AECbytes Product Review (June 20, 2013)

Newforma Model Viewer

In the AEC Tech Updates article published a few months ago, I provided an overview of the key features across Newforma’s new release of its entire product family, which now includes six different applications, many of which have additional components. The mainstay of the product family continues to be the flagship product, Newforma Project Center, which is now in its Tenth Edition, and has emerged as the leading project information management solution in the AEC industry. In fact, the term “project information management” or PIM was coined by Newforma to capture all of the workflow processes that are required for the execution of a project, and it is now being increasingly used by competing solutions as well to describe their capabilities.

An overview of the expanded set of Newforma’s solutions was provided in my review of Newforma Project Center Professional Ninth Edition, published last year. While I typically review the flagship solution, Newforma Project Center, after each major release, this review takes a somewhat different approach and explores in detail the Newforma Model Viewer, which is a new and dramatic development in Newforma Project Center, integrating it with Revit much more closely than in previous versions. The Newforma Model Viewer is a component of the Newforma Building Information Management module, which is an add-on to Newforma Project Center.

Integration with Revit

Recall that up until the latest release of Newforma Project Center, integration with Revit was accomplished through an “Add-in” that was introduced in the Eighth Edition two years ago, which enabled the model data in Revit to be managed and integrated with the project information management tasks and processes that were being conducted in Newforma Project Center. It added a toolbar to the Revit ribbon menu that provided access to the key functions connecting Newforma Project Center to Revit. While this add-in is still available in the new version of Newforma Project Center, as shown in the top image of Figure 1, an additional add-in for the Model Viewer now gets installed. Powered by M-SIX’s VEO platform—which has been licensed by Newforma—it appears as a VEO toolbar in Revit, as shown in the lower image of Figure 1.


Figure 1. The Newforma and VEO add-ins to Revit, showing the tools in their respective toolbars.

The VEO add-in enables a Revit model to be published to the cloud for access via the Newforma Model Viewer. You can either export the entire model or selected elements only. There is also the option of including any other models that are linked to the current model. Thus, for instance, for the export shown in Figure 2, in addition to the current architectural model (Clinic_A.rvt), the linked structural model (Clinic_S.rvt) and the linked MEP model (Clinic_MEP.rvt) are also included. The project to which these models will be exported has to be specified—a new project can be created if necessary. For each model, the revision history shows all the versions that have been published earlier, along with their dates. Additional options in the Export dialog allow you to select specific parameters for the export and other settings.


Figure 2. Selecting the models to be exported in the Export dialog. The additional Parameters and Options tabs are also shown.

Viewing and Navigating the Model in the Model Viewer

Once the models have been exported from Revit into a project through the VEO Exporter, the project can be opened in the Newforma Model Viewer, as shown in Figure 3. As mentioned earlier, this Model Viewer is a technology that has been licensed by Newforma from M-SIX, the developer of the VEO platform. M-SIX first came to my attention when it exhibited at Autodesk University 2008, where it showcased its first product, VEO Lux, for quick viewing of Revit models on the web using cloud computing. Since then, the company went into stealth mode and has recently re-surfaced with an expanded product line-up, with VEO as the platform on top of which a number of visualization and collaboration applications have been built. Of these, Newforma has licensed two for its Model Viewer: VEO Viewer, enhanced and rebranded as the Newforma Model Viewer, for navigation and visualization; and VEO Archive, which is a model-linked document library. We will explore the Archive capabilities a little later; for now, let’s explore the navigation and visualization capabilities of the Newforma Model Viewer in more detail.


Figure 3. Opening the project to which the Revit models were exported earlier in the Newforma Model Viewer powered by the VEO application.

The Newforma Model Viewer provides several viewing and navigation capabilities. To start with, you can zoom, pan, and orbit the currently active view, for which you can specify the desired mouse and keyboard mappings in the Settings dialog, as shown in Figure 4. You can also choose a different color scheme for the Viewer, as shown in Figure 5.


Figure 4. Specifying the desired Mouse/Keyboard Mappings for the Viewer, if they are different from the defaults.



