AEC Technology Updates: Design and Analysis Applications AECbytes Newsletter #74 (February 19, 2015)

Last week, AECbytes published the first of a two-part article series capturing the key construction and facilities management application updates in the last six to seven months, including ProjectSight, AllTrak Cloud, and Rapid Positioning System, all from Trimble, Dynamic Manuals from Aconex, Newforma's new acquired SmartUse, and Conworld for construction simulation. In this article, the second part of that series, we will look at the many updates related to building design and analysis applications for AEC professionals, including Graphisoft’s BIMx Pro, Nemetschek’s Allplan, 4M’s IntelliCAD-based BIM suite, the new MEPdesigner for SketchUp from Trimble, ArchiCAD add-ons from the Cadimage Group, Revit Express tools from CTC, Trelligence Affinity, Sefaira Systems, IESVE, and BIMcollab for the new field of issue management in BIM. It’s a long list, so let’s get right to it.

BIM Applications

On the BIM front, a significant update comes from Graphisoft related to the nifty mobile app for reviewing the 3D models as well as the 2D documentation of an ArchiCAD project published that it launched about a year ago. At that time, the app was called BIMx Docs, and it extended the slick interface and intuitive navigation controls of Graphisoft’s BIMx app to access the entire project, including all the 3D views and related 2D drawings which were all automatically hyperlinked into a collective whole (as described in more detail in its AECbytes product review). Graphisoft has just announced changes to the pricing structure, licensing options, and nomenclature of the app. It is now called BIMx Pro and is priced at $49.99; it allows users to not only view 2D and 3D project content on their mobile devices, but also share them with others. Thus, with a one-time purchase of the app, architects can get full access to all 3D models and hyper-linked 2D documentation, as published from ArchiCAD, on their devices and can also share them with clients and other team members. A free version of the app, BIMx, is also available as before, and it allows anyone using the app to discover an unlimited number of 3D models on any device. Those who receive the link to access a project from someone using BIMx Pro can use the free BIMx app to explore it in its entirety, including both its 2D and 3D content (see Figure 1). Other updates to the app since it was last reviewed in AECbytes include the availability of an Android version and a team messaging capability through integration with Graphisoft’s BIMcloud service for model-based collaboration that it launched last year.

Figure 1. Using the BIMx app to explore both the 3D model and associated 2D documentation of an ArchiCAD project that has been shared using BIMx Pro. (Courtesy: Graphisoft)

In April 2013, we took an indepth look at Allplan 2013 in a dedicated product review. A couple of releases later, Allplan 2015 includes significant updates to both its Architecture and Engineering applications. Allplan Architecture 2015 includes several visualization enhancements including a Real Time Renderer option for quickly creating a realistic, interactive animation of the building model to provide immediate visual feedback and enable checking of views, camera settings and materials to obtain the best possible scene setup (Figure 2); the direct integration of the powerful Maxon CINEMA 4D rendering engine in Allplan for creating photorealistic high-resolution renderings; a revised material editor to make it easier to create materials with textures, bump maps, reflections etc.; a light setup tool to better control the lighting in a scene; and a new sketch rendering display mode to present early stage design models in a more abstract fashion. Additional enhancements include a new object modeler that makes it easier to create domed roof-lights; parametric modeling of folding shutters; and the ability to define up to 20 construction layers for walls, from the masonry, insulation, and ventilation level through to the facade panels or plaster.

Figure 2. The Real Time Renderer display option applied to the view in the upper left window in Allplan Architecture 2015. (Courtesy: Nemetschek Allplan)

For engineers, Allplan Engineering 2015 aims to improve efficiency by enabling time-consuming tasks like creating longitudinal sections along any curve or modeling 3D tendons (Figure 3), which used to take hours or even days, to now be done much more easily and quickly. Also new is a "Real Reinforcement Bar Diameters" tool that can be used to represent reinforcement more accurately in highly reinforced structures and details, resulting in smoother installation on the construction site. Additional reinforcement enhancements include the ability to make direct modifications to reinforcement drawings by changing the key placement parameters, and improved workflow when entering 2D reinforcement using palettes with the option to provide placement as points for placing bar shapes. .

