Once a year Bentley Systems holds a conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where it discusses new technologies with key customers, press and analysts and hosts an awards ceremony for its Be Inspired competition. Greg Corke and Martyn Day attended to cover the multi-disciplinary streams.
Bentley Systems is a family-run, Philadelphia-based AEC software developer. It is, in fact, one of the largest private software companies in the world and has a substantial footprint in architecture, engineering, civils, plant, mapping and transport.
The company’s foundation design platform is MicroStation, which works in conjunction with its ProjectWise collaboration tool. Using a direct sales force and a small number of resellers, the company focuses on large projects such as the UK’s Crossrail. Its architectural tools are used by signature practices such as Foster and Partners.
A key part of the annual Be Inspired conference is the Be Inspired Awards competition, which showcases design, construction, and operations of infrastructure projects around the world. There were some exceptional projects this year, the details of which can be found at tinyurl.com/AECbeinspired, but this year’s event stood out for its technology.
Be Inspired is a chance to see the many developments that the company has introduced, or will introduce over the coming year. Bentley pioneered the subscription model that other software companies in the CAD world aspire to and its Select subscription regularly delivers new features, fixes, training and content to its customers. Using this model many of the new products and services announced at Be Inspired will be available to Bentley’s enterprise customers inclusive in their subscription.
The first speaker was Greg Bentley, CEO of the company. His address examined the challenges within our industry, specifically pointing out the lack of ‘mobility’ of data. Bentley Systems has been active in trying to ease the pain for years, even including reverse-engineering AutoCAD entities in MicroStation V8. These efforts culminated in Bentley and Autodesk signing an historic agreement in which the two firms finally swapped file libraries with Autodesk giving Bentley the DWG toolkit and, in return, Bentley providing the DGN libraries. Bentley also became a bona fide Autodesk developer in the deal.
Mr Bentley admitted that while this has been good for the industry, it has not solved the problem, especially as users move towards 3D Building Information Modelling (BIM) and produce ever more complex designs that require high degrees of collaboration within multi-disciplinary teams. Data mobility is now a challenge of sharing information from concept, design and into construction through various programs and analysis tools, extending beyond design teams. That was the theme around which Mr Bentley introduced the latest developments and initiatives.
Pointools is a brilliant small UK firm that develops the fastest point cloud engine on the market. While laser scans of sites can contain billions of X,Y,Z points the software allows users to fly though the virtual space in real-time on a laptop.
As a licensee, Bentley has already included the Pointools ‘Vortex’ technology in MicroStation, but in Amsterdam it announced that it had acquired the company with a view to integrating the technology deeper throughout its suite of products.
The move continues a significant escalation of interest in point clouds by the key AEC players. In the future it is clear that laser scanned and photogrammetric data will be seen as a fundamental and commonly used data set. In fact Greg Bentley suggested that point clouds could serve the function of an “as-operated” 3D model for every infrastructure or architectural asset.
Point clouds unfortunately can take up huge amounts of memory and hard disk space, and it is here that the rationale for the acquisition became clear. In order to manage point cloud data through ProjectWise and AssetWise (for asset management), Bentley needed more control over the technology. Serving up huge gigabyte point cloud data files in their entirety is not practical across multiple sites, so ProjectWise will soon be able to stream only the subset of the file relevant to a specific view.
As Bhupinder Singh, senior vice-president, Bentley Software, explained, this will be processed on a separate thread so while the point cloud data is streaming, the user can continue to zoom and pan around the model.
Streaming of point cloud data will be supported in a number of products, including MicroStation, Bentley Navigator and the new Bentley Navigator V8i for iPad application. The new ProjectWise point cloud management and streaming service will be introduced before the end of the year.
Greg Bentley confirmed that the Pointools acquisition will not change existing relationships with other 3rd party software – AutoCAD, Revit and Rhino, for example.
Meanwhile, the V8i (SELECTseries 3) of Descartes, Bentley’s image management software, will now be able to support point cloud editing and processing workflows. Bob Mankowski, Bentley’s VP of software development, demonstrated some advanced point cloud snapping tools and a neat flashlight tool, which helps users visualise surfaces of point clouds.
