Auto-drawings

The productivity promise of auto drawings

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In a world swimming in AI-related hype, several CAD software firms are making serious progress in the race to eliminate workflow bottlenecks using new technologies. Martyn Day looks at the field of drawing automation and identifies some of its frontrunners


Throughout their history, desktop CAD systems have been sold on the promise of delivering one overriding benefit: improved productivity when compared to manual drawing.

That makes sense, since productivity improvements are always sought by firms looking to save money and to increase their competitive edge. In these highly digitised times, the deployment of technology has become a key differentiator in the AEC world.

While it took twenty years for most AEC firms to move from drawing boards to 2D CAD, many like to think that the adoption of 3D CAD and BIM has been faster. In fact, that move has also taken the best part of two decades. And many of those firms using BIM tools have still not progressed as far as they might, remaining resolutely 2D-centric. On the other hand, who can blame them, when the primary deliverable of most contracts – and the most frequently cited target in legal wrangles – are drawings?

BIM was sold to 2D CAD users as a way to model their buildings and get automatic sections and elevations as a base for drawings, with the added benefit of coordinated documentation updates when model designs change.

In fact, what has happened is that the number of drawings produced has mushroomed. Many BIM seats are not involved in design at all, but instead focus on documenting the relatively poor automated output of 3D models.

A cynic might applaud the CAD software firms for increasing the costs associated with a documentation seat and driving appetite for complex document management systems to handle greater volumes of drawings. After all, many firms take the output from BIM tools such as Revit and perform refinements to drawing output in AutoCAD – the king of the 2D drawing world. However, this undermines the benefit of keeping both models and drawings in the BIM environment, breaking the links needed to coordinate updates to sections and elevations.

As documentation mushrooms, and clients increasingly demand BIM deliverables (even if they only do so because that’s what their consultant advises), the result is a heftier workload that consumes available resources and delivers a serious hit to the bottom line.

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Many design IT managers have told me in confidence that they wish that drawings would simply ‘go away’. They would prefer the model to be the deliverable from which all data is extracted by contractors and project managers.

But here, they are at odds with the industry’s foremost institutions, such as the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA), not to mention complex legal frameworks that are still largely predicated on drawings.


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Here to stay

Another question I hear regularly is, “Why can’t AEC be more like manufacturing?” The misconception here is that once manufacturing designs move into CAD, the importance of drawings is greatly diminished.

But it might shock readers to hear that many manufacturing sectors – and in particular, automotive and aerospace – are just as burdened by the need to produce manufacturing drawings to accompany their 3D models, typically for reasons relating to fabrication and legal compliance. And this is the case even where parts are 3D printed directly from a 3D CAD model.

With that in mind, it’s safe to say that drawings are simply not going to ‘go away’. They will continue to be essential deliverables, although uses may change and their relevance in some areas may decline.

This is not to say, however, that there is nothing to be done about this situation. In fact, modern mechanical CAD (MCAD) tools do a much better job of automatically creating drawings and reducing repetitive tasks than today’s BIM tools, even for very complex parts and assemblies. That said, even with this progress, it’s estimated that engineers spend between 25% and 40% of their time refining drawings.

This is frustrating, because in modelling a building, a car or an aircraft, most design and engineering decisions have already been made. That makes it hard to justify excessive amounts of time spent creating 2D drawings from a model, a process that adds no real value to a project.

And as complexity increases, the case for drawings starts to fall apart. Take, for example, Frank Gehry, who couldn’t get any of his buildings made until he began using Dassault Systèmes Catia and McNeel Rhino. The drawings were so hard to understand that fabricators would bump up costs in order to accommodate the impact of inevitable misunderstandings. When Gehry’s practice switched to modelling buildings in 3D CAD and started sending Catia models to fabricators, he saw a corresponding drop in quotes and bids were suddenly aligned to within 1% of each other. As a result, his buildings were viable – but Gehry still produces 2D section drawings in AutoCAD in order to detail more standard aspects of designs. In other words, models offer clarity in situations of complexity, but for most buildings, simple rectangles are hardly likely to bust budgets.

