AEC from the Ground Up-Design Data for Construction

30 Sep, 2006 By: AIA ,H. Edward Goldberg

AEC industry progresses by evaluating construction costs and project management using BIM.

With the ever-increasing acceptance of the concept of BIM (building information modeling) in the AEC industry, more applications are sure to appear that stretch the capability of the I portion of that acronym. Through further use of this information, architects, engineers and contractors can predict the cost and duration of a construction project more easily and earlier in the process.

Although digital estimating programs have existed for several years, they have always worked within the idiom of design, bid and build. The intent of the newest estimating paradigm (based on BIM) is to continually update the projected cost as the project is designed. The earliest innovator in this arena was Graphisoft with its Constructor 2005, Estimator 2005 and Control 2005 solutions. Autodesk, which is aware of this niche, has taken a more pragmatic approach by manipulating data within its existing parametric BIM solutions—Revit Building, Revit Structure and Revit Systems. It has also encouraged partner companies to develop their own integrated estimating solutions and worked to integrate its products with established estimating software such as Timberline, U.S. Cost, WinEstimator and MC2 . Given the 115,000 cost estimators in the United States alone, the market should be large enough to encourage software leaders to spend the dollars necessary to develop productive solutions.

To get a sense of the capability of available solutions, I talked to some companies that use Graphisoft- and Revit-based solutions. All companies were in the first year of implementation. Everyone I spoke with emphasized that the model had to be accurate in dimension and construction and that the systems had to be configured to work with their manpower, quantity and pricing values. All were in their thirties and ardent advocates of cutting-edge technology and its ability to save their companies and clients money. After talking to these operators, I suggest that there is a new classification of AEC technologist, who perhaps could be called virtual architect, virtual builder or construction modeler.


Ryan Martorano is senior estimator for Hensel Phelps, a 70-year-old international construction company based in Colorado. It does about $3 billion of construction each year. Previously the company had been using MC2 for estimating and Primavera for scheduling, but now it's testing estimating and scheduling with Graphisoft Constructor, Estimator and Control. Employees are half-finished entering values into the system, but four employees are already using the solution to estimate a $150-million, 34-story hotel. Martorano is a driving force behind the firm's adoption of automated estimating and wants Hensel Phelps Construction to make its own models (although he would accept good models directly from architects). He wants to encourage construction modelers—employees who model quickly and accurately but are not necessarily construction savvy. He envisions his estimators assigning Archicad recipes (formulas) to the components.

Although one firm mentioned that Graphisoft documentation is lacking, Martorano believes that the video training materials are excellent. One of the biggest benefits he sees is the ability to solve construction problems such as conflicts. According to Ryan, 3–4% can be saved just by reducing the number of change orders.

The first Archicad-based solution that I remember was based on a database developed by Richard Creveling, called the RCC database. The RCC database integrated with Timberline software through its CAD Integrator. Creveling, who had an extensive construction background, used GDL to create assemblies that would map to his database. Starting in 2005, Graphisoft introduced its Virtual Construction suite, which includes Constructor 2005 and Estimator 2005. Constructor and Estimator are based on an Archicad solution developed by YIT, a market leader in the Finnish construction sector.

Recently, Graphisoft introduced another integrated module called Graphisoft Control 2005 (figure 1). Graphisoft Control 2005 (formerly known as DYNAProject) is a schedule planning and production control system that allows users to compress project schedules without increasing risk. This flowline-based system was specifically designed for construction and is already in production in some of the largest construction companies in the world. Flowline is also known as line-of-balance and uses a location-based methodology. This methodology manages how crews move from location to location on a complete project. The flowline view allows users to visualize and manage the relationship between tasks and the flow of crews as they progress from location to location. The components of the system include schedule planning, risk analysis procurement planning and production control.

Figure 1. Graphisoft Control 2005 can assist in scheduling deliveries for construction sites.
Figure 1. Graphisoft Control 2005 can assist in scheduling deliveries for construction sites.

