AECbytes Newsletter #68 (March 18, 2014)

AEC Technology Updates, Spring 2014

It’s been barely six months that the last AEC Tech Updates article was published, and there are already so many developments in the AEC technology industry that it’s time for an update again. In this article, we will look at the new version of Tekla Structures that has just been released; a new  ColorByNumber plug-in for Revit; the ability of Sefaira to now perform daylighting analysis in addition to energy analysis; the launch of EcoDesigner STAR by Graphisoft for ArchiCAD-based energy analysis; a new cloud-based project collaboration and workflow management solution called Kenesto; a new version of the collaboration and model review solution, BIMreview; the next generation of the ArchiCAD-based FM tool,; and finally, the ability to create accurate building floorplan survey data using the Orthograph app on the iPad.

BIM Applications and Plug-ins

Tekla is set to release a new version of its popular BIM application for structural design, detailing, and fabrication, Tekla Structures 20. The new version improves construction workflow efficiency with improved tools for managing the vast amounts of constructible building information needed for contemporary structures, including an Organizer that delivers more efficient model information management and increased automation (Figure 1); a Task Manager that offers a systematic way to plan detailing, fabrication, and erection on site; and a Clash Check Manager that allows communicating, assigning, coordinating and avoiding structural conflicts before they occur on the construction site. In addition, the constructible models created with Tekla can now incorporate more detailed information than before, enabling them to better capture the information needed for shop drawings, production, and purchase of elements and materials. It also includes more connections to architectural and design solutions to assist the workflow between project teams and subcontractors using different types of applications.

Figure 1. The new Organizer in Tekla Structures 20 for managing and accessing the model information, such as the construction crane shown in this example. (Courtesy: Tekla)

On the Revit front, there is a new plug-in called ColorByNumber created by two Revit ex-developers, which lets users color, select, and isolate Revit elements based on parameter values. Color-coding can be applied to any Revit element with this plug-in, much like room color fills and filters. Users can choose what category and what parameter they want to color (see Figure 2). Colors are automatically assigned to each unique parameter value, which users can modify if they like. The plug-in also allows elements to be isolated or highlighted by selecting their parameter values in the ColorByNumber dialog. The plug-in is currently available as a pre-release trial version.

Figure 2. Using the ColorByNumber Revit plug-in to color elements based on parameters. (Courtesy: BIMray)

Performance Analysis

In the area of performance analysis, Sefaira, a cloud-based energy analysis tool for the early design stage (see AECbytes Newsletter #59 for an overview) now includes daylighting analysis as well, combining two critical design metrics in the same tool within their design environment. The new daylighting analysis will be available to start with in Sefaira’s SketchUp plug-in, enabling architects using SketchUp for early stage conceptual design to more easily balance trade-offs between energy and daylight as they study form, orientation and facade design when deploying Sefaira for performance analysis. It provides key metrics like Spatial Daylight Autonomy, an indicator of the amount of daylight a space receives (Figure 3), and Annual Sunlight Exposure, a measure of direct sunlight and an indicator of potential glare and comfort issues. Sefaira’s new daylighting analysis capability will eventually also be available in the Revit plug-in that Sefaira launched at the recent Autodesk University event.

Figure 3. Daylighting analysis of a SketchUp model using the Sefaira plug-in. (Courtesy: Sefaira)

Another key development in performance analysis is the launch of EcoDesigner STAR by Graphisoft, the next generation of its BIM-integrated energy analysis tool that works as a plug-in to ArchiCAD, enabling multiple thermal zone Building Energy Models (BEM) to be derived from the project BIM. Recall that starting with version 16, ArchiCAD included a built-in energy evaluation functionality which was enabled by integrating Graphisoft’s first-generation energy analysis plug-in called EcoDesigner that was launched in 2010. EcoDesigner STAR offers a higher-end energy analysis than ArchiCAD’s built-in functionality. It includes hourly energy simulation based on weather conditions and operation profiles, collaboration capability to enable designers and energy consultants to work together on energy optimization design strategies, analysis based on compliance with industry standards, advanced energy model visualization, the ability to produce detailed energy performance documentation, advanced export interfaces such as gbXML and PHPP to enable data export from ArchiCAD to local building energy code compliance calculation applications, and several other capabilities. EcoDesigner STAR was developed by Graphisoft in partnership with StruSoft, a Swedish software development company that develops specialized software applications for analysis and design, the precast industry, structural detailing, and energy modeling for the building industry.

