It's nearing the end of 2021, and technology events are still being held mostly online. While the energy and vibrancy that comes from face-to-face interaction is, of course, hard to replace, the upside is that these events are now being produced for virtual viewing anywhere in the world, enabling them to reach many more people who might otherwise not be aware of the technology developments they capture. One such event that was held last month was the BricsCAD Digital Summit, which I was able to tune into to get a better understanding of the BricsCAD ecosystem and its latest developments. I learnt more about BricsCAD, how it connects with other Hexagon solutions (Hexagon is the parent company of Bricsys, the developer of BricsCAD), and how it is being used for the design of buildings as well as infrastructure.
BricsCAD was launched as a cost-effective DWG-based alternative to AutoCAD in 2002 by the Belgium-based company, Bricsys. It is a founding member of the ODA (Open Design Alliance) and uses many of the ODA libraries and SDKs in the development of the BricsCAD product suite. (See the recent article on the ODA Summit.) In 2018, Bricsys was acquired by Hexagon, a publicly traded technology company specializing in hardware and software digital reality solutions with well-known product brands such as Intergraph and Leica Geosystems. The acquisition of Bricsys enabled Hexagon to strengthen its construction solutions portfolio by expanding its reach to AEC design in addition to construction.
While BricsCAD started off as an AutoCAD clone, it has continued to evolve and is now a full suite of products that includes BricsCAD Lite for 2D drafting, BricsCAD Pro which adds 3D modeling and rendering, BricsCAD BIM for building design and construction, and BricsCAD Mechanical for product design and manufacturing. The product family also includes BricsCAD Shape, a free 3D conceptual modeling tool; Communicator for BricsCAD, an add-on for importing and exporting data from and to other applications; and Bricsys 24/7, a cloud collaboration platform for multi-disciplinary workflows and document management (Figure 1). A new version of BricsCAD, BricsCAD v22, has just been released, and it was showcased at the Summit.
On the AEC side, building design has traditionally been the core market segment of the application along with industrial design and process plants. BricsCAD is also gaining momentum in the civil engineering segment, which continues to expand as more countries around the world work on building and improving their roads, railways, bridges, waterways, and other infrastructure. Here, BricsCAD has an advantage with its close ties to Hexagon's 3D mapping expertise. On the manufacturing front, while BricsCAD has customers in automotive, aerospace, and other traditional MCAD domains, it is also used by manufacturers of building components. And finally, it is also used in some specialized domains such as event structures and temporary construction, examples of which was showcased at the Summit (Figure 2).
As mentioned earlier, Hexagon acquired Bricsys, the developer of BricsCAD, a couple of years ago. It is now part of Hexagon's PPM division, which is focused on the design, construction, and operation of buildings, infrastructure, and industrial facilities. Prior to this acquisition, Hexagon did not have a design solution as such, so BricsCAD is helping to fill a critical gap in its offerings. Hexagon’s vision of how BricsCAD fits in within their product strategy, of how all their products will work together in their construction ecosystem, is shown in Figure 3.
The HxDR in Figure 3 stands for Hexagon’s digital reality solutions, an area in which it is already a global leader, having created detailed 3D maps for much of Europe and North America. Hexagon also has a suite of construction solutions, HxGN Smart Build, a key part of which is integrated drones for reality capture during construction which can capture and update the construction progress in real time. Hexagon also foresees a scenario where there are robots on the construction site executing simple work packages. Additionally, the Hexagon ecosystem includes a planning suite called Ecosys for planning the operation and maintenance of the building after construction, along with an asset management solution called EAM.
The Bricsys team highlighted the key features of BricsCAD that made it the most compelling computer aided design application for its users. Topping the list is that it is based on a single file format, the industry-standard DWG, making it compatible with the large number of third-party applications that can work with it to customize and extend it for different domains and in different countries. This interoperability is also facilitated by having an open and flexible API that allows BricsCAD to easily connect with its partner applications (Figures 4, 5, and 6).