Auto-drawings on demand

When I first met Greg Schleusner, HOK’s director of design technology, at a Bricsys (BricsCAD) meeting in Stockholm, Sweden in 2019, we quickly got talking about automated drawings. He explained to me that this was something the industry desperately needed, but that nobody seemed interested in developing the technology.

Greg Schleusner
Greg Schleusner

The case he put forward was clear. At that time, HOK was spending around $18 million per year on creating and managing drawings and construction docs (inclusive of staff costs, software and so on). Schleusner reckoned that, if the firm could automate 60% of the work associated with construction documents, or maybe 50% of the work associated with drawings, it would cut those costs in half. Even partial automation had the potential to deliver significant cost benefits.

While researching the topic, Schleusner discovered a Korean open-source project conducted for a building authority that focused on taking in IFC data and creating floor plan drawings for fire code review. Labels, text, drawing grids and dimensions were all added by the programme when the automated 2D drawings were viewed. He was impressed by the quality of the results. Everything displayed was dynamically created on the fly. It didn’t exist in the dataset.

“I think, at least from my perspective, the problem is we import all this other stuff into Revit. That is so much of our design effort, just to waste time to make drawings that we must make. So not only are the drawings themselves costly, but we also have this interoperability problem that needs to be solved. We have to send model data between design tools to make drawings. An open auto-drawing tool would allow design teams to stay in Rhino,” said Schleusner.

“What do you need to make drawings? Do you need an accurate model? If we solve drawing automation, we are going to have to make better models. If we make better models – hey, we have better models! We are going to have to improve what we model to get a better drawing. Right now, we have so much drawing work, that we all end up ‘faking stuff’ in drawings, just to get them out the door. I actually think auto-drawings is a very complementary idea to making better models.”

BIM 2.0’s killer feature is not going to be cloud; it’s going to be automation. Auto-drawings won’t just improve the speed of drawing production. They will ultimately mean fewer skilled people being tied up in documentation

Since 2019, Schleusner has been bending the ears of leaders at many of the biggest CAD vendors, trying to spark their interest in auto-drawings. Now, with the advent of automation and AI, those vendors are scrambling to identify where might be best to apply new technologies. Since drawings represent ‘low-hanging fruit’, interest in auto-drawings has exploded.

Most of the early auto-drawing solutions will begin by offering configuration-based output (drawing templates). But Schleusner is keen to see work begin further upstream, at the project level. This would involve understanding what drawing sets are required by project managers and project architects, not just automating ‘the drawing’ but also automating project document sets. This would require the equivalent of HTML and CSS for drawing content, settings and how it is all put together.

“If the industry can solve this auto-drawing problem as a service, it could shatter the market into one thousand solutions, which is perfect. I don’t think you’ll need monolithic applications, because drawings are external and it’s an assembly process.”

In passing, Schleusner has also lamented that PDF is the ultimate industry deliverable, as historic constraints of standard drawings sizes 1:100/200 and so on limit the digital canvas. He explains that one of the reasons the industry makes so many drawings is because of the physical limitations of displaying text legibly within paper documents. “Couldn’t we just send one bloody big PDF drawing, which contractors never print out? If you can’t see something, then zoom in! While certain trades really liked this idea, it’s true that some want to print things out, which is a limitation. But if we can’t get the digital delivery of drawings right, how are we going to ever do the digital delivery of models?”


Greg Schleusner will be speaking at AEC Magazine’s NXT BLD and NXT DEV conferences on 25 / 26 June 2024 at London’s Queen Elizabeth II Centre.


