Volume 1, Issue 3                       March 12,  2008
Integrating automated Manufacturing with the BIM copy

If, until recently, you’d asked me if you could computerize the construction of a building, I would have told you that “a computer can’t ‘lay block’ ”. I realized that Gehry Technologies was having metals cut by computer, but I viewed that as applicable only to Gehry’s signature buildings. My perspective changed when I got an email from a company called StructureWorks Precast. They had developed an add-in for SolidWorks for designing, modeling, and automating drawings for precast / prestressed concrete structures; bridges, parking structures, and office buildings. I knew that Autodesk had a similar product called Inventor, so I sent an email to the CEO of Autodesk informing him of this new potential. While I would like to take full credit for this foresight, it seems that Autodesk had already begun to consider how Inventor could be used for conceptual and digital fabrication, integrating with the BIM workflow.

What genre of software are Inventor and SolidWorks?

Autodesk Inventor and SolidWorks are mechanical engineering or solid modeler programs used for digital prototyping--generally in the manufacturing industry-- and are capable of manipulating large component datasets. Often, users of this genre of software solution utilize CNC machine tools for computerized fabrication.  According to Wikipedia, the abbreviation CNC stands for computer numerical control, and refers specifically to a computer "controller" that reads G-code instructions and drives a machine tool.  For some time now, the manufacturing industry has been using this software / CNC machine solution to increase productivity. The same concept can be integrated into the AEC industry by utilizing these solutions.  The major difference between a digital prototyping solution for a machine and for a building is the level of “granularity” and focus of the information. Granularity refers to the amount and specificity of information. In a BIM program such as Revit Architecture, Revit Structure and Revit MEP, the user is interested in assemblies such as stairs only to the degree of indicating size, material costs, etc. With digital prototyping software, one can cut, engrave, and weld the stairs automatically. It is this increased ability that digital prototyping programs bring to the BIM, resulting in improved productivity. The next question becomes, “Are we there yet?” While digital prototyping is being used today to design some components, such as pre-cast concrete slabs, the AEC industry has generally, not bridged the gap between the digital prototyping software and the automated machine tools. At present, digital prototyping software is being used in the AEC industry primarily to produce designs and drawings more efficiently.

What is Autodesk Inventor’s relationship to Revit Architecture, and the BIM?

Autodesk’s BIM software, Revit, operates in a similar manner to its Inventor product; both are parametric modeling systems. This affinity is not surprising since Revit was developed by programmers who had previously worked on a digital prototyping software line for another company. They applied the concepts used in that industry to architecture and construction. The methodology of the programs is very similar. Revit has been developed to put building components together; Inventor has been developed to put assemblies together. Autodesk has demonstrated the integration of these two solutions through their DWG file format, and their NavisWorks product. Both Autodesk Inventor and SolidWorks compete in the manufacturing industry, but only Autodesk has both a parametric BIM product and a parametric manufacturing product.  With Inventor, architects can model complex building forms driven by parametric rule-based operations and then develop the rationale behind a wide-range of building components, such as curtain system layouts or potential revenue criteria to owners. Autodesk realizes the importance of integration and collaboration throughout its entire product line. The company recently demonstrated how Inventor could be used in the AEC industry at its World Press Days and promises more integration in the future. 

What will be the impact of melding the BIM and automated manufacturing?

As the importance of digital prototyping takes hold in the AEC industry, more materials will arrive to the jobsite as kits--cut, and packaged for assembly in the field. No longer will boxes of screws be moved from jobsite to jobsite; the exact amount needed for the job will come with the studs.  The repetition of this scenario for other building components may have a significant impact on costs and make the construction industry more efficient. CNC cutting of materials to correct assembly length will eliminate waste on the jobsite and lower labor costs during erection in the field. 

Following are some of the types of components and assemblies, done in Autodesk Inventor that lend themselves to digital prototyping and CNC manufacturing.

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Smart Codes – ICC, International Codes Council http://www.iccsafe.org

Contact David Conover    DConover@iccsafe.org
The International Code Council is a membership association dedicated to building safety and fire prevention. It develops the codes used to construct residential and commercial buildings, including homes and schools. Most U.S. cities, counties and states that adopt codes choose the International Codes developed by the International Code Council. Looking to the future, The ICC is developing an automatic code checking system.
Recent efforts on the part of the ICC have resulted in the introduction of SMARTcodes™, the foundation for automated code compliance checking in the U.S.  ICC presenters have demonstrated how a Building Information Model (BIM) can be automatically checked for code compliance to the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code.
The automated code compliance check takes the building plan as represented by a BIM model and instantly checks for code compliance via a model checking software such as Solibri Model Checker.  The user can choose several options to output the results. Options include printing out the sections of the code that apply, printing an inspection checklist of things to look for, or viewing the building  as a 3D virtual walkthrough that shows components that don't comply with code and the reasons why.

