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Good day or evening! We hope our subscribers are coping with the global Covid-19 pandemic. This has been a very challenging time for most of us. Our News items at the end of the newsletter focus on company announcements aimed at helping people better work remotely. The May issue is BIM and CDE centric. We hope you enjoy it. - Ed.
Special Feature

Behind the Curtain—Early Access on Three Features for Architosh on BIM-CDE Industry Evolution


This month we delve into some emerging stories from recent interviews with software companies—all offering something interesting with respect to the continuing evolution of BIM and CDE industry developments. 


BELOW I DELVE into three stories we are currently working on from very recent interviews—two from just this past week. 

Tech Soft 3D and BIM

Tech Soft 3D is a developer that recently pushed out new Mac support for its HOOPS Communicator platform. Architosh covered that news when it happened but our follow-up interview with Erik Hultgren, Product Manager Visualization Solutions, Tech Soft 3D, shed some really interesting new light on aspects of the BIM market, BCF technologies, CAD on the Web, and the Mac! 

HOOPS Communicator is a Tech Soft 3D software tool to help developers create web-browser based engineering software applications where users can view and interact with 3D CAD models through any modern browser on any platform. (eg: RIM iTWO from Germany below)


RIM iTWO is a 5D BIM software that works through the web and was developed with Tech Soft 3D's HOOPS Communicator. It was a critical case study that enabled HOOPS Communicator to be refined so it could handle large and data-rich BIM models. (image: RIM iTWO) 

I asked Erik why the Mac support happened now... "Let's face it, we are constantly seeing MacBook folks," he says, referring to software developers who prefer to code on MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops from Apple. In addition, he says, "A large segment of our development team [at Tech Soft 3D] run on Macs." Tech Soft 3D today is seeing not only growth across their product lines but increasing interest from developers creating web-browser based applications. Not only that but some developers are creating cross-platform desktop apps using web development technologies like JavaScript, HTML, and CSS, using a tool called Electron

Continuing Erik says, "one of the other reasons that we chose to do [add Mac support] it is because, with technologies like Electron, you can build a web app and then using Electron convert that essentially into a desktop application. Well, until we supported the Mac platform we didn't really have a statement there for that platform [Electron]." 





"In the CAD world you want to orbit an object quickly. But in the BIM would when you are talking about orbiting a building it is very different. -- Erik Hultgren, Product Manager Visualization Solutions, Tech Soft 3D 




"We had a partner who said: 'we want to use Communicator, inside our Electron-based application and we are absolutely going to do it on Windows, Linux, and Mac,'" notes Eric. "So they asked us if we plan on supporting that platform. And so it was just one more thing that convinced us that supporting the Mac platform was the right direction for us to go." 

So how you might be thinking, how does this relate to BIM? Or CDEs? 

This is especially good because more AEC developers are aiming to create centralized, cloud-based solutions for specific AEC user types or for the entire AECO stakeholder spectrum. The Mac support is critical because of the high percentage of developers in the cloud development community on Apple's platform. 


Blockbench is a 3D modeling software that was developed with Electron with HOOPS Communicator. It is the industry-standard 3D tool for the Minecraft Marketplace. (image: Blockbench) 

The Electron angle in this story adds another dimension; developers can more easily target multiple platforms and the web simultaneously using tools like Electron. Microsoft Teams, for example, is built on Electron for native OS targets like macOS. And the 3D application Blockbench is created on Electron as well.

Blockbench is the industry standard for creating custom 3D models for the Minecraft Marketplace. Blockbench is a simple 3D modeler but it represents an example of a 3D app that is written for all major desktop platforms (Win, Lin, Mac) and also runs in a web browser. One can now imagine the power of HOOPS Communicator running inside an Electron-based app providing it an advanced, high-performance graphics engine. 

Erik says Tech Soft 3D begun targeting the BIM (Building Information Modeling) market about a year ago due partly to demand and seeing it as a market segment they could serve well. Erik noted that Autodesk has built a product on HOOPS Communicator but did not specify which one. 

