AEC Technology Updates, 2018AECbytes Newsletter #93 (September 27, 2018)

Innovation remains not just alive and well in the AEC technology industry but is continuing to grow at an increasing pace, as evidenced in this year’s collection of technology updates. We have new releases of several popular applications including Vectorworks, IDEA, dRofus, IESVE, SDS/2, and Twinmotion; new integrations such as IrisVR with Navisworks and Transoft with Vectorworks, which extend their capabilities and make them more powerful; and a host of new solutions in various fields including Overtur from Allegion, BSD Speclink Cloud, BIM & Scan AutoCorr, bim.aero, and BIMserver.center from CYPE Software. Collectively, they span a wide range of disciplines and processes in AEC including BIM, analysis, visualization, objects and specifications, data management, collaboration, laser scanning, and infrastructure design.

BIM

Earlier this month, Vectorworks released the 2019 version of its product family, which includes its core 2D and 3D modeling platform, Vectorworks, and multiple disciplinary applications such as Architect for building design, Landmark for landscape design, Spotlight for set/lighting design, and Renderworks for rendering. The enhancements to the base platform, which are reflected in all the disciplinary applications, include significantly faster workflows and improved software performance thanks to multi-core support in the Vectorworks Graphics Module, new layer and class search and filter options, and improved image editing (Figure 1). The AEC-specific improvements in Vectorworks Architect include 3D site model sculpting, the ability to have BIM objects display with varying levels of detail in 2D drawings, and enhanced OpenBIM interoperability.

Figure 1. Mainstream image editing right inside of Vectorworks, avoiding the need to export the image to other editing applications such as Photoshop or Illustrator.

Another new release of a BIM application comes from 4M, developer of the popular IntelliCAD-based BIM applications including IDEA for architectural design and the FINE-MEP suite for building services. It is set to launch the new IDEA generation (v. 19), the key features of which include a rebranded interface to make it easier and more intuitive to use, better quality renderings, improved IFC import and export for better compatibility with other BIM applications, and new object libraries. There are also several modeling improvements such as the ability to change any of the characteristics of the BIM entities from the Property panel which could also be used as a filter to select specific entities (Figure 2), and the availability of grips in all the BIM entities to change graphically change their dimensions, orientation, etc.

Figure 2. The updated interface and Property panel in IDEA v.19.

Analysis

On the energy analysis front, IES released the 2018 version of its Virtual Environment (VE) suite of tools, which includes several new features and improvements to its building performance simulation capabilities. A new parallel simulation mode feature allows simulations to be 10 times faster, with the choice of dividing simulations by the number of cores available or the number of months (Figure 3); once the divided simulations are complete, they are automatically joined back together into one simulation result set. There are new enhancements to support the ASHRAE 90.1 and the NECB (National Energy Code of Canada for Building) Navigator standards. Additional improvements include new VRF (Variable Refrigerant Flow) Capabilities, a new DHW (Domestic Hot Water) feature, improvements to load calculations and daylight simulation, solar-shading control enhancements, support for high-concentration photovoltaics, improvements to the BIM Navigator and Model Viewer, and others.

Figure 3. The new parallel simulation mode feature in IESVE 2018 that can dramatically speed up simulations.

For structural analysis, SDS/2, the full-fledged detailing solution that was acquired by Nemetschek two years ago, now includes a steel connection design functionality for Revit called SDS/2 Connect that was developed in collaboration with Autodesk. Available as a low-cost add-in to Revit, SDS/2 Connect automatically designs connections within the Revit environment, allowing structural engineers and fabricators to design, conduct code check analysis, and extend steelwork designs to fabrication within a BIM workflow (Figure 4). Unlike other structural detailing solutions that can be used to design connections in Revit—whose own connection design functionality is limited—the SDS/2 Connect Revit add-in can be used even without the main SDS/2 application, making it unique and relevant to anyone using Revit for structural detailing.

Figure 4. The SDS/2 Connect plug-in brings the application’s steel connection design functionality inside Revit.

