can enjoy other outdoor sports that I have not yet tried.

MST: What’s a book you wish you’d written?
Ken: A fiction novel regarding space travel beyond our universe. But more realistically, I wish that I had written a technical reference book. Based on my previous consulting experiences, I have noticed that although CAD and IT share so much common ground, they are often not integrated to work seamlessly. An IT manager may need to rely on a CAD manager for application configurations, whereas a CAD manager may need to rely on an IT manager to understand how to integrate CAD as part of the network to share the resources. For this reason, I wish I had written a user’s reference book about system integration — a reference book that would help bridge the gap between CAD (transition between 2D and 3D files), graphics (use of graphics in CAD applications) and IT (integration of CAD and Network environments)..

“I am hoping that space travel will become common and inexpensive in the near future, so the average person would have a chance to view Earth from space.”

MST: If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would it be?
Ken: Neil Armstrong. I don’t need to be the first human on the Moon, but I sure would enjoy being able to stand on the Moon and look toward the beautiful Earth we live on. I am hoping that space travel will become common and inexpensive in the near future, so that at least the average person would have a chance to view Earth from space.

MST: What do you predict will be the “next big thing” in CAD?
Ken: A lot has happened since the digital revolution in terms of how computers have become an essential tool. But at the same time, very little has helped us to be more productive as a user. The divide between a designer (using 2D and pen and paper), a CAD architect (a 2D user) and a 3D modeler is still apparent. However, I do see changes taking place and it is encouraging. A variety of easy-to-use 3D applications are increasingly becoming more intuitive and popular for those who have limited capabilities in using a complex 3D application. The more 3D exposure a designer gets, the better chance that they will become more proficient in the 3D environment. As much as BIM is being talked about, I think it will still take a while for the industry, as a whole, to figure out exactly what BIM is all about. For those who are interested in this subject, there is an interesting short article written by Nigel Davies, dated 26 March 2007 at this Web address: http://www.eatyourcad.com/article.php?incat_id=1478

I think that as the easy-to-use 3D applications become more advanced, more designers will start to use 3D applications as design tools, as opposed to using just drafting tools. As the CAD application becomes more 3D friendly, a designer would be able to quickly produce a variety of massing study models and they could be transitioned into a more precise and complex 3D model for rendering. [Editor’s note: a “massing model” is a simple, exterior-only, 3D model.] The process from creativity to visualization has always been 2D (a designer using pen and paper) to 3D (a modeler using sophisticated 3D application), and I think the creative process may become fully 3D in the not-too-distant future.

MST: Thank you, Ken. I hope you can find the time to write that book.

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