The Gräbert view

Gräbert is based in Berlin and has been a key independent DWG software developer since 1994. It has armed many of the best-known CAD players with OEM DWG capabilities but is also a solutions developer in its own right. DWG tools that fall under its ARES Trinity brand work on desktop, mobile and cloud, where they compete head on with Autodesk AutoCAD

Dr. Robert Gräbert
Dr. Robert Gräbert

and LT. You will find Gräbert tech in Snaptrude, Draftsight (Dassault Systèmes), Trimble, Solidworks, Onshape – all serious players in the AEC and MCAD worlds, which require good DWG capabilities and want to leverage Gräbert’s cloud-based DWG Editor in particular.

Gräbert has been developing automated drawing technology for a number of years. The company is now at the stage where it has put code into the hands of some clients to test out. Thanks to the company’s broad reach in the CAD community, you can expect to see automated drawing features appear from competing CAD firms, aiming at Autodesk AutoCAD / LT and Revit. Some, such as Draftsight, will choose to embed these capabilities in their own CAD programmes. Others may opt to make auto-drawings a cloud service, where users just drag and drop their IFC or RVT into the service and get back drawings for all the floors of their projects.

Gräbert’s technology does not currently use AI, but is procedural and based on template configurations. In my dealings with Gräbert, I have to say that the company is unusual, in that it doesn’t oversell its products. In fact, it’s more likely to downplay its capabilities and is not all about pushing the Gräbert brand. In many ways, this reminds me of McNeel, the developer of Rhino.

I recently caught up with CTO Dr Robert Gräbert to discuss the company’s auto-drawing development. He explained that with templates and rules, it’s possible to get quite far in auto-drawing creation without AI. AI approaches look good for investors, he said, but template views offering a variety of layout styles are already available in MCAD applications such as Autodesk Fusion.

And, on the subject of Autodesk, he foresees Autodesk adding similar template-based drawing layout technology, either in Revit or on the cloud as a service.

“We think drawings are not going to go away. You’re not going to get to a future where you’re just going to exchange models, but you don’t want to spend more time working on drawings,” explained Dr Gräbert. “The fact is that BIM modellers have done a poor job of producing documentation. Users are frustrated that the drawings themselves don’t contain a lot of information. They’re just ‘the output’, they don’t capture anything.”

He continues: “There was this hope that if we moved to exchange 3D models, plus metadata, we were going to get better collaboration within industry. It’s a big vision and it’s attractive, but I think what we’ve seen is the reality that it’s very difficult to manipulate these models outside of dedicated authoring tools like Revit or others.”

Most software vendors have no interest in exchanging models in a neutral format, he believes. In other words, they want users to adopt their own format. “And legally we’ve never got to the point where the model is accepted as the deliverable. It’s an additional deliverable, potentially,” he adds.

“The biggest proponents of BIM are large owners, because they can reap the benefits of all their constituent subcontractors doing this together. Clients now say, ‘I want to see a 3D BIM model’, but what hasn’t happened is that this model is not taken from design, through construction and into operation. That never really materialised in a meaningful way.”

According to Dr Gräbert, every BIM tool today gives the user the ability to create content, view it, deliver section views, plan views, vertical sections. It gives them the geometry that they’re going to use to create that view from the model, and that’s already 90% of drawing automation.

BIM modellers have done a poor job of producing documentation. Users are frustrated that the drawings themselves don’t contain a lot of information. They’re just ‘the output’, they don’t capture anything

“All we are talking about today is, ‘We know you need fifteen sheets, and you need a view per floor. And we know that you’re probably going to want to tag your rooms. And probably, you want to have some dimensions aligned to it.’ We’re really talking about annotation and view orchestration on automation.”

Gräbert has decided to differentiate between what it can automate and what it should automate. This is a big part of its work in this area over the past year – and the focus is very much on continual improvement. “It’s still not perfect, but we’re working very closely with Snaptrude and others. We can ingest an IFC or Revit, and we can output the PDFs. Now we have put that behind a web service. It’s still usable as a desktop product: if you are an ARES user, you can bring in IFC or RVT, and we will auto-generate floor plans with sections, as to what we think is appropriate. We have solved simple problems, like, how do you figure out where to put all the labels and everything else? We just implemented an approach that makes sure that labels never overlap and then you can tweak and modify after.”

