AEC Magazine speaks to Vectorworks CEO Dr. Biplab Sarkar about the company’s bold BIM strategy and its plans to support future customer needs
With the launch of significant updates to its suite of BIM apps in the second half of 2016, Vectorworks made clear its determination to confound market perceptions of the company as ‘just’ a CAD supplier. A whole range of features caught AEC Magazine’s eye in the new offering and as we noted at the time: “With this release, you can really start to see something special happening in the product’s BIM modelling capabilities.”
Since then, we’ve had the opportunity to interview Vectorworks CEO Dr. Biplab Sarkar, to find out how he feels the BIM market’s developing and how that will impact the directions that the company takes in future.
Q: Biplab, Vectorworks comes from the Nemetschek stable of building design products, which also includes Allplan, Graphisoft, MAXON and many other known brands. How does Vectorworks differentiate itself from stablemates like Allplan and Graphisoft – both BIM tools by function and geographical coverage? And how is Vectorworks integrating and cross-pollinating the technologies from these other brands?
A: Vectorworks differs from its BIM competitors in several ways. First and foremost, its flexible and robust 3D modelling tools allow architects to design the way that they think, rather than forcing them to follow certain processes or procedures. Second, when creating a BIM model, you aren’t limited to the default BIM objects; you can design any aspect of your building through digital sketching. This could entail using Vectorworks’ direct modelling tools, or using subdivision modelling tools and then transforming it into a fully developed BIM model. Finally, our advanced 2D and presentation tools give architects more control over the graphic quality of their work.
Also, worth noting is the collaboration between Vectorworks and its many sister brands from the Nemetschek Group. We work with many of our partner brands to describe BIM workflows, connecting various products and can demonstrate how models/data can be exchanged via open international standards such as IFC and PDF. These products include SCIA for structural engineering; Solibri for BIM data validation, quality checking and data mining; Data Design Systems (DDS) for MEP engineering; and Bluebeam for PDF-based document management. Additionally, Vectorworks uses MAXON’s Cinema 4D as its engine for our integrated rendering solution, Renderworks.
The various brands within the Nemetschek Group work together by offering a strong, unified support of OPEN BIM, which bodes well for open exchange with products from other companies.
Dr. Biplab Sarkar has been with Vectorworks since 2000. After first serving as a manager of geometry and rendering, he was the CTO from 2008 to 2016.
Q: When creating BIM models, automated 2D output can leave a lot to be desired and this leads to a lot of reworking in 2D in order to get that output in the state that customers want to see it. Some users opt to break up the process and take their drawings into AutoCAD, which means they lose the benefits of quick changes driving new drawings . Vectorworks has extensive documentation editing tools: do customers accept the default output or is document editing of sections and elevations still a large part of the process?
A: It varies among our customers and their practices, but we’ve seen it both ways. The default output of drawings from Vectorworks 3D models meets the majority of most common drawing standards. And our users can customise the look of this default output. Since drawing standards vary from country to country, and even from office to office, we provide these extensive documentation tools to allow our users to have better control over drawing output. This eliminates the need for outside applications, empowering you to still take advantage of the automation that the BIM tool provides.
Q: Model sizes are a common problem in BIM projects, as more detail is added. What’s a typical file size for a customer project? What kind of RAM would a typical user require and does Vectorworks have methodologies for breaking up models into smaller work packages?
A: Anywhere between 50MB (for a small residential project) to 2GB (for 300,000 sq ft institutional project) is typical. The minimum RAM requirement for Vectorworks 2017 is 4GB. However, we recommend 8GB to 16GB for large files and for complex renderings. Generally, we don’t recommend that users break up their models. If you have the recommended RAM and graphics card, you should be able to handle fairly large files. We also provide a comprehensive multi-user environment that allows users to keep a single, unified file. However, if a project needs to be organised into multiple files, we do provide different methods for live referencing.
Q: It’s no secret that learning a BIM process is a massive undertaking and can be a barrier to adoption. What strategies does Vectorworks use in order to speed up training and keep the product from becoming excessively complicated?
A: To ensure the successful adoption of BIM, we offer a number of resources and types of training. We build on the user’s current knowledge base, in digestible steps, helping them transition from basic BIM implementation to advanced techniques, as they become more familiar and comfortable with the tools and processes. It is not an ‘all or nothing’ proposition for our users.
Nearly all of our resources and training are customised based on the audience. We normally provide training to decisionmakers first. For example, the first type of ‘training’ that we recommend is for principals on an executive level to ensure that they are prepared and equipped to manage complex change within their firm. As long as there is ‘buy-in’ at the top, the barrier for BIM adoption is much lower than expected. We offer on-demand resources for those who choose either self-paced training or live, hands-on training.
