Keep Up with AEC Technology

9 Apr, 2004 By: AIA ,H. Edward Goldberg

Revamped show highlights software and solutions for AEC.

I ATTENDED THE A|E|C SYSTEMS show in Orlando, Florida, in late February to get a first-hand taste of new technology for AEC applications. The show targets decision-makers, gatekeepers, forward-thinkers, CTOs, CIOs, and the like in the architectural design, engineering, and construction industries, as well as facilities managers. The focus is on technology and software to help managers execute their business strategies.

Hot Technology
I had the opportunity to interview several exhibitors to gain an in-depth perspective on their products' performance. Although I found something of interest in most of the booths, the following offerings deserve special attention.

Although still in beta testing at the time of this writing, VisionRez is an exciting design program for homebuilding based on Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2004. This BIM (building information modeling) product comes in two versions: VisionREZ plug-in ($1,995) for Architectural Desktop and VisionREZ stand-alone ($2,895), which targets CAD users who want the power of AutoCAD at a lower price.

Figure 1. VisionRez is a homebuilder design program based on Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2004. It adds architectural design enhancements such as new residential roof objects, trim, and wall anchors.

VisionREZ takes full advantage of Architectural Desktop's power and and adds feature enhancements such as new residential roof objects, anchors that tie MVBlocks to wall faces, and secondary content anchors that link associated electrical, plumbing and notes to primary MVBlocks. The associated electrical, plumbing and notes are automatically inserted when you insert the primary content.

The program lets you create an elevation view of a window arrangement using plines, lines, and arcs. You can create a window group and insert that group into a wall. Other features include window muntin styles and automated tag update from a text file. The program comes with predefined schedules and property sets for takeoff and predefined display configurations for many common views.

You must see this program-you can order a demo CD-ROM at the Ameri-CAD Web site. If you are a homebuilder, architect, or light-commercial contractor, this program can help you leverage Architectural Desktop. Also note that with the stand-alone package, you receive the power of Architectural Desktop plus VisionREZ at a price comparable with standard AutoCAD.

fieldDesigner Sketch
FieldDesigner produces software products for automated field measurement, surveying, and in-field coordinate placement that work in conjunction with AutoCAD and Architectural Desktop. The company demonstrated both fieldDesigner Sketch and fieldProfessional at the show.

Figure 2. fieldProfessional and fieldDesigner Sketch software combine the advantages of the Tablet PC, AutoCAD, and real-time data collection with conventional survey equipment such as Leica’s Disto.

FieldDesigner Sketch uses a hand-held laser range finder such as the Leica Disto to store site information that you later download to a computer to automatically create as-built 2D floor plans. FieldProfessional locates 3D objects from Architectural Desktop and ArchiCAD in the field. For example, the system can automatically locate and indicate the locations in the field where sprinkler heads should be by referencing a 3D CAD model on a tablet PC and using a laser beam emitted from a tripod. This bidirectional software (and hardware) helps surveyors automatically place, in real-time and on-site, any entity (building coordinates) directly from the CAD data.

Green Building Studio
Green Building Studio from Geopraxis is a free Web service that gives 3D CAD users estimates of a building's energy costs during the early conceptual design stages. GeoPraxis, an architectural, engineering, and construction software company, develops and implements building energy analysis tools and Web-based solutions.

Figure 3. Green Building Studio is a free Web service that estimates a building’s energy costs from a 3D CAD model during the early stages of conceptual design.

Behind the scenes, Green Building Studio relies on a proprietary data management architecture and a voluminous but tightly integrated system of relational databases that contain hourly weather data, design data, and regionally relevant libraries of default building characteristics with common energy code baselines, such as ASHRAE 90.1 1999 and Title 24.

Green Building Studio works with Graphisoft's ArchiCAD and Autodesk's Architectural Desktop, Revit, and Building Systems. The company is currently developing a plug-in for Bentley's MicroStation. After you download a plug-in, Green Building Studio calculates the energy use of a building.

If you change windows, orientation, and materials, you can update the energy analysis. Green Building Studio is currently programmed for the California market, but GeoPraxis plans to regionalize the calculations for codes in other states.

ArchiCAD 8.1
Graphisoft's ArchiCAD 8.1 helps you leverage integrated 3D modeling and intelligent object technology and transform CAD from an electronic drafting board into an integrated productivity tool. ArchiCAD's Virtual Building approach to building design boosts productivity by automatically handling project documentation. Instead of drawing lines, ellipses, and arcs, you can raise walls, add windows and doors, lay down floors, build stairs, and construct roofs. The Virtual Building workflow not only delivers more control over design, but also provides all the information you need to describe the design project.