The web service is a kind of design automation API, he explained. It will create a job transform order for any template, request the model be processed and the results placed in a project Slack channel. “So, you get an updated PDF output. That’s probably not a real use case, as somebody would download and want to do tweaks. But the output is already very good. It’s just a long road to address the fundamental building blocks to get full automation,” he said.

Gräbert is now experimenting on how to make the process more customisable. Users would configure a local job, and the cloud service would process it. For now, the cloud features are still in the early days of development and require a monitoring system to create a commercial grade offering. Gräbert also doesn’t have a price tag for this service yet. This is currently under evaluation, along with scoping out the kind of firms that might find this useful, such as AutoCAD, Revit and ARES users.

Pricing in the auto-drawings market could become a very interesting battleground. If drawings become 50% automated, firms like HOK will not pay half their budget for this kind of automation. Software firms pushed out of subscriptions for seats might push for value-based billing, perhaps a percentage of project value, but this is unpopular as hell.

As Dr Gräbert mused during our conversation: “There’s going to be some resistance in the market to a ‘value’ based fee here, because customers want to pay a fixed price for this. Maybe a price per project could be something that software vendors could offer, but this is a reason why big groups of CAD users are meeting up, because they don’t want to pay vendors a portion of their revenue. They want to pay a fixed fee, ideally, once and never again – and if they have to pay annually, so be it, but that’s all.”

Unlike the many startups arriving fresh to the AEC market, Gräbert’s long-time stability, and its income from licensing its DWG technology and selling ARES, mean that the company doesn’t have venture funding. As such, it completely lacks the ‘big story’ pitch that attracts investors. Nor does it face shareholder pressure to deliver huge returns. It works with firms it likes and solves the problems its customers raise. So, if all this takes some time, Gräbert can just keep going.


Dr. Robert Gräbert will be speaking at AEC Magazine’s NXT DEV conference on 26 June 2024 at London’s Queen Elizabeth II Centre.



Powered by Gräbert

I also talked with Jonathan Asher, Catia global sales director at Dassault Systèmes. He confirmed that the Gräbert technology is being used in his company’s MCAD software Solidworks and that its DraftSight programme is built on top of Gräbert’s ARES technology.

Auto-drawings were announced at Dassault Systèmes 3D Experience World in February 2024, a technology that will be available to Solidworks users through the Dassault Systèmes 3D Experience cloud platform. The focus is very much on MCAD users, but obviously DraftSight will get the technology into the AutoCAD and AEC markets. Nobody is sure of how much it will cost. Meanwhile, Snaptrude represents the next generation of cloud-based BIM tools and, while the company has been mostly working on the 3D part of the RVT file format, by licensing Gräbert’s DWG technology, it will get a cloud-capable 2D DWG engine, without having to reinvent the wheel.

Snaptrude has been experimenting with the auto-drawing capability, which I saw in January 2024, running autodimensions. It’s still early days, but when Snaptrude has figured out its play, it’s likely the company will be able to quickly enable it for every user.

Trimble Drawing is also based on Gräbert ARES. As the company is part of this OEM family, I am pretty sure that Trimble will also be offering auto-drawings soon.

Powered by AI

Eventually, I suspect AI will feature in most auto-drawing solutions. To start with, there will be procedural AI, providing configurations and so on. From there, we will see more companies attempting to use AI to learn drawing layouts and perform automation functions, such as auto dimension, auto label, auto title block, auto table, auto grid and so on.

To figure out where all this might lead, it’s useful to first look at Swapp. Based in Israel, Swapp’s initial application of AI to Revit promised us a miracle. What it proposed was to take users from 2D sketches to fully detailed BIM, with all the drawings involved, in the time it took them to go and have lunch.

Adi Shavit
Adi Shavit

Along the way, Swapp would learn from past projects and then automate Revit detail models – a proposition that favours standard, rectangular, predictable buildings, such as student blocks, hospitals and offices.

