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AECbytes Product Review (April 30, 2006)

Graphisoft Change Manager

Product Summary

Graphisoft Change Manager is a new application that automates the process of checking for drawing revisions across two or more complete construction drawing sets.

Pros: First of its kind; relatively inexpensive; simple to implement and learn; can work quickly with drawing sets comprising thousands of files; works with the industry-leading DWG format; provides three different types of viewing modes to view changes; incorporates workflow capability allowing it to be used by an entire project team to review the changes and assign different revisions to different team members.

Cons: Does not work with file formats other than DWG; works only with drawings rather than models, making its long-term viability in a future BIM world uncertain.

Price: $895.

Of all the BIM solution providers, Graphisoft has been leading in the development of BIM solutions for construction. In December 2004, it launched its Virtual Construction suite comprising two products: Graphisoft Constructor and Graphisoft Estimator (see AECbytes Newsletter #15). The Constructor application includes the ArchiCAD modeling system for creating 3D construction models, a 4D sequencer for automatically linking the construction model to the project schedule and enabling different schedule alternatives to be analyzed, and a connector to the Estimator application that comes bundled with the product. The stand-alone Estimator application includes a model-based estimating system that extracts quantity information from the construction model for producing estimates quickly and accurately, a traditional estimating system for easing the transition from manual takeoff-based estimating to model-based estimating, a module for dividing the resources created by the estimating application in production zones and for generating procurement requirements, and a 5D reporting system that uses the construction model as the link between cost and time and produces cost-loaded schedules for financial analysis.

A couple of months ago, Graphisoft further extended its repertoire of construction solutions with the launch of a brand new product, Change Manager. This is a drawing-based rather than model-based solution, more focused on professional practice as it is currently conducted rather than the future BIM-oriented scenario in the AEC industry. Graphisoft Change Manager automates the process of checking for drawing revisions across complete construction drawing sets, and works with all DWG files created by AutoCAD Release 14 and above. Targeted towards the needs of construction companies, subcontractors and engineers, it is designed to enable members of a project team to easily identify, communicate and manage changes in construction document sets that have an impact on time, cost and schedule. Change Manager actually started out an internal tool developed by Graphisoft for its consulting services to the construction sector that followed from the launch of its Virtual Construction solutions. It had to find changes and update drawings in documentation sets ranging from 100 to over 1000 files, and did not find any commercially available solutions that addressed this problem. Most existing products only compared two drawings at a time. So Graphisoft went about developing such a tool for its own consulting services, and subsequently found that its usefulness warranted a version for commercial use as well. And that is how Change Manager was born.

Let's see how it works.

Comparing Two Document Sets

Change Manager is a relatively simply application, and can be easily learnt by going through each of the 13 short training videos listed in the Startup window when the application is launched (see Figure 1). No other training is necessary. It basically comprises six steps: defining the document sets to be compared; specifying how they should be compared; viewing the comparison results; assigning tasks to the different team members; reviewing the status of individual assignments; and reviewing the entire project history. The commands for executing these six steps are located in a Project Explorer window at the left of the Change Manager interface. An additional utility is provided for the administration of the underlying database used by the application.


Figure 1. The Startup dialog of Change Manager, providing links to all the training videos needed to learn the application.

The starting point in Change Manager is to create a project comprising the two (or more) sets of drawing files that are to be compared, which would be stored in separate folders on the computer or server. A folder containing a drawing set is referred to as a "version." Thus, every project will need to have at least two versions. When you create a version, you can specify its file path to a specific folder, as well as give it a name and a description.

The second step is to create a comparison specification that designates which is the older and newer version, and also defines how the comparison of the drawing sets should take place. Figure 2 shows this specification being created for a project with two versions of a document set: a 95% complete version contained in the folder CM1, and a 100% complete version contained in the folder CM2. Once the two versions are selected for comparison, the application quickly scans the files in both folders and presents a synchronized list, showing the pairs of files that match each other by name in the same row, and the files from the two sets that do not match in separate rows. You can now specify exactly what you want to compare. As shown in the lower part of the dialog in Figure 2, three comparisons have been specified: the entire versions at the folder level (which will compare the matching files in both folders); and two individual drawings that have different names in the two sets. This basic comparison specification can be further fine-tuned in a Comparison Settings dialog box, which contains various options related to model and layout space, entity colors, text and line styles, dimension style and dimension scale, layers, and so on.


Figure 2 . Defining a comparison specification for two versions of a document set: a 95% complete version versus a 100% complete version.

