Autodesk Buys Robobat-But Why?

6 Sep, 2006 By: Sara Ferris

Also, AIA Billings Index back in black after months of decline

Autodesk yesterday acquired Robobat, a developer of software for structural engineering analysis, for US$33 million in cash from the Grenoble, France-based company. Autodesk and Robobat had previously partnered to integrate Robobat’s ROBOT Millennium application with Autodesk Revit Structure. In addition, Robobat develops steel and concrete detailing software that runs on AutoCAD. More than 10,000 licensed copies of its products are in use worldwide by 8,000 customers. The company reported sales of 11.9 million Euros in 2005.

My initial reaction to this news was that Autodesk felt compelled to acquire a structural analysis developer before Bentley Systems bought them all. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but Bentley did go on a structural spending spree at the end of 2005. It acquired RAM International in December 2005, a month after completing its purchase of the STAAD product line from REI (Research Engineers, Inc.) for $23.5 million. At the time of purchase, the STAAD user base was reported at 19,000. Details on the RAM purchase were not disclosed.

Clearly, both Autodesk and Bentley see structural engineering as a key element of their BIM (building information modeling) offerings, important enough to bring in-house rather than leave to third-party partners.

Jay Bhatt, vice-president of Autodesk Building Solutions, indicates that Autodesk will continue to support other structural analysis products: “As we enhance our comprehensive solutions for structural engineering, Autodesk remains committed to supporting our customer’s choice of structural analysis and detailing software. We will continue to support open data-exchange standards and to work closely with our strategic structural engineering partners to support the many different ways that structural engineers around the world use software to work and realize their ideas.”

Revit Structure currently supports export of data in DWG, DXF, DGN and IFC formats. In addition, the Revit Structure analytical model dynamically links with external applications such as ETABS from CSI, RISAFloor and RISA-3D as well as ROBOT Millennium. RAM recently made available its interface to Revit Structure 3, though Bentley is not an Autodesk partner.

Autodesk says that it will continue to support Robobat’s existing product line as well as offer new solutions for structural engineering, detailing and analysis that incorporate both Robobat and Autodesk technology.

It will be interesting to see how Autodesk positions the Robobat products, which are now more widely used in Europe than in the United States, where Autodesk partner RISA and RAM (a.k.a. Bentley) are strong.

I expect to follow up with Autodesk to inquire about its reasons for the acquisition and plans for the Robobat technology. If there’s anything in particular you’d like to find out on this subject, send me questions at

AIA Billings Index Back in Black

For the first time in two months, the AIA (American Institute of Architects) Billings Index shows signs of moderate growth. Prior to the May report, the index showed 19 consecutive months of sustained positive monthly growth. Then, the May and June reports indicated that overall, billings were down slightly nationwide.

The August report shows a slight turnaround among architectural firms, returning to average positive billings growth. Perhaps more significantly, the August report also indicates a very strong rate of new work inquiries, which had also been down the preceding several months. This bodes well for the immediate future, since the Inquiries Index indicates anticipated new work coming into offices. Billing inquiries show the highest value since January of this year, perhaps reflecting a growing backlog of work, as the fact that the overall economy has been uncertain.

Regionally, the Billings Index shows the strongest gains on the East and West Coasts, with the Midwest continuing to lag behind in firm billings. Even in June and July, when the overall national average was down, the South remained fairly strong with a positive growth rate. This is, no doubt, due to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the continuing need for massive reconstruction in the area.

Interestingly, construction materials costs showed signs of stabilization and even declines in some cases, after the shortages and rapid rise of costs in the aftermath of Katrina. Petroleum-based products remained high due to the continuing rise in oil prices worldwide. The decline in prices for some materials may be due to the reconstruction in the Gulf Coast region proceeding a little slower than was initially anticipated.

Overall, these numbers show that the architectural industry is fairly healthy, and the future looks good. As is common in times of positive growth, firm turnover rates are becoming a concern once again. Architectural personnel generally take advantage of a positive economy in order to seek increased opportunities and higher salaries in other firms. When demand for architectural staff is low, people tend to stay put in jobs they already have.

The AIA Billings Index measures only nonresidential design activity. It is based on a monthly survey of AIA member firms, who report whether billings declined, stayed the same or increased over the previous month. An index number of 50 indicates no change in billings, and a number higher than 50 shows that billings have risen. The number for June was 49.2, and the index for July was 51.8. An explanation of the AIA Architectural Billings Index and its monthly history can be reviewed on the AIA Web site. For a more complete report of economic conditions in architectural firms for July and the immediate outlook, see the article by Kermit Baker, chief economist for the AIA.

About the Author: Sara Ferris

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