December 22, 2008
Top Ten AEC Technology Trends Review for 2008
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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In a recent interview, Beau Turner, director of Business Development for Avatech Solutions, said that their consulting firm has experienced a considerable increase in emerging market standards which are “driving more services.” 85% of their revenue is now derived from business services, and the company is developing more services to address these standards, which include IFC, LEED, buildingSMART Alliance and the National BIM Standard and ISO 15926.

At the BE conference this year, Rebecca Flora of the U.S. Green Building Council Flora cited three key areas of green building delivery:
  • Changing the LEED certification model and the LEED Certification Institute, and contracting with certification entities.
  • Creating an easier way of integrating information into the system.
  • Change whole structure of how LEED is packaged so that credits can be updated on their own.

  • She said that we need to be more involved at the federal, local and state levels in changing public policy. Although LEED is adopted internationally, the LEED model still doesn’t adapt everywhere, so work must be done to share the model more globally.

    4) Creating Flat Liability on Projects

    A recent study conducted by Bruce Jenkins of Spar Point Research, funded by software company Newforma, Inc., entitled “Mitigating Risk in AEC Project Execution: Perspectives from Principals, Counsel and Insurers,” took a fresh look at the industry from three stakeholder viewpoints.

    The study takes into account risk sources for A/E firms, the search for solutions in the form of business practices and supporting technologies, and possible avenues to mitigating risk. Spar Point interviewed five principals of leading A/E firms, three prominent legal professionals who are closely involved with the AEC industry and three insurance professionals that specialize in A/E risk management.

    Fear of liability and strong aversion to risk exposure were cited as the primary cause of the industry’s declining productivity. Lack of communication between different parties involved in projects has been ensured by the compartmentalizing of responsibility. The maintenance of business processes and project execution processes that further isolation between the different parties has become the norm as it allows each party to shift accountability to others in the asset-creation value chain. This situation, in which fear is wagging the dog’s tail, so to speak, has characterized the industry and fragmented the value chain, which in turn causes more things to go wrong in the

    The research in this study suggests that a greater exposure to liability could in fact reduce the likelihood and severity of problems on projects. Many industry professionals are looking at a move away from the old practices of avoiding liability and shifting risk, to ways of controlling risk. This involves consciously increasing risk exposure in order to control risk and see where problems arise.

    5) Nemetschek Goes to Parasolid

    Nemetschek announced that they are including the Siemens PLM Parasolid engine as the new foundation for 3D in their product, Vectorworks 2009. For those unfamiliar with Parasolid, it is a solid modeling engine made by Siemens’ PLM that is used by over 350 of the world’s software applications.

    Nemetschek has taken a closer look at BIM, to note that architects are not using it.

    “Architects are not going to get paid more for using BIM,” said Sean Flaherty, CEO of Nemetschek North America. “The only way to adopt it is for them to see what good it does them. They don’t get paid more because it costs the owner less.” Until now, BIM has not added much to the conceptualization stage of the process, so why, indeed, would it interest architects?

    What does work for architects is free form modeling, which has become one of Vectorworks’ key strengths in the marketplace, particularly in the AEC space, Flaherty noted. Free form shapes then make modeling more complex, but to represent this cutting edge architecture, BIM is needed.

    This is the second time Nemetschek has switched the kernels; eight years ago they switched from GSS to Solid++, and now to Parasolid. With 2.5 million seats, the Parasolid toolkit is easy to embed, in fact, Bentley Systems uses it.

    Parasolid will allow Vectorworks to more easily handle the increasing complexity in the BIM market space. “We are the least expensive Parasolid modeler on the market now and we are the only Mac Parasolid modeler in AEC,” Flaherty said.

    6) Algorithmic Design

    GenerativeComponents (GC), derived from Bentley’s first Applied Research Group, is now a commercial product utilizing algorithmic design, offered with the purchase of MicroStation or individually. Fostered by community based development, the product was quickly embraced by architects who wanted to explore a range of alternatives cost effectively. Those enthusiastic users have gone on to become the SmartGeometry Group.

    Autodesk’s inaugural Design Computation Symposium promotes new ways of working with Autodesk tools to do algorithmic design and will have products to demonstrate in 2009. Algorithmic design is another way in which designers can access new options and ideas. What parametric design allows is an ability to preserve the relationship between elements in digital models, which has given architects more control over their designs, according to Autodesk's CEO Carl Bass. In parametric design, users can generate a range of options, however, with algorithmic design, designers are now programming to write algorithmic strips.

    Neil Katz, architect at Skidmore Owens Merrill, said that algorithmic design allows you to do things you couldn’t do before, such as balance performance analysis with aesthetic goals. In designing a hypersonic vehicle for Boeing, it was discovered that using traditional methods could only explore a limited number of options, while using algorithmic design could explore many options. The final vehicle was shaped in a counterintuitive way, “not the way they would’ve come up with on their own,” noted Carl Bass, and worked better than others.

    7) 3D Printing for the AEC Market

    It seemed as though the creation of physical architectural presentation models had become passe, but now they are enjoying new life with the advent of 3D printing technology. Architects, engineers and contractors can now make use of 3D printers “from conceptual design through construction,” according to Z Corporation’s literature. These models are highly accurate and detailed, and take far less time than hand hewn designs of the past. The company announced their Zprinter 650 this year, which can create massing models printed directly from CAD and BIM data, and do iterations of detail components for a design study. ZCorp printers have the distinction of being the only
    ones that print in color currently, which is useful for presentation models.

    Other 3D printing and rapid prototyping vendors who are showing their faces at AEC conferences this year include: Dimension 3D Printing, FARO Technologies, Objet Technologies and RedEye RPM.

    8) Digital Cities

    As part of Autodesk’s Digital Cities initiative, Autodesk launched its infrastructure modeling offering, LandXplorer, which derives from the acquisition of 3D Geo GmbH of Potsdam, Germany, the privately held maker of intelligent 3D urban modeling software. An out of the box product, LandXplorer allows a city to create a city or infrastructure model in a very short time, according to Doug Eberhard, senior director and industry evangelist for Autodesk. A 3D infrastructure model can be created within 30 minutes. In addition to supporting AutoCAD products, LandXplorer brings in 3ds Max for buildings and texture mapping.

    Not only does LandXplorer appear to offer some real value to both CAD and GIS users, Autodesk is hoping that it will alter the mentality of users by allowing them an expanded level of data sharing.

    LandXplorer is definitely an ambitious attempt to merge these different worlds into an interactive picture of infrastructure that has not been possible before. Autodesk’s history of providing tools for infrastructure has always been impressive, but the problems of interoperability have stood in the way of combining data from CAD and GIS.

    9) Integrated Project Delivery Process

    Growing out of BIM, GIS and “interoperability” is the move toward “integrated project delivery process.” At the BE Conference in May, Louis Hecht of the OpenGIS Consortium spoke on the topic, “The GIS and BIM Convergence: Broadening Interoperability with Standards,” citing three areas standards need to address: things, business process and coordination.

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    -- Susan Smith, Managing Editor.


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