AECbytes Feature (December 20, 2012)
Last week, I wrote about the general session keynote and two cross-industry "innovation forums" that were held at the recently concluded Autodesk University 2012, along with Autodesk’s new FormIt iPad modeling application and its cloud-based offerings for the building industry. In addition to news and product announcements from Autodesk, one of the key advantages of attending Autodesk University is becoming acquainted with the growing universe of third-party solutions that work with Autodesk products, all on display in the Exhibit Hall. This year, there were many first-time exhibitors, charging the atmosphere with energy, vitality, and enthusiasm. You had to admire their optimism and drive to create new technological solutions, even in today’s uncertain economic climate.
This article provides a brief overview of the software solutions related to the building industry that I saw in the Exhibit Hall at this year’s Autodesk University. I made a special effort to look for new applications, or those that I hadn’t become well acquainted with earlier. Due to lack of time, I couldn’t visit leading hardware vendors like HP, Dell, Lenovo, Canon, and Epson, so this article does not cover hardware updates, which have kept up with the advances in technology in general. And ultimately, it is the software that improves the state of the art in any industry, and going by the solutions that were on display at the Exhibit Hall at Autodesk University 2012, the future of the building industry from a software perspective looks very promising.
While there are already solutions galore for collaboration, including Autodesk’s own new BIM 360 Glue that is part of its cloud-based offerings, some solutions are hoping to stand out by providing a different take on it. One of these new solutions that I saw was REVIZTO, a cloud-based software that can quickly turn Revit and SketchUp projects into interactive, data-rich 3D environments, which can then be shared between all the design team members, allowing them to work together in real-time and anticipate and avoid complications as they arise. It also allows architects to easily share their design ideas with clients, without requiring them to learn any new software. Collaboration can be facilitated by the ability to associate video notes, markers and screenshots with the model, and as shown in Figure 1, REVIZTO can also generate high-quality renderings. REVIZTO, which is Latin for “visual check,” has been developed by VIZERRA, a Russian-based software vendor, and it came to fruition over the last five years when VIZERRA was providing software as a service to global projects, such as city planning for Barcelona and the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.
Figure 1. An example of the quality of visualization of a model in REVIZTO. (Courtesy: VIZERRA).
Another take on collaboration came from Assemble Systems, which has developed what it calls a BIM C.A.V.E. (computer-aided virtual environment), comprising a high-powered graphic workstation and multiple, large-format screens, on which several applications such as Revit, Navisworks, Autodesk Design Review, and so on, can be run simultaneously (see Figure 2). This suite of hardware can be mounted in a board room, construction trailer, or design pin-up space, making it easier for design and construction teams to visualize building information and be immersed in a virtual BIM environment. During coordination meetings, project teams can view details at a scale greater than on a typical monitor, enabling more effective collaboration. Similar to VIZERRA, Assemble Systems is a SaaS (Software as a Service) BIM software developer working on solutions for better collaboration and information management for the AEC industry.
Figure 2. The BIM C.A.V.E on display at Autodesk University. (Courtesy: Assemble Systems).
Another new application I saw at this year’s Autodesk University was Content Studio, a content management solution for Revit. While there have been several such efforts in the past (such as Tectonic BIM Library Manager and BIMLibrary and BIMContentManager from BIMWorld, which were described in my article on AIA 2007), many of them are now defunct, or have been absorbed into Autodesk Seek, Autodesk’s own BIM content portal. Content Studio is intended to eliminate the time usually wasted when hunting for Revit families and components, and enables teams of Revit users to share and reuse content across offices—users can search for and access data stored in any office while maintaining local area network speeds for content upload and storage (see Figure 3). This eliminates the time usually wasted by duplicating content which already exists in another office. In addition to providing a centralized hub for all Revit content, Content Studio has quality management controls to ensure that any content meets specified standards before being included in the system. It also speeds up the time it takes to load and place a Revit family in a Revit model, is “folder-free” for fast family/file access, allows “Just-in-Time” content approvals to accelerate library population and content reuse, and includes reports that provide users and BIM managers with potentially helpful insights into company activity for uploads, downloads, and search history. When you consider that the built-in Revit library contains over 2,700 families in over 400 folders, finding a specific item for use in a project can be quite a laborious task, and this is the pain point that Content Studio hopes to eliminate.
Figure 3. The advantages of Content Studio for centralized management of Revit content. (Courtesy: Content Studio).
