AEC Tech News #89 (Jan. 16, 2003)

15 Jan, 2003 By: Lachmi Khemlani

This issue continues the retrospective summary of the highlights of the year 2002 for the AEC technology industry, arranged chronologically by quarter, that was started in the previous issue (Issue #88:). Despite the serious downturn in the overall economy and in the high-tech industry in particular, we saw that it was an impressive first half of the year for the AEC technology industry, with companies continuing to develop and introduce new and innovative products.

In this issue, we look at the ground-breaking industry events that occurred in the second half of 2002.

Third Quarter

The dominant event in the third quarter of 2002 was the launch of the much-awaited new release of ArchiCAD, Version 8, by Graphisoft. The announcement came at the UIA World Congress, the world's largest architectural convention, in Berlin. The primary new features in ArchiCAD 8 are a streamlined interface with a new unified look and a simplified menu structure with customizable features, increased application speed and improved 2D and 3D navigation, better document creation and management functionality that provides easy and instant access to all documents stored in the project file, new solid geometry operations that enable the user to model complex shapes more easily, and several drafting improvements.

It was also a good quarter for @Last Software, which announced the availability of SketchUp for Mac OS X at the MacWorld Expo, held in July in New York. Considering that the program was previously available only for the Windows platform, it was particularly commendable that SketchUp came away from the show with MacWorld's "Best of Show" award! The features of SketchUp for Mac OS X include native code built from the ground up using the Cocoa API, built-in support for OpenGL for leveraging the 3D graphics performance built into a Mac, adoption of the new Aqua interface to provide smoother interaction, ties into Mac OS X/Cocoa Color Picker for superior color selection and accurate color matching through the system-wide ColorSync standard, and built-in PDF Integration. The new release also featured dynamic Section Cutting tools that allow designers to visualize and generate measurable building sections and floor plans from the 3D model.

Another 3D modeling tool, form•Z, made significant progress. Its next big release, Version 4.0, scheduled for release at the beginning of 2003, will finally have an API (application programming interface) for creating plug-ins with the C or C++ programming language, and a scripting capability using a simplified C-like interpretive language. The first of these plug-ins, highly anticipated by form•Z users, were demonstrated at the Siggraph 2002 show in July. The plug-ins were mostly of rendering effects, but they clearly showed the enhanced power of form•Z's newly open architecture and its flexibility for customizing.

On the EDM (engineering document management) front, Cyco Software, an EDM solution provider for the CAD and facilities-management markets, announced a new version of AutoManager View, a popular CAD viewing application that allows designers to view, zoom, print, annotate, and compare more than 250 document types, including database, presentation, raster, spreadsheet, vector, and word files. The software also includes BriefCase, a utility to share drawings and related data securely across the Internet. New features in AutoManager View 3.3 include Microsoft Office XP viewing, support for AutoCAD 2002 viewing of fonts, line types and dimensions, enhanced viewing and printing of AutoCAD 2002 DWF files, improved DXF viewing, improved redlining and printing of TIFF files, faster drawing compare feature, and an enhanced raster viewer.

The main news from Autodesk this quarter was the revamping of its online project collaboration service, Buzzsaw. Autodesk introduced Autodesk Buzzsaw Professional, a new service that took all the collaboration functionality found in the earlier Buzzsaw service and enhanced it with advanced construction management and administrative workflow features for precise document tracking and communication during construction. With this added functionality, the scope of the application extends communication and project management to the entire building lifecycle rather than just the design phase. The new Buzzsaw Professional also addresses the specific needs of building owners with features that help them reduce cycle times and errors and increase team accountability and control.

Fourth Quarter

Autodesk dominated the news in the last quarter of 2002 with several key new releases: Architectural Studio 3, Building Systems 3, and Revit 5. Version 3 of Autodesk Architectural Studio improves real-time collaboration on design issues by allowing project teams to host their own online conferencing sessions via their own intranet. Interoperability with other Autodesk tools is improved through the transition to a simplified, file-based environment. Version 3 also features more conceptual design options as well as customizable drawing tools and palettes, designed to accommodate individual designers' work styles and simplify the design and collaboration environment.