That was the message delivered by Swapp’s chief science officer Adi Shavit at AEC Magazine’s NXT BLD 2023. More recently, I caught up with Shavit to discuss auto-drawings. As he explained, the company has pivoted its software engineering focus to deliver the auto-drawing component as a bespoke solution, as well as expanding to Canada and the UK.

Shavit explained how, in talking with clients over the past year, the number one feature that they wanted to know more about was auto-drawings, and not so much about the magic at work in turning 2D sketches into fully detailed Revit models.

However, to understand how to make a drawing, Swapp needs the model data. “All of our processing is done on our system in the cloud. We have a plug-in for Revit, which does the export and the interoperability part, but nothing really happens on the desktop. It talks to our system and sends us the model, then we generate the construction documents from that data and bring it back into Revit drawings,” Shavit explained.

We are working with architecture companies, and we essentially say, ‘You can think of Swapp like you outsource drawing production to a team in Belarus or in India, but our delivery times for drawings are constant

“We are working with architecture companies, and we essentially say, ‘You can think of Swapp like you outsource drawing production to a team in Belarus or in India, but our delivery times for drawings are constant.’ Meanwhile, our customers are saying that they are invoicing their customers sooner, by one month or two months. And for us, that’s the name of the game. We’re charging based on project size.”

When it comes to rules/template-based automation, Shavit told me that Swapp tackles the output standards problem from the opposite direction, as every office has its own standards, and even within firms, teams have different standards. Swapp treats the standardisation of output wider and at much higher resolution. There is no uniform Swapp standard. It is derived from past projects, to generate drawings that are compliant with the specific customer’s way of doing things. This can start with Swapp looking at its past projects (both the BIM and the drawings), or it can be trained on projects currently in the works.

Shavit readily admitted that the documentation that is generated is not 100% complete. There are always special cases, special fire requirements for certain parts of the building and other external requirements. Documents will still need to be put past a senior architect for liability issues. But he claimed the company is trying to perform between 80% and 95% of the most tedious, time-consuming work, enabling skilled staff to focus their efforts on other aspects of projects.

At its heart, Swapp is a consultative, bespoke auto-drawing solution that uses AI. Company executives are keen to state that it siloes every client’s data and AI into their own results. From this, it sounds as if Swapp has clients already using its technology, even though it’s hard to understand what they do from the company’s website.

It will be interesting to see how Swapp’s output quality, speed and ‘completeness’ compares to Autodesk’s own in-Revit auto-drawing features (more on this ahead) when they eventually ship.


Adi Shavit will be speaking at AEC Magazine’s NXT DEV conference on 26 June 2024 at London’s Queen Elizabeth II Centre



stablished runners and riders

At Bentley Systems’ Year in Infrastructure 2023 event, chief technology officer Julien Moutte talked at some length about the possibilities of combining AI and digital twin technologies in the infrastructure sector. But in a side meeting, he also discussed Bentley’s interest in applying AI to design, introducing the concept of an AI ‘co-pilot’ and applying the technology to create automated drawings.

“What we’re looking at right now is how can we automate the production of drawings for site engineering first, because there’s a lot to be done there? And how can AI models be trained to look at past designs and past drawings and try to understand style, requirements, layout etcetera, and try to automate some of those drawings?” he said.

As has been previously mentioned and will likely come up again in this article, the core issue is having all information upfront to help the auto-drawing system. If you have good, accurate models, it makes the process much easier. Where the input is low-quality models, the output will be low-quality drawings – and that represents a threat to the whole idea of automated drawings. Said Moutte: “Producing drawings for any kind of design is a challenging task, because you need to have a lot more data first to learn each kind of drawing that you will need to produce for all the different disciplines. You need to understand each domain’s requirements, because a structural engineer, an architect, a mechanical engineer, an electrician have different needs from drawings. Also, to start with, you need to have a model with the necessary level of detail to produce those drawings.”

