Allplan 2019AECbytes Review (November 27, 2018)
The 2019 version of Allplan, the flagship BIM application from the Nemetschek Group, which was released earlier last month builds up on the 2018 release, which was reviewed in AECbytes around this time last year. Headquartered in Germany, the Nemetschek Group, which is now publicly traded and the parent company of leading AEC applications such as ARCHICAD, Vectorworks, SCIA, RISA, Solibri, Bluebeam, dRofus, and Maxon, actually started off in 1963 with Allplan as its main product. Allplan was spun off as a separate company, ALLPLAN, in 2008, and it has expanded the application to include Architecture, Engineering, and most recently, Allplan Bridge. The company is also establishing a corporate presence in the US and has recently opened an office in West Chester, Pennsylvania as part of its aggressive international growth strategy to bring the benefits of digital infrastructure construction and BIM enabled by Allplan to a global audience.
Let’s see what the additions and improvements in Allplan 2019 are compared to the 2018 version.
Given its distributed file structure—where all the elements in the model are created in multiple files rather than in one centralized file—the project setup in Allplan can initially be somewhat complicated and takes some time to understand, especially for new users. The hierarchical organization of the model is defined in a building structure where you can associate the files for each part of the project, and these in turn can be related to the levels defined in the Floor Manager, as shown in Figure 1. Prior to the 2019 version, any change in the levels required accessing the Building Structure dialog and from there, the Floor Manager dialog, as shown.
In Allplan 2019, there is a new Planes palette which allows the different planes of the project to be seen alongside the model, as shown in Figure 2, making it much easier to understand the floor structure of the model. The levels are locked by default to prevent accidental modification, but they can be unlocked and modified, as shown in Figure 3, where the top height of the café level is being changed from 3 m to 5 m. You can also decide how this modification should affect other levels. The change is made, as shown in Figure 4, right there in the modeling window without having to open another dialog box.
It is also possible to create freeform 3D surfaces and use those as reference planes, to which building components such as walls can be connected, as shown in Figure 5.
On the modeling front, Allplan 2019 includes a new Stair Modeler tool that can be used to create complex stairs more easily and accurately. As shown in Figure 6, when the tool is selected, the Stair palette opens up, allowing all the settings of the stair to be specified including its geometry, configuration, materials, 2D representation, and so on. You can click where you want the stair to start, and as you move the mouse and select additional points, you can see a preview of the stair with the specified parameters, including the landings. An accompanying Modify Stair Modeler tool lets you make any desired modifications to the stair after you have created it.
Additional modeling enhancements in Allplan 2019 include a new grid modeling tool for easier construction of the building skeleton (Figure 7); availability of a new profile catalog for improved exchange of model data; and additional parametric capabilities in objects such as reinforcement (Figure 8). There are also improvements in the Objects palette that make it much easier to navigate and inspect the building model, know exactly how many elements of a certain type are on a structural level, and select specific elements or hide their visibility (Figure 9). Additionally, there are other sorting options in the Objects palette in addition to the building structure which is the one shown in Figure 9. You can also sort the object display by material, trade, or attribute, all of which are extremely helpful in understanding the current state of the model from different perspectives and making the necessary edits.
Earlier this year ALLPLAN introduced Allplan Bridge, a dedicated tool for parametric bridge design focused on the requirements of bridge engineers (Figure 10). The bridge model is defined by parametric alignments and cross sections and the variation of the parameters along the alignments. This modeling approach is used for both the bridge superstructure and piers. The latest release makes it easier to model a wide range of types of pre-stressing with immediate or later bond, internal and external, longitudinal, transverse and vertical, as well as those with non-standard geometry. Based on user defined points, the tool automatically generates the geometry of a tendon along the bridge structure. Once the design has been created in Allplan Bridge, the model can be passed to the full Allplan environment where it can be further detailed and reinforced.
