AECbytes Newsletter #63 (April 24, 2013)
This month, in what is now an annual event, Autodesk released its 2014 product portfolio, comprising of some new products and updated versions of its existing products across all of its “Design and Creation Suites” for the three main industries it caters to: Manufacturing, Infrastructure (including Buildings), and Media and Entertainment. As of now, it has seven such suites: AutoCAD Design Suite; Building Design Suite; Entertainment Creation Suite; Factory Design Suite; Infrastructure Design Suite; Plant Design Suite; and the Product Design Suite. Although Autodesk seems to be focused equally on the three target industries mentioned above, it has diversified the suites it develops for the Infrastructure sector, where they are now more specialized tools for the design and construction of buildings, factories, plants, and infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and so on.
In addition to the 2014 release of all its suite products, Autodesk has also continued to develop its cloud offerings—collectively referred to as Autodesk 360—by adding more features and functionality and strengthening their integration with its desktop products. Some of its most popular cloud applications are Optimization for Inventor, Rendering, and Storage and Collaboration. It has also introduced a new Autodesk InfraWorks 360 cloud service to work with its relaunched Autodesk InfraWorks software (which was formerly called Infrastructure Modeler), which is part of both the Infrastructure Design and Building Design suites. Access to the Autodesk 360 cloud services continues to be free for Autodesk’s subscription customers.
And finally, Autodesk has a new logo, which means a change in the box designs of each suite, if not the individual products themselves. And, of course, the change is also reflected in a new website design, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Autodesk's new website design, showing its new logo.
This article explores the new 2014 Autodesk Building Design Suite that is targeted towards the AEC industry. We will look at both the updates to existing products as well as the new products Autodesk has introduced in the 2014 release.
As with all of its different suite products, the 2014 Building Design Suite comes in three editions: Standard, Premium, and Ultimate. The Standard edition is intended for designing, documenting, and sharing drawings with some AutoCAD-based BIM capabilities; it includes AutoCAD, AutoCAD Architecture, AutoCAD MEP, AutoCAD Structural Detailing, other drawing and presentation tools such as SketchBook Designer and Showcase, and two new tools, AutoCAD Raster Design for vectorizing scanned drawings, and Autodesk Recap for working with point clouds. In fact, these two new tools are included in each of Autodesk’s 2014 suites, across all industries.
The Premium edition of the Building Design Suite includes all the tools in the Standard edition, plus Revit for creating multi-disciplinary BIM models, Navisworks Simulate for model collaboration and review, and 3ds Max Design for creating high-quality photorealistic visualizations of building designs. And finally, the Ultimate edition upgrades the construction coordination and review capabilities to Navisworks Manage, and adds several additional tools: Inventor, for designing building components for fabrication; Robot Structural Analysis Professional, which provides advanced structural analysis tools to investigate linear and nonlinear behavior in large, complex structures; and the new Autodesk InfraWorks, which can be used for 3D site planning.
Revit is, of course, the key product in the Autodesk Building Design Suite, and each new release of Revit is therefore greeted with intense interest from the AEC community to see what additional BIM capabilities it can provide. Recall that in the 2013 release, Autodesk combined the different disciplinary Revit applications into a single product, which would have been revolutionary had Bentley not introduced the same concept earlier with its AECOsim Building Designer application. While we will explore the new features in Revit 2014 in more detail in a dedicated review in a few months, let us look for now at the three main areas the development team focused on in this release: enabling the design model to be taken more easily into construction and fabrication; unlocking the BIM data and making it easier to access the information in the Revit model; and enhancing user productivity and efficiency.
The first objective—improving the ease of re-using the design model for construction and fabrication—has been addressed by enabling the design to incorporate an increasing higher level of detail. For example, structural engineers using Revit now have an expanded number of options when modeling and documenting concrete reinforcement; rebar is automatically placed and updated correctly when changes are made; and there are more options for precisely defining element geometry and position for beams and braces, enabling the As Designed model to be more easily used for further detailing (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Improved positioning of beams and braces in Revit 2014, enabling structural engineers to define geometry and position more accurately.
Similarly, MEP engineers can also use Revit 2014 to further improve the accuracy and detail of their models through several new features, including the ability to model duct systems to reflect real-world installations; restrict the available angles when adding or modifying pipe, duct, conduit, and cable tray with controls to model according to industry standards (see Figure 3); and the ability to automatically add endcaps to open segments of pipes and ducts when using automatic routing solutions.
Figure 3. The option to restrict angles for pipe, duct, and cable tray in Revit MEP models to conform to industry standards.
The second focus area—unlocking the BIM data and making it easier to access the information in the Revit model—is an ongoing effort for Autodesk. It involves making the data model richer and opening up the Revit API further to make downstream consumption of the data easier. In Revit 2014, the API has been enhanced for Visualization, Views, Worksharing, and Site. The expanded Visualization API enables higher visualization fidelity with Autodesk Showcase, 3ds Max, Autodesk Buzzsaw, and other Autodesk applications. The Worksharing API helps improve interaction between Revit and data management programs. The View API improves multi-product workflows through View Filters and the Visibility Graphics API. And finally, the expanded Site API supports partner extensions with an ecosystem to expand Revit capabilities for building sites. In addition, API enhancements also include a Code Checking API and a Dockable Dialog API. Revit 2014 also allows variance in the value of parameters assigned to groups, providing more flexible data reporting and increased support for COBie requirements, and enabling data to be incorporated into the operation and maintenance phase of a building lifecycle more efficiently.
