Bentley's Year in Infrastructure 2015 Conference AECbytes Newsletter #77 (December 7, 2015)

Last month, I attended Bentley’s annual Year in Infrastructure (YII) conference that was held in London. This is an annual conference put together by Bentley to showcase not only its latest technologies and updates, but also to highlight the cutting edge work being done using Bentley software in different infrastructure disciplines by firms located all over the world. In that respect, YII is less of a “user conference” and more of a smaller, invitation-only event, which is typically attended by the technology executives of AEC firms rather than hands-on users. Also, one of the main highlights of the conference is the presentation of the annual “Be Inspired” awards in all the different infrastructure categories that Bentley solutions cater to, ranging from building and construction to mining and utilities. The winners of these awards are selected from three finalists in each category, which in turn are selected by an independent set of jurors for each category from all the projects that are submitted for the awards. One entire day of the conference is devoted to the finalists in each category presenting their projects; this offers an excellent opportunity to the YII attendees to learn more about a diverse array of infrastructure projects across the globe and how technology was used to facilitate them.  

Following a format similar to the articles on the previous YII conferences (see AECbytes newsletters #66 and #71 for YII 2013 and YII 2014 respectively), this article will focus on the technology updates shared by Bentley at YII 2015, including several new applications based on acquisitions it has made recently as well as updates to its key existing applications. A dedicated look at some of finalist projects in the core AEC categories of the “Be Inspired” Awards will be captured in a separate upcoming article.

New Bentley Products

Bentley had a number of exciting new products to showcase this year, some of which were developed in-house but the majority of which were based on acquisitions it had made recently. One of these is LumenRT, a real-time animation and visualization application for infrastructure design that immediately wowed everyone at the YII conference. LumenRT comes to Bentley through its recent acquisition of the France-based E-on software, which specializes in digital content creation for computer graphics professionals in the media and entertainment, science, and education industries. E-on’s VUE and PlantFactory applications are now a mainstay in these industries and have been used in the making of several blockbuster movies. Recognizing the growing need among architects and engineers to “tell their story” in a more compelling way, E-on leveraged its expertise in visual effects to create an easy-to-use product, LumenRT, for bringing quick, high-quality “movie production” to the AEC market. 

As shown in Figure 1, LumenRT enables users to enliven their designs with a variety of dynamic elements such as moving people, breeze-animated plants, rippling water, windy skies, clouds, and man-made objects such as vehicle simulations and traffic. In terms of the design model itself, while LumenRT closely integrates with Bentley’s MicroStation and AECOsim, it can also import models from other design applications such as Revit and SketchUp. It comes with an extensive library of entourage elements that can be added to the model and subsequently animated if required. The application has game-like navigation capabilities that allow you to quickly fly through the model, irrespective of its size. All of this is accomplished using eight simple commands, which comes from the objective of making the application as easy to use as possible. Needless to say, the ability to easily incorporate “live” natural environments imbues the design context with life-like qualities, greatly enhancing the communication of the design with the project stakeholders. It is easy to see why the early adopters of the application include several state DOT’s (Department of Transportation) in the US, who are using it for traffic simulation and rendering (Figure 1). When city modeling get more commonplace, LumenRT should have a ready market for navigating and flying through these large-scale models in real time.

Figure 1. The use of LumenRT in presentating the design of a traffic roundabout, capturing not just the static context, but also using animated vehicles to show how it will be used.

Another new technology that was introduced by Bentley at the conference is ContextCapture, which comes from its acquisition of Acute3D, also based in France. Acute3D develops sophisticated reality modeling software that can be used at the city scale in addition to smaller sites, and it is already being used to capture existing conditions across a range of infrastructure types, including construction sites, manufacturing facilities, mining operations, pipelines, and oil and gas exploration in different parts of the world. In China, it is being used for large-scale 3D city modeling of several mega-cities, using both aerial and street view photography. ContextCapture is the rebranded Bentley version of Acute3D software with some additional functionality and integration with Bentley’s MicroStation so that it can more easily become part of engineering and geospatial workflows.

The main distinguishing aspects of ContextCapture that set it apart from other reality modeling solutions are that it creates actual geometry in the form of a 3D mesh rather than just point clouds, and that it uses photographs for the reality capture rather than laser scanning equipment. This makes it a lot more accessible, especially with the increasing popularity of UAVs (drones) for reality capture. Users can simply mount cameras on drones rather than expensive scanning equipment. Of course, the quality of the captured model will depend on the quality and quantity of photographs that are used for the capture; the higher this number, the more detailed the 3D mesh, and the more accurate the model. At the YII 2015 conference, Bentley showed a fascinating example of the use of ContextCapture by a company, ESM Productions, to produce a fully textured, geographically accurate, high-resolution 3D model of downtown Philadelphia for the Pope’s visit to the city earlier this year (Figure 2). The model was used in the extensive planning of the event to accommodate than a million visitors, including the location of the security barricades, the coordination of more than 100 vendors, etc.