The Virtual Building represents a transition in the technology underlying many building design practices as architects move from using arcs, lines, and hatches to basing designs on 3D intelligent objects. With ArchiCAD, you can derive construction documents and files quickly and easily. These files are accessible without any additional software and practically without repetitive work. In addition, ArchiCAD's intelligent objects react to their environment-wall intersections clean up, beams have intersection priorities, roofs can trim building elements-all tools that accelerate your work. Intelligent tools for walls, slabs, columns, beams, roofs, furnishings, and terrains place elements on the floor plan or in the 3D window. These elements already contain information about their height, thickness, material, and other properties. And because all ArchiCAD elements are parametric, you can change their properties on the fly. This increases productivity, makes project management easier, and most importantly, helps you design instead of draft. The Virtual Building concept positions architects in better control of a project from start to finish throughout the design and build process.

Primavera P3e/c for Construction 4.0
At the show, Primavera launched P3e/c for Construction 4.0, a scheduling and planning tool tailored to the construction industry. It offers schedule analysis, cost forecasting, and streamlined coordination among designers, contractors, and owners. Full-time schedulers and project managers can use P3e/c to schedule projects, conduct baseline analyses to track the progress of a project, conduct resource planning, consolidate contractor schedules, and start and manage projects. Managers can gauge projected budgets against actual costs with top-down budgeting and bottom-up cost control.

Figure 4. Analyze key performance indicators using P3e/c Project Dashboard. At a glance, you can read cost and schedule performance to date.

With P3e/c, you can also create spreadsheet views to initiate new projects as well as update and monitor the status of projects with stop (red-light) and go (green-light) indicators. Because P3e/c makes project information Web and Palm accessible, every team member can receive and react to customized, up-to-the-minute assignments and tasks. For example, clients and owners can access status reports and collaborate with project managers and schedulers. And contractors and subcontractors can collaborate with project team members to establish clear steps and specifications regarding their roles in projects.

WinEstimator offers a family of powerful, integrated, and flexible estimating and bidding solutions called WinEst Pro, WinEst Pro Plus, and the collaborative estimating package WinEst eTeam for the AEC industry.

WinEst Virtual Takeoff is a paperless onscreen takeoff tool. It helps you perform quantity takeoffs on your PC using digital images, such as BMP, GIF, and JPG files, of plans downloaded via online plan rooms or obtained from architects or project owners. WinEst Virtual Takeoff can help contractors eliminate the need to use a digitizer to perform takeoffs and to print costly plans.

Figure 5. WinEst Virtual Takeoff is a paperless onscreen takeoff tool that lets you perform quantity takeoffs on your PC using digital images.

WinEst integrates with accounting packages, including Microsoft Business Solutions Solomon, Intuit MasterBuilder, and QuickBooks, so that you can perform one-click transfers of cost data to accounting programs. With the WinEst estimate data, you can create jobs, new clients, contracts, budgets, proposals, billing documents, bid items, change orders, and more. Integrating estimating software with accounting software reduces errors by eliminating the need for redundant data entry.

WinEst also connects estimating software with scheduling software. Once you complete an estimate, you simply send the data to a scheduling program via the export option on the Tools pull-down menu. The scheduling software then creates projects, tasks, resources, rate tables, and resource assignments. WinEst integrates with Microsoft Project and Primavera. The software can also create an MPX file to import into other scheduling software applications.

All in All
Though small, A|E|C SYSTEMS was an excellent event, with high-quality speakers, seminar leaders, and exhibitors. Show managers estimate that total attendance this year was about 2,000. More than 60 seminars were presented, and 75 exhibitors offered everything from accounting software to wireless technology.

"For our first event, we are pleased with the results of A|E|C SYSTEMS-Technology for Design & Construction," said Rick McConnell, senior show director. As we went to press, Hanley Wood Exhibitions announced that A|E|C SYSTEMS will now be called Technology for Construction and integrated into the 2005 World of Concrete show held January 18-21 in Las Vegas. Find details at

More News and Resources from Cadalyst Partners

For Mold Designers! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the mold design professional. Sponsored by Siemens NX.  Visit the Equipped Mold Designer here!

For Architects! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the building design professional. Sponsored by HP.  Visit the Equipped Architect here!