Autodesk Building Systems 2004

30 Nov, 2003 By: Michael Dakan

Stand-alone product takes building modeling to the next level.

Autodesk Building Systems 2004
MEP Building Software

star rating: Not rated.
pros: More mature; enhanced design layout automation.
cons: Electrical and plumbing programs need more detail, in particular plumbing isometrics.
price: $5,995; $695 subscription

See also:
ABS 2004 in a Nutshell

Phone 800.538.6401 or 415.507.5000

Autodesk Building Systems 2004, the fourth major release in Autodesk’s building engineering modeling and drawing production series, contains applications for HVAC ducts and piping, plumbing, and electrical engineering. Like its predecessor, it’s a stand-alone application, not an add-on to other Autodesk software. Autodesk Building Systems 2004 is developed on the object-based technology used in Architectural Desktop and is designed to meet the needs of the MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) engineering industry.

Autodesk Building Systems 2004 contains the complete functionality of AutoCAD 2004, on which it's based. It also includes Autodesk VIZ Render, a 3D rendering application used to create photorealistic, rendered perspective drawings.

Autodesk Building Systems 2004 benefits greatly from being based on the same technology as Architectural Desktop 2004 and its much-improved user interface and features. It also offers a seamless extension to Architectural Desktop's building information model for the building services engineering disciplines.

Combined with Architectural Desktop 2004, Building Systems 2004 makes Autodesk's BIM (building information modeling) solutions unmatched in the industry in terms of virtually modeling more of a complete building.

We didn't rate Building Systems 2004-the star ratings tend to be a way to compare similar products, and so far there aren't really any to compare it to. Many features can still be added to Building Systems 2004, but for those ready to work with BIM models for engineering, the product is highly useful.

Autodesk Building Systems 2004 costs $5,995. The annual subscription of $695 is mandatory the first year and covers all upgrades and new releases of the software, plus any interim releases and product extensions. Users can let the subscription lapse after a year, but then they aren't eligible for new releases and extensions.

Autodesk Building Systems 2004 uses the tool palettes menu interface system introduced with Architectural Desktop. The customizable tool palette provide access to the extensive design content objects, blocks, and annotation tools as well as application placement routines and editing tools. You can devise and manage your own palettes in a central location so that everyone in your office or on a project team can use the same tools, standards, and design content.

You can dock palettes at the sides of your editing window and set them to auto-hide or roll-up to get them out of your way. When you scroll the cursor over them, they expand.

Another tool that Building Systems shares with Architectural Desktop is the display system that controls visibility, color, and linetype properties of building objects (figure 1).

Figure 1. The Display Configurations editor lets you control visibility, color, and linetype of building objects.

You no longer rely on layers to manipulate object properties. In fact, you don't pay much attention to them at all because they're automatically under program control. You can forget about layers once you set them up according to office and project standards.

The display system establishes how objects appear in different view directions and types of plan views, based on the built-in characteristics of the intelligent objects that you create. The Drawing Management feature crosses over from Architectural Desktop as the Drawing Manager and Browser, that you use to set up and manage the design of a project as well as project sheets and xreferences.

Building engineering depends heavily on catalogs of standard parts and equipment, and Autodesk Building Systems provides extensive collections of predefined AEC design objects, with more on the way (figure 2).

Figure 2. The Object Browser Catalog shows the available categories of objects.

You can use i-drop technology to download design content from the Web directly into a model. Some manufacturers have made i-drop catalogs available at their sites. Autodesk Building Systems 2004's first Extension, recently released, augments the mechanical design content.

The software includes a great amount of design content, including specialty duct fittings, mechanical MvParts, and metric 3D plumbing fittings. As comprehensive as the design content built into the software is, there will never be every possible type and variation of all the fittings and equipment used in building engineering. To solve this problem, Autodesk provides a nice set of tools to make new objects and modify existing objects to create new custom fittings and sizes of parts and equipment. The Content Builder eases the burden of filling in any gaps you find in the design content.

All the tools and design content in Autodesk Building Systems 2004 are compatible with Architectural Desktop's AEC objects, and the building model is therefore fully interactive with the building model created in Architectural Desktop. Tools such as interference detection analyze architectural and engineering objects in a model and flag any problems, such as conflicts between ducts and structural elements and electrical conduit and piping.

