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Solidworks BIM Content Creation Tips & Tricks

Solidworks arguably has the largest install base of the mid-range CAD products globally. Naturally this translates to a lot of Building Products Manufacturers also being Solidworks users. As BIM adoption accelerates at a rapid rate of knots, with large swathes of companies using products like Autodesk Revit and ArchiCAD, the pressure to provide high quality BIM content is piling up for Solidworks users around the world. However, although the simplification tools in Solidworks are extremely capable, and certainly adequate, there are limitations when it comes to Solidworks BIM export formats and embedded data (the I part of BIM). In this post I will highlight the most compatible workflows within Solidworks, but also show how easy it is to create poor BIM content.

The Base Dataset

The most likely scenario when starting to create BIM content, is having to do so from a completed and highly detail design. Ideally you would plan for BIM content creation during the preliminary stages of fleshing out your model in Solidworks. There is no reason why you couldn’t use the simplified geometry required for BIM content, to drive the complex forms and detail of your product. The benefits are twofold, you end up with a stable model driven by simple envelopes and instant access to a simple model to create Solidworks BIM content with.

Methven Aio Faucet Render Section

For the benefit of our readers. I’ve kindly been provided permission to use a fully detailed model of a Methven Aio Basin Mixer, skillfully modeled in Solidworks 2014. Methven make beautiful products, and I can say that, given my wife and I ended up choosing to use the Methven Kiri range of products throughout our house, long before I had the opportunity to work on this Solidworks BIM project with them.

Organization & Suppression

Solidworks 2016 New Assembly Folder

As with most high end 3D CAD products, Solidworks allows users to organize components within the assembly environment into folders within its browser. This provides a great opportunity to visually sort components into two folders, internal and external components. In doing so you can quickly toggle the visibility of components in between the two folders, making sure you end up with all the relevant Solidworks ‘BIM’ components sitting in the external components folder, allowing you to suppress all the internal components in one hit.


Solidworks 2016 Simplify command

This command is a cheeky little number, and like the Remove Details command in Autodesk Inventor, it relies on the features you want it to remove being native to the CAD application. So essentially this means you can’t effectively use the Simplify command with 3rd party models you have imported.

The Simplify command requires you to select which features you want to remove, a simplification factor, and if you want the simplification to be feature or volume based. A nice touch is the ability to ignore removal of features which affect assembly mates. In this case I’ve used all the default options, then after clicking the Find Now button, I enabled the All checkbox, but you can explicitly highlight which features you want to keep and which ones you want to suppress. Highlighted features will be suppressed once the Suppress button is clicked. You can also create a configuration with this tool if the situation suits. As you can see from the image below the result can be quite beneficial, but retain the overall appearance of the component.

Solidworks 2016 Simplify comparison


Solidworks 2016 Defeature Powerful, but a tad unreliable, the Defeature command has 4 stages. Component removal allows you to automate the removal of all internal components, manually select components to remove but also specify exceptions to any other rules set during this step. Stage 2 allows you to maintain some movement between components by creating rigid groups. The third stage provides the ability to choose which features to keep, either explicitly or via some auto select tools and filters. The final stage presents itself after the Defeature command processes all the selections so far, two windows appear, with the original model on the left and a defeatured preview on the right.

Throughout the process you have access to a Section View panel in the Property Manager. This is particularly helpful during the final and 4th stage of defeaturing. You can use it to check to see how much of the model, if any has been defeatured as you would expect. Luckily this stage gives you the opportunity to select additional faces, features, bodies or components to remove. Select any face and a mini toolbar pops up near your cursor, then you can choose how to expand your selection beyond the face you chose. I find this quite an effective method of refining what you need, my only complaint it deciphering what you have selected. This is a unique issue to the Defeature command, but rather a global issue with Solidworks once you have a lot of entities selected. To be fair the development team have eased this issue a bit, by allowing the user to expand the selection box in the Property Manager with the 2016 release.

Solidworks 2016 Defeature - Link to OriginalClicking through to the final page of this process, you can decide what you want to do with the model. In the context of this article, the first option makes the most sense. You can choose to Link the resulting model back to your original assembly if you want. Which could prove to be particularly helpful to building product manufacturers.