While IFC has been supported for years as part of HOOPS Exchange, the company's CAD data exchange format SDK, both existing and potential customers have been asking for BCF support. BIM Collaboration Format (BCF) at one point seemed to be waning, at least this author's eyes, but Erik's comments in our call has me thinking otherwise. "At first we added the ability to read it and add annotations," says Erik, "but customers want to be able to actually edit it and create their own BCF files." 


This image capture is from a YouTube video that was a case study by Tech Soft 3D for how Assemble Systems, later acquired by Autodesk, created a BIM solution that ran on mobile solutions and the web and desktop. It was built using HOOPS Visualize, Tech Soft 3D's flagship product that is a high-powered graphics engine for CAD and engineering software applications. (image: Tech Soft 3D) 


HOOPS Communicator today now has full BCF support, support for Autodesk Revit, IFC, and DWG. It also previously had support for Rhino, SketchUp, and 3D point clouds. These are key AEC file formats; HOOPS Communicator has extensive support for MCAD file formats. 

Communicator is also gaining some navigation changes in SP1 coming for this version. It will gain navigation more inherent in AEC. "In the CAD world you want to orbit an object quickly. But in the BIM would when you are talking about orbiting a building it is very different," Eric says. "You don't spin a building." 


Further Commentary Tech Soft 3D has a partnership with Autodesk. We were told by Erik that Assemble Systems, an Autodesk Forge-oriented startup, subsequently acquired by Autodesk, was built on HOOPS Communicator. We openly wonder if HOOPS Communicator is the technology behind BIM 360. This was not a question we posed to Erik and he only alluded to other divisions at Autodesk who have used HOOPS Communicator. Certainly, HOOPS Communicator is the kind of technology that can make a product like BIM 360 possible. That is the key takeaway.  

Another facet of our conversation which we will save for the full feature on Architosh, is the discussion about DWG technologies (whose tech is it?) and which version of WebGL is behind the technology. Erik also shared interesting tidbits about HOOPS Visualize, their graphics engine, and future support directions involving Vulkan and Metal. The use of low-level graphics APIs is growing more prevalent. We will share more on Metal below in our talk with Vectorworks. 

Vectorworks - A Virtual Keynote

We had a press-only virtual keynote from the Vectorworks folks last week. Like many companies, their annual user event—Design Summit—had to be canceled due to Covid-19. 

CEO Biplab Sarkar presented a forward-looking picture of their applications, services, and technology roadmap. Behind the scenes they seem to have been working diligently at core technologies useful to Vectorworks Architect and Vectorworks Landmark, their BIM solutions for architects and landscape design professionals, respectively.


Soon the Landscape Area object will be able to take-on components and have volumetric reporting capabilities invaluable for site work and landscape scope quantity surveying functions. (image: PWP Landscape Architecture, courtesy Vectorworks, Inc.) 

Of key importance to BIM is the re-engineering of how Walls work in the future version of Vectorworks coming this fall. Users will gain far more control to handle custom situations involving openings and various elements of the wall, principally how "finish layers" and their backup elements may self-terminate at openings and other wall conditions. Related to this is their upcoming Stacked Wall Components features, Unit Plan Objects, Multi-Building support, and Renovation/Phasing features that will have a major impact on Vectorworks to perform optimally for BIG BIM projects. 

Speaking of performance, Vectorworks continues to advance its Vectorworks Graphics Module (VGM) taking much more of its codebase to multi-threaded format to leverage multi-core CPUs. Apple's Metal will begin to take over OpenGL on the Mac version, which should see exciting potential graphics performance speedups. Additionally, as we noted in a feature from the last February, Vectorworks has a new API that enables it to connects its Vectorworks scene data and object data to other third-party applications. (see, Architosh: "A New Openness—How Vectorworks is Adapting to the World of Integrations," 7 Feb 2020). During the call with Biplab he noted some key new partnerships and enhanced old ones.

There will be better connections to Solibri, a sister company, and a key BIM market application. And Revizto—an up-and-coming BIM coordination software platform—is also a new partner, enabling Vectorworks-based architects to tap into its capabilities as a common data environment (CDE). 

