Visicon: Model Review and ValidationAECbytes Review (August 2, 2019)
Visicon is a new solution in the AEC technology field which, at first glance, seems to be entering into an already crowded field of BIM viewing, model checking, coordination, and collaboration solutions such as Navisworks, Solibri, Autodesk BIM 360, Bentley Navigator, BIMAssure, BIMcollab, Allplan Bimplus, Aconex, Trimble Connect, and others. On a closer look, however, I found that it not only has a unique mix of capabilities that span model viewing, data visualization, model interrogation, and design coordination, it also has a fresh take on many of these features, the benefit of being built from scratch. The ultimate objective, however, remains the same—to create an accurate design model that meets quality control standards, which allows the data needed for downstream processes to be easily extracted from it, and which can be reviewed by anyone (for free) without requiring the original authoring application.
Visicon is a spinoff of ADAPT, an established vendor of a suite of structural analysis tools for the design of buildings and bridges used by structural engineering firms in several countries for concrete design. With Visicon—which has its roots in a Ph.D. research project at Stanford and has been under development for five years—ADAPT has extended its development expertise to include a BIM solution in addition to its structural analysis tools. Given this background, Visicon has the added advantage of including some additional functionality for structural engineers for model checking and coordination that are unique to this category of solutions. But the application, as such, is designed for all AEC disciplines with a wide array of capabilities. Let’s take a closer look.
Model Import and Viewing
For any model checking and coordination solution, the ability to import multiple models and view them is fundamental, and this is the starting point in Visicon as well. The application can directly open IFC, ETABS, and ADAPT models, and includes a Revit plug-in for exporting Revit models directly to Visicon. With the IFC support in particular, the application allows most, if not all, BIM models from AEC applications to be brought into Visicon. The models are significantly compressed when they are imported into Visicon—this is especially critical when bringing in Revit models, which have notoriously large file sizes (Figure 1). Multiple models can be imported into a single project and aligned, enabling them to be reviewed for design coordination.
In addition to viewing the project by models, there are several additional viewing options—by component, material, level, discipline, family, geometry, system, and more—each of which comes with default colors which can be edited as required. There are also Isolate and Auto-fit options to browse though specific selections, such as in Figure 2, where the Mechanical discipline has been selected and isolated. Additional viewing options include a Ghosted mode and the ability to create up to nine clipping planes to explore the model in detail. Different views of the model can be saved for easy access and they can additionally be locked to avoid accidental modifications, especially when the project is shared with others (Figure 3). You can generate and save as many views as needed and add annotations and measurements to them as well.
In addition to viewing different parts of the model by categories such as discipline, material, parameters, etc., you can also create filters to view specific parts of the model and additionally add expressions to further fine-tune the filters. For example, Figure 4 shows another sample project for which different filters have been defined, with some of the filters associated with an expression for further granularity. The selected objects can now be isolated to view them in more detail if required.
Model Interrogation and Checking
Continuing with the project shown in Figure 4, the Properties panel can be used to explore the properties of a single object or a group of objects that has been selected. These are the attributes of the objects that were specified in the BIM authoring application. Figure 5 shows the properties of a structural slab that has been selected in the model. You can see the generic properties of the component, the instance properties, as well as the family properties (if the component came from a Revit model).
Visicon also allows more detailed interrogation of the model by setting up validation rules that can be used to check the model for errors and to ensure quality control. An example is shown in Figure 6, where a number of rules have been set up related to the structural model to quickly detect components that satisfy specific properties. While the expressions for the rules are similar to those used for setting up filters (as shown in Figure 5), the difference is that for rules, you can specify display settings for components that “Pass” the rules as well as the settings for those that “Fail” the rules. The rules can be established for any property or combination of properties, and they are very easy to set up. So, for example, Figure 6 shows a rule I was quickly able to create to detect all the columns in the model that are over 100 ft. These columns are shown in orange, which is the color selected for all the elements that passed this rule. The Fail specification for this rule sets the display of the remaining elements to 10% opacity (similar to the rule above it). Of the columns that are displayed that meet the rule, one of them has been selected so that its properties can be seen in the Properties palette, clarifying how these properties are used in expressions. An expression editor is available to create more complex and longer rules than those shown in Figure 6.
