Having access to CAD models on a laptop is a business necessity. If you are truly mobile then you will need them on your Apple iPad and preferably be able to share sessions remotely with other users. Martyn Day evaluates one such product, CadFaster for iPad.
Sharing and distributing models is becoming an increasingly common problem for design teams. With products like Revit producing huge files, and the need to protect sensitive business information, developers from the manufacturing industry are stepping in to help out.
CadFaster is a Finnish-based firm that AEC Magazine has reviewed previously. The company offers some excellent technology for condensing and sharing large 3D models, offering real-time sharing and collaboration sessions through its desktop CadFaster Collaborate product.
Models can be saved as self extracting executables so the receiver does not have to download and install any additional applications.
CadFaster Collaborate now supports 3D models from the most popular AEC applications: Autodesk Revit and Bentley MicroStation.
The new CadFaster iPad application can be seen as an extension to its previous development, because the conversion and uploading of files, as well as the initiating of joining view sessions, requires that users have the full CadFaster Collaborate product. However, as the iPad version is free, there is no additional cost to view models. UK annual subscription for one user to CadFaster Collaborate is £499.
CadFaster for iPad
For readers who are not familiar with Apple iPad, it is an impressive piece of kit that will do up to 70% of what can be done on a normal laptop with the benefit of a 10-hour battery life. For AEC use its portability is winning it customers across the design and construction market being used by both architects and contractors on site.
With companies like Bentley Systems and Autodesk now porting drawing viewers, there is little excuse to not be able to access the latest drawings, either online or cached on the device. However,
3D models are a bit more of a challenge than a drawing file. The model size, the CPU and the graphics processing power are all limited on a mobile device and require some innovation to provide adequate performance. While, in reality, a Revit model may be gigabytes in size, it can be compressed to megabytes with clever techniques for visualisation, but that is still a considerable size of model for today’s tablet devices.
CadFaster in use
I downloaded CadFaster for iPad from the Apple iTunes store at no charge and took seconds to load onto my iPad, which is the version one device (launched 2010). The iPad 2 is considerably faster and therefore would see better performance. With rumours of an iPad 3 in the works, one would expect performance to get even better.
As iPads do not have a file system as such, self-loading executables are not an option. CadFaster has built a web-based ‘collaboration server’ to which models are uploaded and shared, with a log-in providing security. Using this technology models are streamed and cached on the iPad.
When I went to launch CadFaster an ‘out of resources’ warning appeared. This was because I had about 20 applications already loaded and running on the iPad. Resources are an issue on tablet computers running multiple applications. I shut these apps down, removing them from memory, leaving only CadFaster open and the warning did not reappear. Performance on the demo models was good, with some degradation on the larger models.
The interface of CadFaster iPad is simple, with a menu bar down the left hand side with four options: Home, Models, Markups and Settings. In ‘Home’, models that are currently on the machine can be viewed, with a reminder of when they were created. ‘Models’ shows what models are uploaded to the CadFaster Cloud server. ‘Mark-ups’ are images of notes generated in CadFaster Collaborate sessions. There is a tape measure available but no comprehensive mark-up tools yet.
‘Settings’ shows log-in status and how much of the ‘CadFaster Cloud Storage Quote’ remains, by default users have 92MB.
There is an online and offline mode. To load new models access to the Internet is a requirement but the application will work on previously loaded models.
The key collaboration benefit, sharing model viewing sessions with remote sharing with the desktop application, CadFaster Collaborate, also requires the presence of an Internet connection.
Tablet technology is still in its formative days, and due to the immense uptake of the iPad and Apple iTunes infrastructure many developers are attracted to the challenge of creating apps for this device.
To be fair, CAD 3D geometry is still really pushing processing capabilities and is outside the original remit of the machine’s intended uses. As Tablet computing improves over the next few years we will see workstation level Tablets featuring quad core processors and really powerful graphics.
For now, CadFaster has certainly done the ground work with this release. While stability was acceptable, I did find the application bombed out a couple of times with really large models. The application also appeared to bypass the battery saving shut down features of the iPad, which is good if you are presenting but it did drain the battery. That said, it is a great advantage to have 3D models on the iPad that can be taken onsite and manipulated, geometry checked and compared to the as-built. I have no doubt this will quickly become the normal way of working.