AECBytes Architecture Engineering Construction Newsletters  

AECbytes Tips and Tricks Issue #48 (January 28, 2010)

Using Newforma Project Center to Drive the BIM Markup Process

Craig Stauffer, S.E.
President, PCS Structural Solutions

Steve Farvour, S.E.
Associate & Project Manager, PCS Structural Solutions

At PCS Structural Solutions, we have fully embraced building information modeling, or BIM. Our primary production platform is Revit Structure. An example of one of our projects is shown in Figure 1. This fall, we achieved the 100-project milestone utilizing the 3-dimensional design software. We’re going to show you how project information management (PIM) software has enabled us to collaborate on our BIM projects more efficiently.

BIM requires more design and coordination decisions earlier in the design process than with the previous generation of CAD technology. Everyone benefits from lower costs due to fewer design changes downstream, but the process puts more pressure on engineers to work out design challenges sooner and coordinate them with all the other disciplines in a much shorter period of time.

Figure 1. PCS engineers used Autodesk Revit to generate this model view of the structural framework of the Highline Public Schools’ Raisbeck Aviation High School, a four story steel braced-frame structure near Seattle.

The Problem: Using 2-D Drawings to Communicate 3-D Changes

Project managers and principals occasionally work on models, but typically our role is to review the work of other engineering and BIM design staff. In the past, this was a manual, iterative process which consumed time and required frequent discussions. It usually involved marking up 2-D, paper-based drawings to explain things that would be much easier to convey on a 3-D view.

We have two offices that function as one firm, sharing resources to provide better service to clients and owners. We needed a way for a dispersed project team to follow our familiar engineer-markup-backcheck workflow when working with potentially disruptive BIM technology.

The Solution: Mark Up a 3-D View Instead Of a 2-D Drawing

The answer to our need lay in PIM software that we had implemented to manage project-related information, including email, and to improve communication both internally as well as with our clients. The PIM solution we use, Newforma Project Center, makes it easy to mark up any 3-D view from any program and convey the change efficiently in real-time without the need for an immediate face-to-face meeting.

This is how it works: We will be notified by a BIM technician/engineer that a structural model in Revit is ready to be reviewed. The screen capture in Figure 2 shows what we see as we open the model and start our review. When we see something that needs to be addressed, we select the Newforma Snapshot tool in the lower right corner of the Windows Taskbar to initiate the markup session. 

Figure 2. From within Autodesk Revit Structure, or any program, the Newforma Snapshot tool is activated by clicking the little camera icon next to the Newforma Project Center Search utility in the Windows Taskbar.

Next, we select the part of the screen display we want to capture for the markup, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. The user is prompted to click and drag to define a view to be marked up.

The Newforma Viewer displays our snapshot of the model view and provides a simple set of markup tools to quickly annotate the view of the model, as shown in Figure 4. At PCS, we’ve come up with some simple color conventions to indicate items to be added and removed.

Figure 4. The Markup Tools in Newforma Viewer is used to quickly annotate a view.

When we finish and close the markup session, it’s automatically saved to the project’s Markup Session Log in Newforma Project Center, as shown in Figure 5. The Markup Session Log in Newforma Project Center is accessible to the entire team.

Figure 5. The Project Markup Session Log in Newforma Project Center provides everybody on the team an up-to-date view of all open and closed markup sessions.

Upon notifying BIM technicians of changes, they can instantly scan the markup snapshots in the log, or double click on one to add their own comments using the Newforma Viewer, as shown in Figure 6. Most of our staff have dual-monitor displays, so they often have Revit running on one monitor with Newforma Project Center displayed on the other. As they pick up the changes in the model, they use the Newforma Viewer’s yellow highlighter pen to “X” them out.

Figure 6. As comments are picked up in the Revit model, the yellow highlighter pen is used to cross them out in the Markup Session.

Later, when we review the project Markup Session log as shown in Figure 7, we can clearly see that the comments have been picked up.

Figure 7. The Newforma Markup Session Log clearly displays the picked up comments.

Added Benefits: Clearer, More Direct External Communications

This same process we employ to talk to one another internally aids communications with clients and consultants. We’ll take a snapshot of and comment upon a 3-D view, and using Newforma’s built-in PDF capabilities, send a markup session to other team members for discussion.  Aspects such as brace frame configurations, beam depths, and footing steps are difficult to convey in a plan view, but a 3-D perspective literally helps everyone to “get the picture” – and develop a solution accordingly.

We also employ these markup tools in our contract administration process. For example, we’ve recently begun to utilize Newforma Markup to review electronically submitted shop drawings and respond to requests for information.

The PDF shop drawing shown in Figure 8 illustrates electronic markup and stamping using Newforma Project Center. This process streamlines CA, and the record it keeps helps us mitigate the risk of disputes down the line. Everything is easy to find, not simply because of the markup log, but also because Newforma software includes a search function that finds terms as they appear in markup notes.

Figure 8. The Newforma Viewer facilitates the markup and stamping of native PDF or CAD files.


To summarize, we have made great strides in utilizing BIM to produce higher-quality designs. The 3-D design review and collaboration features of our PIM software, Newforma Project Center, have been invaluable in enabling our transition to the world of BIM-based design. We’re following a workflow very similar to leaning over the desk and marking up the drawing, but the process adapts to dispersed team members and maintains a record of everything we do.

BIM software demands that we streamline project process and communication in order to solve technical engineering and 3-D coordination challenges much earlier in the project lifecycle. For that job, PIM software has come along just in time.

About the Authors

Craig Stauffer, S.E., is the president of PCS Structural Solutions, a single discipline structural engineering firm with offices in Seattle and Tacoma. Steve Farvour, S.E., is an associate and project manager with the firm. PCS specializes in healthcare, historic restorations and educational projects, its work including scores of K-12 schools and more than a dozen higher education campuses throughout Washington, including multiple projects for the University of Washington and Central Washington University. The firm is a repeated winner of Structural Engineer Magazine's “Best Firm to Work For” competition.

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