The Open Design Alliance (ODA) – the leading nonprofit organization focused on openness and interoperability in the CAD industry – returned with its annual Summit last week in which it provided an overview of the technology updates it has made since last year’s event (see the article on the ODA 2021 Summit). While the work of the ODA is not directly used by design professionals, it is licensed by the ODA’s member companies — the current count of which is over 1,200 – most of whom are commercial CAD and BIM software companies located around the world (see Figure 1). Similar to last year, this year’s Summit also included brief presentations from some of these member companies, demonstrating how they have implemented ODA technologies in their products. This article captures the highlights of the 2022 ODA Summit that are relevant to the AEC industry.
Most of the work of the ODA is in the form of SDKs or “software development kits,” which include software libraries, software engines, and other pieces of code for specific capabilities that member companies can take and implement in their own products rather than developing them from scratch. The SDKs can be for broad applications areas such as drawing, modeling, BIM, civil engineering, infrastructure, and mechanical engineering (which was just introduced); for specific file formats such as DWG, DWN, IFC, and STEP; for specific applications such as Revit and Navisworks; as well as for specific functionality across applications areas such as visualization, publishing, cloud collaboration, interoperability, and Scan-to-BIM (which is also new).
Many of these SDKs have been enhanced with new features. In the Drawings SDK, the key developments include the ability to create smart drawing views that are automatically updated when the underlying model is changed; a new constraints engine that can apply both geometrical and dimensional constraints to drawing elements which are maintained when the elements are modified; and a TRACE feature that allows the export of markups — added using the ODA’s universal markup engine — to the DWG format so that they can be viewed and edited independently in a interface such as AutoCAD’s virtual tracing sheet when that DWG file is imported into it (Figure 2).
The SDK for Revit files is called BimRv — it is the ODA’s standalone toolkit for the import, visualization, and creation of Revit models. It has been updated to work with the latest 2023 Revit file format, providing full access to 2023 data. Older Revit files from version 2015 onwards are automatically converted to the latest 2023 version during loading, enabling applications that use this SDK to work with Revit files consistent access to data regardless of the Revit version in which they were created. BimRv can also write files to the 2023 format. Additional enhancements to the BimRv SDK include the addition of more visual styles for viewing the Revit geometry (Figure 3), generation of plan and section views, increased flexibility in schedule formatting and display, the ability to create 2D elements like grids and annotations in the model, the ability to create and edit Revit family elements, and expanded IFC export from Revit that includes more property data and geometry types.
Similar to BimRv, the ODA has a dedicated toolkit for working with Navisworks files called BimNv. It works with all the three file formats used by Navisworks: NWD, the consolidated file which contains all the individual models that have been imported into Navisworks for multi-disciplinary coordination; NWF, which contains references and transformation matrices for the individual models rather than the files themselves; and NWC, the cache files that are created when models are imported into Navisworks. In addition to geometry and properties, a Navisworks file may contain clash results, annotation, sectioning, and so on. The updates to BimNv include support for the Navisworks functionalities of Timeliner, Animation, Plotting Geometry, and Point Cloud data, as well as memory optimization and partial loading to support large files. In addition, it is now possible to save an NWD file with a full hierarchical model structure from any file in an ODA-supported format (Figure 4).
Improvements in the ODA’s IFC SDK include support for the latest IFC 4.3 format, a new Quantity Takeoff engine, the ability to work with property set definitions, a validation tool for verifying the property sets in a model, and a new plugin for the IFC Viewer that allows the hierarchical structure of the model to be investigated (Figure 5).
One of the most exciting updates from the ODA this year is its new Scan-to-BIM SDK. With the growing demand for laser scanning and point cloud processing, getting a BIM model from a scan is currently one of the most sought-after technologies, and the ODA’s work on it will be invaluable to its member companies looking to include this capability in their product offerings. The ODA’s work on the Scan-to-BIM SDK is in three parts: first, converting the point cloud to a mesh; second, deriving surfaces from the mesh in the form of B-Rep (boundary representation) elements that can detect the planar elements in the point cloud (Figure 6); and finally, recognizing BIM objects such as walls, floors, and ceilings from the planar elements and their intersections. The recognized BIM objects are then used to create an IFC file.