In addition to the DWG platform, the roots of BricsCAD as a full-fledged CAD application make it a compelling choice for the large segment of the AEC industry for which producing 2D documentation is still the main deliverable, and which is still the main way that design and construction takes place in much of the world. While BricsCAD has the capabilities needed for 3D work, the 2D/3D flexibility is a key feature in the ongoing development of the application, so that customers can have the flexibility to work either in 2D or in 3D and easily switch between the two.
And finally, there is a concerted effort to bring more intelligence and automation to the drawing and modeling process through the use of AI and Machine Learning. For drawing, this includes smarts for optimizing drawings, streamlining tasks, and helping user input. On the 3D front, an example is shown in Figure 7, where a new Arrange capability powered by Machine Learning is used to arrange a number of randomly placed chair objects into a pattern instead of simply aligning them. This new feature is also available for 2D data.
More example of the use of AI are in BricsCAD BIM, discussed next.
BricsCAD BIM is a BIM solution built on top of BricsCAD that is customized for building design and construction. It brings the same benefits to BIM as the underlying BricsCAD platform, including the DWG compatibility, open and flexible APIs, a large ecosystem of third-party applications (Figure 8), and 2D/3D flexibility. It is also IFC compliant.
The time-saving AI-based automation and smarts in BricsCAD that were mentioned in the previous section are more pronounced in BricsCAD BIM. You can create a conceptual model in BricsCAD using SketchUp-like Push/Pull tools and automatically convert it to a BIM model with levels, slabs, and walls. This is referred to as SmartBIM. Another AI-based tool is BIMify, which use machine learning algorithms to analyze the model, automatically organize and classify its elements, and assign attributes to them, without needing them to be laboriously defined by the user. Other smart tools include Propagate, which is used for detailing the model, and QuickBuilding, which is used to create the model up to a specified LOD.
Other noteworthy aspects of BricsCAD BIM for design are a live link to Twinmotion (shown earlier in Figure 8), support for Grasshopper scripting using BIM elements (Figure 9), and the ability to store Grasshopper scripts as well as Python scripts in the Project Browser from where they can be easily accessed by users to apply to their designs.
One unique capability in BricsCAD comes directly from its integration with Hexagon digital reality solutions. This is the ability to bring a point cloud of a building project during the construction process into BricsCAD and measure its deviation from the BIM model, which is extremely useful in highlighting problem areas where the construction deviates from the model (Figure 10).
For infrastructure design, a similar benefit comes to BricsCAD from its integration with Hexagon's reality capture solutions. Point clouds of sites, which are typically much larger than point clouds of buildings, can be brought into BricsCAD much more easily and quickly compared to other infrastructure design applications using a point cloud filtering tool. This filters the point cloud based on user-defined parameters, reducing its density without sacrificing the quality and accuracy of the data. It makes the point cloud more manageable and easier to work with.
Other features for infrastructure design include the ability to import and export LandXML files as well as IFC files with civil engineering data. The DWG platform and open API of the application has allowed it to be enhanced by a large number of partner solutions from different countries including Civil Site Design from Australia (Figure 11), CGS Labs from Slovenia (Figure 12), and KTF Software from the UK (Figures 13 and 14).
And, of course, the Twinmotion integration can be used to create striking renderings and animations of infrastructure projects (Figure 15), just as with building projects.
I didn’t know much about BricsCAD prior to attending the Summit, and I was glad of the opportunity to learn more about it. I came away impressed with the solidity and longevity of the application, its continued and steady development since it was launched in 2002, and the large number of partner applications it has in different parts of the world that extend the use of the application in different domains. As more AEC firms worldwide continue their transition from a 2D based workflow to model-based design and construction, BricsCAD seems to be compelling alternative that is cost-effective, familiar (since it is DWG based), and stable (thanks to its acquisition by Hexagon). Its new AI features are promising, and the integration with Hexagon’s portfolio of digital reality and construction solutions should be helpful as the domains of design and construction continue to move closer together in the AEC industry.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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