December 19, 2011
Top Ten AEC Technology Trends of 2011
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
Each AEC Weekly Review delivers to its readers news concerning the latest developments in the AEC industry, AEC product and company news, featured downloads, customer wins, and coming events, along with a selection of other articles that we feel you might find interesting. Brought to you by If we miss a story or subject that you feel deserves to be included, or you just want to suggest a future topic, please contact us! Questions? Feedback? Click here. Thank you!

According to press materials, BIMx (= Building Information Model E xplorer) is an interactive "game-like" environment to explore 3D building models published by architects and designers. With BIMx building models can be viewed by anyone in full 3D without the professional authoring software in which the building model was originally created. As a result BIMx is the perfect communication tool between the client and the architect.

BIMx Viewer is a free application. Users can download models from other sources or from the BIMx community site through iTunes to the iPad. BIM Explorer add-on for ArchiCAD can play these models with BIMx Viewer.


As apps are now so easy to have, as easy as buying iTunes on your phone, there is no reason not to buy them or employ free ones.

An example: Bentley Structural Synchronizer for iPad Workflow for the iPad is available at iTunes for free – users can export out a very intelligent model to the iPad and see all bracing, beams, concrete and click on the model to pull in more information. Anything that might be needed in an AEC setting onsite such as section type, placement point, even complex elements can be added, layers turned on and off, and viewed in the new app.

Reality Capture

One of the most profound announcements at Bentley Be Inspired Conference this year was that of the company’s acquisition of Pointools Ltd. in order to integrate point cloud processing into its entire product portfolio. Bentley plans to merge their code streams with those of Pointools to create a new fundamental data type. Up until now, Bentley has embedded the Pointools Vortex engine into MicroStation, but now they plan to incorporate point cloud processing in their ProjectWise and AssetWise platforms.

This signals an acknowledgement of the importance of lidar data for various applications, not only for retrofit projects but also for planning and presentation value. The technology has been circling around the AEC industry for awhile but has been hampered until recently by the inability to efficiently get the large amounts of 3D data processed accurately. With great advancements in point cloud processing, it is now being integrated into mainstream CAD products like Bentley’s.

At Be Inspired, many of the winners and finalists were using 3D laser scanning in innovative ways in their projects, for example in the areas of multimedia, water and wastewater, and process manufacturing.

The Pointools/Bentley relationship is not the only evidence of this trend – Autodesk also has announced rather quietly the acquisition of technology assets and hiring of individuals associated with the Alice Labs technology, according to Michael Oldenburg, manager, Corporate Communications, Autodesk.

Another company that has just acquired 3D laser point cloud software is AVEVA, with its recent acquisition of LFM Software. This addition to the AVEVA portfolio offers a comprehensive range of technologies exploiting the power of 3D laser surveying. This technology is said to allow users to import 3D data from various 3D laser scanning formats and export them to plant design systems.

On the path of point cloud processing is ClearEdge 3D, a company that has developed algorithms to identify and extract pipes, walls, structures and other complex building and plant features from point clouds. Their Automated Feature Extraction algorithms are designed to reduce modeling time and eliminate a lot of the manual production associated with 3D models.

PDF Advancements

Although this might not look like a trend, PDF has advanced beyond a simple file format and is part of significant offerings from both Autodesk and Bentley. Bluebeam announced plug ins to AutoCAD  that can work in multiple monitors on split screens and can view several different PDFs. Bluebeam offers platform technologies for PDF creation, management and access.

Bluebeam PDF Revu is a PDF editor, viewer and markup tool with file creation technology. It really extends beyond PDF and takes paperless workflows to accessing and managing the documents that you need, when you need them. The markup tools allow that the user can keep track of who made comments, markups and compare two drawing revisions. Any markups placed can’t be changed by anyone but you. A record keeps track of every markup. The company also offers Bluebeam Studio which works in the cloud and Studio Server for those who want to host themselves.

Bentley’s i-models which are containers for open infrastructure information exchange will now be able to deliver AECO information mobility in PDF workflows – this accomplished via agreements with Adobe Systems and Bluebeam Software.


With increased demands placed on environmental concerns and the Architecture 2030 Challenge looming ahead, AEC customers must be able to simulate the design and performance of buildings in a robust and rigorous way so that those predictions of the simulations accurately reflect the real building when it’s completed. The simulation aspect of energy performance is largely about recognizing that there are many variables interacting that impact each other on an interdisciplinary level.

“There’s orientation, wind, sun, reflection, thermal properties, transmission properties,” said Huw Roberts, global marketing director of Bentley Systems. “It’s not the same every day of the year and every hour of the day, and so we’re focusing on providing software that allows that simulation to both give you that quick response if you’re looking for that to point you in the right direction, and to also do rigorous simulation that really takes into account all the conditions and materials even crossing interdisciplinary.”

All that information lives throughout the life of the building, said Roberts. As you are commissioning the building and maintaining systems, the building systems degrade over time and need renovation. “That information is still valuable to the operations of the building, especially today as many buildings are active, they have active skins, active solar shading, and active structural dampening. The use of that information and interaction of that simulation applies in the operations phase as well.”

According to Dr. Robert Aish, director of software development, Autodesk Platform Solutions,  environmental design and computer design have become linked, and the role of the architect is changing.  Simulation, modeling and diagrams are all key to the analysis of environmental design. Creative designers must employ new tools to find out how to modify climate both indoors and out, and to analyze the urban heat index. In an example of a building in Tokyo designed by Foster + Partners, designers were charged with addressing the increasing heat in Tokyo, and designed an external shading system that lowers the temperature outside the building by 2 degrees. They developed a new material to circulate rainwater inside the building. This type of project relies on new simulation, communication and design processes.

3D Cities

Never is there a place where simulation and analysis can have a larger role than in 3D cities. 3D cities represent the convergence of AEC and GIS as both technologies are necessary in order to visualize the 3D city. Each major CAD technology company has a different term for their version of the vision of 3D cities – Bentley Systems has recently coined the phrase “Semantic city,” IBM calls it a “smart city,” other companies refer to 3D cities as “intelligent cities.”

CEO of Bentley Systems Greg Bentley said noted that, “The real world is a 3D physical world.” He brought up the equation of “GIS mapping + geospatial modeling + semantic simulation”. Semantic is the study of meaning. “The semantic city could be semantically connected together and would emphasize components and models and understand people’s behaviors,” said Bentley.

Montreal is an example of a semantic city model which is maintained in Oracle Spatial 3D.

Whatever moniker the 3D city model takes on, it is able to include a lot of information pertinent to the city including site conditions, weather, terrain, and other data. This great assemblance of data can be the blueprint for the new city or the complete map of the old city – a vital tool in the asset management, maintenance and operations of the city that may be accessed by everyone who has a stake in its future.

Top News of the Week

IMSI/Design, the developer of TurboCAD announced TurboViewer Pro v2, a professional version of its popular free TurboViewer app for the iPad and iPhone.

"Besides a host of new features and enhancements, TurboViewer Pro v2 now supports almost two dozen CAD file formats, more than anyone in the mobile world... even more than most desktop CAD applications," stated Royal Farros, Chairman and CEO of IMSI/Design.

You can find the full AECCafe event calendar here.

To read more news, click here.

-- Susan Smith, Managing Editor.

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