Trimble is one of the leading technology vendors serving the AEC industry today. While it started off being primarily focused on construction — it was founded as Trimble Navigation in 1978 and subsequently changed its name to Trimble Inc. — it has, over the years, acquired many leading applications in design and engineering including SketchUp and Tekla. In 2014, it acquired Gehry Technologies, a spin-off technology firm from Gehry Partners, and continued to develop Gehry Technologies’ GTeam cloud-based project management and collaboration platform, rebranding it as Trimble Connect to facilitate what it calls “connected construction.”
While there is no dearth of cloud-based collaboration platforms in the AEC industry that provide a CDE (Common Data Environment) for project drawings, models, and other documents — examples include Autodesk BIM 360, Graphisoft BIMcloud, Allplan Bimplus, Bentley ProjectWise, 3D Repo, Asite, Revizto, Aconex, Dalux, and BIM Track — what distinguishes Trimble Connect are the deep integrations it has with other Trimble products across all disciplines, not just with SketchUp (design) and Tekla Structures (structural engineering and fabrication), but also with ProjectSight (construction management); Sysque, Stabicad, and Nova (MEP); Quadri (infrastructure model management); Field Points (field layout); and TerraFlex and Trimble Access (topography and positioning).
Thanks to these integrations with industry-leading design, engineering, and construction solutions, Trimble Connect has racked up some very high-profile customer implementations, a leading example being the recently completed Museum of the Future in Dubai. Its unique shape — it is, to date, one of the most complex structures ever built — made it a very engineering-intensive project, and with several Trimble solutions being used for its engineering and construction — including Tekla Structures, SysQue, and Robotic Total Stations — the use of Trimble Connect as the collaboration platform for the project became a natural fit.
As with any cloud-based AEC project collaboration solution, Trimble Connect includes all the basic tools such as creating a project (Figure 2), adding team members, assigning roles, setting access permissions, and uploading drawings, models, photos, and other documents to the different folders created for organizing the project. As the project progresses, revised versions of files are likely to be uploaded, and a full revision history of each file is available. Additionally, all the activity on a project is logged and can be viewed at any time, providing a complete audit trail. The list can be filtered to see specific activities such as when files were uploaded, when views were created, and so on, as well as by individual users, groups, and/or date (Figure 2).
An integrated PDF Viewer in Trimble Connect allows drawings and other 2D documents to be reviewed as well as annotated, printed, etc. Any Office files such as Word and Excel are automatically converted to PDF before being opened in the Viewer. In addition to the document itself, you can see the file metadata and earlier versions if any. Files can be checked in and out to prevent other users from making changes while you are working on them. If required, you can create ToDo items to share and assign annotations and follow-up actions as needed (Figure 4).
With most projects now being done using BIM, the ability to work with BIM files is paramount in any collaboration platform. Trimble Connect’s 3D Viewer provides a range of capabilities for working with BIM files, including the ability to open multiple files simultaneously — repositioning them to align with the other models if required — to get a consolidated view (Figure 5); selecting an element to see its properties, link it to a project document or external URL, hide or isolate it, change its color or transparency, etc. (Figure 6); colorizing not just individual elements but the entire model based on different element properties (Figure 7); and adding annotations and dimensions to a 3D view. The different 3D views that are created can be saved for individual use as well as for sharing (Figure 8). Saved views can be grouped together and a group of views can be played as a slideshow for presentations (Figure 9).
Other capabilities of the 3D Viewer include the ability to create clipping planes and position them to create sectional views of the aggregated model (Figure 10), view 2D drawings and 3D models together to create informative overlays (Figure 11), and import and view point clouds to compare the scan with the 3D model (Figure 12). Since the imported BIM models contain all the property data of the individual elements, the consolidated model can be searched to only show/isolate specific objects based on their properties. Clash detection between disciplinary models can be performed to flag issues, which can then be passed on to the authoring applications so that the issues can be fixed. And as with the 2D Viewer (shown earlier in Figure 4), you can create detailed ToDo action items for sharing with other project participants in the 3D Viewer (Figure 13).
As mentioned earlier, one of the key strengths of Trimble Connect for multi-disciplinary collaboration is the deep integrations it has with many of the other applications in Trimble’s portfolio, spanning across design, engineering, as well as construction. In the design realm, SketchUp models can be directly published to Trimble Connect through an Extension which is included in SketchUp Pro. Additional capabilities that the Extension provides include opening a Sketchup file that is hosted on Connect, importing a reference model from Connect to use as an underlay, and performing collaborative tasks such as creating ToDo action items, viewing or adding comments, etc., all within SketchUp (Figure 14). You can also launch the Trimble Connect web app directly from within SketchUp.
Trimble Connect has an even deeper integration with Tekla, since not only was Trimble Connect originally developed from Trimble’s acquisition of GTeam, it has also evolved from Tekla BIMsight, Tekla’s popular collaboration solution for its structural engineering users. You can automatically link to Trimble Connect when you start a new project in Tekla Structures — it is then part of a collaborative whole from the get-go and can be updated at any time a revised version needs to be shared with the project team. In addition to sharing the Tekla Structures model you are working on, you can also overlay related models from the Trimble Connect project into the Tekla Structures workspace to act as a reference (Figure 15). In addition to creating ToDo action items from within Tekla Structures as you can in SketchUp shown above, you can also see the ToDo list within Tekla Structures and respond to any action items that are related to your model (Figure 16).
Integrations with other Trimble applications include the ability to link and open RFIs, change orders, assets, and documentation with ProjectSight and Trimble Connect; the ability to pass 2D drawings, 3D models, and field layout points between the office and the field with Trimble Connect and Field Points; and a similar integration with Trimble Access for sharing topography surveys, staking, and control data between the field and the office. Trimble Connect also includes the ability to place markers (Figure 17) for Trimble’s AR (augmented reality) solutions that are being increasingly used at construction sites (Figure 18).
In addition to integrations with its own extensive family of products as well as supporting a wide variety of model formats that can be uploaded and viewed in its 3D Viewer, Trimble Connect also provides add-ins for popular applications like Autodesk Revit and Navisworks for uploading their models directly to the Trimble Connect collaboration platform (Figure 19).
Since its official launch in October 2014, Trimble Connect has evolved to become Trimble’s key collaboration technology for AEC, available in 17 different languages with projects in 185 countries around the world. In addition to the Museum of the Future project in Dubai shown in Figure 1, there are many more implementation examples described in its customer showcase. While the use of Trimble Connect as the collaboration platform for projects making an overwhelming use of Trimble applications seems a no-brainer, the case it makes for “connected construction” cannot be disputed. The ongoing development of solutions like Trimble Connect should continue to erode the infamous lack of interoperability in the AEC industry.
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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