AEC Technology Updates, 2016 – Part 1 AECbytes Newsletter #81 (August 25, 2016)

Every year, AECbytes publishes a technology roundup highlighting the key developments in AEC technology that AEC professionals should be aware of as they go about their work of designing, constructing, and operating buildings and infrastructure. With the growing number of technology solutions targeted towards the AEC industry, the corresponding number of updates is also increasing every year, and we will look at them in a two-part series. This article, Part 1 of the series, looks at the key developments of the leading technology vendors in the AEC industry, while Part 2, which will be published next week, looks at updates from some of the smaller—but just as critical—providers of AEC technology solutions.

GRAPHISOFT

Of the leading AEC vendors, GRAPHISOFT had the largest number of updates relative to the size of its product portfolio, with enhancements to each of its products. The new release of ARCHICAD, version 20, was launched just a few months ago, and it included a revamped interface, a significant improvement in adding and managing model information to make it easier to bring real-world properties to its BIM model, and the ground-breaking ability to bi-directionally integrate with Rhino and Grasshopper in real-time to bring organic modeling and algorithmic design to BIM. (For more details, please see the AECbytes review of ARCHICAD 20 that was published last month.)

In addition, GRAPHISOFT released a version of ARCHICAD specifically for homebuilders called ARCHICAD Solo, as well as an updated version of its BIMx (free)/BIMx PRO (paid) mobile app, which allows the complete BIM data, including both 3D views and 2D drawings, of an ARCHICAD project to be accessed through an iPad or Android tablet. Using this app, all project stakeholders can quickly access the complete construction documentation of a building, including at the job site. The app is so slick and easy to use that it was prominently featured in Apple’s launch film of its new 9.7 inch iPad Pro tablet earlier this year (Figure 1). This is not just a terrific honor for an AEC application, but is also an indication that the AEC industry is—finally!—becoming mainstream.

Figure 1. Clip from Apple's launch film showing GRAPHISOFT's BIMx PRO on its new 9.7 inch iPad Pro tablet.

Bentley

Bentley also had several developments in its considerable product portfolio, which was greatly expanded by the addition of several new applications showcased at its 2015 YII (Year in Infrastructure) conference. Its reality modeling application, ContextCapture, which made a striking debut last year by showing how it was used for creating a detailed virtual model of downtown Philadelphia for planning the Pope’s visit to the city in September 2015, has a number of improvements that improve its quality when used in geospatial workflows, including multi-resolution mesh support and a significant increase in the number of gigapixels it can process (Figure 2).

Figure 2. 3D model of the French city of Marseille, generated by Bentley’s ContextCapture from close to 20,000 photographs.

Also, SITEOPS, the cloud-based generative site design application that Bentley acquired two years ago, now enables design alternatives to be shared with others or accessed with mobile devices. It also integrates with LumenRT, a real-time animation and visualization application for infrastructure design that also Bentley introduced last year, for facilitating the creation of highly realistic presentations and walkthroughs. Its AECOsim Building Designer BIM application continues to be used by leading firms including Morphosis Architects, HDR, AG5, and John Portman & Associates, and we will likely see many more examples of the implementation of Bentley’s products in infrastructure projects worldwide at its upcoming YII 2016 conference.

Autodesk

We saw the main highlights of Autodesk's 2017 AEC product family, including Revit, InfraWorks 360, AutoCAD Civil 3D, Navisworks, and Advance Steel, in a dedicated article in April. Since then, Autodesk has had a number of developments, chief among which is the introduction of a new visualization tool called Autodesk LIVE, which can take Revit models and bring them to an interactive environment with game-like navigation and the ability to customize navigation points, geo-specific lighting, and render styles (Figure 3). Autodesk already has a sophisticated real-time visualization application built on a gaming engine, Stingray, which it launched last September (see AECbytes Newsletter #76) and of course, 3ds MAX, its flagship modeling and rendering software for 3D visualization artists, but with LIVE, it is creating a visualization tool specific to Revit that makes it easier for Revit users to explore their models or present them to clients in a fun, game-like environment that works especially well on tablet devices.

Figure 3. A Revit model brought into Autodesk LIVE for visualization and navigation continues to retain its BIM data.

Additional developments from Autodesk include the commercial launch of Autodesk Remake of what was previously Autodesk Memento, which can convert a sequence of photos or scan data into a high resolution 3D mesh and provides a toolset to clean, repair, and optimize the mesh. (Memento was described in more detail in the article “3D Scanning, Printing, and Visualization at the Inaugural REAL Conference” in the Q1 2015 issue of AECbytes Magazine.) Another key update, which was announced by Autodesk at the AIA conference earlier this year, was an automated connection between the AIA’s 2030 Design Data Exchange (DDx) and Autodesk Insight 360. This tool will allow the AIA 2030 committed firms (those who have pledged to meet the 2030 Challenge of increasing carbon reduction goals to achieve a carbon neutral built environment by the year 2030) to conveniently report their project and portfolio performance to the DDx directly from Autodesk Insight 360, the building performance analysis tool Autodesk launched last November. And finally, Autodesk has officially discontinued the design and creation suites it launched some years ago and replaced them with industry collections that are more streamlined, have more flexible deployment, and provide access to more software and services, including cloud services.

