If you are involved in "fusing" data (aka integration) and are interested in 3D and building information models (BIM), then read on because the world of BIM and GIS are colliding. This article deals with the solutions from Autodesk. If you are interested in Bentley Systems and BIM, I've covered this a few weeks ago.
Let's get a few of Autodesk's mantra's out there first:
The term "Building Information Models" or BIM is expanded to cover simply all types of 3D models. Anything from roads, to bridges, to buildings can be modeled, georeferenced and annotated. That is, models should be "smart."
Projects should start by "designing in place." That is, if you are working on a civil engineering project, then you start with data that is already georeferenced and further conceptual designs to roads, bridges or buildings can be iterated faster. Users work on one design, perform refinements and receive feedback so that alternative designs can be quickly constructed, reviewed and accepted or rejected.
Reality computing. For example, it is easier and cheaper to scan real world as-builts and add them into a design workflow. This usually leads to a more accurate and richer model than the manual approach of designing first to see if it matches the real world.
Now let's progress to Autodesk's new focus areas, at a high level.
Projects are at the center of everything. This is a change for Autodesk. Remember this was a company that sold shrink-wrapped software and built a billion dollar business selling licenses. Now, Autodesk has moved to the cloud with SaaS solutions and the licensing model has moved to "rentable" software. As such projects can scale up or down depending on the needs of the user and as such the licensing model has radically changed. Hence Autodesk 360 becomes a platform for cloud-based CAD computing.
Bring the digital world closer to the real world. This has particular relevance for geospatial professionals who need to work with georeferenced BIMs. A good example of this is the application and classification of point clouds that have much more precision in capturing real world physical assets. Autodesk's answer for this is ReCap, a new product (to be released December 16; see video of workflow below) that fuses data from various sources such as terrestrial and airborne lidar as well as other types of sensors.
Design in context. When you begin a project, the concept here is to start working in 3D immediately. Whether you are a civil engineer or urban planner, the objective is to work in the space that helps you conceptualize the design better, make changes faster, and present design concepts for review in an iterative fashion. The shiny new toy from Autodesk in this space is InfraWorks. So important is this product to Autodesk that it has had three major revisions since it was released just one year ago. [See the marketing video below]
So what would be the workflow if you needed Autodesk products for civil design or construction? Typically, users will start with base maps from AutoCAD Map 3D, take other data inputs, such as point clouds with ReCap and move this into InfraWorks. For those users who then need detailed designs, conceptual BIMs can persist from InfraWorks to AutoCAD Civil 3D. Likewise, for more detailed BIM designs, Revit is the solution.
But wait … there's more
The lines between BIM and GIS are getting cloudier. AutoCAD Map 3D is still Autodesk's solution for GIS and if data capture and basic cartography is your primary job function then it makes some sense to stay in the Autodesk family if your objective is to eventually serve data to BIM and civil design projects. Through acquisition, however, Autodesk has taken the extra step of providing traffic analysis and other analytical capabilities when they purchased a company called Azalient. According to the press release:
The acquired traffic analysis technology enables designers to simulate how people travel -- whether by automobiles, busses or trains -- in isolation and in series. It also provides transportation customers with tools to help predict demand for new infrastructure projects, forecast how to handle future demand and predict traffic disruptions caused during construction, with the addition of cost and benefit analysis of alternative infrastructure designs.
Another new product from Autodesk is Autodesk Structural Bridge Design 2014. From Autodesk:
In an effort to help address the urgent need to repair or replace the world’s aging bridges, Autodesk today announced Autodesk Structural Bridge Design 2014. This new software is aimed at expanding BIM workflows across the full lifecycle for buildings and infrastructure. Based on field-proven technology acquired from UK-based Bestech Systems Limited, Autodesk Structural Bridge Design 2014 software helps give engineers greater flexibility and efficiency in their small- to medium-span bridge design processes.
In addition, Autodesk announced a strategic partnership with Topcon. Again from the press release:
Autodesk is developing a new BIM 360 mobile app for iPad that further simplifies the process of precisely locating BIM coordinates on a construction site. Designed for general contractors and MEP trades, the app controls a robotic total station - as well as the new LN-100 3D positioning system from Topcon.
And if point clouds are a major data management problem, Leica Geosystems has a plug-in, CloudWorx, for AutoCAD that handles visualization and processing.
Finally, Autodesk FormIt provides a collaboration tool to share "early-stage design ideas" that allows users to continue working on BIM processes and then taking these models into Revit. The difference between FormIT and InfraWorks, which sound like they have similar functionality is that FormIT is a web-based tool. FormIT is now available as an iPad application as well.
Are these tools interoperable? That is the benefit of staying within the Autodesk suite. However, as John Jacobs, CIO of JE Dunn, a large U.S. contractor, said, "Interoperability works only within the stack of your preferred vendor. Oracle, Autodesk all talk about it but its only within their own stack. For a vendor like me, we use Oracle Primavera and Autodesk 360 and Microsoft Sharepoint. We built the backend to interoperate between systems. We had to orchestrate the integration." For many users in a heterogeneous software environment, the same holds true. If you are heavily invested in Esri or Intergraph technology but find the need to work with Autodesk products, the integration may be imperfect. However, many vendors understand this and interoperability is improving because of it.