Figure 3. The creation of three-dimensional tendons is greatly simplified with Allplan Engineering 2015. (Courtesy: Nemetschek Allplan)

There are also updates from 4M Solutions to its IntelliCAD-based suite of BIM applications that include IDEA for architectural design and the FINE-MEP suite for building services. We last looked at them when they were in version 11 (see AECbytes Newsletter #62); they are now in version 14.2 and incorporate not only all the drawing-related improvements made to their underlying 4MCAD application, but additional discipline-specific enhancements as well. So, for example, v.14.2 of IDEA now has full 2x3 IFC compatibility, and the ability to model roofs of any shape using a polyline. On the MEP front, the FINE suite has been expanded to include a specialized application for fire system BIM design called FineFIRE, which can be used to model all types of pipe networks such as tree systems, gridded, looped or a combination of these (Figure 4). The new release v14.2 of the FineHVAC application in the FINE suite has improvements in load calculation, piping and air duct networks calculation, and HVAC systems calculation. In addition, it is now included in the US Building Energy Software Tools Directory which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and listed in the Ashrae resource library as well.

Figure 4. Designing a pipe network for a fire system using 4M’s new FineFIRE application, part of its FINE-MEP BIM suite. (Courtesy: 4M Solutions)

BIM Plug-Ins, Add-ons, and Extensions

While Trimble launched several construction-related new products as we saw in the first of this two-part tech updates series that was published last week, it also had a key new launch in the design realm, the MEPdesigner for SketchUp, which, as the name suggests, provides MEP modeling capabilities inside of SketchUp. Since SketchUp’s acquisition by Trimble in 2012, all of us in the AEC technology industry had been wondering when it was going to start becoming more BIM-like (see my recent review of SketchUp Pro 2014). Well, here it is! While SketchUp is still, at its core, a generic 3D modeling application—albeit one in which a BIM model of sorts can be created by applying a building-specific classification schema to the modeled elements, as described in my review—the new MEPdesigner for SketchUp is most definitely a BIM application. Available as an extension to SketchUp Pro, it lets MEP designers and contractors directly model MEP elements in SketchUp. The initial version that has just been released supports electrical systems objects including conduit, cable trays and device boxes. As shown in Figure 5, these can simply be dragged off a palette and modeled using the same intuitiveness and ease of use SketchUp is well-known for. The application will continue to be expanded in subsequent versions to include other kinds of MEP elements. Users also have access to the extensive set of MEP elements—generated by other users as well as manufacturers—available in the SketchUp 3D Warehouse. In addition, they can collaborate more easily with other team members using SketchUp through IFC export, and can leverage the new Trimble Connect collaboration environment for integration with the growing number of applications in Trimble’s building portfolio.

Figure 5. Creating an electrical systems model in SketchUp using the new Trimble MEPdesigner for SketchUp extension. (Courtesy: Trimble)

For those using ArchiCAD for BIM, Cadimage Group continues to expand and update its set of productivity add-ons that enhance the application and give it additional flexibility and more capabilities. These add-ons are currently available in seven categories: Doors + Windows, Keynotes, Cabinets, Coverings, Objective, Electrical, and Stairs. The Doors+Windows add-on, for example, gives ArchiCAD users the freedom to explore a greater variety of door and window styles with a variety of panels, opening methods, trims, and sills, rather than be limited to choosing from a predetermined list of doors and windows. They can choose from a wide variety of window contour shapes, modify the shape without having to redesign the whole window, pick from a variety of sash glazing methods or door leafs (Figure 6), define their sizes according to requirements, create sills that harmonize with the window and the building style, and add moldings and trims matching the window or door design. The Doors+Windows add-on can also automatically produce fully dimensioned graphical door and window schedules using filters and criteria, providing users with the ability to add notes and automatically calculated areas.

Figure 6. Designing a window in ArchiCAD using the Cadimage Doors+Windows add-on. (Courtesy: Cadimage Group)

Taking another example, the Objective add-on enhances the ability to model in 3D in ArchiCAD, including quick and easy rotation of objects in 3D, splitting of 2D and 3D elements while still preserving the elements’ underlying options and parameters, creation and updating of profiles to retain control over the shape at every segment, alignment of elements in section, elevation, or 3D views, automatic setting of the display order of an element in a view, and bending objects and profiles along a 3D curve. The Objective add-on also includes an Extrusion tool, which allows ArchiCAD users to extrude profile sections along a given path in free space to create custom building components, shape and trim scotias, furniture moldings, etc. (Figure 7); and the Slab Edges tool, which can be used to model rebates, upstands, and foundations on slab elements.