BIM Objects and Specifications

Allegion, a global publicly traded company with over 30 brands focused on building products such as doors and related devices ranging from mechanical locks to advanced biometric scanning devices, has joined the BIM movement by not just created BIM models of its products for use in projects—like other product manufacturers—but by a much larger technology offering. This is Overtur, a cloud-based suite of tools for project team members to collaborate on specifications and the security design of doors and openings. These tools provide a centralized place to capture and maintain door hardware requirements and decisions, for both BIM and non-BIM projects. Designed with input from architects, Overtur provides several applications (or “apps”) to accomplish a variety of tasks such as uploading door data, schedules and plans directly from a BIM model; reviewing designs in an online environment to capture decisions and requirements about a project's hardware (Figure 5); transferring door data, including electrical requirements, to and from Allegion to reduce errors and improve coordination of door hardware; and graphically tracking and reviewing the important changes to openings and hardware selections.

Figure 5. Detailed review of the design of a door, including its hardware, in Overtur.

Another development in the area of BIM objects and specifications comes from BSD (Building Systems Design), a specifications company that was acquired by CSI (Construction Specifications Institute) in 2010. Its main product is SpecLink-E for specification writing and production, and it has just launched a companion product, SpecLink Cloud, that, as the name suggests, moves all the specification data to the cloud, making it easier for the project team to share and collaborate on building project specifications. Projects can be accessed, reviewed and commented on from any browser-enabled device, and role management can be set to control who has access to the information (Figure 6). SpecLink Cloud also links specs with Revit models, which allows users to visualize changes as the design evolves, evaluate their impact, and automatically synchronize changes in both the specs and the model. It also allows users to view embedded BIM object data and access immersive 3D walkthroughs, without the need for additional Revit licenses or training.

Figure 6. Cloud-based collaboration on specifications using BSD SpecLink Cloud.

Visualization

Now that VR (virtual reality) technology is becoming more mainstream with the introduction of better headsets and software enhancements to make the immersion experience less choppy, companies such as IrisVR that are focused on VR for the AEC industry are also ramping up on their development efforts. The upcoming release of IrisVR’s Prospect application for immersive design review and collaboration—which already integrates with 3D design applications such as Revit, Rhino, SketchUp, etc.—includes a beta integration with Navisworks, which allows a Navisworks model to be taken into VR with one click (Figure 7). Thus, in addition to architects and engineers using VR for collaborative design, this ability is now available to contractors as well. By conducting immersive design reviews that allow true-to-scale model walkthroughs, contractors are likely to catch errors that might not be visible in the regular QA/QC process and can open up this ability to owners and other stakeholders as well. While in-person collaboration is hard to beat, the option to join a multiuser project coordination meeting in VR from anywhere in the world will certainly open it up to more participation from those who might not be able to travel to “big room” co-located design coordination sessions.

Figure 7. The new IrisVR plug-in to Navisworks allows a model to be exported to VR. As shown, its viewpoints are also exported and can be selected in IrisVR’s Prospect application.

In last year’s updates, we saw the highlights of the 2018 release of Twinmotion, a sophisticated visualization application specifically targeted towards architecture, urban planning and landscaping professionals for creating highly photorealistic and life-like renderings. One of its most powerful features is its ability for direct synchronization with ARCHICAD as well as Autodesk Revit, allowing users to import not just the geometry but all the element data, with their organization and hierarchy, of the BIM model (Figure 8). The new 2019 version of Twimmotion that was recently released by Abvent makes this synchronization significantly faster. It also includes a host of new features including an interactive VR menu, perspective correction, directional compass, parallel views, and measuring tools (Figure 9). Additionally, it includes optimized rendering with reflection of volumes and materials, white model rendering, and scene lighting options, as well as significantly expanded libraries with many more construction objects, decorative objects, PBR materials, and tags.

Figure 8. Twinmotion rendering of an ArchiCAD model.

Figure 9. The new measuring tools in Twinmotion 2019.

Additional Updates

Another new partnership in AEC comes from Transoft Solutions, developer of several point solutions for site design and civil engineering such as roundabouts and intersections as well as broader applications for road and site design. While Transoft’s applications have mostly worked with Autodesk products until now, it is forging a new partnership with Vectorworks which integrates its AutoTURN technology with the new Vectorworks 2019 release. AutoTURN is an application for analyzing vehicle swept paths in road and site design projects, including intersections, roundabouts, bus terminals, loading bays, parking lots, etc. The integration of this technology within Vectorworks gives its users direct access to a tool that takes the guesswork out of evaluating whether a design can accommodate the turning paths of vehicles. In the past, this was a time-consuming trial-and-error process, but now Vectorworks users can simply upload a design into AutoTURN Online, pick a vehicle, perform a simulation and export the results back into their project file from within their Vectorworks session (Figure 10).