In Allplan 2019, multi-disciplinary collaboration has been further improved with the availability of new views and sections for reinforcement detailing, with which write access to the building model is no longer required when detailing reinforcement. This enables role-based access rights and facilitates collaboration between architects and engineers on the same project. For example, while architects may have write access to all building components, reinforcement detailers can be given write access for the placement of reinforcement only, with read-only access to the building components. This prevents unintentional modifications whilst working on shared models, enhancing teamwork across disciplines.
Rounding up the list of enhancements in Allplan 2019 is support for the latest IFC4 interoperability format, which makes it easier to exchange freeform geometry between BIM applications; multi-language support and multi-country support, with local settings and codes of practice; and finally, a design scripting capability that is currently available as a technical preview and should be more fully fleshed out by the next release.
Analysis and Conclusions
Given Allplan’s long history in the AEC industry, its tools and capabilities have been honed over decades of deployment and development, making it one of the most comprehensive applications for detailed design and construction. I had the opportunity to work with it in a little more detail for this review and I was blown away with the power, sophistication, and range of capabilities of the application. It would be difficult to find anything that you cannot do in Allplan when it comes to creating multi-disciplinary BIM models, with dedicated tools for architecture, engineering, site modeling, drafting, and now, bridge construction. Each of these roles comes with an extensive toolset which is categorized into multiple tabs, each representing a specific task, which is further sub-divided into related areas. So, for instance, under Engineering, there are ten tabs by default such as Elements, Reinforcement, Structural Analysis, etc., and under each tab, there are a large number of tools further subdivided into categories (Figure 11). It adds up to a dizzying array of options, showing how the application can serve even the minutest needs of architects and engineers designing buildings and infrastructure.
The distributed file structure of Allplan, shown in Figure 1, does take some time to get used to, but once you have understood how it works, you can appreciate its versatility and efficiency. Project file sizes are much more manageable and there are no performance issues on even a computer with average specifications. I, for one, don’t have the “latest and greatest” in terms of hardware, yet I was able to easily work with the sample projects without any issues. The new Planes palette in Allplan 2019 that was shown in Figures 2 and 3 definitely makes it easier to understand and work with the building structure of a project.
While Allplan, as a whole, is so powerful and comprehensive to the extent that it can be almost overwhelming, especially for a new user, I did find the 2019 release somewhat underwhelming, especially in comparison to other BIM applications. The new stair modeling tool definitely makes it much easier to model stairs; however, it seems to pale in comparison to the rule-based stair and railing tools that were introduced in ARCHICAD 21 last year. While the expanded parametric capabilities of reinforcement objects will make it much easier for engineers designing rebar, parametric design has been the hallmark of an application like Revit since it was first launched, and it has made enormous strides in rebar modeling and design as well. And while the upcoming design scripting feature seems promising, this too is available in other BIM applications like Vectorworks, in the form of Marionette, and Bentley Building Designer, in which the long-standing design scripting capability of GenerativeComponents is now fully integrated.
I think that as BIM evolves, the focus needs to be on more “smarts” in addition to more tools—we need to be able to do more with less (see the article, “Why Isn't There a Smarter BIM Tool for Building Design, Yet?”) This means more rule-based design, more parametric design, and more generative design. In this respect, Allplan is somewhat constrained by its legacy—it has been in use since the 1980s and has amassed a vast user base, to which it has to continue to cater. Therefore, it cannot make any drastic changes to its toolset, let alone be completely retooled. When it adds newer tools, it still has to retain the older ones, making the interface increasingly bloated rather than streamlined. This is hardly a conundrum new to Allplan. It is faced by every large software developer—how to add new features to the application to attract new users while still catering to existing ones?
ALLPLAN has shown that it is aware of this issue, and its brand-new Allplan Bridge application— a powerful and lean, fully parametric bridge design tool, seamlessly connected with Allplan—is exactly what is needed going forward. Perhaps it also needs to develop similar brand-new “smart” applications for architecture and engineering that can co-exist with its legacy tools, which will allow it to attract new users in the burgeoning global BIM landscape while retaining its existing ones.