The Constructor application is priced at $8,000, including everything except Control and Change Manager. Estimator is $4,000 when purchased separately from Constructor. It includes an estimating system that extracts quantity information from the construction model, a module for dividing resources created by the estimating application in production zones and for generating procurement requirements and a 5D reporting system that uses the construction model as the link between cost and time and produces cost-loaded schedules for financial analysis.

The maintenance fee is 18% of the cost of the product, and a service fee is required to set up a database.

Autodesk and Innovaya

Neenan, a large, integrated real estate, development, architecture and construction company located in Denver and Fort Collins, Colorado, is using a Revit-based estimating system called Innovaya. Richard Lopez is in charge of Neenan's BIM implementation. He chose the Revit and Innovaya solutions because he thinks Revit is easier to learn and because Innovaya (figure 2) works with his firm's existing implementation of Timberline, so Neenan doesn't have to reconfigure its values.

Figure 2. Innovaya Visual BIM encompasses Visibility Controls for 3D objects. It organizes the objects by their building sections as well as component types.
Figure 2. Innovaya Visual BIM encompasses Visibility Controls for 3D objects. It organizes the objects by their building sections as well as component types.

The Innovaya products include Visual BIM, Visual Quantification, Visual Estimating, Composer for Revit and Composer for ADT. Recently it introduced a 4D solution called Visual Simulation. All the products integrate with Sage Timberline Office Estimating. The company was founded by Kevin Yu, who formerly was the project lead for Timberline's CAD Integrator estimating solution.

Visual BIM offers visibility controls for 3D objects and organizes the objects by their building sections as well as component types. The visibility and transparency of these objects can be easily adjusted so that object details can be examined thoroughly in 3D view. Visual BIM also offers essential functions to assist communication among the project members. With tools such as markup and e-mailing, Visual BIM users can enter comments directly onto a snapshot of the 3D design and send it via e-mail to project members. The 3D navigation features are useful for presenting design-estimating coordination issues to the project team.

Visual Quantification performs object quantity takeoff from Autodesk's Architectural Desktop or Revit products. It can automatically generate complete object quantities directly from a design model. This process usually takes several seconds to complete for an entire building model. The quantities are extracted based on object types and their dimensions. Quantity extraction methods are easily customized and reusable for multiple projects. Additionally, the quantities are all stored by group of objects based on the object property conditions set by the users.

Visual Estimating generates object quantities directly from a design model in a matter of seconds or minutes, depending on the approach selected. The quantities are extracted based on object types and their dimensions. The quantities can be organized and saved by different classifications such as CSI or Uniformat. The quantities are also automatically linked with the objects, which can be viewed in 3D. These quantities can be used to create reports in Microsoft Excel or to perform assembly and item takeoff within Visual Estimating using Timberline engines. With Visual Estimating, users can take off an assembly or item into a Timberline estimate.

Composer for Revit and ADT are add-on programs for Revit Building, Revit Structure and Architectural Desktop. They import the Revit and ADT building and structural element information into an Innovaya project model and export the model into an INV file, which can be read by all Innovaya applications for visualization, communication, quantity takeoff, cost estimation and construction simulating.

Construction Growth

I haven't tried the Graphisoft and Autodesk/Innovaya products, but I hope be able to give them true hands-on evaluations in the near future. Automated estimating, scheduling and collaboration using BIM is still in its infancy. Regardless, it has early adopters and will probably become an industry-wide requirement for construction companies (and maybe for architects with lite versions) in the near future. If you've had any experience with automated estimating and BIM or if you have questions, please join Cadalyst's Tech Forum ( that discusses all software and related subjects involving BIM for architects, engineers and contractors.

H. Edward Goldberg, AIA, NCARB, is a practicing licensed architect and AEC industry analyst. Visit or e-mail Ed will be discussing BIM estimating and the future of BIM at the DBIA (Design Build Institute of America) Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 20.

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