Figure 4. The thermal blocks in an ArchiCAD model automatically detected by EcoDesigner STAR for energy analysis. (Courtesy: Graphisoft)

Project Collaboration and Review

I recently came across a new cloud-based project collaboration and workflow management solution, Kenesto, that helps companies organize, manage and collaborate around their project information, including files, tasks, business processes, and other related data. It is intended to serve several different industries, of which the AEC industry is a key one. Given that there are so many collaboration solutions and platforms already available for the AEC industry, what makes Kenesto different is the way it uses the cloud to enable companies to work and collaborate in new and more effective ways across their teams, enterprises and value chains. Kenesto additionally incorporates the benefits of social interaction for team discussions, file and content sharing, collaboration, project organization, task management, etc. Every item in the system, including documents, tasks and workflows, are augmented through a connected discussion.  Stand-alone discussions can also be started to enable team members and groups to engage more effectively around project topics, issues, design decisions and more. Some of Kenesto’s AEC-specific features include BIM and CAD file sharing, review and mark-up; model browsing (see Figure 5), requests for information, quotes, proposals (RFI/RFQ/RFP); quantity take-offs; on-device and cloud rendering; invoicing and contract management; bid process management; and others.

Figure 5. The model browsing in Kenesto’s project collaboration and workflow management solution. (Courtesy: Kenesto)

Another collaboration solution that I recently had the chance to learn more about is BIMreview, which is not only AEC-specific but also BIM-specific. Version 7 of the application has recently been released which enables import of BIM models and associated data from multiple CAD authoring tools, letting users simultaneously view multiple models in one application. The models can be imported through API links that BIMreview has with the leading BIM applications as well as from formats such as IFC, STEP, IGES, and CIS/2 that BIMreview supports. The tool also includes collaborative review and visualization capabilities with clash verification, mark-up, sequencing (see Figure 6), and planning features. It has a lot of the capabilities of Navisworks and is inexpensive in comparison, so it’s an alternative AEC firms might consider looking into.

Figure 6. Creating a construction sequence in BIMreview. (Courtesy: AceCad Software)

Facilities Management

The article BIM for Facilities Management published in 2011 looked at several applications in the field of BIM for FM (facilities management) and provided a detailed overview of ArchiFM, an FM tool that was integrated with Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD BIM application. Since then, the application has been superseded by the cloud-based, the next generation of ArchiCAD-based facilities management. is built on top of ArchiFM, so it inherits all its functionality and adds many more capabilities for facilities management as well as operations and maintenance. It is still fully integrated with ArchiCAD and uses all the FM related data from the ArchiCAD BIM model, including MEP information. It also supports ArchiCAD’s COBIe compliant models for building maintenance. Since runs in a web browser, it is available as a SaaS (Software as a Service) remote access application for a monthly subscription, allowing it to be easily used by FM firms without any dedicated IT resources. Firms can also choose to purchase and locally install it on their own server. Regardless of how it is deployed, the interface organizes all essential FM operations grouped according to task or work phase such that they are accessible via a single click. For example, one click is need to look though lease contracts in the premises structure, file a new maintenance request, granting approval to start maintenance work, carry out an asset inventory, and so on. Figure 7 shows the main screen of the application that lists all the main facility management tasks along with their individual operations. This screen can be customized if required.

Figure 7. The main screen of, grouping individual FM tasks into categories from where they can be launched using a single click. (Courtesy: Vintocon)

And finally, another related product offering is Orthograph, which focuses on creating mobile data collection software for floorplan survey and inventory of buildings for further use. Like, it is also integrated with ArchiCAD and has a plug-in that can convert the captured building data into an ArchiCAD BIM model. OrthoGraph is an app that runs on an iPad—an Android version is in the works—that lets you create detailed and precise floor plans on site (see Figure 8). You can use the traditional iPad finger gestures to sketch the room boundaries, and the app converts the manual sketch intelligently into walls. The dimension and angles can be adjusted based on the actual measurements of the space. Orthograph supports the use of a laser distance meter tool such as a Leica distometer, which can allow the measurements to be very accurate. If the height is also measured, the 3D model can be correctly created as well. There are tools for creating common building elements such as doors, windows, and so on, and even some furniture elements. The app lets you see a realistic 3D view of the surveyed data, and can provide detailed reports on the rooms including floor areas, surface areas, etc.  A new development in the app is the ability to create PDF room books of the surveyed data, showing all the rooms with their drawings, furniture list, sizes, calculations, and the images shot on-site, etc. for a project. Orthograph comes with an optional CAD converter that allows the drawing to be converted to any desktop CAD application using the DXF file format. It also supports the IFC format that enables export to any BIM application. And finally, there is also a dedicated ArchiCAD Import Module that can convert the surveyed data directly to an ArchiCAD BIM model.

Figure 8. The Orthograph floorplan survey app running on an iPad. (Courtesy: Orthograph)



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 can be reached at


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