Autodesk had its annual event, Autodesk University (AU), earlier this month, providing an update of what's new, where it is at, and where it is going. While these updates were provided for all the three industries it serves — Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC); Manufacturing and Product Design; and Media and Entertainment — this article will focus on the AEC-specific updates. It also discusses the developments to the underlying Autodesk technology that powers all of its industry-specific applications.
Autodesk had launched Forge in 2015 to serve as a hub for its cloud services, and since then, it has continued to be developed as an increasingly important component of Autodesk's core technology. Autodesk is now going all in on Forge, emphasizing it as THE platform for all its offerings. The idea is that going forward, the focus will not be on individual applications but on their integration with each other through Forge, so that project data is not locked into individual files that have to be sent back and forth but freely available across the platform for different workflows and processes (Figure 1). Any misgivings firms may have had earlier about their data being on the cloud has been all but erased by the pandemic, and Autodesk is positioning Forge to not only be the cloud repository for all project data but also the platform that allows the data to be intelligently used for all the tasks required to implement a project, including planning, design, collaboration, construction, and handover.
While this vision has not yet been fully implemented, a sense of how it works can be seen from the integration of Revit and Inventor through Forge, allowing manufacturers of building components that use Inventor to get the component details directly from Revit. Another Forge-enabled integration that is close to completion is between Revit and Microsoft Power Automate, making the BIM data in Revit available for project partners using it for their workflow automations (Figure 2).
At Autodesk University last year, Autodesk showed significant enhancements to its Construction Cloud offering, which brought together the applications that it had acquired such as PlanGrid, Assemble, and BuildingConnected along with in-house applications including Autodesk Build, Takeoff, and BIM Collaborate into a single data environment built on Autodesk Docs.
Autodesk has added several enhancements to Construction Cloud some of which it showed this year. These include the integration of a new application called Pype for creating project handover documentation (Figure 3); the addition of model aggregation and automatic clash detection capabilities in Autodesk BIM Collaborate, as well as the availability to set tolerance filters for clash avoidance (Figure 4); the introduction of a new application called BIM Onsite to give field crews easier access to BIM data on the site, both in 2D and in 3D; the addition of Assemble directly to Autodesk Docs, so that you don’t need to work in Revit to be able to use Assemble; the addition of a Schedule tool to Autodesk Build for project management; and the addition of a new application called Autodesk Bridge which allows only selected data to be shared for collaboration rather than the entire project. Autodesk is also developing more connections between the different Construction Cloud applications.
And finally, it should be noted that the Autodesk Construction Cloud is already built on the Forge platform, so there wouldn’t be much retooling required to integrate the Construction Cloud applications into the Forge workflow.
Autodesk is expanding its partnership with Esri to improve the integration of BIM with GIS. To this end, ESRI is introducing a new capability in its ArcGIS application called ArcGIS GeoBIM (Figure 5). It brings together GIS and BIM data and allows them to be visualized together in a single cloud environment, enabling designers to see architectural and engineering assets in their real-world locations and make more accurate and informed design decisions. The connection happens through a direct cloud integration between Esri’s ArcGIS Online and the Forge-enabled Autodesk Construction Cloud.
While Autodesk currently has Civil 3D and Infraworks for infrastructure design, neither of these applications is specific to any particular type of infrastructure. Autodesk now seems to be moving towards more dedicated infrastructure design solutions, as evidenced by its acquisition of a company called Innovyze, a leading developer of applications for water management that are used by cities and water authorities around the world. Innovyze is apparently the largest acquisition in the company’s history, which shows Autodesk’s level of commitment to this expansion to infrastructure. Autodesk will be expanding Innovyze’s Info360 application with asset information to make it easier to operate and maintain water networks (Figure 6).
Autodesk Tandem, the application for creating digital twins that was shown at AU last year in a pre-beta phase, is now available as a commercial application. While the term “digital twins” is still more of a vision than a reality — as it refers not just to having a digital replica of a physical asset that always remains in sync with the physical object throughout its lifetime but also the ability to use it operate it efficiently, carry out preemptive maintenance, conduct what-if analysis, etc. — it has become a convenient moniker to use for any technology development in this direction. In the case of Autodesk Tandem, what we are really looking at is a digital handover, where in addition to the physical building at the end of construction, building owners are also given the as-built digital model. They can use an application like Autodesk Tandem to connect the digital model with systems, controls, and IoT data for operating and maintaining the building.
Another related development for this digital handover is the investment Autodesk has made in a company called SpaceIQ, which develops software for FM (facilities management). It brings Revit and AutoCAD data directly into SpaceIQ’s Archibus software, where it can be by used to operate and manage facilities more efficiently and with a view to maximizing their comfort for the people inhabiting them.
At AU last year, Autodesk showed the cloud-based generative tool for urban design, Spacemaker, that it had acquired. In addition to generating multiple design options for a site based on defined constraints, Spacemaker can also evaluate a design in detail for multiple criteria such as buildable area, façade area, solar exposure and shading, wind exposure, lines of sight, noise, density, etc. Autodesk is now adding the ability for climate analysis as well, helping more sustainable design options to be explored (Figure 7).
Another sustainability-related enhancement is the option to see Total Carbon in Autodesk Insight for a design proposal exported from Revit (Figure 8). Total carbon combines Revit data, open-source energy analysis, and material carbon data in the cloud to give designers accurate real-time carbon analysis for coming up with more carbon-neutral designs.
In envisioning Forge as the platform for its products, Autodesk is following a larger technology trend across industries. The importance of the cloud for hosting data seems to be growing exponentially in the computing industry as a whole, and a growing number of businesses now see data rather than files as their main digital currency. This is also evidenced by the growing number of data-centric Computer Science courses and topics that are emerging, including Data Science, Data Analysis, and Big Data. And these are in addition to the fundamental course on data science, which is offered as early as in high school.
We are also seeing an increasing number of technology firms adopted the platform approach such as Microsoft with its Azure platform, Amazon with its AWS platform, and NVIDIA with its Omniverse platform. Even the Open Design Alliance (ODA) is adopting the platform approach, as we saw in the article on the recent ODA Summit published two weeks ago.
Talking of the ODA, Autodesk has now joined it and is emphasizing the importance of open standards. It is not clear if the Forge platform will be open to non-Autodesk data or whether it will be a common data environment only for data from Autodesk applications. But the acknowledgement of the importance of open standards coming one of the leading AEC technology vendors is definitely a positive development. Hopefully, it will be followed by some concrete steps from Autodesk towards openness and interoperability that will benefit the AEC technology industry at large.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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