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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

AECCafe’s Year in Review – 2014

December 22nd, 2014 by Susan Smith

Looking back on 2014, there were a number of important developments that rocked the AEC world. Here are our takes on what were the most telling announcements of the year:

Autodesk Ember 3D Printer

Autodesk Ember 3D Printer

1) 3D printing enters the AEC market in a big way. In September, Stratasys, a 3D printing company, acquired 3D CAD company, GrabCAD. The acquisition of GrabCAD is expected to allow Stratasys to provide its customers with enhanced collaboration tools and improved accessibility relating to 3D CAD content. According to company materials, GrabCAD’s cloud-based collaboration platform and community site is CAD software- agnostic, and empowers designers and engineers to manage, share, and view CAD files. Stratasys went the other way around and sought a 3D CAD company in order to have the same sort of seamless workflow with GrabCAD as Autodesk will ultimately have with its Ember and 3D design software and its new Spark, an open 3D printing platform.

Stratasys acquires GrabCAD

Autodesk will follow that model by having their own machine and will formulate their own materials for their machines. Although this in itself will not be something new, the ability to use Autodesk solid modeling software directly with their own 3DP machine is brilliant, and saves on loss of communication via 3D CAD/CAM programs being translated by 3D printers made by other manufacturers. This means Autodesk can approach 3DP from both a manufacturing and an AEC standpoint – something no other company can do so far.

Autodesk’s own 3D printer, Ember


2) In The ability to integrate video surveillance into building information modeling adds a new very important dimension to the design of buildings.Vince Lupe, director of Business Development, Hikvision USA (pronounced “HikeVision”), discussed the way Hikvision’s cameras and video surveillance systems are made an integral part of all architectural design, by being considered in the Building Information Model from the early design phase. Read the interview with Vince Lupe:

Hikvision integrates with BIM

3) Reality capture comes up as a really important topic for AEC this year. It is defined as the direct capture of spatial information about the physical world to improve workflows across industries that design, produce, or manage physical products or projects, from buildings to highways to video games.

Autodesk ReCap  is at the forefront of what that company called “Reality Computing” with a family of products and services that allows users to integrate reality capture data into their design process. Using laser scans or photographs, ReCap streamlines workflow by turning the real world into as-built 3D data that can be used within the Autodesk product line.

3D laser scanning and point clouds continue to be an inexpensive way to capture building data that can be added to BIM. This is especially useful in retrofit projects.

Screenshot 5An example of some of the software used to extract data from laser point clouds is ClearEdge 3D’s EdgeWise Structure. EdgeWise Structure from ClearEdge 3D can quickly and accurately extract properly specified steel, concrete or wood structural members from laser scan point clouds.  The average use efficiency is about 50%. “With a project that usually took 100 hours to complete using other software, with EdgeWise Structure you can do it in about 50 hours,” said Chris Scotton.

According to the press release, the software’s library of structural components and its proprietary pattern matching algorithms result in a precise, mathematical best-fit of a structural member to the point cloud without having to tediously clean, clip or manipulate the points. Even if the structure in a project have been fireproofed, EdgeWise Structure is able to quickly and accurately model the bare members.

Edgewise Structure makes short work out of point clouds for BIM

4) The cloud extends its reach for many AEC vendors, but Bentley Systems has one of the most significant visions of implementing the cloud that will become available this year. The CONNECT Edition next gen software  succeeds the V8i generation of products, supporting hybrid modeling environment connected via cloud services and to mobile devices to expand the reach to all project participants. Cloud capability is achieved through Microsoft Azure.


Early Access participants have already gotten to sample MicroStation CONNECT Edition, and many of the ProjectWise CONNECT Edition services, along with the Navigator CONNECT Edition app-lication, will be available for Early Access by the end of 2014. MicroStation users will be happy to know there is no change to the DGN file format,in fact, V8i modeling applications will intra-operate with both MicroStation CONNECT Edition and ProjectWise CONNECT Edition. The CONNECT Edition of Bentley’s modeling applications and AssetWise offerings will be released throughout 2015 and 2016.

The CONNECT Edition offers convergence of Bentley’s platform technology to support a hybrid environment across desktop modeling applications, cloud-services, on-premise servers, and mobile apps.

