Building Information Modeling is such a broad subject that it has reached into every aspect of Autodesk design, and involves a great deal of discussion about the future of Autodesk product development. Each time a decent sized BIM discussion comes up, I stop and think about the ‘future of BIM’ from my perspective.  That subject becomes kind of fascinating, as I try to look forward to what I would do as a developer to move design to a new horizon.  Two things have gone a long way to helping that fascination along.

  • I stand with one foot in MFG, and one in AEC. I see things from both perspectives, and have learned to embrace the dual skill set.
  • I spend little time in applications that are BIM-centric.  My thoughts about BIM are not biased by any specific application.


A recent discussion with Jay Bhatt, the Senior Vice-President of Autodesk’s AEC division, prompted me to write a paper on BIM. However, further reflection on his comments and the amazing year of Autodesk Product Development has changed my perspective, and I wanted to pass those things along to you.

Now, I know diddly squat about BIM by anyone’s standards, and no matter how hard I try to tackle the subject, it all comes out interoperability. That’s ok because this article is not about the future of BIM, but instead it’s about the how BIM and Autodesk product development is pointing to the future of collaborative design.

BIM is everywhere

image The Autodesk divisions have been embracing BIM more and more. The greatest benefit BIM delivers is it’s ability to hand off information to other applications that need to utilize the data.  In a series of videos dedicate to BIM, Rob Cohee, one of Autodesk’s Manufacturing Solutions Evangelists, recently discussed how a product designer can pass on the key information about their product within the design, such that the receiving application not only understands various key criteria about what is being introduced into it’s environment, but also in a manner that the receiving app is already prepared to use.

Further demonstrated was the AEC Exchange toolset that provides a clean method to create files for other AEC products that contain all the relative intelligence expected and reduced level of detail. Very nice. Rob went on to note on his ‘On the Job’ YouTube video that a recent building project only accepted contractors that could provide BIM data. Complete collaboration is no longer a desired goal, but a requirement to be competitive.

Products Galore

image This year was amazing with all the development of new technologies seen in existing and new product lines of Manufacturing, AEC, and Plant divisions. Some reservations were voiced over the huge inclusion of technology with less product merger. If interoperability is so important then why spend the time integrating new technology into older products while at the same time developing new ones? The response in Manufacturing was that Autodesk would continue to advance the technology available to their customers that use multiple Autodesk products in productive workflows.  The Manufacturing Division looks at the added and overlapping capability as “The right tool for the right job”.  Autodesk went on to add Cloud Computing such as in the Autodesk Labs Optimization Project and Mobile solutions like AutoCAD WS, and the list keeps growing.

Jay Bhatt also noted that “While there are some companies that have reduced their investment in product lines, often due to financial constraints, Autodesk took a different approach in these difficult times. We chose not to cut our core products, but instead we have included additional functionality, often taking synergistic technology and incorporated it into our products.”

The 2011 product line also included upgraded capabilities in Vault connectivity and its ability to manage product development. Navisworks was amazing as well, with its seemingly infinite possibilities and ability to use products from AEC, MGF, and Plant product lines.

The key was to incorporate communication and interoperability between the emerging products so that anyone using an Autodesk product can easily and immediately benefit from the capability of the new arrivals.  This not only benefits product users under the same roof, but enables substantially improved collaboration.

Ease of Use

Another notable topic was making the product easier to use. Substantial debate ensued afterward of how “easy” could be a drawback. Those discussions have continued occasionally but I started to think “why not?”. How many times have we complained that some workflow was too complex, and it could be so much simpler.  I don’t agree with dumbing down the engineering terms for the uneducated, but I can see substantial room for improvement in numerous interfaces.

“Technology has to become more facile and easier to use so that everyone can access the data seamlessly” Jay noted regarding Autodesk’s product strategies.

It’s not only what you see, but how you see it.  Take once more, the Autodesk Labs Optimization Project as an example. Taking the lengthy workflow of picking through the Simulation browser to access parameters and preparing the Optimization process and reducing it to the core steps with an intuitive and substantially more efficient manner. You get the same outcome, but substantially faster results and less opportunity for oversight, and it’s completed on someone else’s server.

Another example is the continuous improvement in Corridor design within Autodesk Civil 3D.  Roundabouts and Intersection design have delivered tools that greatly reduce the learning curve and raise the productivity level of roadway design.

Getting it done now vs. Vision

I took part in an amazing conversation recently and found that as more focus is placed on ‘getting the work done’ (and getting it done well), the more our views to other possibilities narrow. Since we have fought to find a process that enables then to pay the bills, we often find it pointless to consider a method that does not specifically solve a problem that we already face.

