Autodesk 2018 AEC Design Solutions AECbytes Newsletter #87 (April 20, 2017)

As is customary for this time of the year, Autodesk launched the next versions of the wide range of products comprising its portfolio for the AEC, manufacturing, and M&E (media and entertainment) industries. In this article, we look at the new features and updates that Autodesk shared for its three main design products for buildings and infrastructure: Revit, InfraWorks, and AutoCAD Civil 3D.

Revit 2018

Recall that starting with the 2017 release last year, Revit became a single product rather than available in the separate disciplinary flavors of architecture, structure, and MEP. With all the different disciplinary functionalities consolidated in a single application, the automatic upgrade to 2018—under the new subscription model that was also instituted last year—means that all Revit users will see the updates to all the disciplines, even if they don’t use them. It also means that a lot of attention has been paid to the core functionality of Revit, which will be relevant to all its users irrespective of their discipline or role in the project team. Topping the list is the ability to bring in a Navisworks file as an underlay in Revit, making it easier to collaborate with outside teams that might not be working in Revit. Essentially, this makes it possible to bring in any file format supported by Navisworks—from among the wide range of formats it supports including MicroStation, IFC, CIS/2, ProEngineer, SketchUp and Rhino—and visually coordinate the referenced model with the one being done in Revit. It can also simply be used as a visualization tool, allowing Revit users to visualize their model in the context of the site or in conjunction with other models (Figure 1). Since the Navisworks model is brought in as an underlay, it does not slow down the performance of the Revit model, so this feature can be used as often as required.

Figure 1. Bringing in a Navisworks file as an underlay in Revit for coordination with a non-Revit model as well as visualization.

Other core Revit platform improvements that have multidisciplinary relevance include the ability to select groups or links as categories when creating a schedule to better understand and quantify a project, as well the ability to add shared parameters to links and groups for easier model management; the ability to transfer real-world (GIS) coordinates when linking CAD files to Revit, improving building location accuracy; the ability to import Rhino and SAT geometry to bring in 3D shapes created in other applications, tag and dimension them, and use them like native Revit elements (Figure 2); and several enhancements to the text editor that was introduced in Revit 2017, including the ability to add symbols directly in text notes, use the complete character map available for any installed font, and greater consistency in the rendering of text labels and text notes for a cleaner look in the documentation.

Figure 2. Imported 3D geometry can now be tagged and dimensioned like a native Revit element.

Revit 2018 also has updates to each of its disciplinary capabilities. For Architecture, the top enhancement is a new Multistory Stair object that enables faster and easier modeling of complex stair towers for multi-story buildings.  With this object, stairs are connected to the levels in a building, so that if the level height changes, the stairs are automatically adjusted while maintaining the required dimensions for stair treads and risers (Figure 3). The stairs are also grouped so any change in the stairs for one level gets applied to stairs for the other levels as well. They can also be ungrouped to make individual changes if needed. Along with stairs, railings have also been enhanced so that railings can be added to an entire stair tower with one click and edits made to one railing are propagated to all other instances of it. Also, railings can now be attached to topographical elements other than stairs such as on the top of walls, sloped floors, roofs, etc.

Figure 3. The new Multistory Stair object makes it easier to add and edit stair towers in multi-story buildings by quickly creating stairs between the building levels.

For Structure, Revit 2018 has a number of enhancements to improve the accuracy of models, provide greater control, and enhance the workflow from structural design to detailing—for steel as well as concrete construction. For steel structures, over a 100 new connections for detailed steel modeling have been made available, and connections now work with user-defined families in addition to those out of the box. Users can specify priority of elements when modeling steel connections, with primary elements clearly indicated and differentiated from secondary elements. Interoperability between Revit and Advance Steel has been improved. For concrete structures, reinforcement (rebar) modeling has been improved with greater control over placement, especially useful for complex objects, more accurate rebar scheduling, and the ability to sketch—model and edit—rebar directly in a 3D view.

Figure 4. For the design of concrete structures, Revit 2018 provides the ability to model and edit rebar directly in a 3D view.

On the MEP front, Revit goes back to improving the initial design and analysis capabilities rather than focusing entirely on fabrication improvements as in the last few releases. Early stage energy requirements for mechanical design can be specified more accurately with outdoor air settings for user-definable space and building types. For piping design, there is a new closed-loop hydronic analysis engine which takes into account flow and pressure in pumps, and the analysis can happen in the background allowing the modeling work to continue without interruption. Also, a more complete analytical model of the hydronic system is available in the earlier design stage so the results of the analysis can be used iteratively to guide the development of the design. Electrical design improvements include new capabilities to edit circuit pathways to better capture more accurate voltage drop and analytical design data for downstream analysis. In addition to better analysis and design capabilities, fabrication modeling for MEP has been improved with the ability to create fabrication networks by simply clicking on points in the model (Figure 5), and the option to change the shape, size, elevation, and the fitting type of the fabrication-ready elements while routing. Sloped piping elements can also be modeled more accurately with user-definable slope settings.

