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Dear MicroStation Maxine: Help Me Understand Which Bentley Software I Need

7 Feb, 2018 By: Cadalyst Staff

Bentley Systems software offerings are plentiful — that’s a good thing — but can be a lot to understand for the newcomer. Maxine is here to help!

Dear MicroStation Maxine:

When it comes to design and engineering software, my organization is an Autodesk customer primarily. We're uncertain about what the future holds for our Autodesk relationship, given that we're being pushed into subscription licensing (if we want to keep our software affordable) and the drawbacks we associate with that. So we're looking at alternatives, including diversifying our software portfolio to lessen our reliance on Autodesk tools, or possibly moving away from Autodesk entirely.

We're examining Bentley Systems as a possible new software partner - but before we can consider the potential cost and other realities of such a move, we need to determine which Bentley Systems products we would need to complement or replace our Autodesk software. Bentley's software lineup is extensive - and a bit intimidating! How do we figure out which Bentley products we should be considering?

—Considering Plan B

Dear Considering:

Bentley Systems software offerings are plentiful, for sure — that's a good thing — but can be a lot to understand for the newcomer. Maxine is here to help!

Let me start by clearing up the 30,000-foot view of Bentley software. Then I'll map out some 1:1 matchups between Autodesk and Bentley tools. You should end up with an understanding of Bentley software that equips you for further research. You'll be off and running before you know it!

The Bentley Big Picture

Bentley Systems is focused on infrastructure, from design through operations, and all its software is best suited for that. If you design communications networks, Bentley has your back! If you design cell phones, you'll want to look elsewhere.

Under the enormous infrastructure umbrella, you'll find many specialties — and Bentley covers most of them. Within those specialties, Bentley offers multiple software options. My favorite way to illustrate this is with the following diagram.

This diagram lists the Bentley Systems software products applicable to various categories of infrastructure development.
This diagram lists the Bentley Systems software products applicable to various categories of infrastructure development. (Click to view larger version.)

This really helps a newbie get up to speed, don't you think? Keep in mind that all these discipline-specific tools revolve around MicroStation for design, ProjectWise for project information management, and AssetWise for managing asset performance. I'll talk more about MicroStation (and its 2D counterpart, PowerDraft) shortly.

I also highly recommend checking out Project Types on the Bentley web site. Selecting from 42 infrastructure types — from airports to water treatment plants — you can find descriptions of how Bentley can support what you do and drill down to identify the corresponding software products. Infrastructure owners: You might prefer to explore according to the industry in which you operate; Bentley breaks this down by 17 categories, such as buildings and facilities, process manufacturing, roads and highways, and utilities.

Identify the Tools You Need

To supplement the overview provided above, following is a 1:1 matchup of common Autodesk software for infrastructure applications and their Bentley counterparts. I share this as another way to find where to start your Bentley software research; however, your final choices should be based on finding the best software matches for the types of work you do and how you want to manage it rather than on names alone.

Autodesk Software Bentley Systems Counterpart
AutoCAD LTPowerDraft
AutoCAD ArchitectureAECOsim Building Designer
AutoCAD Civil 3DOpenRoads or OpenRail or SITEOPS
AutoCAD Map 3DMap
AutoCAD MEPAECOsim Building Designer
AutoCAD ElectricalPromis*e
AutoCAD Plant 3DOpenPlant products
AutoCAD Raster DesignDescartes
RevitAECOsim Building Designer products
Revit LiveLumenRT or Bentley Navigator
3ds MaxMicroStation + LumenRT
Structural analysisStructural analysis products
Recap ProContextCapture or Pointools
Structural Bridge DesignOpenBridge Modeler
Robot Structural Analysis ProfessionalRAM or STAAD
InsightAECOsim Energy Simulator
Advance SteelProStructures (steel and concrete detailing)
Dynamo StudioGenerative Components
NavisworksBentley Navigator
InfraworksOpenRoads ConceptStation


And here are several Bentley Systems tools for which you won't find comparable Autodesk products:

About Cloud-Based Tools

When it comes to cloud-based software, Bentley develops products that work across platforms and devices. Bentley CONNECT Edition, for example, represents the beginning of a generation of cloud-based products that are integrated with desktop. It converges Bentley's platform technologies to support a hybrid environment across desktop modeling applications, cloud services, on-premise servers, and mobile apps.