Figure 10. Accessing AutoTURN Online for analyzing turning paths of vehicles in a parking lot design within Vectorworks.

In my article on the customer implementations showcased at GRAPHISOFT’s KCC conference last year, I described the extensive use of dRofus, a space planning and data management tool that is now part of Nemetschek, on the Sunshine Coast University Hospital project in Queensland, Australia. A new version of dRofus has just been released, which improves its integration with BIM tools even further with support for linking and synchronization of more ARCHICAD objects, support for advanced workflows using hot-link modules (HLM), and the introduction of the dRofus panel and automatic sync of values within its Revit plugin (Figure 11). Other highlights of the new release include improvements to the graphical user interface, navigation, data input features and the interaction between the desktop and online versions of the product, making it easier to access and update project information.

Figure 11. Improved dRofus integration with ARCHICAD (left) and Revit (right).

In the area of laser scanning in AEC, a new solution that is being launched is AutoCorr by BIM & Scan Ltd., a company based in Dublin, Ireland. Currently in beta mode and scheduled for release later this year, AutoCorr is a cloud-based validation software that that compares design models in IFC format with point clouds within a user specified tolerance, enabling a quick and accurate visualization of the differences between the scan and the BIM model during the construction QA/QC process. All variations that exceed the specified tolerance are automatically highlighted in red in the resulting output file, while scan points within the tolerance value are color-coded according to their IFC type. (This color coding also allows the software to be used for IFC classification validation). The output file can be opened directly in design authoring and review tools such as ARCHICAD, Revit, Navisworks, etc., and then viewed along with the original model for direct comparison and investigation. An upcoming feature will allow the output file to be exported in BCF format, leveraging it to automatically highlight relevant objects and create viewpoints that take users directly to issues (Figure 12).

Figure 12. A BIM & Scan AutoCorr output file overlaid back on the design model in preparation for fixing the model elements that do not meet the specified tolerance.

Going back to a pre-BIM world, either for those projects still using CAD or for which a 3D design solution like SketchUp is preferred, a new solution for the “BIMification of pure CAD or 3D files” might be the answer. Called bim.aero, it can be used to build, edit, and export a complete BIM database from pure 3D and CAD models, allowing users to continue to use their favorite drawing software, free from BIM considerations during the design and drawing processes. The applications from which a model can be imported into bim.aero include Sketchup, 3DTurbo, and Collada, or files in the OBJ, MTL, and STL formats. User can then build or complete a BIM hierarchy of the building elements and adding property data to the BIM entities (Figure 13). The resulting BIM projects can be exported using the IFC format and can thus become part of the larger BIM workflow. bim.aero is currently a Mac application and comes from iluac software, a French company focused on developing modeling and rendering development kits for the CAD and AEC industries.

Figure 13. Creating a BIM database from an imported non-BIM 3D model in bim.aero.

And finally, we have a collaboration solution from CYPE Software, a Spanish company dedicated to the development and distribution of engineering and structural analysis tools for AEC, with the majority of its users located in southern Europe, Latin-America, and Africa. In addition to its own software, CYPE Software has developed a collaboration platform, BIMserver.center, for integrating a suite of OpenBIM applications to better harness the power of BIM interoperability and allow multiple applications to be used across the AEC workflow (Figure 14). While the concept of a BIM server to host a BIM model that can be shared between multiple applications is not new, the specific objective of this platform is to offer visibility to small developers that may have powerful tools working with open formats, but without the marketing muscle to sell them to a broader audience. Also, AEC users across the countries where CYPE Software is popular can access a wider number of BIM applications for their requirements that are a better fit for them in terms of cost, standards, training, and consulting.

Figure 14. CYPE’s BIMserver.center includes an Open BIM complement for Revit, allowing a Revit model to be published to the collaboration platform.

This is it for the 2018 edition of AEC Technology Updates. Undoubtedly, there is much more happening in the AEC technology field than that I am aware of or was able to cover in this article, and I look forward to continuing to learn about and share many more developments in the months and years ahead.

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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