Autodesk strives for interoperability with new products, more acquisitions

August 11, 2010

At its second annual World Press Days event in San Francisco, Autodesk presented nearly 150 assembled journalists with a vision of how its 2009 AEC software will help AEC professionals meet the challenges of globalization, the infrastructure boom, climate change, and the “digital life.”

The overriding goal of the new features in the Revit BIM platform and NavisWorks Suite 2009 is to augment interoperability for Autodesk's nine million users worldwide, 750,000 of whom were new customers last year, according to CEO Carl Bass and Jay Bhatt, Autodesk's senior vice president of AEC Solutions. In Revit Architecture, the accurender rendering engine has been replaced with the Mental Ray engine from Autodesk's 3ds Max, a digital rendering program used mainly by the film and gaming industries that some A/E firms are already using for conceptual design and visualization.

Putting it all together

The big star of the first day was 3ds Max. Rick Thoman, SmithGroup's integrated practice coordinator, showed how his A/E firm uses 3ds Max for presentations and NavisWorks for clash detection. Representatives from Mortenson Construction and General Motors described how working digitally and creating 3D models has revolutionized their businesses—to the point where GM now requires all of its plants to be designed and scheduled in BIM.

Dallas-based HKS injected a little showbiz into the proceedings with an animation that used the Unreal 3D rendering engine from Epic games to demonstrate virtual traffic flow in HKS's design of the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium. Hollywood digital effects studio Sony Imageworks added to the 1/0 fireworks with a short promotional film for Santiago Calatrava's Chicago Spire.

For 2009, Autodesk has spawned an A/E design-specific version, 3ds Max Design, which has everything 3ds Max has with the exception of the software developer kit used by game developers. The free-form tools in Autodesk Maya were used to demonstrate how a push-and-pull environment and be used for form exploration and then later leveraged in Autodesk architectural solutions.

Bhatt told the assembled reporters that AEC firms are using Autodesk tools (notably Inventor and Maya) “especially in the concept phase.”

More news came with Autodesk's announcement of the acquisition of San Francisco-based Carmel Software, an HVAC mechanical engineering software company, and Green Building Studio, a Santa Rosa-based energy analysis software provider. These latest acquisitions join NavisWorks, Intelisolve, and Robobat in Autodesk's biggest buying year since 2002.

GBS is a popular Web-based energy analysis program that can operate in either Windows or Mac operating systems. Currently, GBS's Web service comes free with the purchase of the software. GBS representatives released a statement saying that “the gbXML schema will remain an open industry standard, and the GBS Web service will continue to be available to any other BIM software.” Bhatt told BD+C that Autodesk currently plans to continue support for the Web-based energy analysis currently provided with GBS's tools.

NavisWorks provides the glue

Autodesk's NavisWorks products, acquired last summer, enable integrated building information, data, and geometry to be shared across multiple software platforms and applications.

Bhatt, a 2008 BD+C “40 Under 40” selection, said NavisWorks provided Autodesk with “a tool to bring disparate information together” for multiple users. “We live in a hybrid information world,” he said. “We're not arrogant enough to think that Autodesk's products are the only products used to create building information, and we're not unrealistic enough to think we can create interoperability between disparate platforms across the entire environment.”

Rather, said Bhatt, Autodesk will seek to create interoperability within its own portfolio. “We can't do it for everything, so we felt we needed that tool to make heads or tails of disparate information,” he said. “The secret is to keep it open and neutral and improve its capabilities.”

NavisWorks Review 2009 provides basic model aggregation. NavisWorks Simulate includes NavisWorks Review and adds timeline and 4D capabilities. NavisWorks Manage supplies visualization capability for all types of models, precise replication of designs, accurate simulation of 4D construction schedules, and clash detection. Autodesk NavisWorks Freedom is a free viewer for files in Autodesk/NavisWorks' NWD and 3D DWFTM formats. New features include object animation and scripting for client presentations. Over 40 native formats are supported by NavisWorks, including ArchiCAD, MicroStation, IGES, and STEP. Bhatt said Autodesk will be investing heavily in the development of the Autodesk NavisWorks Suite over the next year.

Revit Architect 2009 getsMental Ray blast

The biggest change in Revit is the added power of the Mental Ray rendering engine. “Users want a product that gives you everything” said David Mills, technical marketing manager for Autodesk's architectural solutions. “Instead of duplicating effort by building highly specialized functionality that already exists in the Autodesk portfolio into Revit Architecture, we acknowledge the individual strengths of various tools and work to build bridges between them so that users gain maximum benefit from the Autodesk toolset,” said Mills. “An example is the new FBX export from Revit Architecture which allows easy transfer of scenes from Revit to 3ds Max.” Other examples include:

All materials libraries inside of Revit Architecture are now included with 3ds Max. There were also 700 new materials made for Revit Architecture and all those materials are included in 3ds Max as well.Photometric and physically accurate lighting are now integrated. Real sun and sky (thanks to Mental Ray) are optimized for architectural rendering. The amount of haze in the sky is now controlled by a slider instead of clicking on lighting design definitions.Greater sustainable design and energy analysis capabilities are available through exchange partner applications like GBS.An exposed Revision Order string lets users define the order that revisions are sequenced in Revision Schedules. Users can select alphabetical, numerical, or any combination of the two.Navigation on all Revit products is now controlled through a view cube and steering wheel.Revving up Revit MEP 2009

The “Most Improved Program Award” at Autodesk World Press Days was the third version of Revit MEP. Enhancements to Revit MEP make possible simple things like adding black detail lines to the MEP design for better construction documentation—a welcome attention to detail.

“We [MEP engineers] want to be able to control our design,” said Revit MEP technical marketing manager Armundo Darling, a CAD manager formerly with Flack + Kurtz.

Other updates to Revit MEP 2009 include the following:

The product now automatically converts rooms created in Revit Architecture into MEP spaces. The new zones in Revit MEP and spaces contain volume and engineering load information.All gbXML data for HVAC load calculations, check sum values and lighting calculation are now available through Revit MEP's integrated analysis tools and gbXML. Plumbing engineers now use flow values instead of fixture units to design plumbing systems.Users can just click to connect with Autodesk Labs Content Search service, an online repository of manufacturer and user-created product objects. This object database should encourage more manufacturers to create product objects for Revit programs.

The online version of this column includes screenshots of Revit Architecture and Revit MEP. Visit:


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