An important final takeaway from our call with the Vectorworks folks was to hear that they are establishing industry-leadership in specific segments of particular markets. They are already industry leaders in the entertainment design world with Vectorworks Spotlight, in the US, UK, and other countries. But importantly, Vectorworks Landmark is staking a beachhead in BIM leadership for landscape architects. The new BIM features involving its Road tool are powerful, so are its Landscape Area tools that will enable professionals in landscape design to do powerful 3D data take-offs for various types of materials (eg: gravel, soil types, pavers, etc). And finally, while they don't have a specific product named for it (yet) the company is highly interested in targeting interior designers and interior architecture professionals—distinct from its mainstream architecture professional users—with tools and workflows ideally just for them. 


Vectorworks is growing in popularity within the architectural sub-vertical markets with interiors and interior architecture, including global corporate retail development and design. A coffee shop global giant has a complete Vectorworks workflow were a few years ago they were scattered over multiple applications. (image: Vectorworks, Inc.)

In fact, it mentioned a global coffee powerhouse—not by name because the company wants to keep this technology adoption quiet for strategic reasons—that adopted the Vectorworks platform three years ago for the development and design of their retail locations and brand worldwide. In the process, they dumped SketchUp, Revit, and Adobe Suite applications and consolidated around a complete dedicated workflow entirely in Vectorworks. The company apparently helped them develop this workflow. 

Further Commentary Last year Architosh noted the unique strength and market position of Bentley's OpenBuildings Station Designer. OpenBuildings Station Designer is a BIM application dedicated to help architects design train and metro stations. It is different than Bentley's general BIM application—OpenBuildings Designer—in that it has specialized tools in it just for station design, a complex specialty. With other tools, like LEGION modeler built-in, OpenBuildings Station Designer sets an example for how a general AEC 3D CAD/BIM software system can spin-off into dedicated sub-verticals and verticals. 

A 'Vectorworks Interiors' could be a future solution for the Maryland-headquartered Nemetschek daughter company. Interiors-focused workflows are different—as noted in one of the company's videos. In particular, workflows focused on serving the needs of global corporate giants, and their brand and retail presence design divisions are unique and outside common architecture practices. Retail stores change up their appearance at a granular level very often. Retail store design can involve complex and interchangeable components, extensive graphics and branding, moveable and reconfigurable lighting, and the ability to pre-visualize store changes. With Covid-19's post-impact on retail design, stores will need to reconfigure for social distancing. This may change the nature of check-out counters, dressing rooms, and customer wait areas. Suddenly, the human occupant and their spatial behavior and simulation appears much more important. 


A CDE Story—The Evolving Layer

What distinguishes Layer the app is how it provides ground-level functionality that users can customize into specific workflows to solve their common data environment (CDE) needs or what Architosh used to call, as early as 2006, project collaboration and document management (PCDM) system functions. This means that instead of a CDE system that is highly prescriptive Layer lets you set up specific workflows around your ability to collect data using custom forms.

Another great feature of Layer is it was built for mobile apps from the ground up and has excellent integration with iOS apps (initially) and now also Android apps. This is important because Layer contextualizes your data around the building itself, taking a room-level down to an object-level approach. This is why the connection to a BIM tool is key.

 

An image of Layer and Autodesk Revit working together. A live-link is persistently active and so when you click on a room in Revit various data about that room is highlighted in the Layer window on the left. If you click on, say a door, data about that door, which could include images, specs and notes linked to that element, also come up.  (image: Layer)

The reason why I chose to talk about Layer in this newsletter release is because it was revealed in our latest recent chat with Layer founder, Zach Soflin, AIA, that the company has plans to go beyond its integration with Revit. But this is how Zach characterizes their choice in first building a deep connection to Revit (which I'll discuss a bit more in a minute.). 

"This is the tool that 80 percent of designers are using, currently, at least in the US, it's different in other [global] locations," he says, "when we talk about this deep connection to BIM, in general, Revit is where we started but we have aspirations to reach every BIM platform including Open BIM file types and things like that." 