Figure 5. Changing the default color scheme for the Viewer, which gives the interface a different look.

You can also save different views of the model—combining different camera positions, whether specific objects are visible or not, different display styles, and whether sectioning is on or off—and save them in the Master Presets dialog, where they can be easily accessed. Two examples of saved views are shown in Figure 6. The top one is the structural view, while the lower one is a sectioned view of the second floor, providing an inside look at all the MEP systems on that floor. Notice that the Sectioning option, in the dialog to the left of the viewing window, is activated for the lower view, which is why it is displayed as sectioned. Additionally, once the sectioning is activated, you can also display the section planes and adjust their position to get the desired section. In the example shown in Figure 6, the back section plane is made visible by selecting it from the Sectioning dialog. It can now be adjusted as required. 


Figure 6. Two examples of views that are saved in the Master Presets dialog. The lower view has the Sectioning option activated, and the back sectioning plane is turned on.

There are several additional viewing options. You can choose to view only specific models from all those that are contained in the project. This is shown in Figure 7, where the visibility of the architectural model is turned off, and the structural and MEP models are displayed in a transparent style. You can apply a filter, which will highlight those elements in the view, as shown in Figure 8, where the term “space” has been entered in the Filter box. You can zoom into a space and get very detailed views using the Sectioning option, as shown in Figure 9, where a clash has been detected between a pipe and a beam. Such a view would be useful for design coordination, and has been saved under the Coordination folder.


Figure 7. Turning off the visibility of an entire model in order to view the other models in the project, which are displayed in a transparent style.



Figure 8. Applying “space” as a filter highlights all the spaces in the model, the rest of which is displayed in transparent mode.



Figure 9. A closeup view of a space with the sectioning option turned on reveals a clash, and would be useful for design coordination.

In addition to applying transparency to the elements in the model to see it more clearly, you can also choose to hide selected elements in the model. This is illustrated in Figure 10, where the top image shows a wall being selected to hide its visibility, and the lower image shows the model with that wall hidden, enabling a better view of the inside space.


Figure 10. Selecting a wall element and hiding it to get a better view of the interior.

Viewing the Model in Context with Linked Project Information

Newforma Project Center has long offered the ability to quickly search and find a single building element among thousands. Now with the Model Viewer, an individual element can be seen in the context of the model. Further enhancing this contextual view, Newforma has also licensed VEO Archive from M-SIX and included its functionality in the Model Viewer. This is a model-linked document library that allows any documents—text, PDFs, images, spreadsheets, photos, etc.—to be linked to components in the model, so that when the component is selected, the corresponding documents linked to it can also be seen. This is illustrated in Figure 11, where a specific item of mechanical equipment is found by using the Filter box and then selected. (Notice how the view is automatically zoomed in to show the selected object.) If the Archive Library is now opened, an image which is linked to the selected object can be seen in the Archive Viewer. The Archive Library itself showing all the documents linked to the selected object can be seen in the top image of Figure 12.


Figure 11. Using the Filter option to select a mechanical equipment, a chiller, and viewing one of the images linked to it in the Archive Viewer.

The ability to link additional documents to an element in the model is only one aspect of the ability to link model elements with the project information management processes of Newforma. There are many more. To start with, you can save the view of the object as a new “master preset” in the Model Viewer, and link it back to the project in Newforma Project Center, where the view can be related to any of the project items shown in Figure 12, with the option of creating a new item or adding to an existing item. In this example, the option to create a new Action Item has been chosen.


Figure 12. Saving the close-up view and linking it to a new Action Item in Newforma Project Center.

Figure 13 shows the dialog that opens up for creating a new action item for the linked model view of the chiller. All the required data for the action item can now be entered. A snapshot of the model view is automatically created, which can be copied in the Description box. Once the action item is created, it appears in the list of all the Open Action Items in Newforma Project Center, as shown in the lower image of Figure 13.  


Figure 13. Entering the details of the new action item. Once it is created, it appears in the list of open action items in Newforma Project Center.