The idea behind CONNECT Edition is to bring cloud services to “all users across all projects.” Microsoft Azure cloud services also serves as the underlying technology for CONNECT SELECTservices, which was introduced earlier this year to all Bentley subscribers. Also through Azure, Bentley’s MANAGEservices provides instant-on access to all ProjectWise services.

Bentley’s CONNECT Edition Explained

4) What has become interesting to me but is not front and center in the minds of users are the new solutions for bridging the gap between the user and the application, Panzura and Nasuni. These two companies each provide a silent underpinning that allows files to be distributed across multiple offices in disparate locations.

Panzura’s Global File System provides cross-site collaboration with their global locking file systems. “CAD and BIM wrok at a single site, they do not work well across sites,” according to Panzura CMO Barry Phillips, but when you try to have project teams spread across distributed offices it doesn’t work. “There have been lots of attempts to solve this problem,” said Phillips. Collaboration is what drives the need for cloud storage.

Panzura offers cross site collaboration with global locking file systemsSlide07

According to Nasuni, file data continues to grow and spread across the enterprise creating a massive file sprawl problem. Legacy technologies such as distribution, replication, WAN acceleration and storage tiering have been deployed to deal with this problem – with limited success and at great expense. The Nasuni Service is the innovative, cost-effective solution to this problem.

The Nasuni Service

The Nasuni Service

The Nasuni Service combines File Data Virtualization, local file data access controllers and cloud storage to provide global access to data with local performance and infinite scalability. In addition, The Nasuni Service solves the added problems of protection, archive, security and management of file data storage all at a fraction of the cost of legacy solutions.

The award-winning technology of the Nasuni Filer storage controller enables organizations to remotely control and manage easily-accessible data volumes and provide shared data to multiple global locations. The Nasuni Filer delivers high performance, solid security, and access and control. Look forward to more coverage on this and other enterprise solutions for global file management.

5) Another interesting development this year has been AEC companies acquiring architectural firms. Autodesk announced this year it has acquired design and research studio The Living to create an Autodesk Studio that will focus on the development of new materials and building types.  David Benjamin  co-founded the New York practice The Living in 2006. The studio currently has seven staff members and a network of part-time collaborators. Benjamin is also an assistant professor and the director of the Living Architecture Lab at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.

Autodesk Studio

Autodesk Studio

The new Autodesk Studio “will create new types of buildings, public installations, and prototypes, using new materials and architectural environments,” for Autodesk Research, according to Autodesk company materials. Because of the robust, extensive computing power of the cloud, the studio will “be able to actively experiment and rapidly deploy these new design methodologies in the physical world and the built environment.”

This announcement further reveals Autodesk’s interest in materials along with building types. Perhaps Ember will be used to fabricate materials for the building industry in this way.

Trimble and Frank Gehry announced that they have entered into a strategic alliance to collaborate by further connecting the office to on-site construction technologies. The terms of the strategic alliance  are that Trimble has acquired Gehry Technologies, the software and consulting services arm of the company that has powered Frank Gehry’s visionary designs while tracking client’s cost and schedule requirements. To make things clear for this audience, Gehry Partners is the architectural firm of Frank Gehry.  Gehry Technologies is the international leader in technology-driven project delivery founded in 2002 by Frank Gehry, that provides BIM, 3D project collaboration and project delivery around the world.

“This merger is a dream for me. In Trimble, we find a partner who has like-minded ambitions and goals to create efficiencies in the AEC industry that allow the creativity of the architectural profession to flourish and deliver value-added creative solutions within the realities of our economic times. I am very excited to expand our mission with a great new partner,” said Frank Gehry in a company announcement. Read our interview with Trimble’s John Bacus:

Trimble acquires Gehry Technologies

These two announcements demonstrate a desire among AEC vendors to further their creative edge and know from the inside out what it takes to create design and efficiencies within the building process – with Autodesk addressing the interest in “new types of buildings…” and Trimble seeking the ability to further connect the office to on-site construction technologies. It was not enough for either company to continue to work with architectural design firms as a software vendor, they needed to make an acquisition. In Trimble’s case, the acquisition was of the software and consulting services arm of Gehry only; for Autodesk, it is the acquisition of the design firm itself. We look forward to seeing what developments emerge from these two exciting acquisitions.

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