Autodesk University 2017AECbytes Newsletter #90 (November 30, 2017)

As is usual for this time of the year, Autodesk’s biggest annual event in the US, Autodesk University, was held two weeks ago in Las Vegas. It didn’t seem as though the mass shooting at the Mandalay Bay earlier in October deterred the Autodesk faithful in any way—the in-person attendance was still over 10,000, in line with previous years. Of course, the fact that Autodesk University was held at The Venetian—as it has been for the last few years—and not at the Mandalay Bay, certainly helped. Many of the main sessions, including the keynotes, were streamed live, opening up the event to many more interested viewers all over the world who wanted to learn more about the developments at Autodesk, both current as well as what was coming up.

While these updates spanned all the three main industries Autodesk caters to—buildings and infrastructure (AEC), manufacturing (MCAD), and media and entertainment (M&E)—the updates most relevant to the AEC industry are captured in this AECbytes article.

Technology Updates

With the “cloud” continuing to gain momentum across all of technology, it was hardly surprising to find Autodesk accelerating the development of its own cloud platform, Forge, which it had introduced two years ago at Autodesk University 2015 with the idea of providing a common set of application programming interfaces (APIs) to integrate cloud-based applications and services. While it had seemed quite nebulous and very MCAD-focused at that time, it seemed to take more concrete shape last year for the AEC industry with applications such as Lens, a model-based estimating tool, developed by the leading construction firm, JE Dunn, using the Forge APIs.

At this year’s event, Autodesk showed how Forge was being used to expand its own BIM 360 platform as a cloud service spanning the entire construction project lifecycle. In addition to the wide range of services already included in BIM 360—including BIM 360 Glue for model management, BIM 360 Field for managing construction logistics on site, BIM 360 Layout for site positioning, BIM 360 Plan for construction planning, and BIM 360 Docs for document management—Autodesk is introducing a BIM 360 integration partner program, Connect and Construct Exchange, designed to bring third-party software applications and data into the BIM 360 construction workflow. The Exchange has been launched with an inaugural group of close to 50 BIM 360 integration partners, of which several are already available, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. The new Connect and Construct Exchange enabled by Forge, which lists the integrations currently available to work with AEC project data and workflows in BIM 360 as well as others that are under development.

As an example, one of the available integrations is INTELSYS.build, which includes capabilities for quantification/takeoff, accounting/ERP, and cost management. It works with the project data in BIM 360 and allows accurate cost estimates to be created by using BIM-based material take-offs, as shown in Figure 2. It can also be used to validate BIM models based on project standards, visualize business processes and workflows using BIM models, and track and manage project execution with BIM-based production and procurement. Another example is HoloBuilder, an application for construction management which allows 360° pictures of the site to be captured within which BIM 360 Field issues can then be created, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 2. The INTELSYS.build integration available on the BIM 360 Connect and Construct Exchange allows material takeoff from a BIM model.

Figure 3. Creating a BIM 360 Field issue within the site picture captured by HoloBuilder.

In addition to creating the Connect and Construct Exchange for BIM 360, Autodesk is also funding some of the third-party applications that are participating in it, including Assemble Systems, which provides design checking and coordination, quantification and takeoff, and construction management capabilities; ManufactOn, a collaborative, cloud, and mobile solution for prefab production and supply chain management (Figure 4); and SmartVid.io, which automatically analyzes photos and videos from jobsites to find opportunities to improve safety, quality, and productivity in construction (Figure 5). All these investments are from a special Forge Fund that Autodesk has created to accelerate the development and adoption of its Forge platform and the ecosystem surrounding it.

Figure 4. ManufactOn’s supply chain management application integrated with Revit.

Figure 5. SmartVid.io’s interface showing automatic analysis of jobsite photos enabling search for a safety-related term.

