AEC

AEC From the Ground Up-Aftermarket Solutions for CAD

1 Dec, 2006 By: AIA ,H. Edward Goldberg

Third-party programs increase AEC productivity.


Right out of the box, AEC software is excellent, but there's always room for improvement. Since the beginning of the digital AEC revolution, third-party programs have filled the niches that major software developers missed or omitted. These third-party developers often start by creating programs for their own use and then offer them to the public. Probably the most successful of these developers was Softdesk, which started with an architectural add-on for AutoCAD and was ultimately purchased by Autodesk. Though fewer third-party developers exist today (partly because the basic AEC products are becoming more complete and partly because of development costs), their products are excellent.

 Figure 1. WinEst Virtual Takeoff, which works with AutoCAD, Architectural Desktop, Revit and Bentley Architecture, quickly generates takeoffs directly on your computer screen using electronic plans.
Figure 1. WinEst Virtual Takeoff, which works with AutoCAD, Architectural Desktop, Revit and Bentley Architecture, quickly generates takeoffs directly on your computer screen using electronic plans.

Today, most third-party programs are aimed at the architectural, structural, engineering and estimating areas. But, as you may recall from my last column about the state of BIM (building information modeling), users have great interest in any program that helps to complete the BIM process.

Access to a program's API (application program-ming interface) is very important to third-party developers. If an API is open—that is, available to the programmer—developers can easily integrate their code with the main program. AutoCAD, which Architectural Desktop is based on, has always had an open API, so a wide range of applications is available. Revit, on the other hand, until recently had a closed API. This situation is changing, though, and more developers are beginning to consider plug-ins for this software.

Graphisoft and VectorWorks have fewer available plug-ins, probably because of their smaller user base. Bentley doesn't have many architectural plug-ins, either, because it has a unified interface. Bentley also offers many of its own integrated modules to fill anticipated niches, so plug-ins and third-party programs aren't typically necessary.

Figure 2. VisionREZ add-ons for Architectural Desktop are specifically optimized for those areas most likely to hinder overall residential design performance, such as roof design, trim detailing, labeling, framing and BOM.
Figure 2. VisionREZ add-ons for Architectural Desktop are specifically optimized for those areas most likely to hinder overall residential design performance, such as roof design, trim detailing, labeling, framing and BOM.

In preparing this column, I was confounded by the overwhelming number of plug-ins—literally hundreds. Some are even free. So here I try to highlight some of my favorite third-party programs.

Google SketchUp

This conceptual design program is probably the most downloaded of all the third-party applications. Although it's a stand-alone program, plug-ins or integrated import capability are available for Architectural Desktop, Revit Building, Bentley Architecture, Archicad and VectorWorks.

AutoCAD and Architectural Desktop Plug-Ins

Because AutoCAD and Architectural Desktop have the largest installed user base as well as an open API, they attract the greatest number of third-party products. Solutions are as diverse as WinEST (figure 1) for estimating and CAD Pipe for plant design. Because of limited space, I chose to illustrate just a few of the solutions, primarily for building construction.

Figure 3. COINS Framing works with Autodesk's Architectural Desktop to produce timber and lightweight steel framing models.
Figure 3. COINS Framing works with Autodesk's Architectural Desktop to produce timber and lightweight steel framing models.

VisionREZ. Although I don't have figures, I get the impression that most residential architecture is designed with AutoCAD or Architectural Desktop. Several years ago, Ameri-CAD, which had been a long-time developer of custom AutoCAD routines, decided to customize Architectural Desktop specifically for the residential market. VisionREZ provides drawing functionality and processes that leverage the power of the building information model specifically for the residential industry (figure 2, p. 45). Its suite of solutions is optimized for those areas most likely to hinder overall residential design performance, such as roof design, trim detailing, labeling, framing and BOM (bill of materials). This software, in my opinion, is the best residential version of Architectural Desktop available. Its Roof Object tool is superior to Architectural Desktop's own tool. The program is available as a stand-alone version for $2,495 (does not include curtain walls) or as a plug-in for Architectural Desktop 2005–2007.

