In November 2012 Bentley Systems held its annual meeting for press and customers in Amsterdam to celebrate its Be Inspired gala awards. AEC Magazine attended to cover the latest technology developments.
While in the news the recession grinds on, there are efforts by European governments to kick-start their economies through investment in infrastructure. The UK is a case in point. London’s Crossrail will be completed later this decade and plans for HS2, the high-speed rail link between London, Birmingham and Leeds, are now underway.
If there is one software firm that is almost guaranteed to be involved in the majority of the world’s large-scale infrastructure projects it is Bentley Systems. The company covers pretty much every facet of building design, engineering and infrastructure and has developed or acquired an unenviable collection of software and technology.
Each year Bentley hosts Be Inspired, a two-day event designed to honour the work of its many global customers.
Last November’s event stood out for the number of UK winners, all of which centred on the capital. Crossrail scooped the award for Innovation in Government, while John McAslan + Partners was rightly recognised for the fantastic work it did for the redevelopment of London’s Grade I listed King’s Cross Station.
A few stops down London’s Victoria tube line, Taylor Woodrow/BAM Nuttall JV were honoured for their role in the Victoria Station Upgrade, a hugely complex project that included a series of sprayed concrete tunnels connecting new and existing parts of the station.
Robin Partington Architects was also acknowledged for its work on Park House, a 1.04-acre city block redevelopment on the edge of Mayfair. The London practice was singled out for its use of Bentley’s GenerativeComponents to solve a number of extremely difficult design challenges, including pushing the boundaries of glass bending.
Full details of the 2012 Be Inspired Awards Winners can be found at tinyurl.com/BE2012AEC.
Beyond the awards, Be Inspired serves as an opportunity for Bentley to update the world press on its recent developments in technology and business.
Chief executive officer Greg Bentley gave an annual insight into the company’s finances and due to its comprehensive SELECT management system, he also revealed how much design is actually going on, through the hours logged in its applications.
Despite the economic slowdown, Bentley Systems revenues have risen 10% year on year, to $523 million. Looking at the customer usage, annual growth is back and steadily recovering, with a big increase in the number of users applying Building Information Modelling (BIM) processes to their architecture and infrastructure projects. Greg Bentley stated that out of all the hours logged, now 47% of them were what he termed, ‘BIM’ hours.
Bentley also announced a few new acquisitions, namely SpecWave for authoring AEC specifications and Microprotol, an analysis tool for pressure vessels and heat exchangers, which will add pipe stress analysis to AutoPIPE.
Everyone is talking about the cloud — well every software vendor is talking about the cloud. Most customers are not and many do not even know what it is, despite relying on it everyday.
Bentley has a unique take on the cloud, mainly because it has its own global private network, or extranet, in Bentley SELECT. Customers have had on-demand access to Bentley software, training and services within their companies since 1994. The cloud, if anything just adds an extra layer to this already impressive infrastructure.
The CAD market was late to the world of mobile apps but now all the vendors provide applications for tablets and smart phones. Bentley offers Navigator Pano Review, ProjectWise Explorer Mobile, Structural Synchronizer View, Bentley Map mobile — to name but a few.
With Bentley’s DNA firmly in the Windows OS camp, this foray into mobile adds support for iOS, Android, Blackberry and of course Windows 8. All flavours will always be released simultaneously says Bentley.
Bentley CONNECT is the next generation of SELECT and connects users, projects and enterprises with Bentley services through a personalised interface. Users have profiles, a message centre and community membership within CONNECT. Through the service they can download Bentley iWare apps, access support services, training, software updates, content, shared services and powerful simulation services. Additionally contractors and project participants can also be exposed to services within the Bentley Connection Space.
One of Bentley’s key collaboration technologies, i-model, is leveraged to enhance the sharing experience within project communities. Using the i-model Composition Server, design information can be ‘thinned out’ and automatically rendered as i-models, on demand or to a planned schedule.
At the event Bentley launched a new i-model plug-in for Revit, enabling notoriously large models to be used in MicroStation, Bentley Navigator, AECOsim Building Designer, and additional products from Bentley and others, while retaining Revit model properties (compatible with 2010-2013 versions of Revit products).
