The Joys of AutoCAD File Conversion

After several days in front of a computer, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, we’ve got the site surveys ready for anyone who wants to use them!

The Struggle is Real

Getting the files looking and playing nice was a whole struggle in itself. We’re a multinational team, and many of us are still learning what this whole Open Source thing is. I’m a Brit trying to communicate with the Chinese CAD designer through a middle-man, switching between English and Mandarin to explain what I need. Thankfully certain things like DWG, DXF, and SHX don’t need translation!

Most of the work involved:

  • Converting the proprietary AutoCAD DWG (DraWinG) files to the open DXF (Drawing eXchange Format). This entailed dusting off an old copy of AutoCAD and getting it to play nicely on my HiDPI screen. Note: If you value your sanity and patience, don’t run AutoCAD on a Microsoft Surface or other low-spec machine. You can practically hear the CPU groaning away.
  • Getting a bunch of missing SHX files from…well, wherever I could find them. Most of them were only available from dodgy-looking Chinese download sites, and Chrome didn’t want (or even allow) me to open the files I downloaded. Luckily Microsoft Edge came to the rescue. Thank you disregard for user safety!

What still needs to be done?

I can see the next few days being a barrel of laughs as I go from being a fresh-faced CAD novice to a bitter and twisted CAD burnout. I’ll be working on trying to get the DXF file looking nice in open-source alternatives to AutoCAD. The file should look like this:

But in FreeCAD it looks like this:

How could we improve this process?

Unfortunately, closed-source software like AutoCAD is the industry standard. Sure, we could push everyone at the organization to run FreeCAD, but we’re trying to balance real-world practicality with open-source philosophy. Maybe someday we’ll make that transition, but we’ve got more pressing things at hand right now.

I’ve downloaded all the missing SHX files that were referenced in the original DWG file and put them in one folder. I’d provide a link but I have no idea of the license these things are released under.

That should help in the future, and I’d like to get the designer to ship any further SHXes they use. In the meantime, I found a big zip files of SHXes so hopefully that’ll contain anything that’s missing.