Cadalyst AEC Tech News #110 (December 4, 2003)

3 Dec, 2003 By: Michael Dakan

Autodesk Building Systems 2004 Adds a Piece to the BIM Puzzle

  • The BIM Promise
  • Tools of the Trade
  • Engineering Aids
  • All-in-one Product

Autodesk Building Systems 2004 (ABS 2004) is the fourth major release of Autodesk's building mechanical, electrical, and plumbing software. This release adds a necessary set of tools for more easily modeling a complete building information model. ABS 2004 is built with the same technology and shares the interface and many of the modeling techniques of Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2004.


BIM (building information modeling) has the potential to provide the AEC design professional with the ability to create a virtual building model that addresses coordination and documentation issues during design phases and also has value well beyond building design and construction. For example, the building owner and manager may use the model for facilities management, building maintenance, and other long-term uses. To best accomplish this, the model needs to be complete and provide information about all aspects of the building and its equipment, including building services such as mechanical and electrical systems.

Most BIM authoring software does not yet provide automated modeling tools that are comprehensive enough to model a complete building, including the building engineering disciplines. ABS 2004 has a thorough set of tools aimed at building HVAC, electrical, and plumbing engineering. About the only thing missing is structural engineering, and Autodesk Architectural Desktop covers many of the components needed to model the building shell and its structural elements.

Autodesk Building Systems 2004 is unique among BIM authoring applications in providing tools that allow the user to model building systems in 3D while working in a 2D view similar to drawing with conventional CAD systems. You are simultaneously constructing a 3D model, so you need to be aware of what is happening in the third dimension, but the automated features of ABS 2004 mean that the additional overhead involved in paying attention to where things are placed in 3D space is minimal.


ABS 2004 has tools for constructing HVAC, including ducts and fittings, equipment, and piping. Electrical design tools create conduits, cable trays, wiring, and panels. Plumbing provides tools for fixtures, pipes, and fire protection systems. The building mechanical portions of ABS 2004 are the most fully developed and complete of the applications. The other disciplines are less comprehensive at this point, but are still an excellent set of tools for covering the complete range of building engineering needs.

Building engineering relies a lot on catalogs of standard parts and equipment. Autodesk has emphasized this aspect. ABS 2004 comes with an extensive collection of intelligent objects, along with tools for selecting and placing them in the model. The first Extension available for ABS 2004 is primarily a major expansion of the HVAC design content objects. A good set of tools lets you add to and modify design content to fill in any gaps. You can also find additional design content on the Web and place it directly into the model using i-drop technology. Several mechanical equipment manufacturers have begun to make their catalogs available on their Web sites in ABS-compatible format.


In addition to tools for building the BIM model, several design engineering tools are built in to ABS 2004 for duct and piping sizing and load calculations for electrical equipment, plumbing fixture units, and air flow. From the information placed in the model you can automatically generate schedules and reports, including complete electrical panel schedules. Interference checking shows conflicts between mechanical ducts, pipes, and equipment. It also flags conflicts with building objects placed with Architectural Desktop, so you can coordinate all the building, structural, and mechanical elements.


Early versions of Autodesk's building engineering tools required the separate purchase and installation of Architectural Desktop, but the last two versions of ABS are compete and don't require the purchase of any additional Autodesk software. The installation of ABS 2004 contains the functionality of AutoCAD 2004, on which it based, and also Architectural Desktop 2004 and VIZ Render, a photorealistic rendering package. Price is a one-time fee of $5,995 plus an annual subscription of $695.

For more information about Autodesk Building Services 2004 and how it works, see a more complete review in the December 2003 edition of the print version of Cadalyst magazine.