One Happy Family

14 Feb, 2008 By: Amy Stankiewicz,Kenneth Wong

Autodesk uses its second annual World Press Days event to boast increased integration and interoperability throughout its 2009 product line.

The world is facing unprecedented challenges -- globalization, an ongoing infrastructure boom, critical climate change, and a digital revolution -- all of which are putting the roles of engineers, architects, and designers in the spotlight like never before.

Such was the message from Autodesk President and CEO Carl Bass during the company's second annual World Press Days, which took place February 11-13 in San Francisco. It's nearly the same message that Bass gave during last year's World Press Days event and at Autodesk University 2007 in November. The real news lies in what the company's been doing over the past 12 months to advance its various technologies to enable engineers, architects, and designers to tackle these preeminent challenges head on.

Autodesk used this year's World Press Days to outline the many enhancements that the company has made to its AEC, manufacturing, and media/entertainment product suites for 2009. Most of these new capabilities are expected in some way or another to augment interoperability between all the company's products. For example, presentations focused heavily on expanded integration between Inventor and Revit Architecture, a particularly useful feature for managing the off-site design of prefabricated architectural structures (in Inventor) while still maintaining all relevant data in a single 3D model (in Revit).

Bass also touched on the company's business and financial performance for fiscal year 2007, saying that Autodesk's five-year growth rate currently exceeds 20% and that the company now has an installed base of more than nine million users. Bass was quick to point out that the numbers reflect only licensed users; many others use the software as nonlicensed (nonpaying) users. He also said that approximately 750,000 new individuals sign on to use Autodesk products each year.

AEC Technologies Converge
In addition to highlighting the increased interoperability between Inventor and Revit Architecture, AEC sessions also touted tighter integration between Revit and Maya.

"Conceptual design is becoming more important in AEC," said Jay Bhatt, senior vice-president of Autodesk's AEC Solutions division. This enhanced interoperability will enable users to conduct conceptual design using either the parametric features of Inventor or the free-form capabilities of Maya, then load those designs directly into Revit Architecture after having explored myriad what-if scenarios.

For presentation-quality architectural visualization, Revit users have been exporting models into Autodesk 3ds Max for years, even though that product was developed for film and gaming applications. For 2009, Autodesk has spawned a design-specific flavor, 3ds Max Design.

"Essentially, [both versions] share the same binary code," explained Rick Champagne, Autodesk's product marketing manager for 3ds Max, Media and Entertainment. "The main difference is, 3ds Max contains an SDK [software developer kit] for game developers, but 3ds Max Design doesn't."

What 3ds Max Design gives in return is a lighting-analysis feature called Exposure, targeted at architects who might want to use 3ds Max to study solar and artificial lighting.

"Based on daylighting models, the Max rendering engine gives the ability to simulate the light distribution within architectural environments in a physically accurate fashion," said Chris Ruffo, industry manager of Autodesk's Media and Entertainment division.

Ruffo was careful to point out that Autodesk is currently working with the National Research Council to certify that the simulation is an accurate representation of daylight behavior. Such authentications will advance the use of Exposure in LEED-accreditation pursuits.

3ds Max 2009 and 3ds Max Design 2009 are available now.

BIM Reigns
Above all, the company's efforts to improve integrated workflow for all users in the AEC industry still revolve around the concept of building information modeling (BIM). Autodesk speakers spent a significant amount of time taking the media through an example of an integrated workflow built on BIM, one that started with design in Revit Architecture, then moved to Civil 3D for storm-sewer analysis (including Hydraflow hydroanalysis extensions that resulted from Autodesk's acquisition of Intellisolve in 2007), then on to Revit Structure (which boasts new analysis capabilities as a result of Autodesk's acquisition of Robobat's ROBOT Millenium), then to Revit MEP (which, for 2009, will feature a new ability to convert rooms into zones as well as calculate heating and cooling loads using the newly acquired Caramel Software's HVAC analysis application). The presentation then moved the project through to NavisWorks, acquired last year. This construction simulation tool for project coordination allows users to combine data derived in the structural, civil, and MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) project phases into a single model and detect and correct clashes before sending clash reports via Constructware. Presenters also noted that Constructware now allows users to directly import XML files.

New to Revit MEP are HVAC zones. Engineers can define building volumes and associate them to create the zoning required for effective system design and accurate heating and cooling loads calculations.

Also announced was Autodesk's intent to acquire Green Building Studio (GBS), a Web-based energy analysis tool that the company will integrate with Revit Architecture to further the company's focus on facilitating sustainable design and decreased energy consumption.

With the introduction of gbXML support in Revit 7, Autodesk began facilitating data exchange between its BIM software and GBS. Web-based and dual platform-compatible, GBS has emerged over the years as a popular energy analysis program for architecture firms operating on Windows, Mac, or a mix of operating systems. Knowing the program also has a faithful following among users of Nemetschek's VectorWorks Architect or Graphisoft ArchiCAD (both dual platform-compatible), GBS feels the necessity to clarify that after the deal is closed, "the gbXML schema will remain an open industry standard, and the GBS Web service will continue to be available to any other BIM software."

While the GBS acquisition is still in progress, Autodesk has completed the acquisition of the technology assets of Carmel Software. The Carmel portfolio includes, among others, the HVAC load-calculation package named Loadsoft. With gbXML as the intermediary format, users of Autodesk Building Systems or Revit MEP can import architectural models into Loadsoft to study cooling and heating parameters.

Technology Melds for Manufacturers
On the manufacturing side, Autodesk continues to tout the importance of digital prototyping to get products to market faster. Among the company's efforts in this area is new integration between conceptual and industrial design and engineering applications, as well as advancements in the mechatronics and manufacturing disciplines. Integration between Inventor and AliasStudio more effectively aligns industrial design with the rest of the product development process, and advanced rendering and animation capabilities resulting from direct integration between Inventor and 3ds Max enable the development of marketing materials much earlier in the process.

Autodesk states that there are more than 650 enhancements in the 2009 manufacturing product line that cover product development from conceptual and industrial design through to the manufacturing stages. Among these:

  • improved accessibility to the DWF format in Design Review through the DWFx format

  • new capabilities for managing massive assemblies

  • 64-bit support (also new to the Revit product line)

  • automated electrical circuit generation, allowing users to embed electrical design knowledge into the actual design process

  • "smart pipe," which runs with support for hygienic pipe standards

  • advanced sheet metal capabilities that include embedded design rules

  • ProductStream publishing capabilities to Microsoft SharePoint

  • multidisciplinary design review within NavisWorks

Specific to the development of consumer products are new production modeling and surfacing tools in AliasStudio; enhanced 2D paint and rendering capabilities, including 3D accents for depth and easier creation of complex shapes in AliasStudio; native translation improvements that help incorporate geometry into Inventor more effectively; introduction of mold design tools in Inventor (currently in the pilot phase but announced at World Press Days); automated workspace management for ProductStream, which links engineering more tightly to manufacturing; and more.

Autodesk also announced many other new features in its 2009 product line, including a more streamlined "ribbon" user interface for AutoCAD and a new action recorder that automatically records a user's actions, in a sense conducting on-the-fly custom programming behind the scenes.

The new action recorder in AutoCAD 2009 automates repetitive tasks without the need for custom programming.

Most 2009 products are slated for release in late March 2008, Autodesk reports.