On demonstration was a 100MB Revit model running in Bentley Navigator Pano for iPad. The models can be viewed and inspected on mobile, desktop or web and include support for the industry de facto standard PDF, with a new i-model plug-in. CONNECT is a complete environment for users that need to collaborate at HQ or onsite with an off-the-shelf system.
Civils — OpenRoads technology
One of the biggest developments to come out of Be Inspired 2012 was the introduction of OpenRoads, a new umbrella technology that will soon form the backbone to Bentley’s civil design tools — InRoads, Geopak and MX.
Over the years there has been some cross-pollination between Bentley’s three civils products, but they have largely retained their individual code-streams.
With the introduction of OpenRoads technology in the V8i SELECTseries 3 versions of the products this will change.
“OpenRoads technology is a common thread that runs through all of our civil products,” said Ron Gant, global marketing director, civil engineering at Bentley Systems. “It is a common thread that gives us great capability in data acquisition, in immersive modelling, in design intent, in design interaction, in design time visualisation.”
Do not be fooled by the name; OpenRoads is not just for roads. While it will initially be integrated into Bentley’s road design tools, there are already plans to roll it out to other areas. “It is a technology that will reach across rail, road, water and everything we do in that civil environment,” explained Mr Gant. “It will even find its way into the bridge products as well.”
Mr Gant detailed some of the key features of the new technology, starting off by explaining how InRoads, Geopak and MX will now share the same data acquisition tools — from point clouds and survey data to GPS, LiDAR and field data input from any kind of binary or ASCII file.
OpenRoads will also place a big emphasis on what Bentley describes as ‘real 3D design’, while recognising the continued importance of standards-based 2D deliverables.
“The challenge we have in our civil products is to be able to deliver smart intelligent 3D design with parametric constraints that allows you to have dependencies throughout, but also to be able to support the 2D horizontal and vertical requirements of the local and federal agencies that are controlling what your design standards are,” said Mr Gant.
Acknowledging that a lot of road design tasks are based on variations of a theme, OpenRoads technology has a major focus on repurposing design.
The new dynamic civil cell functionality enables users to create 2D and 3D geometric configurations, which can then be re-used and adapted to their new context.
According to Mr Gant, a civil cell is anything that you can re-purpose and use again and again and define with a set of constraints and relationships. “You can build a set of dynamic parameters within an intersection so that it becomes a 3D cell. But it’s more than just a cell because it has design intent. It has an engineer’s decisions built into it,” he explained. “So if I’ve built it once I can take it and drop it into another intersection and all I’ve got to do is change the changes of that intersection plus the parameters — how high is it now, where is the ground, where did it intercept the ground, is there something I need to move or be relative to?
Gant explained that relationships can also be maintained between different civil objects. Move a road and the other civil objects can move with it — a building pad, drainage pipes, or a ditch, for example.
A new design intent capability in OpenRoads builds associations and relationships between civil elements, so if a change is made to one object, related elements will recreate themselves based on the stored relationships.
“We’ve put intelligence into software, and into the objects it’s creating, that each object remembers how it was created, by whom it was created and what was created from it,” says Mr Gant, who then explained the concept by way of a simple example — a stop sign located at a junction.
With the stop sign there are requirements in terms of how far back from the crossing road and how far clear of the approach road it needs to be. Line of sight also needs to be taken into account so road users have a clear view. “If the stop sign is placed relative to all of those objects, if the interchange moves, so will the stop sign,” he said.
Dynamic cross sections, which Bentley says takes immersive modelling to the next level, enables users to adjust a cross section and any changes will automatically reflected in the 3D model.
The user interface has been enhanced. Tools are now available at cursor location and are context sensitive, designed to anticipate the next task, so you do not end up with a screen full of dialogue boxes. Grips now appear when hovering over geometry, making it easy to dynamically edit a road alignment, for example.
Visualisation has also been overhauled and can be used on-demand, without having to go through an additional piece of software, says Mr Gant. As OpenRoads technology uses real world objects, users do not have to apply materials as the software automatically knows this already.
OpenRoads is the result of a long-term strategy of Bentley to develop a common technology across all of its civil products, Gant explained how the transition has been subtle so as to eventually ease users gently into one common product.
“Evolution not revolution,” he said, proud of the fact that Bentley has never suddenly pulled the plug on any of its civils products.
