CAD Central31 Jul, 2005 By: Michael Bordenaro
Analysis of industry news and trends
Featuring open and intense discussion of market strategies, product features and future plans, the two-day AEC/GIS Analyst Forum sponsored by Cyon Research provided an uncommon opportunity for AEC companies to evaluate their own software plans.
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The forum was part of a collection of nine building industry conferences, including the inaugural editon of AEC-ST, held in Orlando, FL at the end of June.
From geospatial design to architecture and engineering to document management and printing, panel members representing a number of software vendors addressed the way AEC software tools—and companies—are evolving. Panel members related their target markets, views of competitors, recent developments and mid-term business goals.
David Anderson, Oracle vice president for engineering, construction and real estate profesisonal services, indicated that the powerful technology tools used for financial transactions, medical development and automobile manufacturing are now being applied in the AEC industry, where owners are demanding improved information management to increase productivity.
And AEC software vendors are expanding their solutions. Malcolm Davies, CEO of Gehry Technologies, indicated that more analysis capabilities will be added to Digital Project, the company's AEC version of CATIA. Digital Project currently has a strong emphasis on structural analysis and structural/mechanical clash detection.
Gehry Technologies is looking to sell consulting services and Digital Project software to sizable developers who can outfit large project building teams with software and hardware for a cost that amounts to a "rounding error."
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Davis clearly sees Revit as the company's main competitor based on Autodesk's market penetration. He noted that Gehry Technologies' main differentiation is its 15 years of experience using intelligent modeling software. The company is interested in selling more than just software, which is borne out by the fact that 75% of Gehry Technologies' revenue is from consulting services.
Mark Sawyer, CEO of @Last Software, makers of SketchUp, indicated that his three main markets are architects, digital entertainers and digital artists. Web-based applications will be part of the company's future releases, according to Sawyer.
Donald Henrich, vice president and general manager, Graphisoft US, re-established his software as a tool of choice for contractors, who represent the largest client base for the company. Graphisoft's recent release of 5D planning tools and upcoming release of MEP solutions will further entrench the company in the contractor market.
However, Henrich noted that 25 new firms were added to the Graphisoft client roster last year. While each AEC software company has its niche, "if the entire industry grows 15% a year, everybody is going to be happy," he says.
Part of that increase in overall industry growth may come from the GSA's requirement for intelligent models as part of its deliverables, but how many GSA projects the requirement will affect is uncertain at this time, according to Henrich.
An ArchiCAD structural analysis package is forthcoming, as is an enhanced plug-in for SketchUp.
No discussion of design software is complete these days without a few words regarding contractual and code issues. "The legal framework for use of design software in construction is the big deal," Sawyer said, indicating that technology is not what's holding back the AEC industry from benefiting from advanced processes.
Gehry's Davies said, "Part of our consulting is how to rearrange contractual relationships, because it is possible to create a better product without all the lawyers." Davies pointed to Singapore's electronic code analysis development, the Las Vegas Building Code Department agreeing to accept digital models for permit review and the City of Los Angeles' acceptance of a 3D model of a house for review as signs that minor, but encouraging, legal advances are being made to allow more effective use of software throughout the building process.
Scanner maker Contex to merge with Z Corp.
To broaden its reach beyond 2D, Contex Scanning Technology (www.contex.com) plans to merge with Z Corp. (www.zcorp.com a manufacturer of 3D printing devices. The combined company will have more than 400 employees, annual revenue greater than $100 million and distribution in more than 80 countries. Z Corp. will operate independently as a Contex subsidiary, retaining its name, brand, sales channel and research and development infrastructure. The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of 2005, and financial terms were not disclosed.
Z Corp. president Tom Clay says his company plans to release an "exciting" set of products in the next 12 months. There's "a lot of good energy in the 3D printing market," he notes, and the merger will help Z Corp. continue to grow, especially in emerging markets such as AEC and GIS where Contex is already established. The AEC market is increasingly interested in 3D printing as architectural CAD vendors migrate their customers to 3D, Clay says. Z Corp. appeals to this market with not only its color capabilities but also with its output speed, particularly for large architectural parts. Down the road, Clay expects that Z Corp. will benefit from Contex's experience in OEM partnerships.
Contex is owned by EQT, a European private equity group that manages close to $7 billion in capital. According to Clay, this backing provides Contex with resources to "spread out to new areas of high-growth potential."
"This merger is exciting because combining Z Corp.'s 3D printers with our leading 2D scanning and data lifecycle management products delivers a complete solution for data collection, storage, processing and output," said Steen Borg, CEO of Contex Scanning Technology and CEO of the combined entity.
PTC adds to acquisition list
To round out its lineup of PLM (product lifecycle management) tools, PTC (www.ptc.com) acquired Arbortext (www.arbortext.com)a vendor in the dynamic enterprise publishing market, for $190 million in cash. Arbortext products are designed to help companies deliver business information to multiple audiences through dynamic enterprise publishing. Based on a single source of XML-based, reusable content, they enable users to automatically deliver highly configured, interactive content tailored to specific audiences.
PTC CEO Dick Harrison says the acquisition should accelerate PTC growth and complete the company's PLM footprint by enabling customers to repurpose design data for use throughout downstream applications. Market research firm IDC predicts the dynamic enterprise publishing software market will grow more than 25% annually to more than $1 billion in 2009.
Arbortext serves 1,700 customers worldwide. It generated about $40 million of revenue during the past 12 months.
Michael Bordenaro is a Chicago-based writer who focuses on architectural technology.