Event Report: Autodesk University 2008, Part 1

9 Dec, 2008 By: Kenneth Wong,Nancy Spurling Johnson

A walk around the exhibit hall finds a bounty of new products for Autodesk software users.

A walk through a trade show's booth-lined exhibit hall always provides a snapshot of where the CAD market is heading. At Autodesk University 2008 in Las Vegas last week, the lineup reflected the growth of visualization and sustainability technologies in the AEC market, the merge of industrial design and media and entertainment disciplines, and the never-ending search for productivity-enhancing plug-ins. Here are a few products Cadalyst editors had the opportunity to examine at this year's event.

HP introduced the HP Designjet 510 wide-format printer series, aimed at small studios that print the equivalent of 50 D-size technical drawings per week or less. Users can print D- and A1-size line drawings, plans, schematics, and maps in as little as 55 seconds each. The roll-fed printers offer four-color, high-resolution (2400 x 1200 optimized dpi) printing that delivers fine line quality and high accuracy (±0.2%). They easily process complex CAD and other files with the expanded 160 MB of memory, upgradeable to 416 MB, according to the company. New 28-ml and 69-ml ink cartridges also are available. Offering more value than the predecessor 500 series models, the Designjet 510 24" model retails for $2,095; the 36" model is $3,195.

HP simultaneously introduced its new HP-GL/2 in-printer processing technology, a standard file-format language for CAD applications. The technology reduces printing delays by freeing up computer resources, minimizing network traffic, and eliminating trial and error with printer settings, HP reported. The new HP Instant Printing Utility v1 lets users print HP-GL/2 files by simply pressing a button. According to the company, the built-in HP-GL/2 can process technical files up to four times faster than was previously possible. Users adjust file settings one time and the technology saves the configured version for fast access, reuse, and batch printing later. The utility works with all HP technical Designjet printers.

HP explained to media representatives at AU 2008 that these developments are part of the company's efforts to deliver technologies that will enable users to print on any HP device in any location, any time, without the hassle of installing new printer drivers or reconfiguring files.

The new Capturx Forms for Excel from Adapx enables nontechnical teams to create forms in Microsoft Excel, print them on ordinary paper, and have the handwritten data automatically converted back into the original Excel fields using digital pens. AEC teams are using the product to speed up a range of paper-based workflows -- for example, punch lists and change orders -- where data collected on site from multiple team members is automatically aggregated into Excel reports.

NVIDIA announced its new Quadro FX 4800professional graphics card ($1,999) with added graphics memory and 30-bit color. The card is equipped with 192 CUDAT parallel-computing cores, 1.5 GB graphics memory, and 128-bit precision graphic pipeline. It can process large textures and frames in real time while providing fill rates of 38 billion texels (texture pixels) per second and geometry performance of 300 million triangles per second, according to the company. Dual 10-bit display ports are said to deliver a color palette of more than a billion colors.

Riverbed, a wide-area network (WAN) technology provider, demonstrated how its Riverbed Steelhead product line could improve CAD software performance by speeding up remote file transfer over WAN. In April, Riverbed was in the news when one of its high-profile customers revealed the revamped AutoCAD DWG format was causing performance degradation in Riverbed products (see "DWG 2007 Format Found to Choke WAN," CAD Central, April 2008). The issue is expected to be resolved with the release of the next DWG format, the company reports.

Technologies such as Riverbed Steelhead will play an important role in the adoption of AutoCAD civil engineering products, especially among customers who are looking for multisite deployment. At the moment, Autodesk offers Autodesk Vault, which addresses workgroup setups, but it's not ideal for civil engineering firms operating multiple sites.

Last year, Autodesk gave AU attendees a sneak peek of Project Newport, an AEC visualization technology free of the complexity usually associated with rendering packages sold to media and entertainment professionals. This year, Project Newport was on display at the Autodesk Labs booth, promoted as a "game engine for AEC visualization." The demonstration showed an interface that lets you create easy cinematic sequences and interactive cityscapes by applying materials and defining start and stop positions (which function like key frames in video-editing software). For more, you can read Autodesk developer Scott Sheppard's blog "It's Alive in the Lab."

Another exhibitor targeting the architecture segment is Craft Animations, a real-time animation software developer. Its flagship product, Craft Director Tools, is a suite of plug-ins that let you quickly create animation sequences using Windows and Mac versions of Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya. The emphasis is on speed. Unlike other animation packages that require extensive key frame setups and programming scripts, Director Tools allows you to set up a virtual camera path and drive a vehicle in the 3D terrain using a variety of input devices (game controllers and 3D mice, for example). The customizable behavior of the virtual camera (for instance, the way it bounces as it attempts to zoom in on the vehicle passing its lenses at high speed) adds realism to the resulting animation footage.