Zach notes that bringing all your ancillary data like tasks, meeting notes, and files directly into the cloud and connecting it to your building means that when you click on a room you are seeing all the tasks associated with it, or all the notes associated with it. "Or you are seeing the product specs associated with it," he says. 


One of Layer's core strengths is its mobile versions of the app. Conversations can be linked to elements and people, as shown in the image on the iPhone above. (image: Layer)

While Layer has been designed to work with a deep connection to Revit today and will offer such connections to other BIM platforms in the near future, Zach says that they have operations customers who are using it entirely without a connection to Revit. A connection to BIM tools is entirely optional. In fact, you see that in the new project setup templates, a checkbox asks if you are connecting a new Layer project to Revit or not. 

"We have users in the facilities and operations space who are using this completely outside of Revit," says Zach. Users can create "elements" completely outside of a BIM tool. So an air handler unit (AHU) in a facility is still an "element" to a building operator but in Layer you contextualize that specific element. You can number that element and then link that to files, meetings, notes, tasks, conversations, and photos associated with that element. 

Layer was born out of actual practice, from a real-life project with huge data management needs. We first learned about at AIA 19 and awarded it an AIA BEST of SHOW mention in the mobile+cloud+web category. Layer supports JASON API for integrations so it can fully be configured at some point in the future to work with passing data back and forth between other modern web tools such as BIM 360, Procore, or tools like Asana. This modern JSON foundation also means it can talk to data inside BIM applications. Older Xpresso readers may recall us mentioning JSON with respect to GRAPHISOFT's ARCHICAD from their last BIMCON in Vegas just days before AIA 19. 

Zach says that while they are seeking to target all of the AECO stakeholders, they started on the design phase side and are working on how best to serve construction and operations. 


Further Commentary: I see great potential for Layer due to its modern development core, its platform-agnostic setup, and its inherent flexibility. It is exciting to think about Layer providing integrations with other BIM solutions, which could certainly expand its attractiveness to more users around the world. The combination of its flexibility to customize workflows and its API future integrations means that Layer can serve a critical CDE backbone for AEC stakeholders. Layer brings data like meeting notes directly into Revit where users are working on the design and solving issues. Those notes are filled with critical information for those processes. 
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BIM and Computational Design

More Cloud BIM Tools: Konstru. This application was created to solve the lack of interoperability between popular BIM software programs. It is a secure cloud-based platform for AEC professionals to track, share, collaborate, and update BIM model data across both popular modeling and analysis software tools. 


Konstru is fully cloud-based only and runs in a web browser.  (image: Konstru)

Konstru comes from experienced, New York-based structural engineers and AEC professionals. The way it works is there are plugins that push out BIM models to the Konstru platform and back to your BIM solution. From there you can create and share 3D change reports and exchange BIM model data between various BIM software systems. It is primarily focused on structural BIM models and architectural BIM models with Revit being the primary BIM solution it supports along with Dynamo and Grasshopper on the architecture side. 


Konstru's UI/UX is streamlined and elegant. Version history and change visualization happens through simple color-coding. The right palette controls how you view the model and offers data such as how many of a specific type of beam section.  (image: Konstru)

Konstru helps professionals understand what has changed between two different BIM models of the same building. The comparison engine how powerful filtering that says, for example, compare just section sizes (eg: between beam or column sizes) but not differences in geometry. Konstru can also compare items from previous versions so there are "versioning" comparisons capability. 

Konstru has interoperability with multiple BIM tools, linking to primary architecture BIM solutions to structural BIM solutions. For example, it can link ETABs with Revit, SAP, Tekla, Grasshopper, or even Excel.

SpeckleGSA - Now Open Source. UK-based Oasys software has announced this month that SpeckleGSA is now an open-source GSA plugin that integrates GSA directly into the Speckle ecosystem. But what is Speckle?

Speckle has been seen in the wild at some of the most impressive AEC companies, like Arup, HOK, BIG, BVN, Woods Bagot, Grimshaw, to name several. It is described as: "the open-source data platform for AEC." 