Trimble

With its spate of acquisitions in AEC technology including SketchUp, Vico, Tekla, Gehry Technologies and its GTeam collaboration software, and most recently, the conceptual performance analysis tool, Sefaira—not to mention its partnership with Microsoft on the application of its new HoloLens technology to AEC (described in the AECbytes article, “Augmented Reality in AEC” and its construction products like ProjectSight, AllTrak Cloud, and Rapid Positioning System (described in the AECbytes article, “AEC Technology Updates: Construction and FM Applications”)—Trimble is well on its way to becoming a leading force in the AEC Technology industry.

The key recent update in Trimble’s product portfolio is the new version of SketchUp, which was released towards the end of 2015, and includes several enhancements to its core modeling tools, streamlined reporting, increased overall usability and a tighter integration with 3D Warehouse, Trimble’s online platform for sharing and downloading free 3D models and materials. The most noteworthy feature in SketchUp 2016, however, is its integration with Trimble Connect, the retooled version of GTeam that it acquired two years ago and which has now become the larger umbrella for all its AEC technology products. The integration allows project teams that need to work together to more easily access, reference, share, and collaborate on SketchUp models in the cloud (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Sketch 2016 integration with Trimble Connect allows collaboration on SketchUp models on the cloud.

Another development, more of an announcement than a technology update, is an interoperability agreement between Trimble and Autodesk intended to make their products work better with each other. Under the terms of the agreement, both companies will exchange the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and developer tools for their respective products to improve upon existing data exchanges as well as open up new workflows between them. Technically, this means that going forward, applications like SketchUp, Revit, Tekla, Navisworks, and on should work better together, enabling design and construction professionals to share models, project files and other data, and allow for the reuse of information throughout the project. No timeline for this interoperability was specified, and we will have to wait and see whether this actually produces any concrete results. After all, Bentley and Autodesk had signed a similar agreement in 2008 (the press release is still available on Autodesk’s website), and nothing really came out of that.

Allplan

Allplan is a leading BIM application for architects, civil engineers, building contractors, and facility managers that is particularly strong in Europe.  It is developed by a subsidiary of the Germany-based Nemetschek group, which is also the parent company of several well-known AEC technology companies including GRAPHISOFT, Vectorworks, Solibri, Scia, Maxon, and Bluebeam, and can thus be regarded as a “global titan” to the extent to which this moniker can be applied to any AEC technology vendor. Following the dedicated product review of Allplan 2013, we saw the key highlights of the 2015 version of Allplan, which included significant updates to both its Architecture and Engineering applications, in the “AEC Technology Updates: Design and Analysis Applications” article published last February.

Fast forward two releases and the 2017 version of Allplan, which has just been released, has several updates including the integration of a new open, cloud-based BIM platform called bim+; more efficient modeling of solids, free forms, components or reinforcements with fewer limits (Figure 5); automation of many work processes; and several improvements for more stability, ease of use and speed.

Figure 5. Improved modeling in Allplan 2017 with fewer constraints.

The idea behind bim+ as a central location for storing and sharing BIM models is not new, nor is its ability to enable collaboration, coordination, and clash detection on BIM projects—we already have different flavors of the same cloud-based collaboration capability in several applications such as Aconex, BIM 360 Glue, and the lesser-known BIMcollab. However, what does set it apart is its intuitiveness and ease of use, its complete platform independence that supports models in many different formats to be uploaded and consolidated into the central model, and how well it works on tablet devices. (I had the opportunity to see early prototypes of this application, and they were all exclusively on the iPad.) While bim+ is an open platform that supports BIM models in any format, the integration with Allplan not makes it much easier to send Allplan models to bim+, there is also a new Task Board feature in Allplan for assigning and tracking project tasks that maintains a permanent connection with the project in bim+ (Figure 6).

Figure 6. The bim+ interface showing an Allplan model and the list of outstanding tasks coming from its integration with Allplan’s Task Board.

That concludes an overview of the key developments of the leading technology vendors in the AEC industry. In the second part of this Tech Updates series next week, we will look at the key developments in applications like Newforma Project Center, form·Z, Solibri, and several other AEC technology solutions.   

If there’s anything important that I have missed, please let me know and I will make sure to include in Part 2 of this technology round-up.

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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Related Archive Articles

  • Allplan 2013
  • A look at the main enhancements, including new rendering and visualization options, the availability of parametric content called SmartParts accompanied by a scripting capability to create custom smart objects, native support for 64-bit systems, an improved user interface, and the ability to create and distribute drawing layouts through integration with Allplan Exchange.
  • Autodesk's Rebranded A360 Cloud Solution
  • This article explores the interface and functionality of its rebranded cloud offering, A360—the platform as well as the tool—and looks at how it compares to other cloud-based project management and collaboration solutions in AEC.
  • iPad Apps for AEC: Design and Visualization
  • An overview of Graphisoft's BIMx app for iPad, Autodesk's new cloud strategy and the Autodesk Design Review app, the iVisit 3D app, and the Inception app from Architactile.
  • SketchUp Pro 2014
  • This review explores the key new features in SketchUp Pro 2014, the paid professional version of SketchUp, and, in particular, the increasing AEC-specific and BIM-related capabilities that are being added to it under the Trimble umbrella.
  • BIMx Docs
  • A comprehensive look at GRAPHISOFT's new BIMx Docs app, which includes the sophisticated and intuitive 3D model navigation capabilities of its predecessor, BIMx, and extends the scope of the viewing and navigation to 2D content as well, enabling all the models as well as the accompanying 2D drawings of a BIM project to be accessed and explored from a handheld device.