AEC From the Ground Up-BIM Update 2006

31 Oct, 2006 By: AIA ,H. Edward Goldberg

How complete is the building information model?

As I've said previously, in my opinion the building information model is the entire virtual building project, including all information about that project contained within the property lines, infinitely to the sky and the center of the earth. This information includes data about the structures and associated information, weather history, taxes, ground compaction, utilities, manufacturers, equipment and more. The life span of the building information model runs from owner's concept to construction and through the management of the facility. Given this concept, general wisdom says that owners will spend between four and ten times the original construction cost to operate a building over its lifetime, depending on the type and size of project.

This year software developers have been working furiously to improve and expand the capabilities of their BIM (building information modeling) solutions. Generally these solutions deal with the design and construction phases but not with facility management and maintenance. Facility management solutions are available, but I'm aware of only two that internally integrate directly with any BIM software products. This is not to say that good facility management solutions aren't available, but so far, only Bentley Facilities and Autodesk FMDesktop have bridged the BIM gap.

 In this Article
In this Article

With that said, let's look at the progress in BIM during the past year. The main developers in the BIM arena are Auto-desk, Bentley, Nemetschek North America and Graphisoft. Nemetschek AllPlan is an excellent solution but is used primarily in Europe. To either maintain market share or increase market penetration, all these companies have been feverishly improving their AEC portfolios, often through acquisition.

BIM Solutions

The main software solutions are the modelers: these are the programs that create the models and construction documentation. Because of market competition, these programs have relatively similar capabilities and features. It appears that any given feature is often quickly mimicked by its competitor.

Autodesk, the market leader, has been on a 12-month update path for several years and has forced other developers to follow suit. Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2007, which is its 3D object solution, and Revit Building 9.1, which is its BIM solution (see Cadalyst Labs review), are its latest offerings. There has been a lot of buzz about Revit Building as Autodesk’s BIM software moving into the future. It is the fastest growing BIM product on the market.

Bentley Architecture, based on MicroStation V8 XM (see Cadalyst Labs review), has been drastically transformed under the hood and offers a new display system and user interface. It's also much faster and includes a new Live Render mode. Bentley's approach is to integrate all its products through one similar interface. This policy allows Bentley to offer a customized single solution made from its vast array of modules.

Nemetschek North America's Vectorworks 12.5 is definitely the value leader, offering good capability at an excellent price point. Although sophisticated and fully capable, in my opinion, Vectorworks doesn't have the depth of capability of the other four software products.

Similar to Revit and Architectural Desktop, Graphisoft's Archicad 10 includes a Space object that collects enclosed data. Archicad's Space object is more sophisticated, though, and has the ability to automatically collect 3D freeform enclosed data. Everyone is trying to create interactive compound curve walls and roofs, but to my knowledge, no one has really succeeded.

BIM Analysis

BIM analysis tools work with data from the building model. These applications include Architectural Data Systems, e-SPECS, Green Building Studio and SpecifiCAD. E-SPECS and Architectural Data Systems have been around for several years and both coordinate specifications with virtual building objects. Green Building Studio is a BIM-based energy analysis Web site. It's certified to work with Revit Building, Revit Systems, Architectural Desktop 2004–2007, Building Systems 2005–2007 and ArchiCAD 9–10 on Windows and Macintosh. Green Building Studio has been improved this year and will provide even finer energy analysis. It's no longer free as in the past, but the average building analysis will cost about $75. SpecifiCAD is a new product, still in beta testing, that connects you directly to Sweet's Catalog for any virtual object you place into your model.

Structural and Structural Analysis

Both Bentley and Autodesk acquired structural analysis programs this year, signaling that they intend to control the engineering portion of the building model. Autodesk acquired Robobat, a French company, and Bentley acquired RAM International and the STAAD products from REI. Autodesk Revit Structure 4 can be linked bidirectionally to Robot Millennium, CSI's ETABS, RISAFloor and RISA-3D. Bentley Structural offers similar connections to RAM and STAAD as well as several other analysis tools. Both Graphisoft and Vectorworks have links to major structural analysis programs, but only Bentley and Autodesk provide interoperability within their BIM programs.

Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing

Both Autodesk and Bentley have their own MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) solutions that integrate with their BIM software. The AutoCAD-based Building Systems works from within the Architectural Desktop interface. Revit Systems is the MEP engineering member of the Revit family. It's a separate program that exchanges data with Revit Building. Bentley's Building Electrical Systems for design, documentation and analysis of building electrical systems—including lighting, power, security and communications—and Building Mechanical Systems for design and documentation of air-handling and plumbing systems both work directly within Bentley Architecture.

Automated Estimating and Construction Management

This group includes all BIM tools necessary to help with the construction of the project. In my opinion, Graphisoft is the originator of the virtual construction concept. It just added a scheduling tool called Control to its Graphisoft Constructor 2005 software. The next version, Constructor 2007, reportedly will have a complete plumbing module with all U.S.-made valves and fittings.

Autodesk has not competed in this area, preferring to let its third-party developers test the marketplace. Innovaya and US Cost are two estimating solutions for Architectural Desktop and Revit. Innovaya offers Visual BIM, Visual Quantification, Visual Estimating, Composer for Revit and Composer for ADT. US Cost develops Success Design Exchange and Success Estimator (figure 1).

Figure 1. US Costs s Success Design Exchange leverages the power of both Success Estimator and Autodesk s Revit 3D modeling to create highly accurate estimates.
Figure 1. US Costs s Success Design Exchange leverages the power of both Success Estimator and Autodesk s Revit 3D modeling to create highly accurate estimates.

Vectorworks doesn't have an automated estimating solution. Bentley Architecture and its engineering solutions all include strong estimating, quantity and take-off capabilities. Users can also export to XML or XLS to integrate with a variety of other systems.

Construction Purchasing within BIM

1ST Pricing is the only product available that allows automatic product pricing and purchasing directly within AutoCAD, ArchiCAD and TurboCAD (figure 2). Its developer expects to soon introduce an Architectural Desktop and Revit plug-in as well as Vectorworks integration. This patent-pending product automatically gives you five real-time quotes on doors and windows delivered to the job site based on zip code. Look forward to the ability to get real-time pricing updates for all components such as lumber packages.

Figure 2. 1ST Pricing lets users automatic price and purchase products directly within AutoCAD, Architectural Desktop, ArchiCAD and TurboCAD.
Figure 2. 1ST Pricing lets users automatic price and purchase products directly within AutoCAD, Architectural Desktop, ArchiCAD and TurboCAD.

Code Analysis

Although there is great need, only one solution is available—Solibri Model Checker 4.1. It's being adopted by the GSA and may be used by permit departments in the future. Imagine the time when we can send our plans electronically to the permit department and get an immediate response.

Facilities Management

Both Autodesk and Bentley are aware of the importance of facilities management. Bentley, with its Bentley Facilities, already has an integrated BIM solution. Autodesk, through its purchase of FMDesktop in January 2006, has the basis for its BIM integration. In its recently launched FMDesktop 7 Product Suite, Autodesk uses its DWF format as the mechanism that links FMDesktop to Revit and Architectural Desktop.

National BIM Standard

The NBIMS (National BIM Standard) is still being developed by the National Institute of Building Standards to create guidelines for all the software companies to integrate their data through the entire building lifecycle. The integration will be done through IFCs (Industry Foundation Classes). Look for the first iteration of this standard to be available in 2007.

I hope next year to report that BIM is 100% complete. Then all we'll have to do is evolve the solutions to make them easier to use and more capable. That may finally convince the 85% of AEC professionals who continue to use 2D CAD to join the early adopters of this information revolution.

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, is now available. His new Revit Building tutorial book will be available in Spring 2007. Ed will be leading a Cadalyst-sponsored BIM panel at AEC/ST Federal in Washington, D.C., on December 7. Visit or e-mail for more information.

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