Namely, "a fast, web-scale base for automation in design, engineering and construction." You can learn more about it here. SpeckleGSA is a tool that enables direct avenues of collaboration between designers working in Grasshopper, Rhino, Revit, Dynamo, and Excel. The source code is here. Oasys is the software spin-off of Arup in the UK and produces numerous software packages, principally for engineering work. Oasys GSA is its flagship structural analysis software. 

The Interesting - in AEC

Digital Building Technologies (DBT) is a research arm of Institute of Technology in Architecture at ETH Zurich. It is an interesting source of information for investigative research in architecture and building technologies that seek a seamless integration of computational design methods, digital fabrication, and new materials. ITA of ETH features news, projects, research, education, and publications. Their list of published papers is illuminating. 


A result of an additive manufacturing technology research project titled "Dissolvable Formwork" conducted at ITA-ETA.  (image: screen capture from YouTube video)

One recent research project and published paper was "Dissolvable Formwork." You can see a short YouTube video of the amazing results of this investigative technology here. The research looks into how a dissolvable, 3D printed formwork that can simply wash away after the concrete is cast and cured enables impossible forms not possible any other way, allowing undercuts and hollow-parts. We have seen advanced computational-design driven robots essentially print in concrete but this technology instead prints the advanced forms in materials that dissolve. Read more here.
The Briefing

Biggest CAD Industry News Last Month


(the biggest news and features in April)


Feature: architosh INSIDER Reports - 03 . We want to focus again on our topical "annual" INSIDER Report, a series of premium features centered this year on AAD (algorithms-aided design) or what is commonly called computational design. There are five features plus an introduction.  [45 - 60 min. read]  (Architosh). Highly recommended for computational design professionals in AEC.



News: GRAPHISOFT expands BIMcloud as a Service to Global Availability—Free 60 Day Emergency Access
This important news centers on the Hungarian BIM maker's plans to help its users through the Covid-19 pandemic with remote work requirements. This becomes an excellent opportunity for ARCHICAD users to try out BIMcloud.   [5 min. read]  (Architosh).

News: Autodesk BIM 360 Design Expands Global Collaboration Options with Europe Data Center
Autodesk expands reach with BIM 360 Design and the new Europe Data Center is there to speed things along for their clients around the globe looking to address collaboration during the Covid-19 pandemic.
 [5 -min read] (Architosh). 

News: Graebert's Covide-19 Response—Free ARES Kudo Till End of May
The German CAD company with a most excellent cloud-based (.dwg) CAD system is now letting folks use it for free till end of May.  [12 min. read]  (Architosh). This is a superb offering for many CAD users to try out this cloud-based solution for free.

News: Bentley's Covid-19 Response—Free Bentley ProjectWise 365 Till September 30
To help AEC pros cope with the remote work challenge, especially small firms, Bentley is offering its new-ish ProjectWise 365 cloud-based, browser-accessed project collaboration and documents sharing platform for free till the fall.  [5-min read]  (Architosh). This is an excellent offer for firms to try out this new version for project collaboration and document management (PCDM).


News: BOXX Intros 'BOXX Cloud Services' (BCS) Virtual Cloud Workstations

Perfectly timed for Covid-19 pandemic response management, remote work is more important than ever. The new virtual workstations are not packed into server-class hardware but over-clocked workstations from BOXX.   [5-min read]   (ArchitoshA good new offering that distinguishes itself by the actual hardware.
End Note
Remember you can sign-up for architosh INSIDER Xpresso here -- a unique CAD industry newsletter with a special focus on emergent technologies (emTech) like AI, ML, robotics, 3D printing, AAD, computational design, and smart cities tech.

As we move forward, our format will evolve but will aim to focus on emTech in AEC and MCAD. We welcome your suggestions (xpresso@architosh.com).

To see Past Issues visit this link here.  (sign-up for the newsletter here)

Warmly,
Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP


This is a free newsletter and companion publication to Architosh.com. 
Disclosures
Companies mentioned in this newsletter where I have a financial interest will be listed in this section. This is consistent with Architosh's Disclosures statement on our Ethics page here. 
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