Gehry Technologies recently launched a free preview of its new cloud-based file management and collaboration platform. GTeam is embryonic, but incredibly easy to use and with a well thought out workflow holds great promise.
It has been nearly ten years since Gehry Technologies (GT) launched its Digital Project Building Information Modelling (BIM) software, but the Catia-based application was a bit of a slow burner. Instead of the mainstream BIM tool that GT wanted it to be, Digital Project found a niche for itself in larger AEC firms including Skidmore Ownings and Merrill (SOM) and Zaha Hadid Architects. GT also used it with great success in its own consultancy.
While Digital Project continues to evolve, GT has also turned its attention to collaboration, with a cloud-based file management and BIM collaboration platform called GTeam. The browser-based service is currently available as a free preview, with a commercial release expected soon.
With GTeam, GT is targeting a wide range of professionals, including architects, designers, engineers, contractors, consultants and building owners, and has the potential to give GT a more mainstream AEC presence.
Everything is done in the cloud, which helps ensure project members always have access to up to date information. There is no more emailing or FTP transfer of files — models and drawings are checked out directly from GTeam and checked back in once changes have been made in the relevant authoring software. Every download, message and update is tracked.
This is all standard fare for most project hosting services, but with GTeam there is also a powerful model viewing element. Multiple models from different applications — structural, architectural and MEP — can all be viewed together, measured, sectioned and checked for clashes. This type of functionality is common in applications like Autodesk Navisworks, Tekla BIMsight and AceCad BIMReview (see page 18), but with GTeam it is all done in a web browser, making it ideal for distributed teams.
Managing projects in GTeam is easy, but does not mean there is a trade off in capability. Each project is stored in a folder structure, making it easy to browse 3D models, drawings and office documents. For complex projects, or just for good housekeeping, files can also be collated in file sets.
Each file sports a thumbnail view alongside the file name. With 3D models there is also a 3D preview. This is nothing fancy, it just allows the user to toggle through a dozen snapshots taken around the model, but does give a pretty good feel for the model without having to open it in the 3D viewer. This feature works in all browsers, including those on mobile devices.
To start collaborating, participants can be invited to share any project. Simply type in an email address and a notification will be sent inviting the recipient to join (and open a GTeam account if they do not already have one). In this respect it is very much like the popular file sharing service, Dropbox, and the similarities do not end there. GTeam also includes desktop file synchronisation, which makes it possible to check out models and drawings for editing offline inside a BIM application such as Revit or Digital Project. However, unlike Dropbox, which syncs automatically, GTeam gives control over which files are uploaded and downloaded. Simply tick the appropriate boxes and away it goes.
Collaboration does not have to be done on a project-by-project basis, where participants are given access to all files. Users can also create ‘Release Sets’, which allows specific files to be sent to other companies.
In terms of communication between project participants GTeam has a simple messaging service built in. As all correspondence is stored in the system for reference, this should make email pretty much redundant. However, email notifications are also sent to the recipient’s inbox to advise that a response is needed. Messages can be general, or can be linked to a specific model, drawing, document or snapshot.
3D model viewing
GTeam is much more than a cloud-based file management tool. It also features a powerful browser-based 3D file viewer, which enables users to view BIM data without having to own the BIM authoring tool.
One of the big plus points of GTeam is the ease with which it handles all types of BIM data, currently including AutoCAD, Revit, Digital Project, Rhino, MicroStation DGN, SketchUp and IFC.
Users simply upload the native BIM file and GTeam automatically processes it into an optimised 3D format. This is purely so it can be viewed in a browser; the native file format is always retained in the document manager and served up for collaboration. e.g. RVT, IFC or SKP.
File conversion for the 3D viewer is not quick, which can be a real pain. It took a good 45 minutes before we could interact with our hefty 50MB Revit model (five minutes to upload and 40 minutes to process on the GTeam server). However, once inside GTeam, model rotation was incredibly smooth, even on a moderately specified PC.
While GTeam runs on pretty much any platform — desktop and mobile — 3D file viewing is Windows-only, though GT is working on supporting other platforms. There is also the small matter of a 4MB GTeam 3D file viewing plug-in, which installs automatically in all browsers including IE, Firefox and Google Chrome.
Users can combine multiple models in the same view, and filter which parts of the model are displayed — by structure, architecture, or MEP etc or, drilling down deeper into the model structure, by storey, doors, columns, walls, stairs etc. To reveal more detail inside the building, it is also possible to create sections, by elevation, plan or box, using a handle to change the position of the section in real time.
There is a collection of core collaboration tools including measuring, clash detection, and clearance checking. The markup tools are rudimentary, involving a snapshot view of the model to be taken and notes added. However, all of this info is added to the project folder, alongside, 3D models, drawings and other documents, so is easily located. Snapshots can also be linked to messages to aid collaboration. Here, the recipient is taken directly to the location inside the model.
