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If you have multiple identical (or, more likely, nearly identical) paths overlapping, you can probably eliminate that part of the problem with the export settings in the CAD program (which you don't specify). Look for settings to not include hidden lines (assuming you are exporting from flattend 3D models).
Most CAD programs have a collection of export options, and there are multiple "flavors" of DXF. Someone needs to know what they're doing on each end of the export/import workflow.
After getting a reasonable file into AI, try selecting all (excluding Text) and applying the Simplify command with curve accuracy set to 100%.
Once you get the details ironed out, consider recording an Action to automate the steps that work best. For example, I routinely import DXF files exported from CATIA models and the apply an Action that:
Selects all text objects.
Inverts the selection.
Removes compound paths.
Applies a uniform stroke weight with rounded end caps and joins.
Selects all Text objects.
Sets font, size, and weight.
In a consistent workflow, importing the DXFs and doing most of the optimization (as much as it can be optimized) is pretty much a few clicks affair. Dealing with CAD files when you cannot control the export end (as when receiving them from multiple different vendors and softwares) is always a bit of a chore because of the variables.
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Well, your CAD people must properly prepare the file. That's all there is to it. Apparently they do not and rely on the automated conversion that happens on export. Just like in AI, they can clean up layers before export, they just need to organize them properly. Screws, nuts and bolts, which are usually just symbol instances of library items, should be converted before the export and also put on a separate layer. This also allows to substitute them for simplified symbols, if needed. Likewise, CAD programs offer thresholds for gap drawing or concatenating lines of thin elements (wires, shells) as well as merging coplanar items, points and so on. Additionally, measurements often need to be hidden or manually converted into proper objects to correctly show up and not produce a huindred extra layers. Your problem is not the complexity of the drawings, but how they are not cleaned up before export. It's really that end you must work on to simplify your workflow.
It's hard to tell from your post what the problem might be. If you can upload an example DXF file of what you are talking about, I can look at it in CAD and give you a more accurate view of what you or your Engineering department can do to minimize file size.
The term I use to get a clean dxf or dwg file from my clients is to simply tell them to dumb it down before exporting.
They might not be aware you want them to do so since to them it usually does not make sense.
When they dumb it down they usually give you only the top sheet.
If it is 3D I usually ask for an eps of the view they want me to use.
Thanks for all the helpful input. I'll get with the engineering department and discuss all your ideas.
I was not aware of the Simplify command. I'll give that a try, too!