Earlier this year, I wrote about SimTread, an add-on to Vectorworks that was demonstrated at the AIA 2012 Expo for simulating crowd movement and analyzing pedestrian flow, allowing the designer of a complex space to better understand the flow of people in it and tailor the design response accordingly. The idea of this kind of analysis seems to be gaining traction, as evidenced by two additional tools for “user simulation” that I saw at Autodesk University: MassMotion by Oasys, which is described here, and Simulex by IES, which is described in the next section. Oasys is a technology spinoff from the leading engineering firm, Arup, and I had heard of their Mail Manager tool for managing email. But it was the demonstration of their MassMotion crowd simulation application at Autodesk University that I found more intriguing. MassMotion is a 3D pedestrian modeling tool where every person in the building or environment is individually represented as an autonomous “agent” with its own preferred speed and liking for stairs, queuing, etc. The model is usually created in a BIM application like Revit, or a 3D CAD application like SketchUp or AutoCAD. The virtual agents that populate the model have behaviors that are based on industry metrics and are calibrated against a number of real-world evacuations. While the underlying algorithms are complex, they are completely invisible to the user, who sees a realistic picture of how people would most likely behave, and can make the best decisions at the early planning stage of a project (see Figure 4). Although MassMotion was primarily developed with emergency evacuation in mind, it also helps designers get a better understanding of how people will behave within a building, allowing them to optimize its operational efficiency and maximize revenue streams for retail, conference and catering facilities.
Figure 4. A detailed rendering of MassMotion user simulation results during the evening peak period at Toronto’s rail station. (Courtesy: Oasys).
Another application that I hadn’t come across before was dRofus, which is a cloud-based tool for space planning, program validation, and data management, making it somewhat similar to Trelligence Affinity, the only dedicated solution for programming and space planning in the AEC industry that I had been aware of. dRofus is developed by a Norwegian company which has 40 years experience in the construction industry and has participated in the planning of major hospital projects in Norway. dRofus was originally developed as a planning system for large, complex hospital projects, but over the last 10 years, it has been developed into a flexible, project-independent application that can be used for all types of building projects, regardless of their complexity or size. It is used in many projects in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and The Netherlands, and is starting to gain traction in the US as well, with adoption by leading firms like HOK. In addition to the planning and mapping of areas, rooms and functions, dRofus supports key business processes including Room Data Sheet (RDS), registration and monitoring of the requirements for each room; FF&E (Furniture, fixtures and equipment) planning, cost control and procurement; and visualizing and checking the designed model using the IFC file format (see Figure 5). Not only can the program check the designed model against the programmed requirements, it can also enrich the IFC model with the requirement data that has been input into dRofus. And because all the data is stored centrally on the cloud, everyone involved has access to the most up-to-date data at any time.
Figure 5. Overview of rooms in a project in dRofus, along with the ability to visualize the model using the IFC file format. (Courtesy: dRofus).
Rounding off the list of new solutions on display at this year’s Autodesk University, I saw a solution in the category of “BIM for FM” that seemed quite different because it was more of a service, rather than a software solution you could just buy off the shelf, install, and deploy. (See an overview of BIM for FM solutions in last year’s article, BIM for Facilities Management.) It is called YouBIM and is developed by the company ENGworks, which was formerly called CADworks and was best known for developing Revit MEP content. (The inspiration for the name change came from the merger in June of CADworks and ENGStudios.) YouBIM is yet another “'software as a service' (SAAS) cloud-based solution,” except that, in contrast to most of the other cloud products, it is developed for the FM/maintenance/operation of a facility rather than for the design and construction phases. With YouBIM, you don’t actually buy an FM product; instead, you sign up for the YouBIM service and send in all the building models of your facility, which are then compiled by the company into a web-based FM-specific interface. The service is commissioned by the building owner in most cases, and it delivers a true 3D navigation model of their facility, hosted on secure cloud servers, accessible anywhere and anytime, and tied to a complete FM engine, with little to no infrastructure investment on their end. The interface is developed to be easy to use and includes FM related features such as OEM, Trouble Tickets, Scheduled Maintenance, and so on. There is the additional option to integrate with IBM’s Maximo application for additional FM tasks.
Figure 6. The interface of the cloud-based FM solution, YouBIM. (Courtesy: ENGworks).