What’s in a name? Well, here it is everything including the kitchen sink. We were shown a new product called AECOsim Building Designer, which is due for release in 2012. Broken down, AECOsim is Architecture Engineering Construction Operations Simulation, but is pronounced ‘ecosim’. Essentially this tool is MicroStation with all the architecture, structural, mechanical and electrical elements in one package, which links with energy and construction simulation.
Users from multiple disciplines can work together in one integrated environment, rather than working on a collection of BIM models, with soft and hard clash detection included for co-ordination. Analytical models can be extracted for all types of analysis, from energy, acoustics and lighting to electrical, structural and wind. Mr Singh also alluded to future capabilities, where users can do trade offs by simulating ‘between’ multiple disciplines.
Unfortunately we can not go into too much more detail until early next year when we will have a ‘first looks’ at the product. But should it deliver on the promise of what was shown, despite the unpronounceable name, it will be quite a revolutionary solution for multi-disciplinary design teams or those considering other BIM modelling tools.
AECOsim Building Designer will actually be the third product in Bentley’s new AECOsim family. It will join the AECOsim Compliance Manager for LEED certification and AECOsim Energy Simulator for the immersive design, simulation, and analysis of building mechanical systems, environmental conditions, and energy performance.
The AEC software market is currently teaming with so-called green building design tools, but Greg Bentley said AECOsim Energy Simulator was unique in the marketplace due to the accuracy of the results it gives. He said is takes into account the full detailed building services specifications from building systems engineers to provide a simulation that closely corresponds to actual building performance, rather than just a notional indication.
AECOsim Energy Simulator uses the EnergyPlus simulation engine, which is an industry standard-setter developed and maintained by the US Department of Energy. Users can interoperate with Bentley applications and BIM or CAD formats including MicroStation, AutoCAD, Revit, and others. Workflows can incorporate i-models and gbXML, IFC, DXF, and DWG formats.
One of the Bentley’s key visions is that of improving data interoperability in a fractured market. This is based around i-models, containers for information exchange, and iWare applications, which are designed to add model intelligence to applications and operating systems that do not really ‘understand’ design data.
This year, Bentley extended its iWare application family to fit under the skin of Windows 7, Outlook, Excel and Access. This is very big news and it has been implemented seamlessly. In a Microsoft dominated landscape, one does wonder why nobody has done this earlier? Adding Bentley’s iWare enabler to Windows makes your workstation understand CAD models as if they were native to the operating system.
The new Bentley DGN Reader iWare app for Windows 7 provides view, pan, zoom, and rotate 2D and access to 3D DGNs and i-models from within Windows Explorer and any Windows 7 application, such as Microsoft Outlook. In fact any application that uses the Windows preview capability. You can even search for embedded text within models.
The new (beta) i-model driver for Excel app provides ODBC links to Excel, Access, Visual Studio and Crystal reports. In short this exposes the architectural, engineering, construction, and operations information embedded within i-models to Microsoft’s popular applications. So should you receive an i-model of a project, it’s possible to extract numerical and quantity information seamlessly for analysis, reports on the contained object information and any pertinent business properties. Suddenly MS Office and Windows speaks CAD. This is absolutely awesome, even more so when you consider that Bentley has written plug-ins to Autodesk’s popular products, thus enabling that data to be used in the same way, just by exporting in the i-models format. Go to www.bentley.com/iware to see the full range of free i-Ware apps.
PDF files are ubiquitous in the AEC industry. Indeed, according to Greg Bentley, over half of the tens of millions of documents stored in Bentley’s ProjectWise system are PDFs. Bentley had big news for how it is integrating the portable document format more tightly into engineering workflows. Greg Bentley even went so far to say that Adobe was entrusting the future of PDF in AEC to Bentley.
The first announcement was about the marrying of PDFs and i-models. Working with Adobe, Bentley has created plug-ins for Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Reader for 3D i-model enabled PDFs. Greg Bentley explained how these could contain 3D models at a project scale and also point clouds.
