The recent AIA National Convention and Design Expo in Boston came with a steady stream of new modeling and visualization, project management, and collaboration solutions from major industry software vendors such as Autodesk, Bentley, Graphisoft, Adobe, and Newforma. Many of these technologies will be explored in future BD+C IT columns, but this BIM blog covers the latest tech developments available to the design/construction industry.
Desperately seeking Autodesk
Autodesk announced that its Revit BIM platform had crossed the 300,000 registered seats mark and showcased its new Autodesk Seek (www.autodesk.com/seek) service. Seek is a consolidated online source for building product design information now directly linked to the 2009 U.S. versions of Autodesk's Revit-based software applications, as well as to AutoCAD, AutoCAD Architecture, and AutoCAD MEP. The web service, available through standard browsers, has been populated with DGN, DWF, DWG, PDF, and other file types mostly through partnerships with services such as BIMworld, Arcat and the Sweets network, as well as from manufacturers who provide object files directly to the network. Users can search by CSI MasterFormat, OmniFormat, or Uniformat or by file type.
“Right now the primary source is third-party content providers indexed from partner sites,” said Jeff Wright, Seek Team director. “That’s the starting point for content, but we want to work directly with building product manufacturers, too.”
The service is simple to use for designers wanting to search for, specify, and insert product objects into Revit models. Typing in “piping connections” brings up hundreds of objects that can be downloaded and immediately used in a model. Wright said that users have been telling Autodesk that they need specific, modeled products much earlier in the design process for cost estimation and planning purposes.
“We’re taking a very open approach to content in Seek,” Wright said. “As new and different file formats become available, we’ll add them to Seek.”
Autodesk also showcased the company’s most recent acquisitions: Carmel Software, an HVAC modeling program that’s been incorporated into Revit MEP 2009; and Green Building Studio, a Web-based energy analysis service that allows A/E professionals to perform whole building energy analysis early in a building’s design.
In other BIM object news, Reed Construction Data unveiled its new SmartBIM objects and library at the AIA show. The library ties in with RCD’s RSMeans cost database and allows users to easily estimate the value of a location-specific project using the RSMeans Quick Cost Estimator. SmartBIM was known as Tectonic Partners before being acquired by Reed Construction Data last year (BD+C is owned by the same parent company, Reed-Elsevier, as Reed Construction Data). The parametric SmartBIM objects work exclusively with the Revit platform and can be quickly and easily downloaded and used in Revit models.
Flash content can finally be embedded in a PDF!
While Adobe did not exhibit at AIA, the company has just released the latest version of its industry-standard collaboration software, Adobe Acrobat 9. In a move that the industry has anticipated since Adobe acquired Macromedia in 2005, Flash runtime content has finally become viewable in Acrobat PDF files. Flash video can also be commented on in a smart PDF and shared with other Building Team members through PDF attachments. With a professional version of Acrobat, users can package a PowerPoint presentation with both images and audio of the presenter’s voice. Adobe is abandoning the “3D” name it previously used for the professional version of Acrobat and calling this newest release “Acrobat Pro Extended.”
With Acrobat 9 Pro Extended Building Teams can share layer data and other complex geometry in a PDFx file.
In Acrobat 9 Pro Extended layer data and other complex BIM information can be saved in a PDF.
“3D workflows are becoming common to all knowledge workers,” said Michael Folkers, product marketing manager for Acrobat. “It’s not just platform specific to AEC or other industries and the name change reflects that.”
The new document packaging features of Acrobat are much simpler to use than previous versions. With only a few clicks designers can create a full PDF portfolio of a project from image files.
Only slightly less revolutionary than including Flash content is that the PDF platform can now encapsulate geospatial and mapping information. All 3D content in a 3D PDF now has longitudinal and latitudinal information attached to it for easy project information sharing. Adobe also launched Acrobat.com, a support site for document creation and sharing. This is the first new version of Acrobat since 2006.
Bentley generates Buzz
Bentley focused its AIA promotion on its GenerativeComponents application, a research initiative that uses parametric technology to assist in the creation of complex forms and shapes. GC objects are created by defining intricate mathematic relationships that allow design variations to be created simply by changing one or more of the original design parameters. The resulting designs can be taken directly to MicroStation (GC is based on MicroStation technology) for documentation and fabrication without information loss. GC has been available since 2006 but Bentley announced a new subscription program for GC at AIA. Priced at $250, new users get a one-year subscription to GC; and existing Bentley SELECT subscribers get GC at no additional cost as well as a preview of Bentley’s new 2008 BIM software.
Graphisoft: Cheap ($1995) is good
Graphisoft previewed some of the new features in ArchiCAD 12 and unveiled the ArchiCAD Start Edition, the first BIM program to break the $2,000 barrier at just $1,995. Why buy Start Edition and not a Hyundai? It offers the design, documentation, and interoperability features of ArchiCAD without all the bells and whistles of its nearly twice as expensive older brother. Aimed directly at smaller architecture firms and contractors wanting to get started in BIM, Start Edition eliminates the collaboration features that are used more often by larger firms buying several licenses and doing fully integrated design. The main barrier to switching to BIM for smaller firms is the exorbitant cost; hopefully, Graphisoft can gain some converts and maybe even encourage Bentley and Autodesk to offer starter applications too.
Magic from smart pens
A newcomer to AIA this year was CapturX from AdapX. It’s a digital pen and paper collaboration program that allows markups created on paper to be captured electronically so that they fit the workflows of the AEC industry. Normal paper printouts of Autodesk DWF files can be imprinted by CapturX with a watermark that makes it digitally readable. By using a field-ready digital pen that writes with regular ink, construction and design professionals can make notations on the paper files and then dock the pen and see those same changes imported into their DWF files. The interface is quite clean and even the sloppiest writing can be easily translated and saved by the AdapX pen. Tablet PCs are becoming more common in the field, and AdapX’s solution is one of the better recording systems I’ve seen to date.
New from Newforma
Newforma, Inc., did not exhibit at AIA, but it did release the fifth edition of its project information management enterprise solution, ProjectCenter, just before the show. Newforma Project Center Fifth Edition greatly expands the ways external team members can collaborate via Outlook and introduces new capabilities for project monitoring and contract administration.
“Especially in these times of economic uncertainty, architecture and engineering firms are seeking new solutions to help them operate at peak efficiency and better manage their exposure to risk,” said Ian Howell, CEO of Newforma. “The fifth edition reduces the manual, productivity-draining, administrative tasks of the CA phase of a project and improves the communication of project activities and sharing of product information with external team members.”
The new CA module of Newforma introduces support for the logging and tracking of requests for information. RFIs can now be created from an incoming e-mail in Microsoft Outlook, received via Newforma Info Exchange (a parallel server running in offices that have Newforma), or simply entered in the program’s new RFI activity center. Submittals can now be shared with and addressed by external Building Team members via an Internet browser interface.
The new My Project Center dashboard and Project Timeline functionality, architects and engineers can monitor the latest information about their projects at a glance. Individual action items and issues pop up as alerts, and overall project activity can be viewed through the timeline. Project managers can use these tools to identify when project activities threaten to diverge from plan and take corrective action. Newforma also announced an integration with Deltek Vision software that allows project financial and planning data to be united with technical project information on every project manager’s desktop.
Newforma has a reputation as an immensely useful enterprise solution for AEC firms. These new features make it even more valuable for saving employees’ time and tracking project information.
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