Mention the practice of building information modeling to most people and they automatically assume it includes creating a 3D CAD project image. Yet in current practice, many of the BIM models built are missing the specific specifications needed by builders to procure the actual building products. That process of selecting non-CAD building product information and subsequently assembling and coordinating documents has remained in the background for much of the evolution of BIM.
The biggest contributor to BIM discontinuity is lack of team coordination. After the initial design of a project, “interior people, exterior people, and structural people all make more decisions,” says architect Chuck Williams, president of Katonah, N.Y.-based Architectural Data Systems. “So the specwriter has to go ask them what they've picked. Then someone else comes in, and asks them for more information to detail it on the drawings.”
With these processes occurring simultaneously, it has been easy for conflicts to arise, especially when the document load includes plans, sections, elevations, schedules, and details. For example, on a project with three types of brick, someone may change a product, tell the detailers, but not tell anyone else. “Or they might tell the schedule guy a different thing,” adds Williams. “That's why we decided to do a program on the non-CAD side of things that would integrate document production. Consolidating it into one process really minimizes the conflicts.”
Built for the design team and aimed at this BIM shortcoming, ADS's core product is derived from Williams's earlier efforts to automate the specification writing process. Those efforts resulted in a menu-based, database-driven tool called Archispec. In 2000, Williams and his partner, architect John Averitt, converted Archispec to the firm's current core online product, ADSymphony.
Using the manufacturer's product content as the “relational fulcrum,” the firm designed and programmed an online data-based system. ADSymphony enables users to select products, generate CAD-ready schedules and specifications, and integrate pertinent information directly onto the CAD/Industry Foundation Class object.
“Our first idea was to provide electronic catalogs,” adds Williams. “As people pick products, the specifications and schedules are generated automatically. When someone picks a brick or a chalkboard, it generates the specs. When someone picks windows, its generates the schedule.” The firm currently has over 1,000 catalogs programmed into the system.
The product integrates spec writing and product selection; allows product-to-product search capabilities; allows manufacturer-based search capabilities; provides practice knowledge management and version tracking; and provides a collaborative environment for extended and remote teams.
To integrate the products into CAD, the firm beta-released in 2004 a plug-in for Autodesk's AutoCAD and Revit. In 2005 the firm officially began partnering with Autodesk and began offering a system compatible with Architectural Desktop.
In May 2007, the firm unveiled ADSearch, a free software tool that allows users to customize a product search by keyword, division, or manufacturer, and use the results to generate specs and schedules. ADSearch ties into ADSymphony, or it can be used to provide multiple product results in one search so that products can be compared on an apples-to-apples basis without further search. These results can then be automatically integrated into the user's documents.
Included in the ADSearch is ADSearch-Green to find building products eligible for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credits. To enhance the usability of ADSearch, the firm recommends purchasing ADSymphony to link product selection with document production.
Another introduction occurred in May, as ADS and Autodesk announced an initiative to enable users of AutoCAD Architecture 2008—the replacement for Architectural Desktop—to have full access to ADSearch while inside AutoCAD.
“Through our collaboration with ADS, hundreds of thousands of AutoCAD Architecture users could access an extensive library of manufacturer catalogs,” said Phil Bernstein, VP of industry strategy and relations, Autodesk AEC Solutions.
The firm is currently working on versions of ADSymphony for AutoDesk's Revit and Graphisoft's ArchiCAD.
ADS suggests potential users introduce themselves to the product by first using the free ADSearch to either simply find a product, or add the search results to a project and generate project-specific specs and schedules that are ready for download.
ADSearch also offers a free introduction to ADSymphony. There, single users can convert a free search account to a registered freeware account and use all of the ADS online and CAD functions. To advance to ADSymphony to consolidate several document production steps into one and have remote teams work on the same project in real time, an office license is $200 per named user per year with a minimum of five users. ADS also offers custom programming of its systems.