GRAPHISOFT KCC 2017 AECbytes Newsletter #88 (June 15, 2017)

For the past few years, GRAPHISOFT has been hosting an annual invitation-only event that brings together its key clients across the world. Called the Key Client Conference (KCC), the 2017 event was held a couple of weeks ago in Kyoto, Japan, and the opportunity to attend it enabled me to get a much better understanding of the use of GRAPHISOFT’s products at a global level rather than primarily in North America where I am based. While I was aware that GRAPHISOFT was a significant player in other countries—it is after all headquartered in Budapest and therefore has a strong European presence; also, one of the first case studies of BIM implementation that I wrote about was of ARCHICAD in Australia (see the article, “The Eureka Tower: A Case Study of Advanced BIM Implementation” published in 2004)—I, like most AEC technology enthusiasts in the US, did not realize the extent to which GRAPHISOFT was popular in Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. What was also eye-opening for me was to see the extent to which GRAPHISOFT’s users appreciated the company and its products, and reciprocally, the extent to which GRAPHISOFT went out of its way to support its customers and their requirements. It seemed to be to be a truly symbiotic relationship, and while it does not guarantee a company with this philosophy and modus operandi the top position in the area in which it operates, it does assure the company of a loyal user base who remain committed to it and provide it with the incentive to continually improve its offerings.

The KCC 2017 event comprised updates from GRAPHISOFT, the global launch of ARCHICAD 21, and an overview of several third party solutions working with GRAPHISOFT products. The majority of the event, however, was devoted to presentations from GRAPHISOFT customers across the world, sharing their work and how they were using GRAPHISOFT solutions, not just for architecture but also for construction.

Updates from GRAPHISOFT

From a business perspective, the company seems to be on a strong footing. We saw a customer density map which showed the use of GRAPHISOFT products in AEC firms all over the world, with the highest concentrations in Europe, Asia, and N. America. The growth numbers are also promising, particularly in Asia, where the usage went from 17% in 2015 to 42% in 2016, and in Europe, where the corresponding numbers went from 15% in 2015 to 21% in 2016. In N. America, the usage stayed relatively flat, which was hardly surprising given the dominance of Autodesk Revit, and to a smaller extent, Bentley’s BIM applications. Another promising statistic was that 55% of GRAPHISOFT’s business was coming from new customers. Overall, the BIM “pie” is growing worldwide, which means a bigger share for ARCHICAD as well.

Since GRAPHISOFT is part of the publicly traded Nemetschek Group—it was acquired by Nemetschek over 10 years ago—it is assured of some level of financial stability, which means that it does not have to be obsessed with overall market share and maximizing profitability. Of course, it does have financial objectives to meet, which it does, but not having to constantly worry about competing on its own with companies like Autodesk and Bentley in the AEC industry allows it to continue its single-minded focus on its products and its customers. It wants to do the best at what it does, and it measures its success by the success of its customers. These constitute the core DNA of the company, which the Nemetschek acquisition has allowed, not just to be sustained but to actually flourish.

Another advantage of being part of the Nemetschek Group with several other products (Figure 1) is that GRAPHISOFT’s strong support of interoperability has been able to thrive in the form of OpenBIM. This is an initiative GRAPHISOFT had started with Tekla, and it has now been broadly adopted by the buildingSMART organization (developer of the IFC format) to promote open standards and workflows between AEC applications for collaborative design, construction, and operation of buildings. The idea is that all members of the building team should be able to use any application they need for their work and be able to share information with other members using their own applications of choice. While it certainly must have been tempting for Nemetschek to build one-on-one exchanges between the different products in its portfolio to provide integrated AEC offerings that can compete with Autodesk’s and Bentley’s multi-disciplinary applications, the company has stayed firm to its OpenBIM commitment, of which GRAPHISOFT is a leader. All the products in Nemetschek’s portfolio follow the OpenBIM philosophy, which means that they communicate and work together through the IFC.

Figure 1. The different AEC product brands under the Nemetschek Group.

In terms of products, the company believes in going deep rather than broad, and it has continued to focus on developing and improving its three main products: ARCHICAD, BIMx, and BIMcloud. ARCHICAD is, of course, its flagship product, and GRAPHISOFT has continued to release a new version of ARCHICAD ever year, with each version featuring one breakthrough improvement among many others. (See my reviews of ARCHICAD 20 released last year, as well as ARCHICAD 19 and ARCHICAD 18 from earlier years.) The breakthrough feature in this year’s release, ARCHICAD 21, is an intelligent rule-based stair design system based on what GRAPHISOFT refers to as “predictive design” technology. It was demonstrated at the conference, along with other key features, in the global launch of ARCHICAD 21, and is described in the following section.