The new release of Autodesk Building Systems, Version 3, is a combined product that integrates functionality for all three MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) disciplines into one application, designed to make it easier to produce accurate construction documents and models. It also includes enhanced engineering-specific features for reducing drafting time and improving accuracy, as well as expanded libraries and content-creation tools to reduce the costs of creating custom and manufacturer-specific equipment and part catalogs.

Autodesk Revit 5 is the first major release of the product since Autodesk acquired Revit Technology Corp. earlier this year. The new version provides expanded capabilities for use on larger and more complex projects, more efficient memory management, and significant performance and user interface improvements. There is now native support for the DWG file format, the ability to quickly create walkthrough animations, increased automation of construction documentation, and new tools, templates, and construction content, all of which are intended to improve coordination, communication, and productivity.

Several new products from other vendors were launched this quarter. The list includes PowerCAD Architect, a software system that automates 2D and 3D design for residential building and light commercial construction, by GiveMePower Corp. Designed for architects, builders, and design consultants, this software is AutoCAD-compatible and uses a single-model approach to automatically create and link smart 2D and 3D elements such as walls, windows, doors, kitchens, bathrooms, and roofs. (I plan to review this product in an upcoming newsletter issue.)

Another new application to see the light of day is o2c_Interactive! by DATACAD LLC, the company that makes the popular CAD products, DataCAD and DataCAD LT. Built on the up-and-coming o2c file format, this application is targeted toward any design field that deals with 3D objects, and is intended to give designers the ability to explore and present different variations of material finishes for these objects on the fly. The design itself has to be modeled in 3D using a CAD application and saved in the o2c format before it can be used in o2c_Interactive!. DataCAD 9.06 and later versions have the ability to export native 3D models directly to o2c format, and can be used to also convert DXF or DWG files created in other CAD applications to o2c. (Watch for my review of o2c_Interactive! in the March 2003 issue of CADENCE magazine.)

The third new application launched this quarter is Architecturals Ltd., a limited version of Architecturals, by BricsCad (formerly a division of Bricsnet). Architecturals is the company's flagship 3D architectural CAD modeler that features component connectivity-its floors, roofs, and walls can reshape or resize themselves when an internal element, such as a window or door, is moved or modified. In addition, Architecturals can automatically generate plans, sections, elevations, and quantity take-offs. The Ltd. Version comes with a limited set of materials in its database, a newly designed picture menu, and an upgrade path to Architecturals.

Interoperability was in the news again this quarter, with a number of applications going through a successful first-stage certification process of being compliant with IFC2x, the most recent version of the IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) building model. These include Bentley's MicroStation Triforma, G.E.M. Team Solution's IFC2x-Interface for Autodesk Architectural Desktop, Graphisoft's ArchiCAD, Nemetschek AG's Allplan, Allplot, Allfem, and Allfa, Building Construction Authority-Singapore's e-Plan Checking, Solibri's Model Checker, and YIT Construction Ltd's Cove software for cost estimation. All major AEC CAD vendors will now be IFC-compliant, marking a significant milestone on the AEC interoperability roadmap. Also, the IFCs were recently endorsed by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization)--the IFC2x Platform Specification is now ISO/PAS 16793. Recognition of the IFCs as a formal standard, and not just an industry standard, confers validity to this seven-year effort and should lead to more serious implementation of this standard in the AEC industry.


The second half of 2002 was as eventful for the AEC technology industry as the first half of the year, with plenty of new releases as well as the launch of several new products. The diverse nature of this industry, which caters to the innumerable aspects of building design and construction, gives it a buoyancy that is in sharp contrast to the economic gloom that has overshadowed most other industries the past year. Personally, it has been a great experience following these various technologies, and I look forward to many more exciting developments in the coming year.