Figure 7. Using the Cadimage Objective add-on to create an extruded form in ArchiCAD using a profile and a path. (Courtesy: Cadimage Group)

On the Revit front, CTC has three new add-ins for its Revit Express Tools suites, bringing their combined total to 27 tools. One of the new tools is Fab Sheets, specifically targeted for users working on fabrication documentation to make it easier to create, name and manage views for fabrication in Revit. Users can group elements by a parameter value, create scope boxes for each group, generate views based on the scope boxes, and then place the views onto sheets. Custom colors can be added to elements to make it easier to assign elements to groups (Figure 8). The Fab Sheets tool builds and maintains filters that correspond to the color-coded elements as they get assigned.

Figure 8. CTC’s new Fab Sheets tool, part of Revit Express Tools suites, shows elements being grouped and assigned a color. (Courtesy: CTC)

Another new tool is Parameter Jammer, which, as the name suggests, is helpful for managing parameters in Revit families and quickly resolving inconsistent shared parameter usage. Downloaded Revit family content frequently introduces shared parameters into the project that are different from the parameters used in the company’s schedules, causing them to display incomplete information. Parameter Jammer swaps parameters in the families used in a project with the shared parameters from the schedule, allowing users to reconcile the differences between the parameters used by a schedule with those in the project families without destroying existing data, resulting in the updated families working correctly with the schedules (Figure 9).

Figure 9. The new Parameter Jammer tool from CTC swaps parameters in the families used in a project with the shared parameters from the schedule. The first step, shown in the top image, automatically swaps parameters that can be safely identified as a match. The second step, shown in the lower image, allows the user to map, add or omit parameters that were not automatically identified for swapping. (Courtesy: CTC)

The third new Revit Express tool in CTC’s suites is Revit Properties, and unlike the other tools, it does not actually run inside of Revit. Instead, it modifies the Windows Explorer / File Explorer interface to provide access to basic data about Revit project files, family files, project template files and family template files (Figure 10). Without having to be in Revit, it can tell what version of Revit last saved the file, which can help users decide which version of Revit to use when opening the file.

Figure 10. CTC’s Revit Properties tool works outside Revit to provide information about the file, including which version of Revit was last used to open it. (Courtesy: CTC)

Space Planning and Design Analysis

The BIM-integrated architectural programming, space planning, and schematic design application, Trelligence Affinity, continues to systematically roll out updated releases. The latest version, Trelligence Affinity 9.0, expands its BIM integration to support more applications and their latest releases, including Revit Architecture 2015, SketchUp Pro 2015, AECOsim Building Designer V8i, ARCHIBUS, IES VE-Gaia and VE-Navigator for LEED, and ArchiCAD 16, 17, and 18. It includes a host of Revit-specific enhancements including the ability to drag and drop program departments to place all program rooms directly onto a level in one step (Figure 11); exclude boundary lines when placing rooms, very helpful for renovation projects; pull program data from a selected phase; swap rooms with all the relevant data while still maintaining links to the corresponding program rooms; select which Affinity design scenario to sync to Revit; and see the target program area for each room in the tag or room properties. Other updates include full support for headcount or capacity-driven space programs, enabling planning to accommodate alternative and mobile workspace strategies in a project such as an office building or campus; the addition of visual indicators related to floor capacities in stacking diagrams, and the ability for users to customize the stacking view to include required information; the option to overlay a Google Earth satellite image to view the building in relation to the site; added support for international projects including new currency formats, auto-conversion of metric / imperial units for both linear and area formats, and support for double-byte languages such as Japanese, Korean, Chinese, etc.; and improved collaboration capabilities with the availability of a central database repository for storing project files and templates, and the ability for multiple team members to work on an Affinity project at the same time using industry-standard lock-commit-update functionality.

