In 1998, the year D-Tools was founded, its target market was the residential electronics installation industry.  At that time, it was mostly AV oriented and did not need a lot of product categories.  If memory serves we shipped with about a dozen categories that easily covered the product needs of our customers.

Back then we had some simple, hard coded rules for shape and category assignment.  Basically, the category had to equal the Visio stencil name and the Visio shape name had to equal the subcategory.  For example – take a product like a subwoofer.  A ‘subwoofer’ is a subcategory of the ‘speakers’ category.  If the user dragged out the Visio shape named “subwoofer” the software would use the category/subcategory as a filter so the user was presented with product choices of only Speakers/Subwoofers instead of the entire product catalog.

If the user was dragging a product from the Product Editor or PDM (as it was referred to), the software would use the same filter criteria and find a shape where the stencil name is ‘speakers’ and the shape name is ‘subwoofer’ and drop the appropriate shape.

This works, for the most part, until someone spells subwoofer as ‘sub-woofer’ or ‘sub’ or ‘woofer’ or anything that is not spelled exactly “subwoofer”.  It all worked as expected – as long as your data was perfect.  In the case of the misspelled subwoofer, dragging the subwoofer shape from the Visio stencil would only get you the product choices that were spelled correctly.  If you were dragging a product from the product editor with a misspelled subcategory then the software would not be able to find the shape and it would drop the default elevation shape for that category.


You were expecting this subwoofer shape

But you got this default elevation shape

Another related issue that arose from using this hard coded category/subcategory process is that we would have to use the same shape with a different name to represent similar products.  For example, instead of having a single shape called “Flat Panel TV” we would have to create separate but identical shapes for all the different variables of flat screen TV’s such as LCD, LED, Plasma, Monitor, etc. To make things even more confusing, we sometimes would have to have the same shape cross over into other categories depending on how products were categorized.  On top of this, if a new flat screen category came about such as “Ultra HD”, then the software would not know what shape to drop without a lot of fiddling around by the user.

Fast forward 15 years and we now service many more industries than residential AV and we have close to 1,000 product categories and subcategories that we keep track of.  Although we gave users interfaces to better manage their categories and shapes, having hard coded categories and sub-categories was pretty much an untenable situation: we needed to make a change.

With the advent of SIX 2013 we now have a much more efficient process for managing this shape/data relationship; you will notice the new shape tree is much more streamlined in SIX 2013.  Instead of a single shape represent a category/subcategory, we can now have that same shape represent multiple categories/subcategories.

 assign categories to shape uio

The new Flat Panel TV shape can now be used across multiple categories/subcategories.

Using the Flat Panel TV as an example, this new process has two ways of operating. If you are dragging an object from the shape tree you already know which shape you want to have represented on the drawing page. SIX 2013 uses the new category/subcategory assignments to filter the data so the only choices you see on product selection are the categories/subcategories that were assigned to that specific shape.

 shape tree

The Shape Tree with Flat Panel TV selected

On the other hand, if you are dragging from the Project Editor or the new Product Tree, you know what product you want represented on the page.  SIX 2013 will use the same filter logic to determine that the category/subcategory has a match and drop the appropriate shape.

 product tree

The new Product Tree allows the user to drop products on the page and have the correct shape be rendered

This process greatly streamlines the shape and product selection process.  There are much fewer shapes that the user has to deal with and right out of the box we have pre-loaded the most popular shape/category assignments.  We also built in a lot of useful tools that allows the users to easily edit and update these assignments.  Overall this is one of the most significant enhancements to the drawing side of the D-Tools platform since version 2.  I hope you enjoy using it.