Repair, Patch & Fill

Solidworks 2016 BIM - Repair Patch FillFrustratingly in this case I wasn’t able to get the Defeature tool to fill in all of the voids, even after selecting all the features in this area of the model (at least I’m pretty sure I did… tough to tell). So if you come across this situation, you an take advantage of Solidworks modelling tools to extrude a boss, then make use of the copy body, boolean subtract and add commands. Ultimately this will create a new body you can use to fill any additional voids. In this case I chose to take it a step further, and create simplified geometry of the clamps as well.

Export Options

So this is where the good BIM, bad BIM play comes in. There are three effective ways of getting model geometry and metadata out of Solidworks and into Revit or Archicad. I’ll briefly cover each of them, as well as showing the geometric results in Revit & ArchiCAD, as well as the resulting file sizes.

Solidworks BIM Export (Export to AEC)

Solidworks BIM - Export to AEC

This is more of a workflow tool than anything else, whereby it brings together a number of tools available elsewhere in Solidworks. It starts with a request to define the type of BIM component it is and it’s orientation. I believe this is the only location in Solidworks where this vital part of BIM content creation can be achieved. After defining the ‘Host’ (floor, wall or ceiling), you are required to define a plane and an origin about which your BIM component will be attached within its destination model in the future. You can choose to Flip the Normal of the plane you select, but there is no way of telling which was is correct until you have imported it into the destination model.

On the next page you have to specify the level of detail you want to get achieve in your target model. Selecting either High, Medium or Low will pre-configure the Defeature command, allowing you to skip all the questions it asks of you, otherwise selecting Custom will take you through the full Defeature process. If you take the quick option, there aren’t any view section tools available so you can quickly check if you are being delivered the result you need. The final stage then allows you to export the result as a SAT file, I find it quite bizarre that IFC (and it’s Class definition toolset) wasn’t included as an option here.

This is my preferred option of the three for exporting you Solidworks BIM model. It gives you some BIM metadata and very clean geometry for the destination BIM based CAD system. SAT files are definitely the best option to get model data from Solidworks to Autodesk Revit.

IFC Export

Solidworks BIM - IFC Export

IFC is an extremely popular neutral file format in the BIM world. It’s certainly highly compatible with ArchiCAD and can contain rich metadata and various geometry options. It’s great news then, that IFC export has had a stealthy upgrade between Solidworks 2015 & 2016. Previously you could only export using IFC 2×3 with OmniClass classification, but you also had to set your document’s image quality to a suitable level, since quite bizarrely that drives the quality of the IFC output. 2016 delivers the option to export using the IFC 4 format, then additional improvements deliver the option of using UniClass2 classifications, as well as defining if you want Solidworks to use BREP, BREP and Tessellation or Tessellation export methods. However, you do still need to set the Image Quality in your document to determine the output resolution of the IFC file, why this can’t be specified during the export process is beyond me.

Based on my tests, exporting to IFC is an acceptable way of creating good Solidworks BIM content for ArchiCAD but a pretty terrible one for Revit. However, ArchiCAD 19 currently doesn’t support the IFC 4 file format, you will have to continue using IFC 2×3 for now. Given that the Solidworks IFC imported into Archicad delivers clean geometry, whereas in Revit the result is frankly quite disgusting, I’d say Autodesk have really dropped the ball when it comes to importing IFC files into Revit.

SAT Export

Solidworks BIM - Export as SAT

It doesn’t get any simpler than this. If you’ve followed the steps in this post and created a nice, clean and simple model for export. Then all you need to do is Save As your model and select ACIS as the file type, and save it out. The downside is you don’t get any actual ‘BIM’ metadata exported with the model, like you do when you use either Export to AEC or IFC Export.