In addition to the expansion of Forge to third-party integrations, Autodesk also announced a formal partnership with DropBox, which allows AutoCAD files stored in Dropbox to be opened and saved without leaving AutoCAD, as shown in Figure 6. This is enabled by a new Dropbox app for AutoCAD. DropBox is already one of the most popular cloud storage solutions for DWG files, and the new app will make it much easier for AutoCAD users to work with their DropBox files. DropBox will also soon have preview support for DWG files, making it possible for users to view project files, and even add comments to them, without owning AutoCAD or any other DWG application.

Figure 6. The new Dropbox app for AutoCAD enables Dropbox files to be opened and saved directly from AutoCAD.

Another partnership that was announced at Autodesk University 2017 was between Autodesk and leading GIS vendor Esri to “to build a bridge between BIM and GIS mapping technologies” so that buildings and infrastructure can be better visualized within their environmental context. This would not only benefit AEC firms responsible for designing and constructing buildings and infrastructure, but also urban designers, city planners, transportation planners, utility and telecom companies, even insurance and disaster preparation and relief (as highlighted in my recent Flood Forecasting Technology article). While no actual technology demonstrations of the integration were shown, it would presumably be between Autodesk’s InfraWorks (possibly even Revit) and ESRI’s ArcGIS (Figure 7). As I pointed out in my City Information Modeling article, having an intelligent city model is the next technological frontier for us in AEC, and it should be exciting to see how the planned Autodesk-Esri BIM-GIS partnership can advance it.

Figure 7. Esri's ArcGIS platform on which its City Engine 2016 application is built.

AEC Excellence Awards

Every year, Autodesk’s hosts an AEC Excellence Awards competition, the results of which are announced at Autodesk University. While this is not a centerpiece of the conference in the manner in which Bentley’s Be Inspired Awards are for its Year in Infrastructure events (see my article on YII 2017), they are nevertheless a big deal, as they recognize global projects that embrace connected BIM technologies and sustainable design in the AEC industry. This year’s winners were chosen from among 145 submissions from over 30 countries around the world in four categories: Sustainability, Infrastructure, Buildings, and Construction.

In the Sustainability category, the winning project was the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University (Figure 8). Designed and constructed by Geotectura, Axelrod Grobman Architects, NCA, and Assa Aharoni Consulting Engineers, this 4,000 square-meter building is the first of its kind in Israel to achieve both LEED Platinum certification and 5 stars in the Israeli Green Code 5281. Each aspect of the building includes an “eco-conscious” design and each side serves a purpose—the north brings in natural light, the west is shaped like a funnel to increase air flow to the main atrium, and the east blocks heat during the winter and noise from the highway. The south side’s Eco-Wall—an iconic portion of the building—absorbs the hot southern sun with thermo-solar fields heated by glass-evacuated tubes, producing the energy source for the mechanical ventilation and air conditioning of the building which saves 60 percent of energy use and reduces carbon emissions. The design team used BIM at the outset for its many overall benefits as well as for sustainable design in particular, including detailed energy and lighting simulations which helped design the geometry for passive ventilation, maximizing natural lighting, and avoiding direct sun during the hot months. The use of BIM also allowed materials to be configured in detail, meeting the green standards for use of local, recycled, and renewable materials in the project.

Figure 8. The Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University. (Image courtesy: Shai Epstein)

In the Infrastructure category, the winning project was Mexico City’s New International Airport (Nuevo Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de Mexico, or NAICM), designed by Foster + Partners and FR-EE.  At 470,000 square meters, it will be one of the world’s largest airports, and is designed to accommodate increasing passenger numbers, with an expansion plan through 2062 for an eventual six runways. It also aims to become the first net-zero airport running on 100 percent renewable energy, using biogas generated from a sewage treatment center nearby and photovoltaic roof panels. In addition to the size and scale of the project, it was nominated in the Infrastructure category because it will include the restoration of the surrounding natural landscape, with three thousand hectares of greenery to offset the loss of vegetation due to construction as well as the management of plant and animal species to maintain biodiversity. A project of this size and complexity mandated the use of BIM for design, sustainability analysis, team collaboration, multi-disciplinary coordination, and documentation. In addition, computational design was used to generate the complex doubly curved structure that serves as a roof, façade, and structure, all at the same time (Figure 9).

