Dialog Box July 2007

30 Jun, 2007 By: Cadalyst Staff

Readers have their say.

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Cadalyst Dialog Box

Buzzing about BIM
I'm afraid that lately I've been hearing an awful lot about BIM. I'm quite an old CAD dog, and I can remember various other buzzword incarnations for this.

Recently my firm's technology committee (we call it the "Rocket Science Committee" -- because, by God, it is eff-ing rocket science!) has taken up the notion of whether or not we should convert some of our seats (we have more than 32) to Revit.

Our firm is about evenly split between commercial, warehouse, and office interior projects on one side and school construction and/or renovation projects on the other.

The commercial et al. projects are typically discrete, commonly 5,000 to 10,000 square feet, excluding actual warehouse areas. Usually, they are simply tenant fit-outs for real estate organizations. They are not, however, typically one-offs; rather we maintain floor plan, power and telephone, and reflected ceiling CAD databases for more than 24 million square feet of commercial space.

The school projects, however, are generally much larger and (except for the smaller renovations) often involve new constructions (if only as an addition).

It's easy to see how a tool such as Revit could be a real consideration as a tool for the school projects, so we had the Revit folks in for a show-and-tell session. So here, if you please, is the gist of my report to our firm's principals:

The Good. When properly set up, templated, etc., Revit clearly has the ability to create (or extract) simultaneously with plan creation sections and elevations. It automatically coordinates the numbering of the sections and elevations with the sheets they will be assigned to. It also inserts doors -- cuts the wall for the insertion and annotates the doors -- and links the doors to a door schedule.

The coordination of details and sections, and the automated generation of sections and elevations is a very powerful and attractive set of features.

The Bad. Revit does not, apparently, have any really good, effective, or useful way of translating an old 2D AutoCAD floor plan drawing. Such files can, apparently, be attached (and retraced?) but are otherwise unintelligent and of limited usability in the Revit world.

The best application of Revit seemingly would be for a new project, rather than for an existing, ongoing database-type project. (More on this and related matters later.)

The Ugly. Revit apparently creates an entire project -- all the templates, the sheets, the 3D drawing file, all of the floors, everything -- as one big honking, it's-in-there, ginormous file. Although the Revit people assure us that it's not subject to corruption or electronic damage, this would be my largest single negative concern.

A reminder: We've had file-corruption and file-recovery issues on pieces of various school projects -- Hanover Park comes immediately to mind. In some of these situations, we had to go back to an earlier file (minutes or hours old) to recover, and in a few instances we had to recreate the file. As onerous as that might be, it was relatively doable, given the nature of AutoCAD's xrefs. With Revit, I think that we're going to have to seriously consider the quality, accessibility, and frequency of backups.

For A Few Dollars More (a dollar for my thoughts, because pennies are so Twentieth Century). One, technologically, wow. (Although, personally I'm depressed at how quickly 20 years of my AutoCAD experience gets devalued).

Two, is that the Green Team studio has potentially an awful lot of database work to redo.

Three, will our clients pay for the additional time it may take to set up -- if not to generate -- a typical project under Revit?

From a practical point of view, for a typical Green team office project budgeted at $5,000 with one elevation of the kitchenette with two already standard sections of said kitchenette, Revit doesn't seem a practical application. At the same time, the school projects would seem to be very good candidates.

Lastly, Revit is now being marketed to the architectural field as BIM software. At its introduction, it was marketed as parametric design software. The change in buzzwords doesn't trouble me. What troubles me is that buzzwords often get picked up by the uninitiated. Our clients may wonder why or if we're using a BIM software to create their construction documents. Some may like this notion, if they don't have to pay more. Some may not if they perceive that our fees seem larger, and/or our delivery times increase.

Ultimately, it has been my experience (at the old AT&T and at Merrill Lynch) that the financials and cost-to-benefit analysis will be the most important factors. Things like the users' learning curves, the capabilities of the software, BIM, parametrics, file size, and new databases vs. old databases won't matter much if the value the software adds is unmarketable or financially unsustainable.

Personally, I've been through this sort of thing before, only I was younger, more enthusiastic, and frankly more naive.

No matter how wonderful the software, if the capabilities are not financially sustainable, it will not serve.

In my 29-plus years as a CAD draftsman (I've never drawn by hand for pay), I've seen in-house facility teams eliminated -- or outsourced to real estate organizations. And, now, the real estate organizations contract for these services with architects.

As much fun as the technology and software can be, the services we provide are finally all about money. Doing "the usual for less money" is typically way more important to the client than doing "more for the same money."

If BIM and BIM software can provide the same drawings and services as are currently provided without additional expense or delay and then can provide these wonderful additional benefits, then fine, great, hooray.

If not, then BIM and BIM software will remain a small, niche product.

In my experience, it's not about the "information" in the drawings, it's how cheaply can we pull existing plans and designs together, export them, and/or reuse them. Anything else is just this year's buzzword.

—Mitchell Hirschklau, senior draftsperson
Parette Somjen Architects, Rockaway, New Jersey

Where's that Article?
Why do you make it so hard to find the articles you reference on your Table of Contents page in the printed magazine? I waste a lot of valuable time just trying to find the articles; for example, Lynn Allen's annotation article in the June issue. You should have either an "All About AutoCAD" section or a reference number to go directly to the article. Instead, I have to try and find the right magazine and then do a Google search and scroll through the results trying to guess which article is which.

—Stan Lundgren
Riverside, California

Editors Respond
The latest Web exclusive content is always available at We will be making changes to the online Table of Contents page in the print edition to better highlight this availability.

MatrixOne Isn't for Everyone
After reading Cadalyst's review of MatrixOne, I have to say yes, Matrix can do a whole lot. Yes, it is customizable. It's got a lot of functionality. But the author here needs to do some due diligence and interview the companies that have used it. And not just the reference customers. There is a long list of companies that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to get it to work, only to be left with shelfware, or at best a project that didn't meet its objectives. With products such as this, it's all about implementation and the risks involved.

—Rob MacEwen
via e-mail

Mike Hudspeth Responds
As with any software, and particularly with the complicated enterprise-wide stuff, installation and setup makes all the difference. One company I worked for bought into a really good document control system, but it was the totally lame implementation and maintenance by the IT department that ultimately made it unworkable. All software will have its share of detractors and proponents. My suggestion is that if you are in the market for software of this kind, you need to get the vendor to run a trial setup for a period of time. You're going to pay a lot for the software. That's the least they can do.

Missing Newsletters?
The past few issues of Cadalyst Tips & Tools Weekly newsletter did not arrive at my Yahoo account. My other Cadalyst newsletters come through fine.

—Stan Lundgren
Riverside, California

Editors Respond
Even though you are a subscriber to the Cadalyst newsletter in question, your e-mail service might handle the mailing as unsolicited e-mail (spam) -- based not on the content of the newsletter but on the number of e-mail names on the mailing list. Cadalyst newsletter mailing lists include thousands of names, and we're finding that an increasing number of our e-newsletters are being filtered to Bulk/Junk/Spam folders before they reach their intended recipients.

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About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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