At Autodesk University this year, I got a chance to learn more about CodeBook, which is a BIM collaboration and information management solution designed to help designers, owners and managers create a storehouse of information about the origins, design, construction and use of any complex building. It integrates with Revit and other BIM applications, linking to models, sharing data, and providing detailed reports and validations throughout the design and construction phases of a project, as well as through occupancy and beyond (see Figure 7). Developed by CodeBook International, which is a frequent exhibitor at Autodesk University, CodeBook first originated in the UK and maintains a strong presence there, especially in the design of healthcare facilities. (See the article on technology adoption at MAAP—an architecture firm specializing in medical projects in the UK—describing how they use CodeBook.) It now has partners and customers around the globe. In addition to capturing, storing, and allowing full interaction with all relevant information across the life cycle of a building, which is important for its efficient functionality and economic viability, CodeBook allows the design brief to be developed from the earliest stages by different team members, links all subsequent design activity to it, and validates design changes as they are made. Teams can test ideas based on the original brief, resolving functional problems before committing to any change. One of CodeBook’s key strengths is that it can generate and manage room data-sheets (RDSs) and create document sets during building design. CodeBook recently launched a mobile version of its application for collecting and validating data for commissioning, punch lists and other asset management tasks. The data collected with the tablet-compatible app is automatically synchronized with the CodeBook database back in the office.
Figure 7. The CodeBook database of a hospital project that was modeled in Revit. (Courtesy: CodeBook International).
While IES was exhibiting the latest in its performance analysis suite of applications that I typically write about, I was very interested in its Simulex application this year, having seen MassMotion by Oasys, described in the previous section, and SimTread at the AIA 2012 Expo earlier this year. It turns out that Simulex was the pioneering application in user simulation, but was limited to 2D plan views in the past, which is why it may have been overlooked. The application now has a 3D viewer that makes for a more compelling user experience and provides advanced animation capabilities while investigating building egress (see Figure 8). The viewer animates occupant movement on each floor of the building, while allowing the user to "fly round" the building for easier visual analysis. The core functionality of the application remains the same: allowing a user to define a building and its occupants, and simulate how they move around a building day-to-day and evacuate during an emergency. It can help to identify potential problems and bottlenecks and find solutions to ensure that everybody gets out quickly and safely in an emergency. It can actually predict how long it will take for all occupants to reach the exits, based on the number of people left in the building at any time.
Figure 8. The original user simulation tool, Simulex, now has a 3D viewer that provides a more compelling user experience. (Courtesy: IES).
I had a chance to catch up with updates at Solibri, which develops the model-checking application, Solibri Model Checker, reviewed in AECbytes last year. Solibri Model Checker allows checking BIM models for potential problems, conflicts, or design code violations, and also includes visualization, walkthrough, interference detection, model comparison, and information takeoff capabilities. Solibri recently released version 8 of the application, which features enhancements to the BIM-based quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) capabilities that are the heart of the application, by automatically selecting the most relevant tasks and required rulesets for a selected QA/QC role. The new version also includes an at-a-glance assessment of the quality of the model with a new “Result Summary” view that measures the “issue density” of the model, as well as the ability to customize the rules that are using for model-checking. It is now possible to modify a rule, then immediately use the modified rule for model checking. There is also some COBie support—COBie data can be imported into the information takeoff module of the application and then visualized (see Figure 9). In addition, some COBie-specific rules can also be created. Solibri also recently announced a $21 million grant program that North American Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s) can use to acquire Solibri Model Checker technology and receive assistance in incorporating BIM into the digital review process.
Figure 9. Visualizing COBie data in Solibri Model Checker. (Courtesy: Solibri).
And finally, I was able to see the enhancements in the latest version of Ideate BIMLink, a tool that plugs into Revit and allows users to access, analyze, control, edit, extract, and manage project data (see Figure 10). It creates a bidirectional link between Revit and Microsoft Excel, allowing the BIM data from a Revit model to be pulled easily into Excel as well as pushed back from Excel to Revit. (It was described in detail in my article on the RTC 2011 conference.) The new version of Ideate BIMLink features new Revit workflows that can further ensure the integrity, stability and quality of the BIM data from Revit, including license borrowing (for Revit 2013 only), multi-category links, smart filtering that allows selected items to be excluded when exporting data, the ability to read and write to existing Excel files, and support for coordinate (XYZ) and project info data. Ideate also develops Ideate Explorer for Revit, which has been upgraded to work with Revit 2013.
Figure 10. Viewing the data from a Revit model in Excel, where it can be more easily managed, using Ideate BIMLink. (Courtesy: Ideate).
This concludes my two-part overview of Autodesk University 2012, as well as AECbytes’ offerings for 2012. Best wishes for a great New Year, and I look forward to returning with fresh content in 2013.
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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