Craft Animations offers a preconfigured setup for Gamecaster's GCS3, the digital replica of a real camera that can be deployed to shoot 3D scenes. With this plug-in, you can set up camera rails and define the camera's travel speed, pauses, and accelerations along the path. Craft Animations' products have been used in, among other places, the creation of a virtual Cessna plane in a scene in Warner Brothers' recent movie Get Smart. The company offers a catalog of freeware plug-ins, including Craft 4-Wheeler (for simulating four-wheel vehicles) and Craft Airplane (for simulating aircraft movement).

Craft Animations, a developer of speed animation plug-ins for Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya, expects its products will find a place in the architectural visualization market. Click the image for a larger view.

Sivan Design was exhibiting its new Civil Simulate 3D interactive visualization tool for AutoCAD Civil 3D and its own CivilCAD solution. The software merges designs with an orthophoto, enabling users to instantly create realistic representations of complex structures such as junctions, roundabouts, interchanges, and bridges. Designers can demonstrate aerial views while conducting interactive drive-through simulations in different settings such as fog and night driving.

Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES), makers of the energy analysis software IES-VE, promoted its Architectural Suites, collections of building performance measuring modules for the AEC market. The company offers VE-Ware, a free starter kit that works with Google SketchUp and Autodesk Revit. The next step up from the free version is VE-Toolkit, which contains modules for sustainability and LEED certification assessment. The latest release, dubbed Architectural Suites (available as AEC Suite and AEC Suite Plus), comprise the free VE-Ware, VE-Toolkit, and additional modules.

Don McLean, founder and managing director of IES, said, "If you just do two to three iterations of your design [based on energy analysis results], your design might be five to ten times more energy-efficient."

The Architectural Suites are designed to give architects more control over building performance measurement. During the demonstration at AU, McLean pointed out the interface has been revamped to make analysis as easy as pushing buttons and selecting options from pull-down menus.

IES, makers of the IES-VE energy analysis software, showcased its latest offerings: AEC Suite and AEC Suite Plus.Click the image for a larger view.

Productivity Tools
Revit was practically a buzzword at AU 2008, with users looking for ways to optimize use of the BIM (building information modeling) software. Several vendors answered the call. Ice Edge Business Solutions showed off ICEvision, its new 3D visualization software for Revit and AutoCAD users. The add-on lets users explore and share designs in a 3D virtual environment, based on 3D video-game technology, simply by walking into the design and taking a look around. Rendering quality is better and navigational speeds are 150 to 200 times faster in ICEvision than in standard Revit or AutoCAD visualizations, Ice Edge reported. Users also can upload files to the web and share 3D models with assigned users, allowing project teams and clients to view and understand the design in a virtual interface.

Another new tool for Revit, Avatech's BIMreview, helps CAD managers, BIM coordinators, project managers, and facilities managers find and automatically correct inconsistencies in models. Working directly inside Revit, BIMreview checks model geometry, specifications, and materials to ensure the model adheres to company standards, industry best practices, and client requirements. It sells for $995 per license, plus $250/year maintenance, including support and updates. BIMreview Plus includes a batch-processing license for $1,295.

Ideate Software debuted Ideate Explorer for Revit 2009, a tool for exploring Revit models and auditing Revit projects to maintain office standards. Users can search, quantify, and view building elements by category, family, type, level, and room. They can examine and change the current selection, inspect the current view or project, build complex selections from scratch, and zoom to individual building elements. Text searches and hierarchical views enable users to locate building elements within the model. Search results can be copied to Microsoft Excel and Word to generate reports and create presentation materials. The $95 price includes a free upgrade to the next version. Current Ideate subscription customers receive Ideate Explorer at no additional charge.

CADsmart exhibited its interactive skills assessment module for Revit ($697). The tool works inside Revit to measure ten core areas of basic Revit skills: basic element creation, views and sheets, detailing, annotation and keynotes, component placement, dimensions and rules, importing DWG, families and parts, scheduling, coordinates, and orientation. Upon completion of an assessment, the software generates full stage scores and times, plus detailed training-needs analysis. Sessions can be recorded and replayed later for training or support purposes. Modules for Revit Structure and Revit MEP are planned for early 2009.

ColumbiaSoft previewed the next version of Document Locator, which offers improved integration with AutoCAD. The software improves CAD file organization and searches and helps maintain prior versions of CAD drawings for reuse and retrieval. The new version will speed up CAD file management by employing Autodesk RealDWG technology. It will debut early next year.

"RealDWG is all about speed and it has allowed us to supercharge our integration with AutoCAD by letting us directly manage CAD files and their associated xrefs and images in the document management system," said Scott Zieg, ColumbiaSoft product manager. "We can now read and write CAD files much faster, which not only improves the user experience with Document Locator, but also has real benefits in terms of time and efficiency."

Related content:Cadalyst’s AU 2008 event coverage; AEC; AutoCAD; BIM (Building Information Modeling); Data Management; Design Visualization; Graphics Cards;