Figure 11. Dragging and dropping an entire department, comprising multiple spaces, to a Revit level in one step. (Courtesy: Trelligence)

On the energy front, Sefaira, the cloud-based energy analysis tool for the early design stage that was launched in 2012 (see AECbytes Newsletter #59), has just expanded its product family with a brand-new application called Sefaira Systems. Targeted specifically for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) design engineers, it allows them to more easily and cost effectively perform early-stage HVAC system analysis. Through its use of EnergyPlus, the industry standard building analysis engine developed by the US Department of Energy, it is able to provide engineers with real-time analysis of mechanical systems and envelope options. Also, it can work directly with the architectural BIM model without needing to rebuild it for systems analysis, a task which can typically take hours, even days. The ability to work with BIM data directly allows engineers to easily explore multiple design options for HVAC systems and accurately calculate system sizing and peak load information (Figure 12). Since Sefaira Systems, like Sefaira, is also cloud-based, both architects and engineers can collaborate directly on a project on the same cloud platform.

Figure 12. The calculation of peak loads and plant sizing for a project using Sefaira Systems. (Courtesy: Sefaira)

Another vendor for energy analysis tools, IES, also had updates to its flagship IESVE application, including support for increasingly stricter code compliance and rating systems such as Title 24, LEED V4 and ASHRAE Standard 189; the ability to link to open source mapping data to import geometry (surrounding buildings, landscaping and roads) relevant to the exact location of the planned building project; and expanded BIM support by the addition of gbXML export as well as the option of auto-extruding geometry from floor plans when importing gbXML and IFC files (Figure 13).

Figure 13. The new gbXML export option in IESVE. (Courtesy: IES)

IES also launch a new cloud service, ERGON, which allows users to import, manage and interrogate real building profile or schedule data—down to 1 minute time steps—and use them in VE simulations. This data can be from the actual building under investigation or normalized benchmark data from other buildings of the same type. Such profiles can be useful in several ways, such as investigating the impact of retrofit options using real building data, undertaking post occupancy evaluations, improving operational models for performance contracting, undertaking LEED measurement and verification, and helping to close the performance gap by simulating design models closer to reality.

And finally, a different kind of design analysis application called BIMcollab has been developed by Kubus for tracking and managing issues in building projects. Specifically developed for use with BIM, it is cloud-based and is intended to be able to bridge the communication gap between the users of different applications. It allows any errors detected in one application—such as clashes, model checking results, or data validation—to be communicated to the authoring BIM tools that can fix the problem in the original model. The communicated information contains a reference to all involved objects, camera or zoom location, and one or more snapshots to explain the problem (Figure 14). Issues can be assigned to team members; can be categorized or prioritized with labels, milestones or deadlines; and follow a defined workflow from ‘Active’ via ‘Resolved’ to ‘Closed.’ This helps to ensure a controllable loop for issue-management. Issues can also be filtered on any property or edited in groups.

Figure 14. The list of issues captured for a project in BIMcollab. (Courtesy: Kubus)

BIM managers who are used to sending out Excel files, or even BCF (BIM Collaboration Format) files, with issues to solve, get many files back and can easily lose track of who did what, when, and in which file the information can be found. BIMcollab solves this problem by centralizing the issue management in the cloud in one central database, offering a structured way of storing, sharing and managing issues. Another advantage is that all team members have the information where they need it most—directly within their BIM model checker and BIM authoring tool. Since the issue information is being pulled “live” from the cloud, it always reflects the design’s most up-to-date status. BIMcollab integrates directly with the most commonly used model-checking and authoring tools (Figure 15)—so, for example, issues found with Solibri Model Checker can be directly published to BIMcollab and are immediately available in Revit or ArchiCAD via plug-ins.

Figure 15. A schematic diagram showing how BIMcollab integrates with other popular AEC applications. (Courtesy: Kubus

Conclusion

This concludes the two-part update for AEC technology applications. There were both new product releases and updates to existing products in equal measure this time around, indicating that the pace of innovation in AEC technology field only continues to grow. We are also seeing many more developments coming from vendors in different parts of the world—Allplan from Germany, 4M from Greece, Cadimage Group from New Zealand, IES from the UK, and Kubus from the Netherlands are just some of those covered in this article—which should be a welcome change from the US-centric view that most technology applications tend to have. Hopefully, this will continue and our technologies will reflect the diversity that we see in our physical buildings and infrastructure located in different parts of the globe.

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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