Having acquired the civil division of Intergraph (InRoads) in 2000, Geopak in 2001 and MX in 2003, some might argue that it has taken Bentley too long for this transition. Chief operating officer and senior-vice president Malcolm Walter admitted that OpenRoads should probably have been done earlier, adding that rationalisation of products is now very much on the agenda for Bentley.
“We recognise that having a broad portfolio is great but, when there’s redundancies and overlaps, that can present some confusion to users,” added Huw Roberts, vice president, core marketing at Bentley Systems. “So where we see that, that’s what we want to tackle first and OpenRoads in a great example.”
While Mr Roberts makes the point that Bentley is a provider of solutions, highlighting the flexibility of the Bentley Passport subscription programme, the company has already begun thinking about rationalising its crowded structural portfolio. Bentley’s Integrated Structural Modeling (ISM), facilitated by Bentley’s i-model technology, has done an excellent job of streamlining the flow of structural information between its key structural applications, but there is still room for consolidation, admits Bentley.
“We’ve got our fantastic STAAD product line, our RAM product line, there are some parts that overlap,” explained Roberts.
“We have to rationalise RAM and STAAD and we have to figure that out. It’s really useful that the company is now agreeing that we need to do that. It’s an implicit thing to reduce those things and now it’s getting done,” added Mr Walter.
Faraz Ravi, director of product management for point clouds at Bentley Systems, gave an update on the point cloud functionality built into the MicroStation platform, the ProjectWise point cloud streaming service and the recently released Bentley Pointools V8i.
In the September / October 2012 edition of AEC Magazine we spoke with Mr Ravi at length about how Bentley now recognises point clouds to be a fundamental dataset. At Be Together 2012 he introduced a new technology, construction monitoring, which uses point clouds to record and monitor construction progress.
Construction monitoring works by comparing laser scans at various stages of the construction process. Laser scans can also be compared to the original BIM model to help ensure that the project retains the original design intent.
“This is a new technology that’s we’re developing for Bentley Pointools V8i and will also be migrated to the MicroStation platform,” said Mr Ravi. “I think it’s going to greatly advance the use of point clouds for construction. We are able to identify what changes have been made from one state to another — what has been newly constructed, what has been newly demolished, and so on.”
Ravi also explained the importance of capturing any changes that do occur during the construction process — issues that may have been solved on site, and not recorded in the original design model.
“Although we try to minimise [these changes] they are typical in any complex project. The key thing is we want to capture it and understand what happened.”
Ravi envisages that laser scanners could become permanent fixtures on construction sites — not only used to help maintain design intent, but for sign off and to provide an audit trail to protect against litigation.
When construction has finished the end result would be an up-to-date asset model. This could be an edited BIM model, a laser scan model or a combination of the two, said Mr Ravi.
Construction monitoring is currently just a toolset but AEC Magazine asked Mr Ravi if Bentley is looking to link into any of its construction scheduling software. “At the moment it’s just technology and we’re going to put it into Bentley Pointools V8i, but we’re also migrating that into the platform [MicroStation] and once it’s in the platform then any vertical could take advantage of it. ConstructSim for example, could do just that.”
In the week prior to Be Together, Trimble and Bentley announced the formation of a strategic alliance designed to connect the virtual and physical environments for infrastructure projects.
The idea is as follows: Trimble provides the field positioning technologies such as robotic total stations, 3D laser scanners, and global navigation satellite system (GNSS) positioning solutions. Bentley provides the information modelling software while work sharing and dynamic feedback is securely managed in Bentley ProjectWise.
The possibilities are huge: feedback loops from as-built construction to Building Information Modelling (BIM) using technologies such as laser scanning; streamlined 3D design to construction site workflows for GPS controlled grading.
The two companies have worked closely together before, with Trimble subsidiary Tekla supporting the ISM (Integrated Structural Modelling) methodology to share structural BIM models.
Speaking with AEC Magazine, Malcolm Walter shared his vision of where this partnership could lead, using the panoramic capability of an iPad to deliver an augmented reality experience.
“What I want to imagine is you would walk into this room, or a construction site, or anything that has been ‘sensored’, and you’d be able to look at what’s behind the wall,” he said. “Being able to know what rebar is in a pillar so that I can know where I can drill through. To be able to look through things because it knows exactly where you are on the planet, it knows exactly where that is, and it can overlay the drawings because they are geo-coordinated too.