Figure 5. Fabrication networks of MEP elements with multi-point routing can be modeled by clicking on points in the model in Revit 2018.

For a more in-depth look at some of the main enhancements in Revit 2018, please refer to the What's New in Revit 2018? Tips/Tricks article by Dan Stine published in AECbytes last week.

InfraWorks and AutoCAD Civil 3D 2018

In my 2014 article, Extending BIM to Infrastructure, I took a detailed look at both of Autodesk’s infrastructure modeling products, including AutoCAD Civil 3D, which until then had been its main application for the design of infrastructure elements such as roads and bridges, and the new solution, InfraWorks, that it had just launched as a conceptual urban modeling tool for creating intelligent data-rich city models that could potentially support analysis and evaluation of different urban design criteria. Autodesk has continued to enhance both applications with every release, in particular, InfraWorks, which started by having so many smarts for infrastructure design that it begged the question of why Autodesk had not been able to translate this intelligent design capability to buildings as well (see my 2015 Viewpoint article, Why Isn't There a Smarter BIM Tool for Building Design, Yet?).

Autodesk has continued with its two-pronged approach to infrastructure design, where InfraWorks continues to be positioned as the main front-end design tool while Civil 3D is intended to be used for the back-end detailed design development and documentation of the designs conceptualized in InfraWorks. The enhancements in the new version of InfraWorks that Autodesk has just released fall into two broad categories: one, more high-level smarts, and second, more performance improvements to existing capabilities. Under the former category—more smarts—is a new grading gizmo that makes it easier to edit roadside grading. With a simple right-click, you can create a new grading zone to which you can then apply a new slope or material. Transitions between grading zones can be quickly edited to smooth out the change in grade from one zone to the next (Figure 6). This capability helps to make the task of road design easier and a lot less tedious than if the road engineer had to manually design the different grading zones and the transitions between them.

Figure 6. The new grading gizmo in InfraWorks being used to add a transition between two adjacent grading zones.

Another new feature which can be categorized as a “smart” is the feedback provided during road design which warns you when you are making a design decision that does not comply with the rules for road design. This feedback is provided immediately in the form of a yellow highlight to the road geometry that is breaking the rule, as well as more information in a Tooltip about the violation (Figure 7). The standards in question come from the organization, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), which develops the leading standards in the US for transportation. While the AASHTO rules that are being applied to road design in InfraWorks cannot be edited, it is a great example of rule-based design that ensures that the design is compliant to begin with rather than running code-checking later to find if there are issues with the design and fixing them.

Figure 7. When the curve of the road does not meet the AASHTO standard for road design, it is highlighted in yellow in Infraworks to indicate a violation.

Falling under the second category—performance improvements to existing capabilities—are features such as the automatic conversion of design roads to component roads to access and detail their individual components; the ability to quantify more aspects of materials for a selected road like road components, bridge materials, and drainage components; a simplified option of displaying trees as semi-transparent, so they do not obscure the model and use fewer computing resources than realistic views; improvements in annotations including better readability, more responsive fading and reappearing as you zoom in and out, as well as faster responsiveness to view changes; and the ability to create custom parametric bridge components in Inventor and import them for use in InfraWorks, where they can now be used just like any other component (Figure 8).

Figure 8. Importing a custom bridge component from Inventor for use in InfraWorks.

Moving on to AutoCAD Civil 3D, it has several enhancements for detailed design and documentation including automatic clean-up of corridors; new drawing templates to accommodate the creation of plan(s)-only, profile(s)-only, and section sheets; a connected alignment feature that allows you to create a new alignment that transitions smoothly between two intersecting alignments, which can be used to create a curb return, an exit ramp, a merging/diverging road, or connecting an existing road with a proposed road (Figure 9); creating offset profiles; and creating feature lines relative to a surface that remain vertically linked to it. In addition, there is now a new InfraWorks ribbon in AutoCAD Civil 3D that provides access to InfraWorks-related commands and allows InfraWorks to be launched directly from Civil 3D, making it easier for the design development and documentation team to access the conceptual designs created in InfraWorks.

Figure 9. The new ability to create a connected alignment that between two existing alignments in AutoCAD Civil 3D.

Conclusions

The new versions of Autodesk’s building and infrastructure design tools continue their inexorable march towards greater speed, efficiency, and functionality. Users continue to have more tools at their disposal to create increasingly detailed models of buildings and infrastructure, for design as well as for construction. Going forward, it would be great if Autodesk could consolidate both design and documentation for infrastructure into one application, similar to how we have Revit for buildings, rather than have two separate front-end and back-end applications, InfraWorks and AutoCAD Civil 3D. I would also like to see more smarts of the kind that wowed me in the earlier versions of InfraWorks, so that the computer can do more of the work and spare us from the tedium of modeling each and every detail of how our buildings and infrastructure should be put together.

It’s easier to do “more with more” rather than “more with less,” but is that what the AEC industry really wants?

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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