Cadalyst AEC Tech News #132

17 Nov, 2004 By: Michael Dakan

Pricing's Free cost-estimating plugins are a move in the right direction, but

Cadalyst AEC Tech News

Baby Step for BIM

1ST Pricing's Free cost-estimating plugins are a move in the right direction, but they have some some significant limitations

1ST Pricing of Signal Hill, California, has released its downloadable, free plugins for Autodesk's AutoCAD and Architectural Desktop and IMSI's TurboCAD that generate a bill of materials and pricing based on information contained in the CAD model. The application goes beyond merely generating a schedule of materials and adding up the prices included within it. It takes the logical next step of online procurement from the select group of manufacturers that support the 1ST Pricing database. A design-build organization can generate a live pricing schedule of materials for a building that contains current pricing — not just a cost estimate — and you can actually purchase the materials based on the schedule you generate.

As predicted here and elsewhere — and because of the growing interest in making BIM (building information modeling) encompass the gamut of information related to a proposed building — we can expect a lot of BIM extensions and enhancement applications to become available in coming months. Cost estimating and accurate pricing of a proposed structure is one such application that requires a lot of additional development effort to enhance the basic reporting and scheduling tools in BIM applications. Out-of-the-box BIM tools need a lot of customizing and additional data input to make them really useful for cost estimating. 1ST Pricing aims to short-cut that data-input process by providing its own database of manufacturers and prices.

Plugins Run as Separate Applications
Plugins are available for AutoCAD 2002, 2004, and 2005, and for Architectural Desktop 2002 and 2004 (but not yet for ADT 2005). Versions are also available for IMSI's TurboCAD Standard and Professional, and 1ST Pricing promises plugins for other CAD systems as well. Although it is billed as a BIM enhancement for these products, it isn't really an extension of the BIM tools contained in Architectural Desktop; rather, it runs alongside these tools as a separate application. Rather than integrating with the existing design content of ADT, for instance, you must insert the proprietary 1STPricing "smart symbols" using a separate Object Form interface.

The symbols available in the 1ST Pricing interface are limited to commercially available products from manufacturers that are supported in the 1ST Pricing database. You cannot insert a symbol using the Object Form of something that is not in this database. This limitation is billed as a "feature" that prevents errors in using something that is not commercially available from the 1ST Pricing list of supported manufacturers, but it also excludes products from manufacturers who haven't bought into the 1ST Pricing method and database.

Another limit of the plugins is that walls in CAD models must consist of only lines. You cannot use polylines or other entities to construct walls, which may prove to be a limitation of Wall Styles and other automated tools you could use to construct a 3D CAD model. You must pick individual wall lines separately, one at a time — the exterior wall line first, then the interior face.

Materials Choices are Limited
While 1ST Pricing implies that it offers a general-purpose scheduling and pricing tool for cost information in the CAD model, the only modules initially available are for doors and windows, including some skylights, and interior glass block. Of course, this is only a tiny subset of the complete range of materials that make up a typical building. Tool kits for other building materials are promised to be in development.

You are also limited to products that are in the 1ST Pricing stable of manufacturers. The windows database claims to contain products from several well-known manufacturers such as Milgard, Superior, International Windows, Atrium, Andersen, and Marvin, but no mention is made of several other well-known window suppliers. It will be interesting to see how many other manufacturers and suppliers of other types of building products will sign on to the 1ST Pricing business model over time, and whether 1ST Pricing will succeed in its objective to create a general pricing and procurement tool for all materials in a building.

As you can attest if you have ever attempted to populate a database of materials and prices for a complete range of materials and products for buildings, the task is daunting to say the least. And it will no doubt take some time to create a fully useful building materials and scheduling BIM tool for AEC. 1ST Pricing plugins are only an admirable start on the task at this point, and we can only wish the company well in its quest for a useful enhancement to BIM tools.