Bhupinder Singh, senior vice-president, Bentley Software, gave a glimpse of this capability at Be Inspired 2011. At the time 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”. It would now appear that the Bentley / Trimble partnership may have already been in the pipeline back then.
Mr Walter believes that augmented reality will change the way “we interact with our facilities”, but that it will only become truly useful when you can have cm and mm accuracy, which you are not going to get from typical GPS — instead relying on a fully-sensored environment.
However, Huw Roberts believes the required accuracy can be achieved through a number of sensing devices. “They [Trimble] have all sorts of automated laser layout systems; they have querying systems, they have laser measures and identifiers,” he said. “So, if you have a Trimble device and you come into this room, and you shoot that corner and you shoot that corner and now you’re registered to where you are in this room.
“There is no sensor in this building, but I have a model of this building and I have a point cloud skin of this building and I have this digital cursor with the Trimble device and I can align these with each other.
“So Greg [Bentley] calls it, the Trimble device is your cursor in the physical world, into the virtual world in the Bentley environment. Once you’re connected to that — what’s the cost, what’s it made of, what’s inside it, what’s its engineering stress level, who installed it, when was it last maintained, all of those things become possible.”
Last year Bentley combined its BIM applications for building design (architectural, structural, mechanical and electrical) into AECOsim Building Designer. This allows anyone in a project to have access to Bentley’s suite of tools and BIM objects, created in a model. Clash detection was improved and hypermodelling was added to create links between models and drawing sheets.
AECOsim has direct links to Bentley’s RAM and STAAD analysis tools and works with AECOsim Energy Simulator .
The November 2012 event saw the first update to AECOsim Building Designer with a raft of new features, updates and fixes. Of special note are 100 new components for HVAC, fire protection, plumbing and drainage. There is support for ISM 3.0, which is Bentley’s excellent structural interoperability solution. There is also a new ‘Microstation mode’, which defaults to the standard MicroStation interface and wall area centre gross and net have been added for quantification.
Bentley Institute Press has a comprehensive new book called Practical Architectural Modelling with AECOsim Designer written by the UK’s very own BIM guru, Nigel Davies. (tinyurl.com/AECObook)
Introduced at Be Inspired 2011, Hypermodels act as a 3D index for all related project documentation. Fabrication drawings, quantity takeoffs, connection details, RFIs, schedules, images and AVIs can all be embedded in the interactive 3D model. But Gant believes Bentley is only scratching the surface of what can be achieved, estimating that Bentley is only 40% of the way to fulfilling the true potential of the technology.
At the moment, creating a Hypermodel is very much a manual process, as Mr Gant explains. “If I’ve got a set of specifications, and I’ve got a manhole [which has] a standard sheet, then some draughtsperson or engineer has to go and make a link to that.”
But he believes this process is ripe for automation. “What I see for the vision for the future is that an object type always has its specification assigned so that every time I create one, and set one, every time it goes into the ProjectWise database it grabs every associated file that goes with that and builds that model for me — that Hypermodel.”
Bentley also announced a strategic collaboration agreement with Siemens to advance the integration of digital product design and manufacturing processes design with information modelling for factory lifecycle design. This work is an extension of earlier collaborations between the two organisations that resulted in each deploying technology offerings developed by the other.
In the longer term, the companies will explore opportunities for jointly developed technology to expand industry-centric solutions and further collaboration interoperability between Siemens’ Teamcenter and Bentley’s ProjectWise software.
While many in the industry are expecting the move to cloud-based solutions to be an ‘extinction level event’ for some big names in CAD, I do not think there is any other AECO CAD firm that this move would benefit as much as Bentley Systems. Extending the data reach to mobile devices and updating its SELECT infrastructure places the firm well ahead of the curve in offering point solutions, backbone (ProjectWise) and managed collaboration. It is an extra layer to what the firm already has versus a whole new programming and data storage model.
The big fight is going to be in the civils and construction market, that is where the dollars are being spent, and where all the AECO software firms are making the biggest improvements. The new OpenRoads technology, the addition of excellent point cloud capabilities and a close working partnership with Trimble demonstrate that Bentley Systems is preparing to take a bigger slice of the infrastructure software market, while holding off Autodesk, who has recently stepped up its focus on civils. Trimble and Bentley seem to make good bedfellows in both of their key markets. Tongues are already wagging.