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AECbytes Newsletter #37 (November 13, 2008)

Bentley's Launch Event Unveiling the V8i Software Portfolio

Last week, Bentley Systems hosted a launch event for the next version of its solutions, a glimpse of which had been provided earlier this year at its BE Conference (see AECbytes Newsletter #36). It was dubbed the Athens version at that time, and has now taken on its final name, V8i. The V8 indicates the continuation of the V8 generation that Bentley had launched in 2002, and subsequent versions were named V8 2004 and V8 XM. (See my review of the V8 XM edition of the Bentley Building Suite along with a more detailed look at Bentley Architecture and Bentley Structural V8 XM published in 2006.) The “i” in the new V8i version stands for several things, according to Bentley executives: intuitive, interactive, intrinsic, incredible, and interoperable. This issue of the AECbytes Newsletter takes a look at what these terms refer to and what the new V8i portfolio of Bentley solutions brings to the table for its AEC users.

An Overview of V8i

Bentley calls V8i the most comprehensive and significant release in its history, which took a total investment of over a billion dollars and spans across the vast array of disciplines that Bentley now caters to—Bridges, Buildings, Cadastre and Land Development, Campuses, Communications, Electric and Gas Utilities, Factories, Mining and Metals, Oil and Gas, Power Generation, Rail and Transit, Roads, and Water and Wastewater. Its underlying theme and mission continues to be “Sustaining Infrastructure”—which Bentley had introduced at the BE conference earlier this year and around which it now seems to be coalescing. While it is easy to dismiss this as simply the buzzword of our times, there is little doubt about the fact that there is a critical need to develop new infrastructure and overhaul aging ones, and that there are not sufficient engineers available. An interesting article from the Wall Street Journal was cited that made this point by suggesting: “Perhaps America would do well to have a few more people thinking about engineering actual structures, rather than the ‘structured products’ of Wall Street.” This call to focus on our infrastructure is also being echoed by other leading publications such as the New York Times (see the article, “A National Mobility Project”) as well as financial leaders such as Paul Volcker, Former Chairman, U. S. Federal Reserve, who said in a recent interview: “What we need are fewer financial engineers and more electrical engineers and chemical engineers and civil engineers to take care of our infrastructure.

In addition to more engineers, we need smarter tools that can enable existing engineers to be more productive, which is where Bentley sees its solutions as making a difference. Also, given the increasing momentum behind IDP (Integrated Project Delivery) as an alternative to the traditional Design-Bid-Build delivery model in the AEC industry, Bentley is proposing that “information modeling” is the key to enabling IPD, to allow information to be re-used for added value—and this is what the V8i software portfolio is focused on. It spans across all the infrastructure disciplines Bentley caters to as well as across the infrastructure lifecycle. It is also going global in its scope, by having localized versions and implementing local codes and standards. In addition, it is designed to be scalable, so that it can be used on small as well as large projects. There is no file format change, so it can work seamlessly with earlier versions, allowing significant new functionality to be provided to users without the pain. Interoperability, which has always been one of Bentley’s strengths, continues to remain a critical component of V8i, and has been developed as a new platform overlaying common file formats such as DWG, Bentley’s own DGN, PDF, and Oracle SQL (see Figure 1). Its objective is to enable broader reuse of project information generated during the design, construction, and operation of buildings, and enhance the ability of project teams to choose among multiple software offerings from different vendors. More details about Bentley’s new interoperability platform can be found in this new white paper published by Bentley.


Figure 1. The new interoperability platform implemented in Bentley’s new V8i software portfolio. (Courtesy: Bentley)

A Closer Look at the “i”s of V8i

In the launch event, Bentley further elaborated on the five “i”s of its new V8i portfolio: intuitive, interactive, intrinsic, incredible, and interoperable. The term “intuitive” applies to design modeling, which has been enhanced in V8i with easier conceptual design capabilities incorporating features such as Push/Pull and the ability to divide a face by simply drawing on it—all innovations that SketchUp pioneered and which are now slowly being adopted by other applications as well. The surface modeling tools have also been improved so that sculpting a surface from a set of points as well as merging surfaces is much easier. Bentley hopes that with these improvements, the conceptual design process can be started within its own environment, allowing a more seamless transition from conceptual to detailed design. In addition to the modeling improvements, the sophisticated GenerativeComponents technology that uses rules and parametric technology to drive the creation of complex forms, is now built into MicroStation V8i rather than being a separate application, making its form-making capability more accessible to everyone rather than just a select group of advanced users (see Figure 2). This makes it easier for designers to iterate through many design alternatives since the forms are generated from rules captured in a script, which can be easily modified to generate a new form.


Figure 2. An example of a complex building component generated through rules using GenerativeComponents. (Courtesy: Bentley)

The next “i" stands for “interactive” dynamic views, which refers to several new features such as automatic update of 2D views and drawings that are generated from the model, real time shadows, and the ability to position planes in different angles to explore sectional views, as shown in Figure 3. An additional feature called “display sets” allows different parts of a 3D model to be displayed in different modes. There is also support for display across dual monitors in Windows Vista. The new dynamic views capability will bring Bentley V8i solutions on par with applications like Revit where plans, sections, and elevations are live views of the model and are therefore always coordinated.


Figure 3. A complex sectional 3D view, made possible by the display enhancements in Bentley V8i. (Courtesy: Bentley)

The i" for “intrinsic” refers to the geo-coordination capability that allows projects to include the real-world location of the building site and inherit the useful reference data already available. Users can coordinate information spatially from many sources using common coordinate systems, and can locate files spatially with real-world context in ProjectWise for content management or in Google Earth for visual review. This has the potential to save time coordinating data from various sources, improve information quality, and reduce the risk of errors on site caused by poorly coordinated data.