In addition to working with point clouds in the Scan-to-BIM SDK, the Visualize SDK has also been enhanced to view large sets of point cloud data. This visualization support for point clouds is based on the Autodesk Recap RCS/RCP structured point cloud format which can efficiently process huge point clouds. In addition to point clouds, the Visualize SDK also includes the ability to be able to view very large models (Figure 7), often in low-memory environments such as mobile devices or Web applications, by using partial loading, unloading, and streaming techniques. A “Fast object Transform” functionality has been added which allows tens of thousands of objects to be moved in real time — it is used in the Explore and Animation features of the Visualize SDK.
Also noteworthy are the enhancements to the Publish SDK, which is used to publish CAD and BIM data to 2D and 3D PDF. Support for geospatial data has been added when exporting DWG files to PDF. There are improvements to block support while exporting PDFs in order to reduce file size and increase performance, as well as support for PDF features such as password protection, permissions, watermarks, stamps, custom bookmarks, and annotations (Figure 8).
In addition to the SDKs, the ODA is also working on several cross-platform technologies in response to the growing emergence of different platforms including Windows, MacOS, and Linux, on devices ranging from desktop and laptop computers to mobile phones and tablets. This cross-platform capability is also critical to collaboration.
In addition to showcasing the technology developments made within the last year, a key part of the Summit was to highlight how some of the ODA member companies were using its technologies in their products.
One of these was Safe Software, which is a founding member of the ODA and has been making extensive use of the ODA libraries since 1998 in its main product, the FME data integration platform. FME is focused on spatial data, and it is aimed at allowing users to maximize the value of their data with data-driven insights and decisions. It has built up a customer base of over 13,000 organizations globally across several industries including Local Government, Utilities, AEC, Energy, Education, Commercial, Transportation, and Natural Resources. FME supports close to 450 different formats, for which it makes of three ODA SDKs: Drawings, Civil, and BimRv. In addition to validating the accuracy, quality, and correctness of the CAD and BIM files that an organization receives and ensuring that it meets with their standards, the FME platform also validates the data within the files to make sure it is complete and accurate for the task for which it is intended. An example is shown in Figure 9, where the infrastructure team of a municipal government is using FME to automatically check the large number of CAD and BIM files it receives to ensure that they contained the data about maintenance schedules, materials used, etc., that it requires.
Another member demonstration was from 3D Repo, which is a cloud-based tool for managing BIM data with the objective of breaking down silos between applications, preventing data lock-in, and enabling interoperability. To this end, it aims to support as many different formats as possible, both open and proprietary. It works by processing 3D models via a range of libraries, including the ODA libraries for Navisworks, Revit, and the DGN format, and stores the model elements and metadata in the 3D Repo cloud. From here, this data can be freely accessed by gaming engines like Unity or Unreal, 3D Repo’s own tools for tasks such as BIM coordination, clash management, construction sequencing, issue tracking, and site analytics, as well as a whole host of other applications via plugins and APIs (Figure 10).
And finally, the ODA summit featured a presentation from the company Graebert, which is also a founding member of the ODA. The ODA toolkits are the core building blocks of its products, not just for its flagship CAD application, ARES Commander, but also for its cloud CAD application, ARES Kudo, and its mobile CAD application, ARES Touch. Graebert has combined these three solutions into a single ecosystem and subscription so they can be used for collaboration between the field and the office (Figure 11). All three solutions, including the desktop CAD application, work on Windows, Mac, and Linux computers, leveraging the ODA’s work on cross-platform technologies in addition to its CAD and BIM SDKs.
The ODA has continued its work steadily and consistently since it was started in 1998. The Scan-to-BIM initiative that was being discussed last year has been realized and there is now an SDK for it, which will allow all member companies to incorporate it into their own applications, benefitting the end users of their applications and thereby the industry as a whole.
The fact that the ODA is still going strong is a testimony to the importance of organizations like these that can pool in development resources to jointly develop technologies that can be used by many companies located in different parts of the world, saving them from duplicating and effort and re-inventing the wheel. Not that just, they are invaluable in encouraging cooperation rather than competition among technology companies. We are lucky to have them.
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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