In the BIM world we hardly ever talk about the evolution of 2D in pursuit of the ultimate model definition. While industry leader Autodesk stagnates the development of AutoCAD, competitors such as Gräbert are sensing an opportunity to improve the way documents are produced from BIM models, writes Martyn Day
The CAD industry is entering unknown waters, in terms of technology changes. The cloud, for many software firms, is seen as the ultimate destination for everything: applications, data, communication, processing, AI — you name it. However, the design software world is still predominantly about applications which run on local hardware.
Sure, the cloud has been used to aid collaboration, share data, manage licences and as a project repository, but we seem a long way off the all-singing cloudutopia which software firms envisage.
Companies like Autodesk, which have exceptionally successful, but mature desktop applications, have the strongest visions for how the cloud will be all things to all designers.
Autodesk has spent billions on developing its Construction Cloud offering, which is growing every year in scale and capability. The issue is, what does the roadmap of getting everything in the cloud look like and how soon?
Regular readers of AEC Magazine will know of the consternation felt within the Revit community on its lack of development. This actually could be expanded to users of other important Autodesk desktop applications, such as Navisworks, as well as Autodesk’s flagship software application, AutoCAD.
The reality is that these are mature products. The incentive to completely rewrite a desktop software application has vanished; the next generation will be written in the cloud. This period of stagnation is a danger, even for a company as mighty as Autodesk.
While there are very few alternatives for Revit at the moment, AutoCAD users are more fortunate. Both BricsCAD and Gräbert have mature DWG applications that are not only substantially cheaper but are also developing at greater velocity, providing more capabilities.
In recent years, these firms have identified that deeper integration with BIM, to provide greater productivity savings in automatic document automation, would be their focus. While the cloud is seen as a useful infrastructure, it’s not necessarily the only destination for all software.
Gräbert is based in Berlin, Germany and has a suite of DWG drawing tools which come under the Ares brand. The desktop application — Ares Commander — is available on Windows, MacOS and Linux. Gräbert has also enabled access to, and editing of, DWGs on desktop, tablet / mobile (Ares Touch) or through a web browser (Ares Kudo). It’s possible to access your designs or create new ones wherever you find yourself, on whatever device is close at hand. This is unique in the industry.
Before looking at what is new in the latest releases, it’s worth noting that Gräbert has identified that BIM users need better drawing production tools than are available today.
The whole promise of automated 2D output from 3D models was never really delivered, and plans, sections and elevations are regularly edited in products like AutoCAD and LT, breaking the automatic updates should the model change.
For the last two years Gräbert has been expanding Ares’ capability to readin and work with BIM models. As this work goes on, new DWG workflows are emerging, aiming to take a lot of the drudgery out of creating detailed drawing sets and healing the disconnect between iterative BIM design changes and any ongoing 2D editing.
The ultimate goal being associativity between model and DWG throughout the design and documentation processes, even if they are from two different applications, from different software houses. It seems like a big issue to chew on but at least recognising the frustration that users have with BIM documentation aligns Gräbert’s intentions with the industry feedback we have been getting for the past few years.
In last year’s release, Ares had significant BIM capabilities added. It could read in RVT and IFCs, read BIM properties, extract BIM data (into tables or CSV files for quantity take-offs and cost estimation), filter BIM entities and navigate through models.
The new ‘2022’ version, coming out in March, supports the creation of floorplans, elevations and sections, layouts with multiple views, BIM labels and dimensions, and materials. Most importantly, it has the ability to refresh the drawing when the BIM model is updated. Gräbert states that its ultimate goal is to increase the automation of drawing production from manual to semi-automatic by a factor of 10x.
Some of the automation capabilities can be seen in the way Ares automates tedious tasks, including the insertion of symbolic graphics such as doors, stairs or swing symbols.
Callout generation is also automated, referencing the other BIM drawings. When the spatial volumes represented by two or more drawings overlap, callout symbols “call” other drawings and indicate their position, drawing number, and sheet ID. This is done according to the logic of overlapping drawings.
The BIM drawings in ARES Commander retain all the BIM information and keep associativity with the BIM model. Consequently, automated dimensioning is also available. This is especially powerful when there have been changes to the original BIM model, as Ares will automatically update any dimensions within the drawing.
To find out more about Gräbert’s views on BIM and how it intends to improve BIM workflows, AEC Magazine caught up with Robert Gräbert (CTO). “With BIM, you’re going do drawings multiple times. Designers need support here, because they are going to make five sets of drawings, as every month the model will keep changing. And here, you’re not ever 100% sure it’s going to be the final set of drawings. Reworking persists over multiple iterations and that is the problem we want to solve,” he says.
“If you refresh the model, after making changes, say the metadata on a door, or the geometry, all those will update in Ares, as will the dimension chains appropriately. The next step we are actively working on is to deliver this across the design workflow.
“An architect may think spending a week creating a set of boring drawing plans is not a great use of time. But they accept it. The real frustraton is doing it for the second, third and fourth times! That’s the problem we want to tackle first. We’ve been working with architects and having them report the time they spend producing drawings from BIM models. We’re just looking at those and seeing which ones of those we can tackle.
“We have so much data from the original BIM model, if we really use that to our advantage, we understand what these things are, because all the properties are in there, I think we can do a lot here.”
Moving on to the topic of Apple Macs, it’s also worth noting that Gräbert is ahead of the game when looking at the new Apple silicon machines. The company is already building and testing an ARM64 compatible beta of Ares 2022.
In the past it’s been easy to look at what are essentially AutoCAD clones and not expect to see much in the way of innovation. The primary reason for buying a clone has been to switch to a drawing tool with a lower cost of ownership.
This is no longer the only reason. Autodesk’s competition is now actively developing new capabilities beyond the functionality of AutoCAD, targeting inefficiencies in current BIM workflows, integrating more tightly with models and workflows and using innovative approaches to deliver on the automation of drawing output.
If the cost of ownership hasn’t been a compelling enough reason to switch DWG tools, the increase in automated documentation productivity in successive releases of Ares should concern Autodesk, especially as cost of ownership increases and AutoCAD development velocity falters.
For now, you may not be aware, but there is a CAD arms race happening to better automate, if not fully automate the 2D part of the documentation process. Customers want it and from the efforts so far from Gräbert and Bricsys, the developer of BricsCAD, it’s coming sooner rather than later.