HP and Autodesk Move AEC Workflows to the Cloud3 Oct, 2012 By: Carles Marti,Rick Rundell
Two industry insiders provide perspectives about hardware and software solutions that are changing the way professionals work.
Cloud technologies are increasingly prevalent these days: There are web-supported calendars, cloud-based phone systems, and CAD software programs hosted in the cloud. You even can print projects from cloud servers.
That said, what is the impact of cloud computing on the AEC field? Rick Rundell, Autodesk's senior director for project, data, and collaboration services, joined Carles Marti, marketing project manager for Designjet web services at HP, to address that question. Their consensus is that AEC companies that want to stay competitive should consider the cloud as a way to help their employees be productive outside the office.
How does the cloud change CAD workflows?
Marti: Through the cloud, users can review, publish, share, and print information from virtually any place with an Internet connection. Cloud-based interfaces help information flow more quickly and efficiently, reaching more people at the same time, wherever they are. Users can work remotely — facilitating multi-location teams, for example, where members choose to live where they want to live because technology lets them do so. We are seeing more project management conducted away from desks: on tablets at construction sites, or even in taxis. The end result is that users save time and shorten project iterations.
What are the primary benefits of the cloud for AEC professionals?
Rundell: You can’t design, engineer, and construct something in a cubicle or an office. At some point, someone needs to be on site at the project, and design information must be available across multiple stakeholders. AEC projects are highly collaborative team efforts, often involving multiple sites, countless companies, and hundreds of very mobile professionals. The key value of the cloud is ubiquity: making information about projects available to team members virtually anytime, anywhere.
Cloud technologies can help AEC professionals access project data when away from the office.
We got a taste of this benefit 10 to 15 years ago with the Internet buzz and information access up on websites. But what has changed more recently has been the addition of mobile devices. Mobile is the killer app for the cloud and the AEC industry, which has such a fragmented nature and ad hoc collection of service providers. Getting the right project information delivered to job sites on a global basis truly is revolutionary.
What are some of the challenges that the cloud poses?
Marti: The biggest challenge, I think, is dealing with the various systems that are available today for sharing information; there are so many combinations of laptops, tablet computers, mobile devices, and printers. The compatibility and integration of tools and resources used, both hardware and software, is crucial in order to achieve seamless and robust workflows.
User experience poses another also challenge. When switching from online to offline and from desktop to mobile, users need their cloud technologies to have a consistent system performance and behavior. Ease of use for cloud-based tools is key, especially in terms of access management, version control, and synchronization.
Security is often perceived as a potential issue by users reluctant to adopt cloud services. However, most cloud solutions on the market today have stringent mechanisms in place to prevent unauthorized access or data loss at key touch points. It is important that we, as cloud service providers, communicate effectively about the security of the cloud to build users’ confidence and foster its use.
Does the cloud make AEC work more efficient?
Rundell: Absolutely, because it enables better, faster, and more informed decision making. In addition to improved mobility and sharing, the cloud also offers the ability to store a lot of information in a secure and accessible way, and virtually unlimited computing horsepower.
These benefits extend beyond time efficiency to productivity. The days of having a group huddled in a construction trailer trying to figure things out are numbered, since they can now come to a decision quickly and easily from their respective offices, share their plans, and move on.
The cloud also enables better design insight through more frequent and accessible analysis. In the past, an energy analysis might have been done once during the building design process — likely late in the design, when it’s hard to change things. Now, energy and sustainability analysis is available anytime from the cloud, in nearly real time. The cloud makes complex processes like this cost-effective.
Do these design enhancements apply to visualization and model rendering as well?
Rundell: Yes. Because we can digitally rehearse the construction of a building today, there is far less wasted effort and rework when it comes to coordinating systems on site, such as moving ductwork to allow for sprinkler piping. We used to work this out in the field, because the tools to clearly visualize these conflicts in advance did not exist. Now they exist in the cloud and on mobile devices! Visualization is accelerated with services that create photorealistic renderings on cloud servers. Instead of tying up their workstations for hours, designers can send models to the cloud for rendering.
With these tools, designers and engineers can predict the performance and behaviors of their buildings in ways that make them more predictable and cost effective to build and operate. It’s a better use of the owner’s construction dollar, and ultimately delivers better quality.
What cloud-based products have you brought to the market?
Marti: In May, we announced new features for our HP ePrint & Share app that allow Apple iPhone and iPad users to open PDF files in other mobile apps and send them to print over the web, rather than having to e-mail PDFs to themselves and then send on to printers. We also worked with Autodesk to develop the Plot to Print function from AutoCAD WS using HP ePrint & Share and HP’s web-connected printers.
Autodesk's AutoCAD WS application enables users to share and edit plans over the cloud, and plot to PDF or DWF. One missing piece of the puzzle was the ability to print these shared or edited plans from the cloud. Because HP is the only large-format printer manufacturer offering fully web-connected printing capabilities through HP ePrint & Share and its Designjet ePrinters, the addition of mobile printing in AutoCAD WS was a natural extension of our partnership. There will likely be more hardware–software partnerships like this in the future.
What do you see on the cloud horizon, say 12 to 18 months down the road?
Marti: Of course, we can expect stronger support for the mobile space, as well as further app development beyond iOS devices to Android and other platforms. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft evolves with its Windows 8 platform, and how the market adopts this new platform. Windows 8 may bring new users to tablets seeking compatibility with their Windows-based desktop, and it may be many users’ entry point to mobile and cloud solutions.
And what about two to three years from now?
Rundell: We haven’t seen the full promise of augmented reality yet, but we will — including the ability to superimpose digital information on top of what’s physically there at construction sites. We will also see wearable heads-up displays incorporated into glasses, presenting data directly in our visual field. This is one of those technologies that's migrating from the military to industry and consumers.
Marti: We should expect to see progress on compatibility between solutions, and also the growth of cloud-based tools and devices. Tablets will become more powerful and their adoption rate as a professional tool will increase, especially among professionals under 40 and as corporations and businesses make enterprise investments. More rugged solutions, such as waterproof tablets, will take mobile further into harsh AEC environments.
There also is the question of how quickly technology will be deployed across world regions. For instance, the presence of higher-speed connections for mobile devices, such as 4G, varies from one country to the next. How that plays into professional workflows and mobile adoption remains to be seen.
Future cloud technologies will continue making AEC processes easier, more efficient, and, of course, more mobile.