Solidworks certainly has some decent tools when it comes to simplifying models of its own creation, albeit with some issues. Automating model simplification will always be an extremely tricky prospect with history based parametric modellers. The second part of the Solidwork BIM creation story isn’t about model geometry, its about Information. Although Solidworks does provide some tools to deliver BIM industry standard meta data, they do fall short. It’s at this point the reality sets in for Solidworks, it has some way to catch up before it can produce the same quality BIM content for Building Product Manufacturers as some of its competitors can. Nevertheless, I hope I’ve shown that with a bit of preparation and effort, you can indeed create good quality Solidworks BIM content.

Civil BIM | Is it Coming to my Cloud?

Scott and I have been working to bring out the best in Autodesk Vault and Autodesk PLM 360 as most of you know. Additionally, we’ve been looking at numerous Autodesk Labs offerings that are cloud based, as well as unmentionable non-Labs software that leverage the cloud in various ways.

Autodesk BIM 360

So I was interested when Autodesk announced BIM 360, the cloud centered civil collaboration platform. I asked about what other applications are planned for the civil side, and threw in Civil 3D. I ask this because of the continuing saga of transportation and BIM, or the lack thereof. Segments of the user community have been requesting more BIM functionality within Civil 3D, seeing the great benefits where applied in other circles, such as Revit. The specifics of these requests and which concentration of users are not important in this article, but might be worth mentioning later.

Infrastructure Modeler takes to the Skies

Infrastructure Modeler has been initiated on the cloud, with increased capabilities and the ability to pass information back and forth with Civil 3D, something that seems to be getting better as the product matures. I was given a link to a great article on the subject at Informed Infrastructure.

At present the tool is only capable of conceptual planning and collaborative design, but it is still a wonderful time saver, as it is much easier to perform numerous what-if scenarios, where the complexity in civil 3D is a hindrance… and my best client like to change his mind A LOT.

Autodesk Imfrastructure Modeler

Will this product be expanded beyond conceptual design?

The Recent Carl Bass Statement

Autodesk was a usual reluctant to make a statement regarding the specifics of and future plans. I specifically mentioned company CEO Carl Bass’ comment that everything Autodesk offered would be available on the cloud within the next three years, which indicated to me that there was likely a company mandate to do so. I imagine the company reaction going something like this: “Oh crap, did you hear what the boss just said? Well we’d better figure this one out fast”.  Hahahaha… who knows, but still, it’s funny because it could have happened that way.

Autodesk’s Response:

“Autodesk is very excited about the possibilities for cloud computing to enable our customers to do things that they simply can not do today.  We’ve already seen how Autodesk 360 is helping some customers with rendering, simulation and analysis using an almost infinite amount of computing power, and how other customers are achieving new levels of collaboration between stakeholders and in the field using mobile technologies.  You will see new cloud services and technologies from Autodesk that will help our customers move from a tool-centric approach to an information-centric approach, and enable companies and organizations of all sizes do more with their Autodesk software so they can imagine, design and create a better world.”

Some Painful Reality

Sentiments range from indifference to bitterness over Autodesk’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for a Civil 3D / BIM / Object oriented model structure, where structure is the key element. Two hurdles lie in the wake of Civil BIM.

  • The need for rigid composition in specific structures
  • The need to code a new product

From my perspective, there is nothing, and I mean nothing that will be done to accomplish this task within the AutoCAD environment where Civil 3D currently sits. For Civil 3D users, AutoCAD is not the limitation, but is freedom. Freedom to do things in a non-perfect world is not an occasional requirement, but is the norm. There is nothing regular about the field, and the name of the game is quantifying and working within irregularity.

Can Autodesk make a new Civil product that is BIM-centric? Sure, but think of the limitations that a non AutoCAD platform would require. Are you willing to give up the flexibility that you have. The painful moaning would never end…. Well, it would ebb, but only after many software cycles, and the ‘I used to be able to do this in Civil 3D’ griping would go on forever.

What I think

When you develop something as widely used as Civil 3D, you are always going to hear griping. You cannot make everyone happy, all the time.

  • I do not believe that Autodesk is the evil empire, where they are bent on screwing their customers.
  • I do however think that they are faced with innumerable desires and views of how their software should be developed, and only so much time in order to make the best products on earth.
  • I do believe that increased revenues help develop increased capabilities, and naturally they will continue to try to pick up  a greater consumer base.

