CAD Central

31 Jan, 2005 By: Sara Ferris Cadalyst

Analysis of CAD industry news and trends.

That was the question set to a panel of vendors and end users at the first-ever Technology for Construction Executive Forum (January 17-21, Las Vegas). As you'd expect, the representatives from Autodesk, Bentley and Graphisoft were bullish on BIM, though not so much on the Technology for Construction show (none of the three exhibited). The end-user representatives on the panel were more circumspect, though many had already implemented BIM software and were impressed by the benefits.

 CAD option for Mac OS X users
CAD option for Mac OS X users

Stephen Hagan of the U.S. General Services Administration discussed that agency's requirement, starting in fiscal year 2006, that architects working on GSA projects use IFC (Industry Foundation Classes)-based building models through final concept. Pilot projects indicate that discrete problems can be solved quickly in 3D, and BIM also automates space measurement, a big concern of the GSA given that it has $12 billion in capital construction underway.

The ideal of a single building model that contains all information for all stages of the design and building process has given way to more limited applications. GSA is not asking for a complete BIM implementation, but plans to use the model to check designs against program requirements and cost estimates. Other builders take 2D drawings from the architects and create their own 3D construction models.

Panelists agreed that BIM is inevitable, but disagreed about how long mainstream adoption will take. It's already being used successfully by a number of firms. BIM hotspots include the Nordic countries and Singapore, which requires certain BIM formats for accelerated regulatory approvals on building projects.

On the flip side, Ray Barnard, CIO of Fluor Corp., believes that widespread BIM use is still 6-7 years away. He noted that few customers actually request that BIM be used on projects and that it introduces an unwanted element of risk. "Cool doesn't get it done anymore," he noted.

Tips for BIM success
Tips for BIM success

Panelists noted the following obstacles to BIM implementation:

Globalization. Ray Barnard noted that 70% of his company's business is offshore, often in regions that don't have the technology to support BIM.

Corporate culture. Building process participants such as estimators and project managers are accustomed to doing their jobs in a particular way and may not trust data derived from a building model. There also may be no incentive to collaborate, even among those within the same company.

Data storage costs. These can skyrocket with increased collaboration, especially with regulatory requirements to save data.

Bentley Systems embedded this sample 3D image in a PDF file that was then opened in Adobe Reader 7.
Bentley Systems embedded this sample 3D image in a PDF file that was then opened in Adobe Reader 7.

No standards. Problems can arise in building models when standards for creating them are not enforced.

Interoperability is a key issue because no one application can handle all tasks required by a building project. The three vendors support the IFC exchange format with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but pointed out that IFCs are the lowest common denominator for data exchange and will not solve all problems. Stephen Hagan noted that vendors don't want interoperability, they want to sell more software. He encouraged architects and owners alike to push vendors for better data exchange capabilities.

U3D format debuts in Acrobat 7

As soon as Adobe's new Acrobat Professional and Reader shipped, Right Hemisphere revealed that its Deep View technology is behind those programs' ability to display embedded 3D files that are in U3D format. That's quite the coup for Right Hemisphere, a venture-funded firm specializing in 3D content conversion. Adobe's success in popularizing the PDF format should give a huge boost to the goal of making 3D model data available for use in downstream areas such as training, sales, documentation and technical support.

"Eventually, U3D will become pervasive in all industries that market either consumer products or highly complex products," says Damian Smith, a managing vice president at Hitachi Consulting, which released The Impact of U3D on Product Lifecycle Management, a joint white paper with Intel.

Adobe Acrobat Professional 7 creates PDF files that contain U3D models. A set of navigation tools in Acrobat Reader 7 allows PDF recipients to control visibility of the 3D geometry, adjust display modes and choose from predefined views. But options for converting a native 3D model or animation to U3D format are still limited.

Right Hemisphere's Deep Exploration translates 3D CAD files into a number of formats, including U3D. The base product costs $149, but additional modudes are needed to support such CAD formats as Solid-Works, UGS NX, CATIA, Pro/ENGINEER and AutoCAD.

Bentley Systems announced that the next service release of MicroStation V8 2004, which is due out mid-February, will provide U3D support to complement the program's built-in PDF creation capabilities, eliminating the need for a separate copy of Acrobat Professional. MicroStation supports DWG as well as its native DGN format.

Bentley early adopter Volker Mueller, NBBJ senior associate and design technology manager, says he was impressed that 10MB of CAD data and texture maps, some of which were as large as 7MB all fit into a single 1MB PDF file.

Ray Bentley, Bentley's executive vice president of software development, noted that animations in particular benefit from PDF file compression, resulting in compact file sizes compared with AVI format.

Samples, including the one shown above, are online at:

UGS strengthens manufacturing lineup with Tecnomatix acquisition

CAD/PLM vendor UGS ( acquired Tecnomatix Technologies to expand its manufacturing offerings and enable it to offer an end-to-end PLM solution. Tecnomatix develops the eMPower line of software for MPM (manufacturing process management). The two companies have worked closely as partners since 2002 on product integration efforts and a joint sales initiative, which should make the job of absorbing the acquisition easier. UGS says it plans to support all existing Tecnomatix customers and solutions. This is the fourth acquisition since UGS went public in May 2004.

UGS currently deploys Tecnomatix software in conjunction with its recently announced Open Manufacturing Backbone, an open environment in which third-party software applications can interoperate. It also offers the Tecnomatic eMPower solutions as part of its E-factory engineering management solution. Plans are to improve the UGS/Tecnomatix integration but also to continue to offer stand-alone versions for use with other PLM applications.

UGS sees digital manufacturing as an area of great potential growth, citing estimates from consulting and research firm CIMdata that investments in digital manufacturing initiatives by industrial companies will grow by more than 25% annually over the next three years. UGS reports a nearly 100% increase in digital manufacturing-related revenue over the last four quarters.

MPM software enables the design, simulation and execution of production processes and supports real-time control and visibility of shop-floor operations. Promised benefits include reduction in operating costs and acceleration of product introductions.

About the Author: Sara Ferris

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