Bentley also signed an agreement with Adobe to include Adobe’s Livecycle digital rights management capabilities in optional services of ProjectWise and AssetWise, which can be used to manage who can interact with PDF content and what they can do with it.
This is a very significant inclusion of what AEC Magazine has long considered to be a superb technology. While most workflows rely on security to be managed within a document management system, Adobe Livecycle controls access to files that are let loose outside a traditional server-based document system. Using the Internet, access to and usage of documents is remotely managed and controlled — to the extent that files can be locked or timed out at will. This is extremely powerful document control, especially when mixed with ProjectWise.
Bentley’s activities with the PDF format also extend to a new partnership with Bluebeam Software, who provides PDF creation, markup, and editing tools for AEC workflows. In addition to supporting i-model-enabled PDFs, Bluebeam has extended its integration with ProjectWise, increasing what Greg Bentley terms ‘information mobility’.
Bluebeam’s 2009 agreement with Bentley provided access to files within ProjectWise from the interface of its PDF Revu application.
Now the integration goes deeper, and PDF Revu users will be able to synchronise their redlines through ProjectWise directly back to the original source documents, inside MicroStation or AECOsim, for example, offering powerful new workflow capabilities.
Today a software company is not a software company if it doesn’t have a mobile platform strategy. Bentley has jumped in with both feet this year, embracing Apple’s iPad for model exploration and remote document access. The company stated it was working to support Android and Windows devices too.
Bentley Navigator V8i for iPad is Bentley’s iPad version of the desktop software. Users can navigate 3D design models using the motion sensors of the tablet together with the touch screen. It’s possible to interrogate elements in the model, and pre-select ‘points-of-interest’ to help users navigate around huge models. The software supports annotations and any additions made to the iPad model can then be merged with the models on the desktop through i-models.
ProjectWise Explorer for the iPad also mimics its desktop counterpart by providing collaboration tools, but in this case, specifically for use on site.
Mr Singh explained how the system could help automate field-based tasks, such as monitoring progress on a construction site. He described how workflows such as this, were often fragmented, involving drawings, specs, and work schedules to be printed out, annotated on site and then all the information manually inputted back into the system back at the office.
ProjectWise Explorer for the iPad will help automate this workflow. Information is served up to the device and redlines, annotations and photos can be automatically linked back to the original source content. The system also supports caching of data, so it’s possible to work in an ‘offline’ mode when a 3G or WiFi signal is not available, which is not unheard of in the middle of a remote construction site!
Mr Singh explained that while the iPad apps will get all the attention, the real work is happening on the new ProjectWise dynamic composition server, which can set up rules and automate the content that’s published.
Bentley also previewed Structural Synchronizer view, which enables users to interact with 3D structural models on the iPad or iPhone. We’ll look at this in more detail in the Integrated Structural Modelling section below.
Attendees were also given a glimpse of the future through Bentley’s Applied research group.
Mr Singh showed an iPad app for augmented reality, where the physical reality is combined with the digital reality. A model of a proposed extension could be seen in context when the iPad was pointed at the existing structure.
He also showed a virtual excavation app, where all the underground utilities were exposed as the iPad is pointed at the road. This looked to be an extension of the Intelligent Trench project, which is currently lifting off in the UK (see page 28 for more details).
Mr Singh said that in all augmented reality applications, the accuracy of the GPS is the big challenge but Bentley has managed to figure it out.
Hypermodels are one of the most interesting developments coming out of Bentley at the moment. They address the long-term issue of the disconnect between 2D drawings and 3D models.
The concept is simple. Hypermodels act as a 3D index for 2D drawings and documentation, much like a home page acts as an index for content on a website. The beauty of a Hypermodel though is that it puts all information in context so documents can be found easily — simply navigate to a specific location in a 3D model and click the link. Imagine doing the same in a fistful of contract drawings.
So where can Hypermodels be used? There were a number of examples given. For design / review and presentations all project information can be accessed from a single model, such as details, renderings, even promotional videos.
In construction, where 2D drawings continue to be the contractual deliverable, cross section details of a highway could be embedded in a Hypermodel for easy reference on site. On a building site, fabrication drawings, quantity takeoffs, connection details, RFIs, and schedules could all be accessed direct from a Hypermodel — all through an iPad.