While ARCHICAD is, at its core, an architectural BIM application, several construction firms, particularly in Asia, have started using it to create construction models, and GRAPHISOFT’s BIMx and BIMcloud products are specifically intended to support these expanded ARCHICAD workflows from design to construction. BIMx is a mobile app than can bundle the complete project information, including both 3D views and 2D drawings, of an ARCHICAD project into an integrated “hyper-model” for viewing and navigation on a mobile device (Figure 2). Using this app, all project stakeholders can quickly access the complete construction documentation of a building, including at the job site. The interface is very intuitive to use, and the app continues to be enhanced with features such as VR support, the ability to generate panoramic views to share on social media, a Smart Measure tool to get precise data from the 3D model or the 2D plans, and links to popular cloud storage services like iCloud or Dropbox so projects can be stored there. Further, if the BIMx project is stored in BIMcloud—GRAPHISOFT’s third main product—it can be accessed by multiple team members who can collaborate on the project using messaging, redlining and photo attachments.

Figure 2. The BIMx app on an Android tablet, showing the integrated 2D and 3D information of a project.

Moving on to BIMcloud, it is not merely a cloud storage solution for ARCHICAD projects; it is specifically intended for teamwork, when multiple team members need to access the project—in ARCHICAD or in BIMx—simultaneously to work on it together. It consists of one central BIMcloud Manager, any number of BIMcloud Servers and any number of BIMcloud clients (ARCHICAD or BIMx) connected through the BIMcloud Manager (Figure 3). BIMcloud can be deployed in any public or private network environment, on premise or on a cloud platform. While currently, only ARCHICAD and BIMx can be directly connected to BIMcloud, GRAPHISOFT is looking to expand its API (Application Programming Interface) to open it up to work with third-party applications. GRAPHISOFT is also continuing to improve its integration with both ARCHICAD and BIMx so that the collaboration it enables is faster, more seamless, and more efficient.

Figure 3. A diagram showing the basic components of BIMcloud.

ARCHICAD 21

The global launch of the new version of ARCHICAD was held at the KCC event, as mentioned earlier, giving us the opportunity to see it live. The most significant feature of this release is a new Stair and accompanying Railing tool powered by a technology called “predictive design,” which encapsulates widely used design standards such as those in reference books like Neufert's Architects' Data to drive the creation of intelligent tools that can automate different aspects of design. In the case of ARCHICAD 21, this technology has been applied to the design of stairs, which are governed by several standards such as the tread width, riser height, optimum riser-to-tread ratio, landing placement and configuration, and so on (Figure 4). It is great to finally see such tools for BIM starting to emerge (see “Why Isn't There a Smarter BIM Tool for Building Design, Yet?” written over two years ago). Of course, we need many more of these smart tools for different design aspects that can use established design standards to help AEC professionals design more quickly and efficiently, leaving them with the time and the energy to focus more on high-level tasks. Essentially, anything in the design that can be modeled on the basis of rules should be automated.

Figure 4. The recommended standards for stair design, as specified in the widely used reference book, Neufert's Architects' Data.

While I will be describing the new smart Stair and Railing tools in detail in my upcoming review of ARCHICAD 21 later this summer, a brief illustration showing how they work is demonstrated in Figure 5. The standards underlying the stair design can be configured, and the railings can be associated with stairs as well as slabs, so that they can be quickly created by selecting the top and bottom points, almost as if you were sketching them right on top of the 3D model. If the stair is modified, the railing changes accordingly. While it may seem schematic as you are modeling these stairs and railings, they are actually being modeled in detail with all their individual components such as bars and railings, based on the railing type that was specified in the Railings dialog box.

Figure 5. Using the new Stair and Railing tools to quickly design stairs and associated railings based on standards with minimal input. The last screenshot shows that despite seeming schematic, they are actually modeled in full detail.

Other key features in ARCHICAD 21 include continued improvements in the bi-directional Rhino/Grasshopper integration that had been introduced in the last version (Figure 6); the ability to place external IFC model content created by consultants—such as structural or MEP engineers—as hotlinks into ARCHICAD design projects; the ability to run clash detection between these hotlinked models; a new Classification Manager that allows the different elements in the model to be classified based on standards such as MasterFormat and Omniclass, which in turn can be useful in downstream processes such as scheduling and quantity takeoff; and several additional productivity enhancements for modeling, documentation, visualization, model management, and collaboration. All of these will be discussed in depth in my upcoming review of ARCHICAD 21.        

Figure 6. The Grasshopper-ARCHICAD integration allows ARCHICAD geometry to be algorithmically generated from a Grasshopper script.