I feel that it is extremely unfair, and unreasonable to say that any product is useless or offers no value to a group, when you  or I are only a tiny portion of any group on this planet.  I also feel the same about accusation that a software company has ‘ignored us’ or similar statements.  Have I felt let down before? Sure, but that’s part of the process, and knowing that my ideas are not necessarily what drive a development team. (In fact, it seems quite the opposite is true  😉

I feel reasonably confident that the development of the products surround the simple process of deciding what is possible, that will provide the best benefit, over the greatest width of the plans for the future, with the resources and time that is available… just like everything else that is accomplished in our personal day-to-day lives, from your grocery list to your child’s future and education.

While I am of the opinion that a BIM oriented Civil solution would be great (and I’d be glad to go that route), it’s not up to me. It’s not my product to develop, and I’m not the only one using it. I am however, keeping my eyes on that cloud growing overhead.

BIM 360 | Civil Collaboration Arrives in the Cloud

On June 18th, 2012, Autodesk announced the addition of BIM to the Autodesk 360 cloud services. “Autodesk BIM 360 provides anywhere, anytime access to building and civil infrastructure projects” stated the company press release.

imageThe new set of services is geared towards the building construction and infrastructure industries, providing collaboration to team members no matter where they are in the world, or which Autodesk BIM software they are using.  Most of us know about Autodesk PLM 360 by now, and Scott and I have been all over it this year. I wondered when Autodesk would move the infrastructure collaboration to Autodesk 360. It looks like that is beginning to happen.

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Autodesk Goes Live with Infrastructure BIM Solutions for 2012

imageAutodesk has just announced two initiatives to help engineers and planners leverage Business Information Modeling (BIM) in their infrastructure designs.

AutoCAD Utility Design 2012

Autodesk moves BIM into the electrical distribution design space with this awesome new application. The software is designed to help planning and engineering of electrical utilities, both overhead and underground. The features include templates and municipal standards, engineering analysis, and integrated documentation and work management.

Get more information on the Autodesk Website


Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler 2012

imageThis conceptual design software helps civil planners and engineers evaluate proposed improvements for transportation, land, water, and energy improvements. The package incorporates 2D CAD, GIS, BIM, and raster data, including Civil 3D and Map 3D designs. 3D design environment over GIS datasets help develop and manage design alternatives. Image creation and video capture are included as part of the communication platform.

Get more information form the Autodesk Website

Autodesk BIM 360 and a Huge Freebee

Autodesk announced their new concept of Business Information Modeling (BIM) data management recently, that could manage most anything, and be accessed most anywhere. They call it BIM 360.  The announcement peaked my interest because I think being able to find information, and find it almost anywhere you go is a great idea. But how?

I was introduced to Pat Keaney, Director of AEC Collaboration Products, and Jeremy Lambert , Product line manager for Vault Collaboration AEC, who explained the components involved and what was going to make BIM so manageable and accessible. They even let me in on free offer that you should know about. Continue Reading

AEC Receives 26 Million for BIM Software

April 5th at Waltham we received word that Autodesk had signed a contract with the USAF to supply BIM solutions for a 5 year period. The total amount of that contract was 26 million usd.

DLT Solutions, Autodesk’s government reseller, will provide support and BIM software such as AutoCAD Map 3D, AutoCAD Civil 3D, Autodesk Revit Architecture, Autodesk Navisworks, Autodesk Inventor, AutoCAD, and AutoCAD LT, among others.

“…This agreement ensures Air Force Civil Engineering has access to the latest innovative design, geospatial, modeling, and visualization software tools and professional services to support its national defense mission.” said Jay Bhatt, senior vice president, AEC solutions, at Autodesk.

You may remember 6 moths ago I announced a similar contract with the USACOE. Other state agencies such as Wisconsin and Florida Department of transportation have signed agreements for BIM related civil products. If the trend continues, BIM requirements should begin to permeate government project submittals in the private sector. One more situation where BIM is the minimum requirement to be short listed.

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