Smart Codes process:

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  1. Architect/designer uses BIM software to document and present a design.
  2. The architect/designer loads the BIM into the model checking software.
  3. ICC creates “smart” versions of the I-Codes that can be used by the model checking software.
  4. The model checking software creates a compliance report, and visually identifies non-compliance on the BIM model.
  5. The Architect/designer then submits the compliance report and the BIM model to the building department as part of the permit application.

What does automatic code checking mean for the AEC industry?

The permitting process is one “productivity blocking” area in the design construction chain. With the total implementation of SMARTcodes™ one will be able to submit a computer verified check- list of code compliance in any project to the permit department. In addition, one will be able to check and modify a project for code compliance during the design phase.   SMARTcodes demo movie #1 ,   SMARTcodes demo movie #2.

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SpecifiCAD™  http://www.cadalytic.com/
SpecifiCAD™ is a CAD/BIM plug-in. Built using CADalytic Media's patent-pending technology, the SpecifiCAD™ plug-in dynamically matches user-defined building product content with building product manufacturer (BPM) content directly within the CAD/BIM environment. When the CAD/BIM designer selects a building component, SpecifiCAD™ delivers relevant building product data from participating content providers. Currently, SpecifiCAD™ showcases product data from the McGraw-Hill Construction Sweets Network® and the Google™ 3D Warehouse. From the Sweets Network®, the designer can click on the hyperlinks and icons to bring up a full web page of content (the product page, details, 3D models, catalogs, galleries, specifications, or green data) and this content can be incorporated into the CAD/BIM document. The product page can be linked to the selected building component. Presently, this feature acts as a placeholder for relevant content; in the future, web services will leverage this link to provide lifecycle-related services. From the Google™ 3D Warehouse, the designer can either download a SketchUp™ model directly into the CAD/BIM session or download the model to the Desktop.
SpecifiCAD™ is available on the Google™ SketchUp™, Autodesk® AutoCAD®/ADT/AutoCAD® Architecture, Autodesk® Revit® Building/Architecture, Graphisoft® ArchiCAD®, and Bentley® Architecture platforms.
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ArchVision RPC content  http://www.archvision.com

Visualization has always been important in the practice of architecture. Whether a  visualization sells a project or just makes it clearer to the client, in the mind of the public, visualization has become synonymous with architecture.  ArchVision’s content solutions give any user, novice or professional, the ability to place realistic visualization content without the burden of having to manage geometric primitives or materials, respond to lighting conditions or wait endless amounts of time for rendering. 
ArchVision has developed thousands of pieces of photorealistic content ready to drop into 3D scenes, including diverse collections of trees and shrubs, fountains, people, vehicles and objects. All of these are available as libraries or through a subscription plan.  ArchVision’s RPC people, automobiles, trees, and content have become the industry’s preferred method for incorporating and managing high fidelity objects in 3D graphic representations. 

RPC stands for Rich Photorealistic Content”, a term used to describe the software and content associated with ArchVision’s Image-Based Rendering (IBR) technology. (RPC is also the file extension for this image-based content.) Technically, each RPC object, such as an automobile or person, has been created from multiple photographs of the original subject which have been rotated on a turn-table. These multiple images are then compiled into a small compressed file. When the RPC file is placed into a visualization scene, and a virtual camera is pointed at the subject, the correct picture is culled from the RPC file. The net result is photorealistic content without the “digital overhead” of a 3D mesh, resulting in much faster rendering and the highest quality results.

Continually innovating, in 2007, ArchVision enhanced their content with tools to complement user workflow including:  auto-substitution tools in AutoCAD Architecture. In 2008 ArchVision will introduce improved “Revit to 3ds Max” export capabilities. New for Revit 2009, RPC content placed in this program will automatically generate the same content when exported to 3DS MAX 2009.

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About Ed:

I am a well known analyst in the AEC Industry, having been a journalist and lecturer in this arena for the past 10 years.  In my primary occupation as an Architect, I use the cutting edge digital technology about which I write, for the design and construction of buildings. I have been a Licensed Architect for 30 years, and have designed and/or built dozens of commercial, multifamily, and rehab projects. I also headed the CAD and Multimedia Department at Carroll Community College and the Industrial Design Department at Towson University. For many years I wrote the AEC column in CADALYST magazine. I authored seven books, in as many years, on AutoCAD Architecture (formally Architectural Desktop), for publisher Prentice Hall. My new Revit Architecture 2009 book will be on sale this May.

I continue to attend key industry events and keep abreast of the newest developments. If you see me at an event, please come over and chat with me; I like people, and would enjoy meeting you. You can recognize me by my trademark hat – black in winter, and white in summer.

 Please take a look at my Web Site:  http://www.hegra.org


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© 2007 H. Edward Goldberg AIA, NCARB, Ed’s Independent Voice.

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