Engineering elements that are crossed by similar elements at a higher elevation are shown with dashed lines in the overlap area. Because this behavior is part of the run-time display system and not based on layers or explicit line properties, the dashed area automatically moves and updates when you change the model (figure 3), saving you time.

Figure 3. The Display System shows dashed lines where ducts cross.

Design content now comes with predefined tags attached to facilitate annotation and labeling. You can get a quick look at the basic properties of an engineering object by letting the cursor linger over it. A yellow information box pops up after a second or so with the size, profile, system, and elevation of a duct, for instance, or the system, voltage, and type of an electrical circuit or fixture. If you click on an object to select it, all its properties display in the Properties palette.

Mechanical engineering is the most fully developed of the three Building Services applications. It offers an extensive array of available equipment and fittings for ducts and piping. Duct placement and editing tools appear on the Duct tool palette, along with most of the duct fittings and accessories (figure 4).

Figure 4. The Duct tool palette places and edits ducts and fittings.

Flex duct is a full 3D part, and you can set the program to automatically connect terminal equipment with a length of flex.

New in this version is Suggested Layout Paths. When you pick two ends of existing model elements, even if they are different profiles, at different elevations and angles, you can toggle among several possible design solutions and select your preferred choice. The duct is placed complete with any transitions and fittings needed to make the connection. This can be a tremendous time-saver when compared with manually constructing duct connections.

The Pipe tool palette contains tools to place and edit piping associated with mechanical equipment. This is not a full-blown process and instrumentation diagram application, but it covers typical piping requirements encountered by a building mechanical engineer. Many system types, fittings, and equipment are available. Domestic water and sewer piping is found on the Plumbing tool palette. Fire protection tools and fixtures for laying out fire sprinkler systems are greatly enhanced in this release.

The Electrical palette covers layout of conduit and cable trays, wiring and circuiting tools, electrical power and lighting fixtures, and scheduling. It's possible to construct complete panel schedules with circuit and connected load information (figure 5).

Figure 5. Use the Electrical Fixtures Placement tool with the 3D Orbit viewer to place fixtures easily.

Though the provided design content is a good start and more than covers the basics, it needs to be augmented in future releases, extensions, and user-created content and variations. Most of the content is of the schematic, single-line variety, appropriate for most electrical drawings. There aren't many 3D views and renderable multiview blocks with predefined BIM data plugged in.

Like Electrical, the Plumbing application is not complete, although it's definitely a good start. Plumbing features a duct flow calculator (also in HVAC) that helps you automatically size pipe based on different needs. Much of the design content seems to have been converted from older applications, going back to the old Softdesk application days. This will be fine for many plumbing engineers' needs. Autodesk points out that you can automatically render 2D plumbing layouts and fixtures in 3D for presentations.

A common concern with this type of application is that users must provide more information at an earlier stage of design. You can use placeholders where design information such as size, shape, and type is unknown, so you or a drafter can add those details later on in your design process.

Depending on how you implement the software in your office, it can mean that design engineers do their design and layout work in a CAD-type tool that creates construction documentation and other drawings as a byproduct of the engineering design activity, rather than turning these tasks over to an intern engineer or drafter.

The efficiency and advantages, including savings because of minimized coordination issues and change orders, are apparent, but in some cases tradition and cultural resistance are still strong. One of the traditional measures of career advancement and growth in building engineering has been the distance a designer creates between his or her design activity and a drafting board or CAD screen. Autodesk says that its goal in putting these products together in one application is to improve coordination between MEP firms, although in my experience most consulting engineering offices are organized and work separately. The software is flexible, and you can set up your firm's focused tools with a few mouse clicks. Building Systems can also create separate lauch icons for each setting and user.

Including complete HVAC and architectural design tools may seem to be unnecessary clutter and waste to a building electrical engineer, who is usually in a separate department and will never use those tools. However, Autodesk reassures us that such users can eliminate unnecessary clutter with the new interface enhancements.

There are many more features that I'd like to discuss, but space is limited. If your office is ready and willing to make any practice changes necessary to use the full power and productivity enhancements inherent in the software and wants to step into the world of BIM, these applications should serve your needs very well. Many early adopters report excellent results so far. The software also appears to be well along in the process of developing future improvements and extensions.



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