Over the years, Bentley’s building solutions have undergone a number of rebrandings; TriForma, Bentley Architecture and now AECOsim. However, the foundation platform, MicroStation has remained consistent. AEC Magazine examines the new flavour.
The UK building industry is being pushed towards using Building Information Modelling (BIM) tools by government mandate. There will be a phased roll-out of mandated BIM requirements between now and 2016. With this in mind many firms are evaluating the various BIM solutions on the market. Every year we are amazed by the increasing maturity, depth and functionality that get added to the base tools.
Last month’s new product releases provided the most significant democratisation of BIM capabilities in the products of Bentley Systems and Autodesk with both companies opting to cease discipline-specific versions and provide generic multi-discipline solutions.
So, what’s in a name? I guess that depends on your viewpoint. AECOsim Building Designer, pronounced by the initiated as ‘Eco Sim’, is Bentley’s latest branding for its building solution. As naming goes, it covers all bases — Architecture, Engineering, Construction, Operations (Owner/Operator) simulation, building and design.
While the name is a mouthful, the product does, in the main, provide what it says. AECOsim pulls together all of Bentley’s discipline-specific BIM tools into a ‘one stop shop’ design solution — and at a price that is less than a standalone copy of MicroStation.
Initial BIM solutions were quickly divided into disciplines: architecture, structures and MEP. However, the ‘vision’ of BIM is that these models would combine to form a master model, which could generate all the production documents and renderings required.
Now Autodesk and Bentley have simultaneously decided that all disciplines should be in one box and available to all users. AECOsim Building Designer allows users to create and edit architectural, structural and MEP elements. The new Autodesk Revit 2013 similarly has the same access to all components from all disciplines.
While this represents great ‘out-of-the-box’ value and breaks open BIM from discipline silos, there is a fear over a percieved loss of control — that an architect’s model could be edited by the structural engineer and vice versa, or the MEP engineer could edit architectural or structural elements.
I put these concerns to Neville Glanville, industry sales director at Bentley Systems. He explained that, while it was possible that some control could be lost, by using references and traditional data sharing strategies this potential conflict could be easily avoided.
The idea of the single all encompassing BIM model has long since faded.
AECOsim Building Designer
AECOsim Building Designer provides a multidisciplinary centrepiece for the creation of models for the whole workflow. It is also the point of integration for design simulation, analysis, and documentation. This BIM application enables architects and structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers to create buildings and constructions using the latest 3D engineering tools in an immersive design environment. The models can be photorealistically rendered and animated with a new particle engine and the designs can be analysed for clashes. It also has direct links to analysis applications for interdisciplinary optimisation.
From these models AECOsim Building Designer can generate fully co-ordinated construction documentation for output as paper or dynamic PDFs.
Bentley has also further developed its unique hypermodel technology, which combines 3D model with the resulting 2D drawing, enabling the exploration of both model and drawing in context, in 3D. This clarifies the design and the output, giving users a spatial context for the generation of plans sections and elevations. In terms of innovation, I think this is probably one of Bentley’s most effective BIM communication technologies.
AECOsim Energy Simulator
One very confusing element of the AECOsim name is that the ‘sim’, in the main, is not actually in the product, it is a separate standalone module called AECOsim Energy Simulator.
Energy Simulator provides simulation and analysis of building mechanical systems, environmental conditions, and energy performance. AECOsim Energy Simulator uses the EnergyPlus simulation engine, which is pretty much the industry standard.
The software is intended to meet the needs of engineers, building energy consultants, and designers who determine building energy loads and explore building HVAC systems.
It allows the user to define design configuration options by simulating and analysing building energy performance in firms using BIM modelling solutions from Bentley, Autodesk AutoCAD and Autodesk Revit, Graphisoft Archicad, and others. This product is tailored to the US market first and is being optimised for European markets.
AECOsim Compliance Manager
There is another companion product, AECOsim Compliance Manager, which is currently US-centric but will in time be ported to cover European standards. The software is a SaaS (software as a service, or cloud) application, which automates the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED certification process. It provides a centralised online LEED data repository for all project team activity, document storage, and electronic submissions, as well as step-by-step task and LEED credit management, checklists, wizards and calculators, automated LEED credits, and teamwork tools.
AECOsim Compliance Manager supports Google Maps for project location, enables automatic distance calculations and provides distance calculations for local materials sourcing.
The bigger picture
Bentley’s AECOsim products are point tools for the generation and analysis of BIM models, but they have been crafted to integrate into a huge framework of Bentley products.
ProjectWise is one of the company’s star revenue generating products, providing document and model management, distribution and collaboration. AECOsim products work seamlessly with ProjectWise and supports Bentley’s iModel open 2D/3D infrastructure information exchange format, which is a lightweight format that supports ‘provenance’ storing its origin and evolution (change history).
There is a general understanding that BIM is the future of building design. While most UK architects have not yet adopted BIM, for now it seems firms with a multi-disciplinary outlook are taking the lead, seeing obvious benefits of tighter internal integration and better co-ordination. Bentley’s decision to merge its model creation tools in AECOsim reflects that multi-disciplinary adoption.
AECOsim could easily be seen as just a bundle of existing tools, but it is not. Having all the tools available in one software solution means it never needs to be shut down, or other applications launched. MicroStation serves as the base for all design operations and all disciplines simultaneously.
For Bentley customers, AECOsim levels the access to BIM components and frees up design teams to work on elements that before would have required a totally different license of the product. When resources are limited and licenses are shared on a network, this is great news.
In addition, the AECOsim family of products also rationalises what was becoming a very confusing and complex array of add-on analysis tools. By concentrating its energy, customers are again getting more bang for their buck.
AECOsim could also be a launch point for Bentley to target smaller practices, an area that the company has not properly addressed for many years, choosing to concentrate on medium to large practices and major infrastructure projects.
Unlike the other BIM vendors, Bentley has a well thought out and mature infrastructure to its building applications, namely ProjectWise, Navigator, Dynamic Plot, iModel and newly announced support for mobile devices.
While companies such as Autodesk certainly are aspiring to deliver this kind of point-to-point document management and distribution system, Bentley has had it for a number of years. AECOsim simplifies this approach to holistic BIM design.