The third main objective—of enhancing user productivity and efficiency—is also an ongoing effort for the Revit development team, and has been addressed in the 2014 release by several features including improved stair and railing functionality that makes it easier to model, edit, and document stair and railing designs, with new tools for editing rail patterns and customizing stair winder patterns (see Figure 4); visualization enhancements including view navigation improvements, an improved user interface for materials, and the ability to create exploded views of building designs to more clearly visualize building assemblies and view construction sequencing; and documentation enhancements including the ability to create non-rectangular crop regions, improved management of split-line elevations, display of alternate dimension units along with the primary units, a new multi-rebar annotation capability for linear rebar sets, and enhanced schedule formatting with the ability to display graphics and present a more spreadsheet-like user experience.
Figure 4. The ability to model, edit, and document stairs and railings more easily in Revit 2014.
As with the past few releases, there were no updates on Ecotect, reinforcing the idea that Autodesk has stopped developing this application after its acquisition. Autodesk, however, has made great strides in Vasari, which is focused on energy analysis at the conceptual design phase and works with massing models. For energy analysis on a detailed model, the analysis capabilities in Revit 2014 have been improved—the energy analytical model for performance analysis is now derived automatically based on building elements and the volumes they create (see Figure 5). Users no longer need to explicitly define spaces in the building model for energy analysis. In general, the focus at Autodesk is on integrating analysis capabilities into the design model, rather than on having a separating analysis application. Even on the structural front, enhancements have been made to the analytical model to allow better insight into the connectivity of analytical elements. There are new auto-detect rules for floors and the ability to edit analytical walls that make it easier to create and work with the structural analytical model.
Figure 5. Automatically deriving the energy analytical model for performance analysis based on building elements.
Another key product in the Building Design Suite is Navisworks, which has been significantly enhanced in the 2014 release with the integration of quantification capabilities, that were earlier available in the stand-alone Autodesk application, Quantity-Takeoff (QTO). User can now bring quantities from an aggregated model into a project (see Figure 6), mine quantities from model properties, and create placeholders for non-modeled items. Quantification data can be tied to model objects without properties. This ability to go from high-level detailed models to virtually no details and still allow for more accurate quantity takeoff is especially helpful in the construction planning phase of a project.
Figure 6. The new quantification capability in Navisworks 2014.
As mentioned earlier, Autodesk has introduced two new products which are included in each of Autodesk’s 2014 suites, across all industries: AutoCAD Raster Design and Autodesk ReCap. AutoCAD Raster Design, as the name suggests, can be used for vectorizing raster drawings, so that you can select, snap to, and reference individual points, lines, and so on, in a scanned drawing. It is very helpful in situations where designers have to work with building drawings or site plans that are only available on paper rather than in CAD format, as well as photos, maps, satellite imagery, etc. AutoCAD Raster Design is an AutoCAD-based product and allows users to work with the vectorized data in the familiar AutoCAD environment (see Figure 7).
Figure 7. Using AutoCAD Raster Design to vectorize and work with a scanned drawing.
While AutoCAD Raster Design is strictly for working with 2D drawings, Autodesk’s other new product, Autodesk ReCap, falls unequivocally in the realm of 3D data. ReCap is short for reality capture, and Autodesk ReCap is a stand-alone application for working with the point cloud data captured by laser scans. As shown in Figure 8, it can be used to convert scan file data to a proprietary Autodesk format that can be viewed and edited in other products such as AutoCAD, Revit, Navisworks, and Inventor. It uses a new engine that is also integrated in Revit for its point cloud support, phasing out the legacy point cloud PCG engine that was in Revit so far. This means that ReCap’s functionality is also available in Revit, so Revit users don’t really need a separate application to work with point clouds. But because Autodesk ReCap integrates with several other Autodesk applications as well, it will be very useful in non-Revit workflows. Autodesk ReCap has a minimalist interface, allowing the laser scans—which are visual striking in most cases—to take center stage. Autodesk ReCap has resulted from Autodesk’s acquisition of the Netherlands-based Alice Labs, a point cloud innovator, a year and a half ago. It is currently a free application. We will look at Autodesk ReCap more closely in a dedicated product review in a few months.
Figure 8. How AutoCAD ReCap works in converting laser scans to data that can be processed in an Autodesk application.
Autodesk’s 2014 release of its AEC applications has added some solid new features and capabilities to all of the multi-disciplinary BIM design and analysis capabilities of Revit for architects, structural engineers, and MEP engineers. Contractors will also appreciate being able to do quantity takeoff right within Navisworks. However, the star of the 2014 release seems to be the new Autodesk ReCap application which makes it much easier for Autodesk users to work with laser scans. As our current building stock ages and a large proportion of AEC work involves working with existing structures, the use of laser scans to capture as-built conditions will continue to increase and the resulting point cloud data will become much more commonplace. Autodesk users will certainly appreciate the easier way to work with this data, as provided to them by Autodesk ReCap.
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 email@example.com.
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