GTeam looks to be a very exciting proposition for sharing documents and collaborating on 3D BIM models in the cloud. There are other services that offer more powerful project management capabilities, but the beauty of GTeam is in its simplicity. Expert CAD operators and non-skilled users should all be able to get to grips with the platform with very little training.
For viewing 3D files, a powerful feature of GTeam, we love that CAD and BIM files are read in directly, as this means there is no need to go via neutral formats, such as IFC. We also like the workflow supported by the Dropbox-like syncing, which makes it easy to manage data as it moves from desktop to cloud and vice versa.
There is plenty of room for improvement though. We would like to see support for real time collaboration where users can all work on the same model as it is rotated on screen with no lag. The system is also crying out for better markup tools and iPhone / iPad and Android apps almost essential additions for the future. We would also like GT to speed up the processing of 3D files for viewing. Waiting an hour can be a real pain when you want to view 3D files in a hurry.
But, one must remember that GTeam has not yet been officially released. Currently available as a free preview, GTeam is, by GT’s own admission, still a work in progress.
We sincerely hope when it comes to a commercial release, GT gets the pricing right. One of the reasons Digital Project became a niche tool was because the costs were too prohibitive for some AEC firms. GT has the potential to become a very influential tool used throughout the entire AEC industry, but it also needs to be affordable.
BIM model collaboration: alternatives
This £499 tool focuses on real time collaboration using 3D models, as opposed to managing and distributing project files. It uses plug-ins for BIM tools, including Revit and MicroStation, to shrink large BIM models for easy sharing.
Models can be distributed for individual or co-viewing sessions, allowing annotation and discussion in the cloud.
When the master model view is adjusted, all session members’ views are updated in real-time to reflect the component or building element that is being discussed.
In a single or collaborative session, it is possible to add comments and attach them to objects in the 3D view. These comments are stored on the server and can be accessed at any time when viewing the model.
CADfaster also offers a free iPad viewer.
Autodesk 360 BIM Glue
‘Glue’ is just one of the new cloud services inside Autodesk BIM 360, which are offered to Autodesk customers on subscription. According to Autodesk, ‘Glue’ offers a cloud-based approach to multidisciplinary co-ordination, model aggregation, clash management and BIM collaboration.
From what we have seen, the software looks like a thinned out version of Navisworks, which operates via a thin client. Models are uploaded to the cloud where they can be merged, explored and analysed for clashes. Re-analysis can be re-run when models are updated
‘Glue’ provides in-product, round-trip support for co-ordination and clash detection for all the major Autodesk products, including Revit and Civil 3D, but also supports co-ordination across more than 50 industry file formats.
Tekla BIMsight is a free BIM collaboration tool for construction that enables multiple BIM models to be combined in a single environment, for markup and clash checking.
In terms of application support, there is a direct, one button link from Tekla Structures to Tekla BIMsight. Revit, ArchiCAD and other applications are supported via IFC.
The software runs on Windows PCs and tablets, but there is also an Apple iPad / iPhone version, Tekla BIMsight Note, which is designed specifically for use on site.
Tekla BIMsight Note relies on full Tekla BIMsight to be used in the design co-ordination process; the findings, like clashes, design issues, RFIs or change orders can be communicated from Tekla BIMsight to users of Tekla BIMsight Note.
Bentley Navigator is designed specifically to help teams review and analyse project information. The Windows-based software can work with a range of data, including i-models, native DGN and DWG files and point cloud files. It can be used to measure distances, areas, and volumes, plus simulate what-ifs, optimise schedules, and dynamically resolve clashes.
There is also an iPad specific version, which enables users to navigate 3D design models using the motion sensors of the tablet together with the touch screen. It is possible to add annotations and interrogate elements in the model, and pre-select ‘points-of-interest’ to navigate around big models.
Navigator also has strong links to ProjectWise, Bentley’s management and project collaboration software. Prices start at $360.
Aconex is a fully featured online project collaboration and document management platform. It can be used to manage the flow of drawings, BIM models, contracts, reports, schedules and other documentation between project participants. Project communications are tightly integrated and it can manage standard industry processes around RFIs, bids and tenders.
Aconex includes a web-based BIM Viewer which supports IFC, DWG, DGN and others. It offers real-time simultaneous viewing and mark up of models. An iPhone / iPad app allows users to access and capture project information and review drawings. There is a plug-in for Revit.
Aconex has an interesting approach to pricing. It can be deployed on a single project and cost is based on project value, duration and complexity, not on numbers of users.
- Solibri Model Checker can perform clash checks and analyse BIM models for integrity, quality and physical safety
- Autodesk Navisworks is a powerful, mature project review tool for integrating, sharing and reviewing models
- ASite cBIM (part of Adoddle) for cloud based sharing of BIM models, merging of multiple models, review and markup, plus more