CadFaster|Collaborate for Autodesk Revit 20111 Jun, 2011 By: Patrick Davis
First Look Review: Also available for SolidWorks and coming soon for mobile use, new plug-in facilitates real-time, interactive model reviews.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the Winter/Spring 2011 issue of Cadalyst magazine.
Over the years, the design process has changed with the introduction of new technologies, bringing about shorter design cycles, reduced fees, and demands for greater productivity. What hasn't changed is the need for distributed teams to collaborate with each other and their various project stakeholders. Sharing 3D files with non–CAD users has always been difficult. Technology can help, as long as the real-time collaboration tools replicate the power and experience of a face-to-face meeting.
Finland-based CadFaster, an industry newcomer, has introduced a design collaboration tool that enables various project participants to collaborate on 3D models. Regardless of a project's size, everyone can walk through, measure, create sections, and add comments. These capabilities aren't necessarily new or exciting. What CadFaster|Collaborate brings to the table is the ability to work interactively in real time, even when using a low-bandwidth Internet connection or (coming soon) an iPhone or iPad. Now, that is exciting.
CadFaster|Collaborate is available for Autodesk Revit 2011 for BIM (building information modeling) workflows and SolidWorks 2010 and 2011 for 3D product design, and should work with Revit 2012, according to CadFaster. The company reports that the program will be released for Bentley Architecture and Graphisoft ArchiCAD platforms next. For this First Look, I reviewed CadFaster|Collaborate for Autodesk Revit 2011.
How It Works
CadFaster|Collaborate provides a plug-in for Revit that lets users export a model to a portable executable file that can be e-mailed to project stakeholders for review. The executable file, which contains a stand-alone viewer and a highly compressed version of the Revit model, can be opened and viewed on almost any Windows-based computer without requiring any special software or tools beyond an Internet connection. During a design review meeting, as many as ten participants can connect to a joint web-based viewing session.
CadFaster|Collaborate provides the mechanism for this web-based meeting. This setup is similar to a common web-based meeting, except there is no audio so a separate conference call is required. In a collaborative session, each user simply opens his or her file. This initiates communication via the CadFaster servers which manage the communications between files. No meeting ID, log-in, or special URL is required. One person at a time can control the position of the camera view, but all participants can select any element in the model and make annotations for all parties to view. All annotations are collected in real time on a cloud-based server so they are accessible anytime from anywhere. User-defined expiration dates can be set on the files, essentially disabling them when the time period expires.
CadFaster|Collaborate for Autodesk Revit 2011 has a simple ribbon interface with a single tab that includes tools to change the shading method and allow for perspective or orthographical camera views. Its walk- and fly-through navigation modes are very similar to those in Autodesk Navisworks. Other tools enable users to view, control, measure, create sections, and comment.
The user interface of CadFaster|Collaborate for Autodesk Revit 2011 is easy to use, and the graphic display system allows project stakeholders to view and manipulate models of all sizes from any Windows-based computer.
What Problems Does It Solve?
When I heard about CadFaster|Collaborate, I thought it might be a tool for clash detection or rules checking for building information models, along the lines of Autodesk Navisworks, Bentley Navigator, or Solibri Model Checker. But it is not an analysis tool. It's a real-time, interactive model viewer with some basic markup functionality. In my practice, it won't replace the in-person or web-based coordination meeting using one of the aforementioned tools.
What it does offer is the ability to record comments from various stakeholders, who may be in the same city or spread across the globe, in a central location. When a situation arises that requires a quick collaborative session to review a design issue, CadFaster|Collaborate is the perfect tool. A stakeholder who is unable to attend a meeting can access the file later, review comments from the meeting, and add his or her own.
In the course of my review, I found that Revit and AutoCAD users could use CadFaster|Collaborate with no training. Non–CAD users needed less than five minutes to learn how to use it.
CadFaster|Collaborate for Autodesk Revit 2011 has a couple of shortcomings. It has no integrated Help system, so if you want to know how to zoom or pan, you must consult support documentation on the CadFaster web site. Users currently cannot measure objects in a section mode, although the company states that it plans to add this feature in the Revit 2011 R3 version due out in the third quarter of 2011. In the version I reviewed, I could not trace comments as reviewed, etc., but according to the company, the latest release (2011 R1) allows users to set the status of comments as New, Working, and Completed.
Mobile Access Coming Soon
CadFaster reports that a separate plug-in is coming soon — automatically and free to existing CadFaster|Collaborate subscribers — that will allow users to create and upload files to the cloud-based server that can then be accessed by iPhone and iPad users via a free app that will be available in the iTunes Store.
I was skeptical at first about whether the model review process needed yet another tool, but after using CadFaster|Collaborate for a few days, I was sold. It offers great potential to improve the design coordination process with dispersed team members and stakeholders. Highly Recommended.