Another powerful aspect of the Model Viewer is its ability to record all the published versions of the models in a project and provide a complete version history. It is able to do this because it does not save complete models every time they are published, but only records what has changed. The revision history can be seen in the Model Viewer by accessing the Project Structure dialog, shown in Figure 14. The green highlight on the top entry in the list indicates that it is the newest published version of the project; if it was not, it would be highlighted in orange, indicating that a newer version of a model has been published that has not yet been added to the project.


Figure 14. Seeing the revision history of the project in the Project Structure dialog of the Model Viewer.

The ability of the Model Viewer to record the entire project history is especially useful in the context of workflow processes in Newforma Project Center. For example, for an action item in Newforma, you can choose to see it in the originating model, which would provide a better understanding of the problem that caused the action item to be created. This is shown in the top image of Figure 15. The lower image shows the originating model opened in the Model Viewer. Because it is an older version, it is opened in read-only mode, indicated by the thick red line around the graphics window. While the model can still be viewed and navigated, as described in the last section, you cannot make changes to it such as saving views, hiding elements, and so on.


Figure 15. Choosing to view an action item in the original model in Newforma Project Center, and subsequently viewing it in the Model Viewer, where it opens in read-only mode.

On the other hand, a look at the latest model for that action item shows that the issue has been resolved, as shown in Figure 16. The model is now opened in the regular mode in the Model Viewer, since it is the latest version.


Figure 16. Choosing to view the latest model for the same action item in Newforma Project Center, and subsequently viewing it in the Model Viewer, where it now opens in regular mode.

The new Model Viewer is also integrated with Newforma Info Exchange, the module of Newforma Project Center that is used for collaboration and sharing project data with external project team members. They can be granted access to the published models via Newforma Info Exchange, where they can download the Newforma Model Viewer and view and navigate the published models. This is shown in Figure 17, where all the model views are listed in Newforma Info Exchange, with the choice to open it in the original model or the latest model. Either of these options will open up the Newforma Model Viewer, and show the selected view in it. It is very useful for external team members to get actual 3D views of specific parts of the model that they can navigate, than to simply see static 2D images as in the past. It enables them to have the BIM experience, without needing access to, or even learning to use a BIM application like Revit, and specifically in the context of the various work processes that they are already conducting through Newforma Info Exchange.


Figure 17. Accessing model views of a project in Newforma Info Exchange. When selected, they are opened in the Model Viewer.

Analysis and Conclusions

The Newforma Model Viewer is a very useful addition to Newforma Project Center and related products from Newforma, greatly enhancing the BIM integration of the application that was started with the Newforma Add-in to Revit in the Eighth Edition two years ago. It provides the extended project team with the opportunity to actually view and navigate the models for the project they are working on, and link the relevant model views to action items, change orders, RFIs, or any other project items they are working on through Newforma Project Center. The ability to also see all previous versions of the project is extremely helpful in maintaining an audit trail of the project. Revit is notorious for its large file sizes, but the compression technology of the Model Viewer, as well as its smart data structuring capability that stores only changes made to the models rather than complete models, makes it very fluid and easy to navigate even a large project comprising multiple files. While the project is actually stored in the cloud, a cached version is also stored on the local hard drive, making it faster to work with.

Currently, the Model Viewer can only work with Revit and AutoCAD 3D files, but the underlying VEO platform is looking at supporting additional formats, and once that happens, they will also be supported in the Newforma Model Viewer, enabling users of other BIM applications to also benefit from the Model Viewer integration. The application’s interface does lack some polish and is currently not very intuitive—I had to rely on a detailed briefing to write this review. But given that this is only the first version of the Model Viewer, these shortcomings can be excused. What matters most at this stage is its functionality, and the new Newforma Model Viewer does a great job of connecting the BIM capabilities of Revit with the PIM capabilities of Newforma Project Center. It makes the design and collaboration process on a building project a lot less abstract and much more “grounded” in the reality of the BIM model that has been created for it.

 

 

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 lachmi@aecbytes.com.

 

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