Event Report: AEC-ST Fall

13 Dec, 2007

BIM makes a strong showing at this Washington, D.C.-based conference that runs the gamut of green design.

What do you get when you mix green with BIM (building information modeling)? No, not a new paint color. Green + BIM = AEC-ST Fall, the December edition of the only independent, national AEC/O industry tradeshow. Younger sibling to the Anaheim, California-based AEC-ST, the fall show and conference drew a crowd of 2,000 to the new Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. Once inside, attendees faced the daunting prospect of choosing among roughly 100 exhibitors, about 70 seminars and workshops, and a pair of major keynote talks. To further enrich the palette of options, this event actually is several shows in one.

Show management offers Ecobuild as the flip side of AEC-ST. (By the way, the ST stands for Science and Technology). Both events span four days. As if that weren't enough, numerous affiliated events have colocated with the Ecobuild/AEC-ST duopoly. One might expect that with Washington, D.C., as the venue, many of these colocated events would have a distinctively inside-the-Beltway spin. For example, FEDcon is a one-day, colocated event that explores design and construction programs of various federal agencies; FEDspec is a new conference for AEC specifiers in the federal government and those working on federal projects; P3 is another new conference, specifically geared to the process, power, and plant project lifecycle; and the buildingSMART alliance program caters to the interoperability and BIM standards folks in or about the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS).

In other words, there's something for almost everyone in AEC/O, spanning interests from low-flow plumbing fixtures and low-E glass to the SMARTcodes efforts of the International Code Council and hot topics among Specifications Consultants in Independent Practice (SCIP). As I usually do when attending such broad-based events, I limited my focus to exhibitors and seminars in the realm of digital technology.

BIM on Board
The BIM model-authoring vendors were well represented. Bentley Systems had a strong, multibay presence in the exhibition hall, as did Graphisoft's ArchiCAD -- the latter surrounded by a whole ecosystem of supporting products and consulting service providers. Nemetschek's VectorWorks Architect was on display in a booth right on the central axis of the exhibit hall, while the space reserved for Autodesk remained mysteriously vacant. (A show insider explained that Autodesk had signed on to exhibit its plant and process lineup -- not its BIM products -- but a last-minute scheduling conflict prevented its participation.) Gehry Technologies did not take a booth to hawk its Digital Project software, but company cofounder and CTO Dennis Shelden was a nearly ubiquitous presence on the conference side, speaking about the firm's BIM consulting services in related sessions.

Other BIM-related software on exhibit included Beck Technology's DProfiler cost-modeling system and the database-driven spec-writing tools of Building Systems Design (BSD Softlink). On the non-BIM side of AEC technology, SOTA Software showed its long-running AegisWeb suite of financial and project management tools, while industry newcomer Arsitus offered its brand-new, all-Web PracticePro software for managing A/E practice as a business.

As I noted in my recent report on the AEC developments at Autodesk University 2007, the trends toward integrating the physical with the virtual as well as paper with digital are very much a hot topic these days. Laser scanning provider Quantapoint exemplified the physical-to-virtual trend. Smooth Solutions, with its document scanning, document conversion, and document management services and software carried the banner for the paper-to-digital cohort.

The Gang's All Here
Personal and professional networking opportunities are the unheralded highlight of most tradeshows, and AEC-ST was no exception. Show organizers wisely placed the lunchtime food court at the rear of the exhibit hall, to further facilitate the networking opportunities, while at the same time ensuring that every attendee had at least pass by most booths. After encountering the hundredth or so familiar face, I joked to some friends that if we stood in one spot at AEC-ST long enough, we'd likely run into everyone who's anyone in AEC/O.

All that networking and booth-hopping left me less time than I'd planned for the extensive seminar program. Of the sessions I was able to attend, highlights included the following:

  • "Second Generation BIM," by the aforementioned Dennis Shelden of Gehry Technologies, a dazzling display of more than 10 years' worth of BIM consulting and implementation projects creating measurable business value for project owners

  • buildingSMART alliance's "Education Forum," with a distinguished panel addressing the long-term prospect of cultural transformation in AEC/O via university and professional education

  • the pair of National BIM Standard (NBIMS) panels to which my friend, Air Force Major Patrick Suermann, P.E., contributed insights about testing and benchmarking with and for NBIMS

On this last point, I have said since the launch of buildingSMART that the concept runs the risk of devolving into a marketing buzzword unless the industry develops meaningful tools with which to qualify and quantify what constitutes smart building (and which tools and methods are smarter). It's gratifying to see such testing and validation procedures now emerging, along with a NBIMS Capability Maturity Model. I should note here that I cheer this effort from the sidelines. The work is beyond my technical competence, so I'm happy to see it in the hands of wizards like Suermann (who's also a doctorate student at the University of Florida's Rinker School of Building Construction).

Summing up AEC-ST, I found it to be a worthy successor to the fabled A/E/C Systems shows of yore. (George Borkovich, AEC-ST principal, was a cofounder of the late and lamented A/E/C shows.) I'm already looking forward to the next AEC-ST event, May 19-22, 2008, at the Anaheim Convention Center.