Figure 2. The use of ContextCapture by ESM Productions to create a detailed virtual model of downtown Philadelphia that was used for planning the Pope’s visit to the city in September. The top image shows the rendered model, while the lower image shows the underlying mesh geometry of the model.

Subsequent to the Pope’s visit, this detailed 3D model is being reused in the planning and design of projects located in downtown Philadelphia, such as the new Comcast headquarters being designed by Foster and Partners. The model is not only providing a better context for the overall form of the proposed design; in addition, its high level of detail and accuracy is also very helpful in designing the interior spaces of the building to maximize daylighting and views, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Re-using the detailed 3D model of downtown Philadelphia, that was created for the Pope’s visit, in the design of the new Comcast headquarters by Foster and Partners.

Other key new AEC technology applications that Bentley unveiled at YII 2015 include OpenRoads ConceptStation for the conceptual design of infrastructure, built on its OpenRoads platform for civil engineering (Figure 4); ProjectWise Scenario Services for comparing and contrasting different design scenarios to be able to select the best option, a process that Bentley calls “optioneering”; and Structural Insights for providing key at-a-glance indicators summarizing the performance of a structure (Figure 5). Bentley also showed some new apps for mobile devices built on top of its popular Bentley Navigator app to better customize it for different disciplines: for example, the OpenRoads Navigator app, which allows quick access to civil design information in the field (Figure 6); and the Structural Navigator app, which allows better visualization of the structural elements in a design, including the analytical model. Bentley also showed its new cloud-based construction management application, EADOC, which it acquired earlier this year and which was reviewed in AECbytes a few months ago.

Figure 4. The new OpenRoads ConceptStation application being used to conceptualize the design of a road.

Figure 5. Using the Structural Insights application to better understand the performance of the structural design shown in the top image.

Figure 6. The OpenRoads Navigator app being used to view the design of a site on an iPad.

Updates to Existing Products

Bentley had introduced the new CONNECT generation of its product portfolio at last year’s YII conference, and while its key features were described in AECbytes Newsletter #71 on YII 2014, we had the opportunity this year to see many of these features in action with the continued rollout of the CONNECT editions of its applications. For example, ProjectWise CONNECT includes advances from design Integration to collaboration and adds hybrid cloud services, based on Microsoft’s Azure platform, for deliverables management, issues resolution, and engineering content management. MicroStation CONNECT has a new interface and now includes reality modeling built into the application (Figure 7). Navigator CONNECT, available both as an application and as an app, provides users with the same immersive “hands-on” interface across Windows, Android, and iOS, for information mobility from computers in the office, to giant touchscreens in the construction trailer, to handhelds on the field. (Figure 8).

Figure 7. Support for reality modeling in the CONNECT edition of MicroStation.

Figure 8. Using Navigator CONNECT on different devices ranging from computers to handhelds to large touchscreens.

Moving on to more discipline-specific applications, the CONNECT edition of AECOsim Building Designer, which is Bentley’s BIM application, now includes energy modeling and analysis as well as generative design built into the application (Figure 9). Formerly, these capabilities were provided by the separate AECOsim Energy Simulator and GenerativeComponents applications respectively. The objective is to make it easier to use AECOsim to explore early stage conceptual design alternatives, for which Bentley is introducing the new term “conceptioneering.” And of course, the new cloud-based Scenario Services, which was described in the last section, will enable users to evaluate the large number of alternatives they can create with conceptioneering and optioneering.

Figure 9. Energy Analysis is now built into AECOsim Building Designer.

For structural engineering, the CONNECT versions of Bentley’s many structural applications, including RAM, STAAD, and ProStructures, are now available. The key improvements include enhanced collaboration across all products; access to the new Bentley cloud services such as Structural Insights and Scenario Services for greater insight into project performance and easier comparison of design alternatives; ability to share structure-specific information with the engineer on the field with the new Structural Navigator app; and new design code updates and additions for several counties to make it easier to comply with the latest structural guidelines.

Additional updates most relevant to AEC include the CONNECT Edition of SITEOPS, a cloud service for conceptual and preliminary site design, which now enables design alternatives to be shared with others or accessed with mobile devices. It also integrates with LumenRT for facilitating the creation of highly realistic presentations and walkthroughs. (See the AECbytes Archived article on SITEOPS for details on how it applies optimization technology to site design.) There is also the CONNECT Edition of Catalog Services, a cloud service for fast, managed access to domain specific catalog content, which would be useful across all infrastructure industries including AEC (Figure 10).