Third Party Solutions

There were a surprising number of third-party solutions that work with GRAPHISOFT products being exhibited at the KCC event—surprising because I wasn't aware of so many prior to this. To be fair, several of them were specific to Japan and neighboring countries, and it seemed a pity that they were not globalized and made available to GRAPHISOFT customers worldwide. One solution I was especially impressed by was called FlowDesigner, and as the name suggests, it is an airflow simulation tool that allows you to import an IFC model (from ARCHICAD or any BIM authoring tool that can export a good IFC model), specific the location of the project and some parameters related to the wind speed and direction in that location, and quickly visualize the wind flow, both outside and inside the building (Figure 7). In addition to airflow, it also simulates thermal distribution, using CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) technology. The latest enhancement is VR support, so the airflow can be visualized immersively through VR glasses. FlowDesigner is developed by a Tokyo based company, Advanced Knowledge Laboratory.

Figure 7. Simulation of air flow and temperature distribution in an IFC model of an arena imported into FlowDesigner.

Other third-party solutions that were exhibited at KCC include REBRO, a sophisticated BIM application for mechanical engineering that works with an IFC file exported from ARCHICAD (Figure 8) and which can also display the MEP information about a project in BIMx; CADEWA Real, another MEP application but one that is primarily focused on the creation of fabrication models (Figure 9); Helios, a BIM-based quantity surveying and estimating system; BIMS, a BIM issue management system similar to BIMcollab; smartCON Planner, a temporary construction work planning system that facilitates faster and more accurate planning and decision-making though the 3D modeling of temporary construction structures within ARCHICAD (Figure 10); UCforBIMcloud, a cloud server specifically designed to host GRAPHISOFT’s BIMcloud in Japan; and finally, two products that are now part of the Nemetschek family—Bluebeam, for electronic publishing and collaboration, and dRofus, a planning and data management tool for the AEC industry.

Figure 8. The MEP BIM application, REBRO, working with an imported ARCHICAD model.

Figure 9. The CADEWA Real application that can work with an ARCHICAD design for creating MEP fabrication models.

Figure 10. The smartCON Planner application being used to model temporary construction structures within ArchiCAD.

Customer Presentations

As mentioned earlier, the majority of the KCC event was devoted to presentations from GRAPHISOFT customers across the world, sharing their work and how they were using GRAPHISOFT solutions, not just for architecture but also for construction. Their presentations were so wide-ranging, interesting, and informative, that it is impossible to do justice to them within a section of this already lengthy article. I will plan a dedicated article on them later this month. As a teaser, however, I did want to showcase an example of a building design by the firm, fjmt Studio, headquartered in Australia, which inspired ARCHICAD’s new Stair and Railing tools (Figure 11), as well as the use of Solibri Model Checker—used by most of the firms who presented at KCC—for clash detection and coordination of an ARCHICAD model exported in IFC format by the London-based firm, John Robertson Architects (Figure 12).

Figure 11. The building design which inspired the new Stair and Railing tools in ARCHICAD 21 (Image courtesy: fjmt Studio).

Figure 12. John Robertson Architects uses Solibri Model Checker for clash detection and coordination of an ARCHICAD model exported as IFC, following the OpenBIM philosophy (Image courtesy: John Robertson Architects, Pantelis Ioannidis).

Conclusions

The KCC event served to reiterate GRAPHISOFT's customer-centered philosophy and its focus on technology. The company may have a limited number of products, but the ones it does have are nicely designed and work well—there's nothing slipshod about them. Sure, they could always be smarter, more intelligent, have more capabilities, work faster, be easier to use, and so on and so forth—just as with any software—but given the resources the company has and in comparison with similar applications, ARCHICAD and BIMx are excellent products. BIMcloud works mostly behind the scenes at this point, so it’s difficult to evaluate its interface and ease of use, but judging by the number of firms using it worldwide, it seems to be doing what it was intended to do.

The new release of ARCHICAD has made a good start at upping the “intelligence quotient” of BIM with its smart Stair tool. Hopefully, we see many more examples of such tools in ARCHICAD and other BIM applications going forward where computers do more of the work for us. BIMx seems to have evolved into a powerful and sophisticated application that is being widely used by GRAPHISOFT’s customers, and it is also helping to give ARCHICAD an edge since you can create a fully hyperlinked BIMx model only from ARCHICAD.

If there was one aspect of GRAPHISOFT’s vision that I found somewhat disappointing, it was the lack of any plans to expand its BIM expertise to infrastructure modeling (see the article, “Extending BIM to Infrastructure”). Given that this is the next big thing—both Autodesk and Bentley are ramping up their solutions for infrastructure design—and we obviously need to scale up from buildings to larger urban areas, I found this to be a glaring omission, not just for GRAPHISOFT but also for Nemetschek, which does not have any dedicated solutions for infrastructure in its portfolio.

But for building design and construction, there is no doubt that GRAPHISOFT seems to be at the top of its game.

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 lachmi@aecbytes.com.


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