Figure 9. Mexico City’s New International Airport, NAICM. (Image courtesy: Foster + Partners)

The winning project in the Building category was the Museum of the Future in Dubai by BuroHappold Engineering (lead consultant), Killa Design (architect), and BAM Higgs & Hill and Transgulf (contractors). Currently under construction, this 30,000 square-meter building was designed to have an instantly recognizable distorted torus shape, epitomized by its futuristic stainless-steel façade with illuminated glazed Arabic calligraphy (Figure 10). The project owner, the Dubai Future Foundation, required BIM and a fully developed digital workflow across the project lifecycle. In addition to improved collaboration and design coordination, this mandate has had the added benefits of agile project delivery and use of models for handover at each stage from design to construction. Additionally, the model has helped to identify areas where prefabricated MEP modules manufactured off-site can be developed and installed to reduce installation time and labor cost. Design rationalization and generative design were used not just in designing the unusual shape of the building, but also in constructing its complex steel diagrid geometry, with parametric scripts used to manipulate and study numerous iterations to accommodate architectural and structural requirements.

Figure 10. The Museum of the Future commissioned by the Dubai Future Foundation. The  lower image shows an interior rendering of the building. (Image courtesy: Killa Design)        

And finally, the first place in the Construction category went to China Construction Eighth Engineering Division Corp. Ltd. for its Tianjin Chow Tai Fook Financial Center project integrating business and commercial space, luxury apartments, and a five-star hotel. (Figure 11). At the outset of the project, the goal was set for the use of BIM for all employees, specialties, and processes. In addition, the contract required the delivery of BIM models to serve the operation and maintenance upon completion (in the precision of LOD500). For a project of this magnitude—it has a 390,000-square-meter total construction area, constituting a four-story basement, a five-story podium, and a 103-story tower, reaching a total height of 530 meters—the use of BIM was indispensable in reducing modification and rework, improving accuracy, and cutting the use of materials, saving time and cost. Beyond the construction work, generative design was used to program and import the 3D coordinates to create an accurate façade for the building. All the models are stored onsite and kept updated with construction logistics such as ordering, transportation, arrival, and installation, with the use of QR codes for tracking major equipment and prefabrication components. The construction team is also using emerging technologies such as robots for positioning elements accurately, drones for tracking daily construction progress, and virtual reality devices for safety simulations for workers. The project is currently under construction and expected to be complete in the fall of 2019,

Figure 11. The Tianjin Chow Tai Fook Financial Center project. The lower image shows the multi-disciplinary BIM model of the podium. (Image courtesy: China Construction Eighth Engineering Division Co., Ltd.)      

Conclusions

As always, Autodesk University 2017 was a great way to get updated on the current updates and future vision of the leading technology vendor in the AEC industry. The proceedings this year were not quite as action-packed as in previous years, and it’s hard to say how much of this can be attributed to the shake-up at the top of the company, with the abrupt departure of CEO Carl Bass after almost eleven years on the job, not to mention being a leading executive at the company for more years than I can remember. While the new CEO, Andrew Anagnost, is also a veteran of the company and should be able to steer it so that it stays the course, it may take some time before we start to see as many developments from Autodesk as before.

I was disappointed to see nothing new about InfraWorks, an application I have previously raved about, and while the Esri partnership seems promising, it seems like something that should have already happened so that its results could have advanced the current state of the art of CIM (city information modeling). It would also have been interesting to learn more about some promising initiatives such as Project IQ and Project Quantum that Autodesk had introduced last year, as well as about the application of generative design in AEC. It was not clear what, if anything, Autodesk was doing to “up” the “intelligence quotient” of its BIM applications to make them smarter. And from the perspective of its customers, the subscription issue continues to remain a thorny one, with the policy of phasing out older releases and updating file formats to force users to upgrade being, to put it mildly, quite unpopular.

Let’s hope Autodesk regains its footing in 2018 and reaffirms its status as the leading technology vendor in AEC. As an industry, we need all the technological help we can get.

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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