Once rules are set up, they can be grouped in rule sets and exported to templates for re-use on other projects. While the ability to quickly and easily create rules easily greatly helps to query the model, it should be noted that Visicon does not yet have the capability to create more complex rules of the kind you have in Solibri, where for example, you can check a room for egress satisfaction, compliance of design codes, or even, for example, ensure that every room has a door. Such rules rely on the inter-relationship between different building components rather than solely on the properties of individual components and are, therefore, more difficult to develop from a software engineering perspective.
In addition to the ability to import multiple models and visually inspect them, as well as create filters and rules to detect building components that satisfy or fail to satisfy specified criteria—which can be used for multidisciplinary design coordination—Visicon provides more specific capabilities for this purpose such as model comparison and clash detection. These are created in the form of operations. An example is shown in Figure 7, where a clearance check operation has been created that checks for a minimum clearance between ducts and floors in a project. The specifics of the operation are set in the lower panel, and for the example shown, the minimum clearance has been set to 9.317 ft.
Running this operation results in 14 issues in the model, which can be reviewed under the Issues tab, shown in Figure 8. For each issue, you can specify the severity, who reported it, to whom it has been assigned, the dates, and so on. You can also annotate and save the view to be able to further elucidate the problem. Thus, while Visicon is not a full-fledged “issue management” solution as such, it does provide some basic capabilities to generate and review issues.
Another example of an operation that would be useful in design coordination is shown in Figure 9, where a clash test between tendons and rebar in a structural model has been set up. Running this operation results in 208 issues as shown, each of which can be reviewed in the Issues tab. In addition to individual views of each issue that can be created by using the Isolate command, you can also create and save more general views that highlight the problems that have been detected, annotating them for better clarity, as shown in Figure 10.
Additional operations that can be created in Visicon for design coordination include Boolean Difference, which can be used to find out what has changed between two versions of a model (Figure 11); Variance Check, which can be used to detect changes in a specific parameter between two models; and Find Duplicates, which, as the name suggests, helps to find any duplicates that may have been inadvertently created in the model.
As mentioned earlier, Visicon offers some additional tools for structural engineering, the most significant one being a tributary area and load take down feature. This feature calculates tributary areas for the slabs in any Revit, ETABS, IFC or ADAPT building model and generates a load path from the roof down to the foundation. Load paths can be displayed in 3D on the building model along with the structural analytical model that was used in calculate the loads. Any issues with discontinuity in loads are also shown. Calculated load intensities are shown on columns using a heat map. Having this feature in Visicon allows structural engineers to quickly gain some insights into the performance of their designs without requiring a complex, full-fledged FEM simulation. There is also a feature for engineers to coordinate tendon placement with other disciplines on the project, with the ability to select the anchor type, arrange anchors, and splay tendons (Figure 12).
And finally, Visicon has a wide range of reporting capabilities including those that can be used to extract and tabulate any kind of data from the model such as quantities, geometry, parameters, etc., as well as capture the results of operations such as clash check, clearance check, variance check, and so on. While all reports can be exported in Excel format, reports such as an issue summary can also be saved in PDF format, as shown in Figure 13. There is a new takeoff management feature in the works that lets a user summarize, visualize and report on any combination of model and manual-based takeoffs.
For an application that is brand-new, I was extremely impressed by Visicon’s extensive range of capabilities, and in particular, the visual quality of its interface and model display. It has many of the capabilities of the more established and heavy-weight applications for model review and design coordination in AEC, and for the most part, I found these capabilities surprisingly easy to use. For structural engineering firms in particular, giving Visicon a try seems to be a non-brainer, given the additional dedicated tools it has for structural engineering.
For model-checking, Visicon’s current capabilities are more similar to the new BIM Assure from Invicara than to Solibri, and I hope the application can work on expanding its checking capabilities to more relationship-based checks in addition to property-based checks. That would allow it to make some much-needed contributions to the seemingly stalled efforts to automate code-compliance in AEC.
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