Software developers have it tough. On the one hand, their sales and marketing departments want them to make software with all the bells and whistles, in the belief that potential buyers place functionality at the top of priority list.
Yet many buyers say what they really want is software that's easy to operate. All too often, trying to achieve higher functionality with increased simplicity results in a product which meets neither of the user's needs.
Recent successes in software functionality and simplicity are coming from better integration of two or more software programs. When successful, that integration can make truly big — even groundbreaking — strides in productivity.
One of the latest significant pieces of integration news was revealed last December when Autodesk announced the integration of its parametric modeling program Revit into AutoCAD to form AutoCAD Revit. Combining Revit 5.1 and AutoCAD 2004 into a single product, AutoCAD Revit offers both building information modeling and CAD. In January, the firm released Revit 6, with some improved integration and functionality.
According to Autodesk, AutoCAD Revit provides architects and interior designers with an easier transition to the productivity benefits of building information modeling (BIM) while maximizing the value of their investment in AutoCAD. Building industry professionals using the AutoCAD Revit Series also benefit from the increased flexibility to utilize whichever personnel and resources are required to meet their design and construction documentation needs.
The announcement of AutoCAD Revit signaled the latest in a series of changes in the design business, moving architects away from 2-D computer-aided design systems to 3-D modeling systems. According to a recent study by Greenway Group's Counsel House Research, the move to BIM is perceived as an important tool of change and competitive advantage for organizations transforming the A/E/C industry.
"Increasingly, design and construction organizations worldwide are turning to [BIM] for process innovation," said Phillip G. Bernstein, FAIA, vice president of Autodesk's Building Solutions Division. "The AutoCAD Revit Series provides a pathway to [BIM] for firms currently invested in traditional CAD workflow."
One way Autodesk is betting more people will make the switch, which the firm's "technology evangelist" Lynn Allen asserts is the future of design, is by having options on how to use the technology on projects.
Revit may be used as a standalone product to complete a project, from schematic design through construction documentation and into bidding and construction. In parallel, the same user may work on a completely separate project in AutoCAD. Or an architect may have a large amount of legacy data that needs to be included along with the Revit model that is being created. Those with specific skills who are already trained in the use of AutoCAD software may continue to work in AutoCAD, with their work being integrated into the Revit model as DWG files. Revit may be used for schematic design and design development, but then the work can continue in AutoCAD through construction documentation, permitting the greatest number of trained personnel to be applied to the most labor-intensive part of the process.
If users choose to look elsewhere for a BIM system, Bentley Systems (maker of MicroStation Architect) and Graphisoft (ArchCad) have ramped up their modeling approaches and products.
While users continue to work their way from 2-D to 3-D tools, experts say the real benefits come when the fourth dimension of time is worked into the design process. "Traditional construction planning tools, such as bar charts and network diagrams, do not represent and communicate the spatial and temporal, or four-dimensional, aspects of construction schedules effectively," says Martin Fischer, a Stanford University professor and noted 4-D researcher. "As a consequence, they do not allow project managers to create schedule alternatives rapidly to find the best way to build a particular design. Extending the traditional planning tools, visual 4-D models combine 3-D CAD models with construction activities to display the progression of construction over time."
While 4-D has been used by mega-engineering and construction firms such as Bechtel on process plant and power projects, its use in building construction has been rare.
Fisher, who also directs Stanford's Center for Integrated Facility Engineering, led the movement to adopt 4-D in the 1990s. As 4-D has matured, Stanford is offering online 4-D CAD training.
The Stanford Virtual Design and Construction program will teach theory, methods and use of computer modeling to manage all aspects of design through construction projects. The Stanford Virtual Design and Construction Mastery Certificate will be awarded to students who complete courses in an introduction to virtual design and construction, techniques of project planning and control, organizational design for projects and companies, and virtual design and construction.
Students will work with Primavera P3 for project management; ArchCad; Autodesk's Architectural Desktop or Bentley's MicroStation for design; Timberline's Precision Estimating; SimVision for organizational modeling; and a 4-D animation program, Project 4D, from Common Point.