As an example, CONNECT Advisor is cloud-based learning technology that's plugged into every desktop application, providing on-the-fly contextual help and recommendations for the task at hand as well as direct access to training videos, community forums, YouTube videos, technical support, and more.

Another example is Bentley ContextCapture, which takes ordinary photographs and applies hybrid desktop and cloud processing to create highly detailed 3D models of existing conditions for infrastructure projects of all types.

Replacing AutoCAD

Maxine knows the thought of replacing AutoCAD can be a daunting one! Permit me to explain a bit about the Bentley counterparts, MicroStation and PowerDraft, because I know that familiarizing yourself with these powerful, versatile tools will help to put your mind at ease.

PowerDraft supports 2D design and documentation for projects of any size or complexity using powerful, intelligent drafting, annotation, and reporting. It is likely the tool you need if you're not doing BIM nor getting ready to adopt it soon.

PowerDraft also:

  • produces polished drawings, schedules, and reports directly from 2D and 3D models;
  • enables exploration of more design options through capture of design intent using built-in, robust geometric constraints;
  • automatically annotates and builds reports based on object properties and produces intelligent 3D PDFs; and
  • brings together project information and teams by incorporating and exchanging drawings and models in any format, including point clouds, DWG, DGN, DXF, SHP, 3DM, and more.

MicroStation is an advanced parametric 2D/3D modeling application for creating, viewing, documenting, and visualizing data of any size or complexity. MicroStation produces BIM-ready models: Because it is built on the same modeling platform as all Bentley BIM applications, team members can easily progress MicroStation work into any discipline-specific BIM app without losing precious time or data integrity. If you use MicroStation and BIM concurrently, you don't have to move in and out of them like you might with an AutoCAD/Revit workflow. User interfaces are nearly identical and file formats are the same throughout.

MicroStation can be the hub that integrates all the multidisciplinary models you're creating in BIM apps. If you're working on a metro station, for example, MicroStation can take information from Bentley Open Rail, AECOsim Building Designer, and others, and pull it all together as a multidisciplinary aggregate modeler and general-purpose modeler on its own.

MicroStation also enables:

  • automated deliverables, including drawing sheets, schedules, models, visualizations, and more;
  • reality modeling, including reality meshes, images, point clouds, GIS data, or other data sources such as Bing maps, and much more;
  • intrinsic geo-coordination that places your BIM models in precise geographic and geometric context;
  • functional components that enable the creation of flexible components with predefined variants that leverage 2D and 3D constraints to accurately capture and model design intent; and
  • hypermodeling, a visual 3D experience that integrates annotated documentation into 3D models.

For more insight into a potential move from AutoCAD to MicroStation or PowerDraft, see the white paper, AutoCAD to MicroStation: How Do You Know If You're Ready for a Change?, which defines the circumstances in which MicroStation would be advantageous. And by the way, if you're feeling conflicted about tearing away from your past investment in AutoCAD, check out the article, "Move Past the AutoCAD Ties That Bind," which offers an objective view and some encouragement on that matter.

Parting Advice

As you contemplate your future in terms of the software that supports that journey, consider which work you'll be doing tomorrow in addition to what you're doing today. Ask yourself, "Where are we going?" and choose new software accordingly.

This is especially true if you haven't yet adopted BIM. CAD and BIM are certainly different ways of doing work, but in some ways BIM builds on CAD and does many of the same things; BIM adds modern functionality that enable discipline-specific work. More than an "electronic pencil," BIM supports sophisticated design and workflows and positions you to take on bigger and better projects. Bentley's integrated approach to CAD and BIM could be exactly what your business needs begin the transition.

So as you explore this potential software transition, consider adopting what you need to build a foundation for what's ahead. If you're going to embark on a major software journey, why not come out on the other side equipped to take your organization into the future?

Next Time

Once you have a better sense of which Bentley software will support your work, you can move on to how to obtain it, in terms of pricing and licensing — and I'll be diving into just that in the next installment of "MicroStation Maxine." In the meantime, do you have a question for me about transitioning to Bentley Systems software? Click here to submit!


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