Quality Plus Speed
Apr 1, 2002 12:00 PM, By Rob Robinson
STARDRAW.COM is a software company with origins in the lighting industry but whose portfolio has quickly expanded to the audio and A/V markets. The majority of Stardraw's business comes from what it refers to as its “shrink-wrapped” range; these off-the-shelf CAD software packages, priced from $1000 to $3000, enable customers to create professional designs quickly, easily, and with all of the supporting documentation they require.
“The beauty of the software is that it is infinitely variable,” said David Snipp, managing director of Stardraw. “We have tailored our powerful Stardraw engine to vertical market sectors to create industry-specific packages at a fraction of the price of traditional CAD solutions.” Currently available from Stardraw in the shrink-wrapped range are Stardraw Audio, Stardraw A/V, Stardraw Lighting 2D and the soon-to-be-released Stardraw Radio.
So what are people looking for in a CAD package? Most people would probably cite ease of use, a comprehensive library of useful symbols, and something that looks good without breaking the bank as top priorities. In short, any good CAD package needs to enhance both productivity and professionalism. Stardraw is certainly easy to use, even assuming only the most rudimentary knowledge. The straightforward drag-and-drop design facility, and the quality of the symbols means that it is possible to be productive from the first time you use it.
The symbols in Stardraw are what take the software to a higher level. Symbol generation is taken seriously to ensure that all adhere to the same qualitative standards. The symbols are all vector drawings so that quality at any resolution is guaranteed. About 250 products are added to the Stardraw A/V library every month, and if you still can't find what you want, there is a dedicated e-mail “Symbols-by-Request” service (firstname.lastname@example.org), which forms the basis from which new symbols are prioritized. If you just can't wait, it is fairly simple to edit an existing symbol to create the one you want.
▪ A Design Tool. On the design side, Stardraw allows users to create engineering schematics; high-detail front, rear and side elevations of 19-inch racks; and custom panel designs and architectural layouts. It's quick and easy using the symbols library and the drag-and-drop facility. Being so straightforward also makes it a great sales tool because designs can be produced in minutes. This resolves the common drawing-resource bottleneck in which sales' requests for drawings are typically low on the priority list when engineers on site are clamoring for their documentation. Stardraw prides itself on being so easy that even a salesperson can use it. (No disrespect meant to sales-people, of course.)
▪ A Sales Tool. Even a first-time user can generally produce something within as little as half an hour from his or her initial introduction to the software, and this can drop to a matter of minutes as familiarity with the program increases. “Stardraw has become such an integral part of how we work here that not having it available feels like we are working with no arms,” said Warwick Maver from Electroboard, a multimedia presentation company in Sydney, Australia. “Our sales team is impressed; it helped their success rate by showing customers a professional drawing in their proposals, our installers are impressed because they have easy-to-follow installation drawings and cable schedules — even the boss is impressed.”
▪ A Communication Tool. However, sales tools are not everyone's priority. Tim Brown at Apple Sound, a U.K. company specializing in audio system design and specification, finds Stardraw to be an invaluable communication tool between the designers at Apple Sound and the engineers on site. “We can provide detailed sets of drawings right down to the last pin connection so that everyone on site has exactly what they need in order to install and wire the system correctly,” he said. “Each person can have his or her own set of drawings or schematics [to] get on with the job. It saves hours of valuable site time. If there is a problem, either during installation or at any other time, the chances are that it can be sorted out with a phone call rather than a site visit. We retain block schematics on file of every installation we've ever been involved in, so it takes just moments to refer back to them. As long as the engineer has his copy in front of him before he makes the call, we can usually resolve the matter quickly.”
▪ An Architectural Tool. Brown cites Stardraw's ability interface with AutoCAD as a particularly valuable and timesaving feature. “We are currently involved in a massive retail project with a large number of contractors and architects,” he said. “Because Stardraw allows us to read and measure to scale from the immensely complex building drawings produced by the architects in AutoCAD, we can calculate our cable runs, for example, add them to the drawing and send it back. It saves everyone huge amounts of time and grief.” Stardraw boasts full AutoCAD compatibility from AutoCAD v2.5 right up to AutoCAD 2002.
SIMPLE AND EFFECTIVE
stardraw.com has many major clients in the United States who use Stardraw packages in a wide variety of applications. One of those is Paul Vella at the Venetian Resort hotel and casino complex in Las Vegas. Vella is responsible for the documentation and design of all the audio systems across this vast site, which range from the 70V-line music and page distribution system to remote systems for the shows and corporate events staged at the hotel. The Venetian has 3036 hotel rooms with plans underway to double that number, and, yes, this is the hotel with a life-size replica of St. Mark's square in Venice — complete with canal and gondoliers.
“I like things that make my life simple, and Stardraw does exactly that,” said Vella. “It is easy to use, and I can produce all of my designs and supporting documentation in a fraction of the time it would have taken me using traditional means. Even CAD drawings take too long because the software is hugely complex and takes years to learn, and you have to produce all of the symbols yourself. Stardraw, on the other hand, has all of the symbols I need, and building the system couldn't be easier: point, click, drag it over and that's it. In just a few minutes we can see if what we have in mind will work. That speeds up the whole process enormously. Any of the hotel departments can call me and let me know what it is they need, and I can have comprehensive, fully documented system drawings back to them the same day if necessary. What's more, I can do it on my own.”
Vella appeciated Stardraw's ability to link to a single data source to produce all of the necessary supporting documentation along with the audio design itself. “Stardraw can tell you in an instant how much your system will cost,” said Vella. “That is crucial when you are presenting your proposals to decision-makers. Once you have designed your system, Stardraw will produce a report in [Microsoft] Excel that lists and prices every single component and even produces purchase requisition forms. It is a great sales tool. We were able to reach final decisions quickly as a result.”
Vella and his team have been so impressed with the results they have achieved with Stardraw Audio that they are about to invest in Stardraw A/V in order to give them the extra capacity they need for the Venetian's expanding conference business. Once the necessary links have been made, Stardraw can produce almost any form of documentation required as long as the templates exist, so the system is infinitely customizable.
Another recent convert to Stardraw is DMX Music, a program source company that has recently standardized its national commercial sales operation on Stardraw A/V. Tim Dorwart, vice president of the commercial division for the eastern United States underscored the need for quality over and above other requirements. “The key factor [in our choosing Stardraw] was the quality of the symbols and the fact they all conform to the same standard. There is far less likelihood of corrupt data [with] a qualitative standard. It was also the product that the sales people felt the most comfortable with, and that is extremely important.”
Stardraw has attracted a loyal following, and for good reason. The size and quality of the symbols library is a key point, as is the AutoCAD compatibility. The drag-and-drop design method makes it easy to create and edit drawings in as much detail as required, and all of these designs are fully supported with the documentation needed to complete a presentation. “It is an efficient way to demonstrate technical competence to customers,” Brown said. “People can see for themselves what could otherwise have taken an hour to explain.”
Stardraw users enjoy a high level of technical support and after-sales service. That includes the new products added to the symbols library every month as well as new program features that are downloadable from the Stardraw Web site. All downloads are archived on the site so users can get them any time.
Minimum system requirements for Stardraw A/V and Stardraw Audio are Windows 95/NT, a 486 processor, 10 MB hard-disk space, 8 MB RAM and a CD-ROM drive. For Stardraw Professional, the system requirement increase to Windows 95/NT4, a Pentium processor, and 32 MB RAM.
Rob Robinson is operations manager for Stardraw.com. He is an experienced CAD operator and a technical author for software systems.