This factor has caused many to miss the big picture this year.  We keep wanting improved interoperability and collaboration and looking to advancements in product development. That is only half the battle!! The rest of the answer is in the data.

Mr. Bhatt went on to say “The future of BIM in design technology really isn’t just about how information should be managed, but additionally we ask the question “how do people use this information and behave around this information?”. We are helping to change how this information is delivered and how the subsequent behavior and result is accomplished. There has to be one version of data, and that has to be the true version of the data. It has to flow back and forth seamlessly, and not be a series of separate actions. That is the key.”

Ever wonder why Autodesk continues to push the DWG envelope, and why Fusion is on the DWG platform?

Why? Because Exports Suck

We export for version sake. We export for compatibility sake, We export for collaboration. Does anyone know what the actual current dataset involves? “I don’t have a clue, I got a block from the contractor and email the world to CMA, and hope for the best”. Our future lies with one source of data that ANY application can read.

Having the ability to connect to the Vault server for a project that is managed through through Navisworks which has incorporated the Civil, Revit Structure, Architectural, and MEP development files that are all sharing the same and only dataset. Am I on the current version? You are on the ONLY version. Vault is dictating what is the REAL true source of data, and we can query anything and filter the Level of Detail individually and directly. No more exports. The 2011 product line has brought us within striking distance of this goal.

Let’s say manufacturing needs to see the fit and function of the fittings they are developing. They need only log in to the project server, open the pertinent development file and test fit their components.  Better yet, we’ll real-time constrain the final fit in place, save the model, and then complete the documentation. We’d then notify the fabricator that the product is final; they login, open the same file, complete the CAM process, post the NC to the floor machines, and print the documentation from all from data accessed directly from the vault server. The hard part will be walking to the printer and handing the prints to the machinist, welder, and QA. When the truck arrives on site and the fittings are installed, guess what. The darn things fit.

That is why having all those Autodesk products in development is not a problem. Capable products and intelligent data is truly the goal, and when the data can be read seamlessly, without steps that remove access to the true form, the painful workflows, lost productivity, and liability issues surrounding not having the correct version of the project will vanish.

Collaboration as a Natural Function

BIM, Vault, and AEC Exchange deliver a collaborative platform that provides accurate, intelligent model data that plugs into applications with surprising ease. Ever see a Revit architecture building imported into Civil 3D, or Revit MEP models analyzed in Navisworks? It’s a beautiful thing, and it’s only going to get better.

Autodesk is in the business of making money, and the main factor driving that is customer desire. The easier it is for people to access and manipulate data, the more they will want the tools that enable that capability. Autodesk is pushing to a new horizon of data accessibility and reality. One where collaboration is a natural function of all its applications and the form of data is singular. Where understanding is no longer impeded by delivery, and the true form of data can be accessed anywhere. That’s where Autodesk product development is pointing, and the horizon that is closer then I imagined.

Additional References

There are some great webcasts and classes coming up that will help you use some of the functionality that I mentioned.  I hope that you will consider these as they will shed some light on the possibilities that are already available.

JAW as FDR 2

CE News Webcast: BIM and Sustainability for Roadway Drainage Design

Round everyone up on October 21, 2010 at 1:00PM EDT for BIM and Sustainability for Roadway Drainage Design with James Wedding, P.E.

James is also hosting what should be a fabulous class on Vault collaboration for Civil products at Autodesk University this year. I encourage you to register for this class to see how collaboration can be streamlined.

Collaborating Civilly
CV427-4P   |   Lecture   |   Thursday 1:30pm – 2:30pm   |   1-Hour
Primary Speaker: James Wedding, Civil Engineering Technical Specialist
Autodesk, Inc.

Working Here, There, and Everywhere: Connecting Global Workgroups with Autodesk® Vault Collaboration
DM316-1   |   Lecture   |   Wednesday 8:00am – 9:00am   |   1-Hour
Primary Speaker: Pascal Le Guellec, Customer Success Engineer – Data Management


Next Generation BIM Collaboration: Project Bluestreak
CR419-1   |   Lecture   |   Thursday 9:30am – 10:30am   |   1-Hour
Primary Speaker: Mark Evans, Senior Product Manager

Digital Prototype to Documentation: Autodesk® Inventor® Publisher 2011 Fills the Gap
MA319-2   |   Lecture   |   Wednesday 9:30am – 10:30am   |   1-Hour
Primary Speaker: John Evans, Technical Journalist / Design Consultant
John Evans Design / GCT