Monday, May 16, 2011

NIM: Product Connect for Sketchup

I was a hand-drafter for a long time, and I still love the feeling of a pencil gliding across a sheet of vellum.   But there are some downsides to hand drafting, and they become quite evident when hand drafting is put up against any one of the CAD programmes available. Whether you are faced with changes to a design or converting your drawing to a cabinet order, computer aided drafting (or design) software makes tedious design tasks routine and increases the productivity of the designer significantly.

I started using a free CAD programme from Google called Sketchup a few years ago. I started using Sketchup for for my custom drawings (like the one at the right) for one simple reason: the basic version of the programme is 100% free. There’s also a huge on-line warehouse of models (buildings, chairs, cars, appliances …) created by other Sketchup users, free for anyone to use and a vast array of plug-ins; small programmes that automate some common Sketchup tasks – also free. There’s no manual per se, but the on-line community has addressed this with blogs, forums and videos to get you up to speed. It’s the on-line community that’s really made Sketchup the powerhouse it is today.

I started using Sketchup to handle the shop drawings for the custom cabinet’s I would design. That evolved into doing basic kitchen drawings to help clients visualize the concepts I had for them, and finally full blown designs including plans and elevations created in the Layout programme (available with the paid version of Sketchup, Sketchup Pro). The design process is now much simpler. My customers can visualize their new kitchens, and any changes they want me to make are very simply accommodated.

One thing Sketchup doesn’t do for me is create a schedule of materials. I still create all my cabinet orders manually. It’s time consuming, and there’s room for error when I transcribe the cabinet nomenclature from the drawing to the order sheet. There are programmes (20/20 for example) that handle schedules of material very well, but until recently, Sketchup hasn’t had a plug-in to handle this.

At the recent KBIS show, I was introduced to Alex Oliver and Mike Tadros of Igloo Studios. Igloo started life as a Sketchup training company and has recently released a new Sketchup plug-in called Product Connect. Product Connect is the tool that I, and many other kitchen designers who use Sketchup, have been waiting for. Product Connect will analyze your Sketchup model, and provide you with a list of all the items in it.

Product Connect is a brand new plug-in, so there are a couple of short-comings. In order for Product Connect to “read” your model you have to use components that are “Product Connect Enabled”; i.e. not just any component will work. If you have created your own catalogue of components (like I have), you’re out of luck. Fortunately, Igloo along with the folk at Masco, Formica, GE, Dacor, Brizo, Delta and many others have stepped up with content that will work with Product Connect.

I’ve been playing with Product Connect for a few days now and I’m pleased to say the programme works exceptionally well. You can create a schedule of everything in your model, or you can highlight just a portion of it and get a listing of just those items. The data you get out of the reports will be based on that which the manufacturer has included. With the cabinet catalogues currently available it’s just things like the manufacturer, the cabinet nomenclature and a description. However, Igloo told me that pricing, dimensions and weight can also be included.

Product Connect's current usefulness is based completely on which manufacturers are making compatible catalogues.  For me, until I can create my own catalogue (something I'm told can be done ... it just takes time and skill, both of which I'm lacking)  I’ll just continue playing with it to see if I can use the cabinet catalogues to mimic the cabinets I use and create some simple reports that I can cut and paste into my orders.

The major point here is that Product Connect is doing something that needs to be done and if the Sketchup community takes to this plug-in the way they’ve taken to creating models and other useful plug-ins, it won’t be long before I’ll be creating orders straight from my designs. It’s a first step, and for that I applaud them.


Nick @ Cupboards said...

Was great seeing the Product Connect in action- looking forward to seeing how it works in our business!

Alex Oliver said...

Thanks for the great article, Arne! We'll keep working hard to add more product catalogs and to make the Product Connect plugin more useful.

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