Once the comparison specification has been created and fine-tuned, the next step is to actually run the comparison. The time it takes for this process depends upon the number and complexity of the files, and runs anywhere from seconds to minutes. The comparison results are displayed in a tabular form as shown in Figure 3, under different categories of files such as New, Deleted, Changed, Unchanged, and Unopenable. If you go to the Changed category and select a file, different options at the top get activated, allowing the file to be viewed, skipped for the time being, ignored, prioritized, or assigned to a specific team member from the list displayed on the right.


Figure 3. Viewing the results of the comparison specified in Figure 2, and assigning different revisions to different members for review.

Viewing Modes and Workflow Capabilities

An important functionality of Change Manager, in addition to comparing document sets, is the workflow capability shown in Figure 3, allowing it to be used by an entire project team to review the changes and assign different revisions to different members. At any point, all the tasks currently assigned to each team member can be checked by running the My Assignments command from the Project Explorer. Here, in addition to reviewing all their assignments, each team member can also select a particular assignment and perform various actions: view it in one of three different viewing modes (see Figures 4 and 5), ignore it, skip it for the time being, add notes to it, reassign it to another team member, or delete it.

Change Manager provides three different kinds of viewing modes to review the changes made to a drawing. All three modes involve overlaying the old version and the new version of the drawing and showing the changes in different ways. The default viewing mode is Highlight, in which different changes are shown in different colors as specified by the user. This viewing mode for two different drawings, one plan and one section, is shown in Figure 4.


Figure 4. The default Highlight viewing mode, shown for two different revised drawings.

Of the other two drawing modes, the Slider allows you to drag a horizontal or vertical slider bar across the image to see each of the two overlaid drawings, while Reveal offsets the old drawing and allows you to adjust the offset distance as well as the transparency so that you can see the old and the new juxtaposed against each other. Both these viewing modes for the same section drawing are shown in Figure 5, at the top and the bottom respectively. Should comments or questions arise related to any changes, Change Manager provides a tool for adding a cloud and associating a comment with it, as shown in the middle image of Figure 5. This cloud can then be reassigned as a new task to another team member.


Figure 5. The Slider and Reveal viewing modes for the same drawing, shown at the top and bottom respectively. The middle image shows a cloud being added in the Slider viewing mode, and a note being associated with the cloud.

In all the viewing modes, basic navigation tools are available to zoom in and out, scroll, and return to the original view which fits the entire drawing on the screen. Also, a Layers option allows you to turn the visibility of specific layers on and off in the view. At any point, you can do a screen capture of a portion of a view to use in reports, email, and so on.

Rounding off the capabilities of Change Manager are the Review Assignments and the History commands. Review Assignments allows all the assignments of each individual team member to be viewed to see their current status, as well as other information such as the date they were assigned, who they were assigned by, and the priority they were given. To know what happened to every assignment throughout the history of the project, you would use the History command, the last one in the Project Explorer (see Figure 6). Here, you can also view all the notes that were associated with individual drawings and clouds in the project.


Figure 6. Viewing the status of all the assignments of the project using the History feature.

Analysis and Conclusions

Priced at $895, Change Manager is a relatively inexpensive application that is easy to implement and learn. It also solves a definite pain point in current professional practice, addressing a problem that has not been tackled before. For any AEC professional such as a contractor, sub-contractor, engineer, or architect who often has to compare large document sets to find out what has been changed, Change Manager would be an easy choice of application to make.

The only limitation of the application at this point is that it is restricted to the DWG file format, but considering that the majority of the industry is still using this format, this can hardly be regarded as a severe handicap. Graphisoft is working on adding PDF support, so that Change Manager will eventually be capable of working with both DWG and PDF files.

Looking ahead, it is pertinent to ask whether such a tool would still be relevant some years down the road when more of the AEC industry moves towards creating 3D models for design and construction, and the use of drawings would be diminished, if not eliminated altogether. Will Graphisoft Change Manager then evolve to support a comparison of 3D models as well, and if so, what file formats will it support, considering that there is no leading file format for 3D yet as there is for 2D? Or will the whole process of revisions and changes be so much more efficient in a BIM world that there will be no need of a "change manager" as such? These are interesting questions, especially as they come when Graphisoft has just announced a new release of its flagship BIM application, ArchiCAD 10, which should push the gaining momentum of BIM even further in the AEC industry.

For now, however, the new Graphisoft Change Manager is an undoubtedly useful application and should soon find its niche among the repertoire of tools used in the AEC industry.

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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