COINS. COINS Framing from Construction Industry Solutions complements Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2004–-2007 and produces sophisticated timber and lightweight steel framing models (figure 3). COINS Framing is optimized to produce detailed material takeoffs and full production of manufacturing drawings with the ability to link to CNC machines. This framing application is built on the Architectural Desktop platform and focuses on the specific requirements of the United States, United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

DSI Digital. DSI Digital's products are designed for metal-roof trussing, wood framing and trussing, tilt-up construction, concrete and masonry construction and steel framing design. It automates the creation of roof, truss and wall elements and then generates shop drawings and BOMs. Although the company plans a whole series of modules for AutoCAD and Architectural Desktop, only IntelliModel, IntelliRoof and IntelliWall are currently available.

Figure 4. FrameWright Pro by Encina models timber and metal framing for Archicad using GDL (graphic design language) objects.
Figure 4. FrameWright Pro by Encina models timber and metal framing for Archicad using GDL (graphic design language) objects.

IntelliModel is a parametric application that allows rapid production of 3D building models within the AutoCAD or Architectural Desktop DWG environment. It automates the production of architectural isometrics, plans and elevations and performs automated building framing and analysis for structural engineers, including the production of pertinent engineering drawings.

IntelliRoof is aimed at architects, structural engineers, estimators, fabricators and erectors. Integrated solutions allow the entire design team to quickly and accurately model, detail, analyze and share information about buildings, roofs, truss systems and stud walls.

In this article
In this article

IntelliWall creates 3D models of wall framing with plans, schedules, fabrication drawings, BOM and cut lists.

Bentley Architecture Plug-Ins

As I mentioned previously, Bentley Systems' portfolio is fairly complete. On top of that, Bentley claims to be the largest third-party developer for the AutoCAD platform. Among the Bentley products for AutoCAD are AutoPlant, Haestad Methods, InRoads, MX, RAM, CAD Studio and Speedikon. For a complete listing of Bentley's third-party solutions, see www.bentley.com/en-US/Products/All+Products.

Graphisoft Archicad Plug-Ins

Graphisoft refers to its add-ons as productivity tools, and most are developed by European developers, where the majority of Graphisoft's Archicad customers are located.

ArchiGlazing is an Archicad add-on that enables architects to design a broad range of glass structures. Custom windows can be created based on sketches, and vertical or slanted glass walls can be quickly built on any type of curve. The program supports the placement of conical and shed glass structures as well as winter gardens, adjusting them to fit the building. The parametric behavior of these objects enables users to change most of their properties at any time in the design process. ArchiGlazing fulfills the needs of ambitious architects seeking to exceed the capabilities of the standard Archicad library.

HVAC for Archicad provides tools to model ductwork efficiently without an in-depth knowledge of HVAC. Architects and designers who receive simple 2D data from their HVAC consultants can use this add-on to quickly model the data in their projects to effectively coordinate the systems and visualize the model using Archicad's 3D tools. Interior designers can use HVAC for Archicad to model HVAC systems for their projects and customize the ductwork's appearance to create cutting-edge designs for their clients.

FrameWright Pro by Encina is a timber framing add-on for Archicad developed in partnership with the Oak Frame Carpentry Company (figure 4). Designing the software in cooperation with a framer has ensured that the objects and tools are relevant, familiar and easy to use.

VectorWorks Plug-Ins

Nemetschek North America's VectorWorks has a long list of free and for-sale add-ons. They are organized in five categories: symbols, textures, plug-ins, miscellaneous and useful sites. The Vector plug-ins site (www.vectorplugins.com) offers many useful routines for $36 each.

Join the Party

Third-party solutions will probably always be with us, not because developers of the primary application are remiss, but because there's always room for a different point of view or a better way to meet a specific need.

H. Edward Goldberg, AIA, NCARB, is a practicing licensed architect and AEC industry analyst. Ed's full-length book, Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2007: A Comprehensive Tutorial (Prentice Hall, www.prenhall.com ) is now available. His new Revit Building tutorial book will be available in spring 2007. Visit www.hegra.org or e-mail ed.goldberg@cadalyst.com for more information.


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