Posts Tagged ‘software


BIM Revolution Not Quite Here Yet

An interesting article in The Economist suggests that the revolution in BIM (Building Information Modeling) is, at least for the present, mainly wishful thinking. By and large,

… fancy graphics tend to be used only for conceptual purposes and play no role in the detailed design and construction of the finished structure. For the most part, this is still carried out with old-fashioned two-dimensional elevation and plan drawings, created by hand or using computer-aided design (CAD) software. “It’s still a 2-D profession,” says Shane Burger, an associate architect at Grimshaw…

With CAD, you draw your picture, and the software makes it malleable, so it can be changed, added to, combined with another. With BIM, you put in the facts of the case and tell the software what you need, and it draws the picture. It seems that many practitioners are still in a CAD headspace, unable to make the leap of imagination that would really put BIM to work for them.

When the client says, “How will it look from over there?”, the elegant and stunning pictorial answer can be shown, and that’s cool. But there’s so much more to BIM than dazzling graphics. The amazing virtual walk-through is negligible compared to the real power and beauty of BIM. The thing to keep in mind is that a building information model is a digital representation of both the physicals and functional characteristics.

Traditionally, one of the embarrassing possibilities, once construction starts, is discovering that a basic law of physics is being violated, as two things, such as an air duct and a beam, try to occupy the same space at the same time. In building information modeling, the word “information” is there for a reason – because the best part of BIM is the huge database of everything you could possibly want to know about every part of the building at all times. Like the weather or any other system, a building is subject to the so-called “butterfly effect.” Tweak something over here, and something over there is affected. With BIM,

the model is based on objects, which are solid shapes or voids with their own properties. The model also includes information about the relationships between these objects, so that when one object is changed… any related objects are automatically updated.

In a large project, the number of stakeholders can grow to monstrous proportions, and BIM keeps them all on the same page. Time is an added dimension, so processes can be followed through the life cycle of the building. All the stages of design, construction, and facility management are taken into account and automatically updated. Energy use, lighting, heat flow, acoustics, and many other factors can all be kept track of. The most important thing is the sharing of resources and information across platforms and environments.

The author points out that the early adapters are the more flamboyant, high-name-recognition architects. Because their creations are so complicated and unusual, there’s really no other choice. What’s needed is BIM across the board; it needs to be a plow horse as well as a show pony. Apparently this is happening, as the General Services Administration now requires BIM technology for all the projects it funds.

Of course, accurate cost estimation is a huge incentive, now more than ever. When the digital prototype is the main reference, it’s possible to calculate very finely the quantities of materials needed. Perhaps even more important, every detail necessary for compliance with regulations is spelled out. MIT professor William Mitchell estimates that inconsistencies and clashes can eat up from 2 to 5% of a budget. This is interesting, because that’s about the same percentage range as it costs to make a really good green building. So, thanks to BIM, it seems that a building could be made greener (costing 3% more) and smarter (saving 3%) and still end up with about the same price tag, when all’s said and done. With the cost of energy and materials going up, and the cost of information going down, it looks like the BIM revolution will go forward.

Pictured: the Eden Project, in England. The geodesic domes were BIM-designed.

SOURCE: ” From blueprint to database ” 06/05/08
photo courtesy of just_laze , used under this Creative Commons license


The Cladding of Porter House, New York City

Porter House

In Manhattan’s meatpacking district, an existing warehouse needed an extra 15,000 square feet for a housing addition. The job was done by Sharples Holden Pasquarelli (SHoP) who, as described in the Computing Technologies section of Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition came up with a “custom-designed, laser-etched zinc metal wall panel cladding system…The condominium’s zinc rainscreen emerges from a family of 15 profile types, from which there are 150 versions of profiles, yielding 4000 total panels.”

The variations were achieved by cutting and bending each profile type of panel differently. After four initial drawings, the rest of the communication between SHoP and the fabricators was carried out electronically.

This case study is presented in order to explore the use of software by SHoP in design, construction, and fabrication. It entailed a lot of originality, all of it concentrated in the few-inches-deep cladding system, with the other parts of the project achieved more conventionally. Part of the reason for this concentration on the outer layer was to astonish the eye, because making a visual impact was a priority. The creators were going for an ambiance of complexity and randomness, to fit in with the existing environment. This aim was also achieved by offset from the underlying warehouse. The addition looks like it grew there.

The use of building information modeling achieved huge gains in fabrication and installation time, accuracy in the production of the varying panel elements, and efficiency of material use. The builders were able to get the most bang for the buck out of standard zinc sheets of 39″ by 118″, by careful planning of how the various sized pieces would be obtained, cutting waste to the bone. They started with several basic shapes: flat panel, bent sill panel, window panel, light box panel, and more.