Figure 10. The CONNECT Edition of Catalog Services provides access to domain specific catalog content and associated information for different infrastructure design disciplines.

Analysis and Conclusions

While this article has been limited to describing Bentley’s new applications and updates that are most relevant to the AEC industry, Bentley had several other products and updates to showcase across the many other infrastructure disciplines it caters to (Figure 11). It was already well known for the vast scope and depth of product portfolio, and this has not only been strengthened by the new applications it showed this year but also reinvigorated. With products such as LumenRT and ContextCapture now part of its offerings, Bentley is shedding its reputation of being a dependable but somewhat stodgy company which makes products that are powerful and workhorse-like but not particularly exciting. I came away very impressed with the many smart acquisitions that Bentley has made this year, which have not only added useful capabilities to its portfolio but also made it more dynamic and vibrant.

Figure 11. The range of Bentley’s product portfolio across the different industries it serves, as illustrated in its 2014 Annual Report.

I also had the opportunity to talk with several of the attendees at the YII conference, all of whom were users of Bentley’s solutions, and the majority of them cited the large size of their projects as the overriding reason for their adoption of Bentley software. It seems, hands-down, the only software capable of handling large mega-projects that involve hundreds of models and hundreds of team members, requiring a highly collaborative approach to bring together a greatly distributed workforce. ProjectWise remains the tool of choice among the leading design and construction firms all over the world for comprehensive project management and delivery, and the fact that it is tightly integrated with all the other Bentley applications for design, analysis, review, and construction, makes them more likely to be adopted as well, even if they are not the most user-friendly of all the applications that are available.

That said, I do wish Bentley would make more of an effort to reduce the complexity and improve the usability of its solutions. I have repeatedly pointed this out in my product reviews of Bentley applications; for example, in my review of the earlier V8i version of Bentley AECOsim Building Designer. Of course, it’s possible that the CONNECT edition features some dramatic usability improvements, which I hope to uncover in future reviews of some of Bentley’s CONNECT applications.

I have to add, however, that if there is one aspect of Bentley that does not inspire much confidence in its ability to improve the user-friendliness of its solutions, it is in how convoluted its naming convention and terminology is. A case in point is its new “conceptioneering” term—on top of the “optioneering” term it introduced last year. Really? Is it that difficult to come up with concise names that are straightforward and easy to remember? One of the external speakers in a keynote session at the conference even candidly said that he hated the word “optioneering”! Another example is the name of “AECOsim Building Designer” for Bentley’s BIM application. In one of the finalist presentations, there was a constant reference to the use of ABD software and it took me some time to figure out that ABD was short for AECOsim Building Designer—an acronym for the application I hadn’t even heard before. Many of the YII attendees I spoke to agreed that Bentley did have a tendency to needlessly complicate its product names. A leading AEC executive asked what was wrong with the name “TriForma,” which was the earlier name for what is now AECOsim Building Designer. I didn’t have a good answer. Does Bentley?

Last but not least, I was disappointed to see nothing from Bentley in response to the question I posed in my article, “Why Isn't There a Smarter BIM Tool for Building Design, Yet?” published earlier this year, asking why we don’t have a smarter tool for building design that doesn’t require us to painstakingly model every bit of it, but can automatically create a fully detailed, structurally sound, constructable BIM from a sketch. I expressed the same disappointment in my article on the launch of Autodesk’s 2016 AEC product family earlier this summer, and I also did not find any evidence of such a tool at Autodesk University 2015 that was held last week. Given all the “cool” products that Bentley has acquired recently, can we hope to see such a “smart” tool in Bentley’s portfolio at some point in the future?

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.


AECbytes content should not be reproduced on any other website, blog, print publication, or newsletter without permission.

Related Archive Articles

  • Extending BIM to Infrastructure
  • Now that BIM has conquered the building industry and is here to stay, this article explores the application of the same "information modeling" concept to infrastructure.
  • Bentley's Year in Infrastructure 2014 Conference
  • Details on Bentley's CONNECT generation of software and a guest keynote on the new High Speed Rail project proposed for London on which the use of BIM is being seen as the "lifeblood" of the project.
  • Bentley's Year in Infrastructure 2013 Conference
  • The main updates from Bentley at its Year in Infrastructure 2013 Conference, including the official launch of its cloud software service called Bentley CONNECT, updates to its suite of mobile solutions, and new and upcoming features in MicroStation, ProjectWise, and AECOsim Building Designer.
  • Bentley AECOsim Building Designer V8i
  • This review explores the capabilities of Bentley’s new integrated multi-disciplinary BIM application, AECOsim Building Designer, which combines all of Bentley’s diverse BIM applications for different disciplines in one single product.