And there’s also a key role to play in asset management. Here, a model could not only include as-built information, but details of maintenance procedures, and records with pictures and videos to show what work has been carried out.
Hypermodels were seen everywhere at the event. Bentley even held a dedicated round table discussion on the role of Hypermodels in civil engineering. While there was genuine interest, it was clear that industry would need to change contractual deliverables on projects to fully benefit from the technology.
Hypermodels will be able to be created in the forthcoming MicroStation (SELECTseries 3) release and AECOsim Building Designer. They can be viewed in Bentley Navigator, Bentley View, or Bentley Navigator for the iPad.
Circa 2005 Bentley became the number one player in structural engineering software. But the acquisitions of several firms, including RAM International and Research Engineers International with the STAAD line of software, left Bentley with a big challenge — how to work with structural data from multiple sources without having to go the manual import/export route.
Bentley’s solution is called Integrated Structural Modelling (ISM), a methodology that uses i-model technology to manage parallel workflows. With a detailer being able to easily communicate late stage design changes with an engineer it has the potential to compress the entire structural design and fabrication process.
The core technology for ISM is The Structural Synchronizer, a free application that can be downloaded from www.bentley.com/iware. The software sits on a server or workstation, and is used to exchange information between project participants.
Changes made in one application can, at any stage, be synced to the ISM, with all members of the team being able to accept, reject or flag any changes in their ISM-enabled software of choice. The system records a full audit trail for every change, which helps with regulation, and it can also be used for viewing, querying and printing ISM models.
ISM is not just for Bentley structural products. In Amsterdam Bentley announced it had written a new ISM plug-in for Revit and also worked with Tekla and Ingenieur-Software Dlubal to help them add support for ISM in their respective Tekla Structures and RSTAB / RFEM products. Bentley is also talking to other structural software companies about bringing them on board.
Bentley’s global marketing director, Huw Roberts, explained how ISM has also evolved since it was launched 18 months ago. It originally supported explicit exchange mechanisms between design and analysis software, but now handles many more types of information. He also hinted that there were plans for ISM beyond those of handling only structural data, with a nod to Bentley’s forthcoming multi-disciplinary AEC tool, AECOsim building Designer. Support for Revit Architecture in the new Revit plug-in also gave credence to the notion that ISM could become a valuable tool for exchanging broader Building Information Modelling (BIM) information.
ISM is also now on the iPad and iPhone. The free Structural Synchronizer View iWare App lets users view and navigate and filter full 3D models through a mobile ISM (MISM) file.
Information can be extracted from specific members, ranging from section type and loading conditions to materials and rebar details — any data that could be useful to check on site. And there’s flexibility in where this data comes from. Models can be opened from ProjectWise, email, iTunes, Dropbox, Amazon S3, and more.
For civil engineers, the big news in Amsterdam was that all of Bentley’s core civil design products — InRoads, Geopak and MX — will soon run off a single civil modelling platform.
Ron Gant, Bentley’s global marketing director for civil engineering, confirmed this was part of an evolutionary move toward a single Bentley civil platform. The new platform has a big focus on capturing design intent during modelling, so if there are late stage modifications, the model dynamically updates.
Bentley also announced a single install for PowerCivil for country, a lower cost software, which is ‘localised’ for over 25 countries including the UK and Ireland.
The Be event provides a concentrated dose of Bentley’s design technology and insights into how their best customers are using it. Time after time, throughout the customer presentations you could see firms use 3D models to explore and virtually prototype vast projects, including buildings, dams, sewer systems, airports and motorways.
Bentley understands workflow. By linking its core products with ProjectWise and maintaining a common platform, MicroStation, the company has built a strong, compatible ecosystem in which complex projects can be built. This year’s developments look to integrate and enrich the kind of data that can be shared but also expand the reach of 3D data onsite with the use of tablets and mobile devices.
Further integration with Windows and common office tools like Outlook and PDF aim to make 3D workflows seamless within the most common communication form, email but, importantly, while still remaining in full control of its management. There is no doubt that Bentley is taking data mobility very seriously.