To deal with the numerous idiosyncratic factors that needed to be taken into consideration, ShoP used the 3D NURBS program Rhinoceros, which told them what shape to make each piece in order to meet the technical requirements of a rainscreen. Enthusiasts describe Rhino as very simple and powerful, able to do all levels of design for any discipline, and blessed with a high degree of interoperability. The program is said to be especially popular in Europe.

Rhino describes itself as having the capability to do uninhibited free-form 3-D modeling with extreme precision. It can create, edit, analyze, document, render, animate and translate NURBS curves, surfaces and solids, handle polygon meshes and point clouds, and support a wide variety of 3-D digitizing arms, 3-D scanners, and 3-D printers. It can handle large projects, and has the additional advantages of relative ease in learning and relative affordability. It can, in short, do everything but sing lullabies to the kids in a finished building’s daycare center.

After Rhino had done its bit for ShoP and the Porter House, everything was transferred to a program called Solidworks to fine-tune the 150 different panel shapes. For a short description of Solidworks, we turn to Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition, which says on page 937:

Solidworks is most commonly used by mechanical engineers, industrial engineers, and product designers. By building “solid models” of objects (as opposed to surface models), engineers can perform finite material and structural analyses on objects, as well as communicate more seamlessly with CAM equipment, which often operates on proprietary software that more easily reads solid models.

Please feel free to share experiences other projects have had with Rhinoceros and Solidworks.

SOURCE: ” Computing Technologies ” 2007
photo courtesy of b.frahm , used under this Creative Commons license


CAD Market Prospects Considered

CAD model

On the Cadalyst website, Kenneth Wong asks, “Can CAD Market Grow in an Economic Downturn?” and then goes on to interpret and place into context raw data from the Jon Peddie Research Special Report, a collection of facts and figures which describes itself thus:

The 2008 CAD Report is a detailed report that looks specifically at the CAD market. It includes information on worldwide CAD software revenues, market share, and information about the user base. The market looks at the industry from the two major subsets of Mechanical/Manufacturing and AEC (Architecture, Electrical, and Construction). The report also includes a section on CAD for the Mac and Process and Power. It breaks out the relative share of the market for Architecture, MCAD, Process and Power, Civil, GIS/Mapping, and other.

What, you may ask, does the “Computer-Aided Design and Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAD/CAM)” chapter of Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition have to say about all this? The chapter, by Kimo Griggs and Kenneth Kao, starts with a simple definition and then elaborates:

The digital design technologies associated with CAD/CAM range from simple two-dimensional (2D) drawing to sophisticated three-dimensional (3D) solid parametric modeling programs…The ability to extend the use of digital design models, particularly 3D models, beyond design visualization into design development, engineering, manufacturing, and then into facilities management, enables designers to explore ideas and provide solutions in ways that were previously inconceivable.

And this is not only wonderful, but inevitable. Still, many AEC professionals are asking themselves, and the experts on their payroll, questions about the future of this technology and especially about its profitability. According to a recent report, Africa’s demand for engineering applications software increased by 8% in 2007, over the previous year. This news comes from Cambashi, another research and analysis consulting firm that specializes in engineering and enterprise applications. Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia and Libya together (collectively known as the Mahgreb) account for a third of all the demand for engineering applications software that stems from Africa, as well as a large share of the architecture and construction software, which are all tending to pretty much flow together as time goes on. Egypt is also an enthusiastic consumer of engineering applications. On another page, we find information from Cambashi about the United Arab Emirates, which also uses engineering applications in a big way. In the UAE, three-quarters of the software demand is for the kind that serves the engineering, construction, and architecture fields. This is compared to the rest of the world, where purchases applicable to those fields make up only 38% of the software market.

After posing the very relevant question of whether the CAD market can grow, Kenneth Wong asks another one:

So how are the IT managers and CAD managers bracing for the inevitable economic slump? Some think loosening the purse strings for well-timed training and well-placed technology might help tighten their companies’ operating margins.

It’s obvious that the computers and the people are only two factors in the equation. Industrial firms need an infrastructure to employ IT effectively, and that base needs to meld CAD visualization and information management. One of the trends noted by the Jon Peddie Research Special Report is “a significant shift taking place as smaller businesses are investing in new technologies.” Stepping into the next phase of technological progress is definitely not just for the big boys. Another emerging trend is an emphasis on training in such vital areas as building information modeling. One of the experts Wong talked with for his article noted that, over the past five years, the main growth he has seen is in the upgrading of 2D licenses to their related 3D systems. This CAD management consultant, Robert Green, also says,

“Examine your processes and fix the problems you find so you can squeeze every little bit of productivity from your existing staff. To the extent that CAD/IT tools support these goals, make the investments. If training to achieve better standards compliance and process control supports these goals, then do so.”

So – given all this – can the CAD market grow in an economic downturn?

SOURCE: “Can CAD Market Grow in an Economic Downturn?” 04/07/08
photo courtesy of AmyMEmeME , used under this Creative Commons license