At the time of writing, we have no known delivery date for Bentley’s AI auto-drawings capabilities, but the company seems to have been working on it for quite a while. Bentley is watching emerging BIM and AI start-ups closely and is once more actively investigating the broader AEC market, looking beyond its infrastructure flagship products and its fascination with digital twins.


Julien Moutte will be speaking at AEC Magazine’s NXT BLD and NXT DEV conferences on 25 / 26 June 2024 at London’s Queen Elizabeth II Centre.


When it comes to Graphisoft, the developer of Archicad, the leading BIM brand within Munich-based Nemetschek, a lot remains to be seen. The parent company is a notorious bunch of secret squirrels when it comes to R&D. I have been told that the company is indeed working on automated drawings using AI, which would indicate a cloud-based approach. But there are also rumours of the company doing the inverse, taking 2D and making 3D models, which would be a neat trick and would open up possibilities when it comes to retrofitting older buildings, so long as surveys and drawings match.

Since Graphisoft is the number two global BIM tool, auto-drawings will be necessary as a defence mechanism for its Archicad user base. But then Nemetschek, with so many BIM riches, also has AllPlan and Vectorworks to worry about and ensure they also get that capability. Again, no timeline, just a few acorns.

At Autodesk, home of Revit, AutoCAD and LT, meanwhile, an arms race that centres on auto-drawings is probably not a primary concern when you have a huge number of desktop applications that need moving to the cloud.

In November 2023, the company added a strategy for automating documentation in the ‘Where Are We Going’ section of its architecture roadmap, which categorises work as ‘in progress’, ‘next’, ‘on radar’ and ‘launched’.

The aim is to get rid of repetitive and mundane documentation work, but it predicates this with work that needs to be done to improve the modelling capabilities of Revit to make a higher quality model to drive through the auto documentation process. This means increasing the level of detail and accuracy and delivering better organised metadata. In the ‘on radar’ category, Autodesk has Automated Documentation Workflows from July 2023.

The question is, where will this capability reside? Will it be found within Revit or, as is seemingly the way, will it be presented as a cloud service, maybe paid for with tokens?

If it’s not available ‘in the box’ as part of Revit, then customers might as well use any of the other automated drawing tool services that are due to hit the market. While Revit development is in rear-guard mode, with no next generation planned and Autodesk Forma being developed on the cloud, auto-drawings needs to happen within the app, if Autodesk is to protect the user base from fragmenting and going elsewhere for drawings.

Will auto-drawings be linked to the model and will they update with changes, or will they have to be rerun in a transactional way? It also matters what kind of percentage of drawings get automated. Not enough, and Revit is an expensive tool to use for finishing off a drawing that could just as well be created in LT. And if there’s no associativity with the model, will other auto-drawings offerings do a better job of this?

Personally, I am unsure if procedural AI will be used to deliver this. Given that Autodesk AI is a major focus of corporate marketing at the company, I suspect it will use that technology. If you have to select an output from a configurator, it probably won’t be AI. If the technology requires scans of past drawings, that would be AI and quite exciting, as it would learn your preferred layout style.

A new breed of disruptor

We are living through one of the more interesting times in software development for AEC. The tech stacks that firms have developed and the tools that professionals use are all in a state of play – even if, to those using them, it seems like absolutely nothing has yet happened. Historically, we are used to seeing seismic shifts as hardware and software change, as seen in the shifts from minicomputers to PCs, and from UNIX to DOS to Windows. I

n each of these platform changes, software companies have risen and fallen. The big bet over ten years ago was the cloud, but efforts made in MCAD by Autodesk (Fusion) and Onshape (former Solidworks team) to ‘kill’ market leader Solidworks haven’t worked out the way they were planned. Now, all the MCAD players offer, in some form or other, ‘cloud’ versions (and there is an AEC Magazine article coming on that soon), but desktop versions continue to rule.