The i" for “incredible” refers to project performance and speed, greatly improved by new techniques such as caching and delta file transfer, where only the changes are detected and sent rather than the entire file. This allows file transfer times to decrease by as much as 10x for a file of average size. It lets users access larger files in less time, reduce bandwidth dependency, work across distributed offices faster, and collaborate more effectively and efficiently, even for extremely large projects. In addition, there is full read/write integration with Microsoft SharePoint for improved overall usability.

As for the term “interoperable,” it refers to the interoperability platform, mentioned earlier and illustrated in Figure 1. According to Bentley, other approaches to interoperability such as common file formats, direct links between applications, or integrating applications through APIs are not scalable in the long run. The details of how exactly Bentley’s interoperability platform will solve this problem are not yet clear, and we will have to wait until the applications are released to be able to determine how well it works. Also, the recent interoperability agreement that Bentley signed with Autodesk has not yet been incorporated into the V8i portfolio, but Bentley is continuing to working on embedding direct support for Autodesk products into it.

There are two additional “i”s  related specifically to MicroStation V8i—integrated and iterative—which are incorporated across the entire portfolio. The term “integrated” refers to the Print Organizer, which streamlines publishing workflows to reduce manual steps, and improves plot quality and consistency. The final i" for “iterative” refers to the new Luxology rendering engine that is incorporated in all MicroStation-based applications, providing greatly improved rendering quality that is comparable to dedicated rendering and visualization applications. The objective, again, was to keep the model within the same design environment and derive value from it, rather than send it to an external application to be worked on by a rendering expert. The Luxology engine, which has been licensed by Bentley, makes use of the multiple cores on a computer, which also makes the rendering very fast. Some examples of images rendered within MicroStation using this new engine are shown in Figure 4.


Figure 4. Images rendered within MicroStation V8i using the new Luxology engine. (Courtesy: Bentley)

The V8i Portfolio for Buildings

Bentley did not share too many details about the specifics of the individual disciplinary solutions at the launch event, but showed the product map and solution architecture for each of the vertical markets it targets. Those for the Buildings segment are shown in Figure 5. As you can see, the range of applications is extensive and, thanks to past and more recent acquisitions, it covers most of the tasks in AEC including site design, building design and engineering, structural analysis and detailing, building performance analysis by virtue of the Hevacomp and Tas acquisitions, collaboration enabled by ProjectWise, interference checking and design coordination, construction simulation courtesy the ConstructSIM acquisition, and facilities management.


Figure 5. The product map and solution architecture of Bentley V8i for the Buildings vertical. (Courtesy: Bentley)

Some aspects related to Bentley’s Building portfolio that are particularly noteworthy include the fact that it now has the broadest portfolio for structural design and engineering of all the AEC software vendors, with a wide variety of analysis tools for all construction types including steel, wood, masonry, and concrete, incorporating local standards and industry best practices in many parts of the world. Similarly, the integrated building performance analysis enabled by Hevacomp and Tas support many local standards globally such as LEED, ASHRAE, etc. A new ProjectWise Navigator application was developed in-house for visual collaboration, review, and analysis, and it includes capabilities for clash detection, walking through the model, and measuring and querying objects. The recently acquired ConstructSIM solution for construction simulation can help not only to optimize the actual construction schedule but also to improve site safety. The integration of GenerativeComponents brings in parametric design capabilities, allowing forms to be generated based on function. And architects, in particular, will greatly appreciate the high-end visualization capabilities made possible by the new Luxology engine.

Additional Details

Bentley’s V8i portfolio comprises over a 100 products, of which 30 are now shipping and can be downloaded; the remaining products will be rolled out over the course of the next 2 months. We will take a detailed look at the BIM products once they are released. Bentley is accompanying the launch of V8i with some special pricing offers that are available until Dec 31, including interest-free financing for new users and waiving of back fees for existing customers interested in joining its SELECT subscription program. It is making the software freely available to schools, which will allow students in all the infrastructure-related disciplines to be able to use professional software, not just on campus computers but on their own personal computers as well, giving them a head start in learning the technology that will be of critical importance once they graduate.

In addition to the V8i portfolio, Bentley also announced the official launch of BE Communities, a social networking site for its users in the AEC, operations, and GIS communities. BE Communities includes forums, blogs, resource galleries, and wikis that can allow users to connect, communicate, and learn from each other. It was originally launched in beta during the BE Conference earlier this year, and has since then been enhanced and updated. All the V8i product notes are being assembled into wikis that will soon be available on BE Communities.

Conclusions

When the Autodesk-Bentley agreement was announced a few months ago, the inevitable question that emerged was whether this was a precursor to the acquisition of Bentley by Autodesk. But in getting re-acquainted with the enormous range of the Bentley portfolio and the intense work that has gone into the new release, it’s certainly not a sign of a company that is slowing down and losing steam. Thus even though Bentley trails behind Autodesk when it comes to market share and overall size and revenue, it is evidently still a strong competitor to Autodesk. And this is good news for the AEC industry, as competition is critical to innovation and progress in any field.

From what the Bentley executives had to share at the launch event, the new V8i portfolio sounds extremely promising. But, of course, the proof is ultimately in the pudding, and I’m looking forward to seeing if the innovations and enhancements have been successful in reducing the complexity of Bentley’s solutions, which has been the biggest stumbling block to their widespread adoption in AEC so far. 

About the Author

Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at lachmi@aecbytes.com.

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