While we undoubtedly need new code streams for BIM, as provided by Snaptrude, Arcol, Qonic, Hypar, Augmenta and so on, there are technologies that would once have been essential parts of a desktop application that will be entirely delivered as services on the cloud. And these services will aim to punch out entire sections of today’s AEC design-to-documentation workflows through automation, whether that be procedural or AI.

While this is interesting news for AEC businesses, and a potential issue for an industry wedded to charging billable hours, it’s also a big headache for AEC software developers, especially those incumbents that have built vast, multibillion-dollar empires of selling tools through utilisation.

If drawings become increasingly automated, how many AutoCADs or AutoCAD LTs will firms actually need? If customers are no longer reliant on their BIM tools for documentation, why tie up an expensive BIM seat just to provide drawings (whether they’re automated or not)?

One vendor described this as ‘a moment before the storm’, where we may well be approaching peak seats sold in the industry, because everything developed from now on will be about automation and accelerating design-to-documentation, reducing AEC firms’ reliance on the utilisation costs that came with the current generation of BIM 1.0 tools.

Taking Autodesk as an example, despite its portfolio containing well over 30 products, there are really only four commonly downloaded tools in AEC: AutoCAD, Revit, 3ds Max and Navisworks. Any software firm that manages to deliver good quality, reliable auto-drawings from a BIM model, could seriously impact the need for so many seats of AutoCAD and Revit. We have already seen what AI can do for automatic rendering of models. See the amazing work of Tim Fu. That really only leaves Navisworks – and to me, this is a product that is half stuck on the desktop and half in the cloud, and it faces plenty of competition.

In short, auto-drawings represent a clear and present danger to the software status quo. It’s no wonder that both Autodesk and Nemetschek have R&D projects underway to develop and incorporate auto-drawing capabilities in their BIM tools, in the hope of protecting themselves against new market entrants. However, while this may make current users happy, especially when it comes to productivity gains, there could well come a point where excellent auto-drawings are available for pennies/cents per drawing via a connected service, meaning expensive BIM seats for documentation make no sense. It may even be possible to stay in Rhino or to use more capable modelling tools than the previous generation of BIM tools.

Conclusion

Auto-drawings is not a matter of if, but when. It’s also a question of establishing which offerings are any good. There are so many firms now researching this area that auto-drawings are going to be available in pretty much every tool out there, both old and new. But there will doubtless be differences between them, in terms of capability, cost and how they are hosted.

Gräbert will be the main technology provider for its range of licensees: DS Solidworks, Draftsight, Snaptrude, Onshape, and Trimble.

Bentley, Nemetschek and Autodesk all appear to be adopting the AI path in their R&D for their own products, but I expect Bentley to offer a cloud service to all. Meanwhile, Swapp is taking more of a bespoke approach and will create an auto-drawings system bespoke to your firm’s particular needs. Plus, there are others, such as BricsCAD, which has also been developing something, but for now, company executives remain a bit quiet about its progress.

As far as timelines are to be considered, Gräbert has code with developers already, and Swapp has demonstrated some capabilities from its cloud AI and has customers now. However, I think we are looking at two to three years before we have a choice of mature, tried-andtested auto-drawings technologies on the market, either in your BIM weapon of choice, as an online service, or as a bespoke customisation.

BIM 2.0’s killer feature is not going to be cloud; it’s going to be automation. Auto-drawings won’t just improve the speed of drawing production. They will ultimately mean fewer skilled people being tied up in documentation. If used well, this technology will also mean fewer licences of expensive CAD and BIM software needed in each firm. However, I am sure there will be a new business model from software developers eager to ensure that revenue isn’t lost in return for the productivity gains delivered. The good news for customers is that fierce competition means there will be plenty of options.


More auto-drawings at NXT BLD & NXT DEV

If you are interested in auto-drawings and the associated products currently in development, please join us at our NXT BLD and NXT DEV conferences at London’s Queen Elizabeth II Centre on 25 / 26 June 2024.

You will have the opportunity to meet many of the people quoted in the article and take part in a discussion on what the industry wants from these new capabilities.


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