Q: Vectorworks is one of the few BIM products to have a real solid modelling kernel, Parasolid, at its core. In the past, solid models have been deemed too ‘heavy’ for architectural models, which are mainly concerned with surface detail. What does having Parasolid at the core enable Vectorworks to do – and will this help downstream with capabilities like fabrication?
A: BIM fundamentally begins with a 3D model, so having a world-class modelling engine like Parasolid at its core is essential. It allows us to provide far more robust modelling tools, including the support of complex objects and freeform elements, which in turn allows users to design more freely and without limitations.
The Parasolid implementation in architectural products is quite different from MCAD products. The architectural scene can be conceived as a massive assembly, with hundreds of thousands of parts that can make the design heavy. Vectorworks’ implementation takes this into account, by storing the Parasolid model with some objects, and in some others, Vectorworks generates the model ‘on the fly’, thus keeping a balance between storage and performance.
Additionally, Parasolid modelling plays into BIM data’s need for being strong and reusable to allow for a variety of workflows, from design to simulation and analysis to fabrication. A growing trend in the industry is embracing the Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) idea from industrial design, where a design model is the basis of fabrication and the path is short and direct, without requiring many steps of translation or transformation. For example, the freeform design of the Versailles School of Arts by Platane Beres in France was done in Vectorworks, including the stone panels in the façade, which were robotically fabricated using CNC stone-cutting machines.
Q: Vectorworks has recently partnered with BIMobject, a content creation firm in Sweden. The industry has a reputation for a rather random approach to quality and standards for downloadable content. How are your customers using downloadable content and how can BIMobject help them? Can they share their own libraries?
A: Currently, our customers use downloadable content from multiple sources. One such source is our Vectorworks Service Select portal, where we provide numerous resources we create ourselves, to ensure consistency and optimisation. We also support direct import of multiple file formats such as SKP, DXF/DWG and RVT/ RFA. Downloading and utilising resources for these file formats from forums such as 3D Warehouse is at the user’s discretion. BIMobject helps ensure further consistency and optimisation of these different file formats. Currently, you can’t share your own library in BIMobject, but you can share your library on our community board at forum.vectorworks.net.
Q: Architects seem to be broadening their tool palettes by mixing numerous products together to enable the realisation of their designs. What kind of capabilities does Vectorworks offer for collaborative open BIM working and how do you see this changing in the future?
A: Vectorworks provides architects with numerous software tools to streamline workflows without compromising capability. Our modelling and drafting tools, along with our presentation capabilities, eliminate the need for additional programmes like SketchUp, Rhino and even Adobe Illustrator. Also, we have added drop shadows for 2D objects, alpha channel support for images and Camera Match in Vectorworks 2017, which further reduce the need for Adobe Photoshop. Without the need for other programmes, you get a more efficient and streamlined design process. Although, if designers choose to use other tools, Vectorworks has extensive import/export capabilities that create a more efficient and seamless process.
Vectorworks can be a hub for ideas, no matter the form, and those ideas can be transformed into the desired BIM data. Vectorworks also supports, and is certified for, the import and export of the IFC file format. As architects adopt BIM processes, the need for more interoperability will arise in order to accommodate all of the different needs and end goals of the architect, including design, development and documentation. Being able to accommodate varying workflows and tools through file interoperability and IFC support becomes a key aspect or foundation for how Vectorworks will move forward for future adoption of BIM.
Q: There is a lot of buzz about architects adopting Computational Design, using products like Grasshopper and Dynamo. What’s Vectorworks’ approach to Computational Design, and do you think this capability will become more commonly used as software developers and users increase their skillsets?
A: Grasshopper, Rhino3D and SketchUp may be popular modelling tools, but even these platforms have limitations in how they can address needs in a wider BIM context. However, Vectorworks is the only BIM software to provide a native, built-in computational design tool that is referred to as Marionette.
Also, Marionette saves time, because you can generate not only geometry, but also scripts and plug-ins, so you can produce intelligent building models with Marionette all within one platform. Marionette can automate routine tasks in the design process, such as drawing analysis, database creation and file organisation. These factors can save you hundreds of hours on projects! We see Computational Design being adopted by more and more students and younger designers entering the workforce. This capability is well on its way to becoming common in architectural practices.
Q: In the UK, we have some very specific industry initiatives to make BIM a country standard. What developments and capabilities has Vectorworks included in the software to assist in customers meeting standards such as the UK version of COBie and interoperability? How does this compare to what you see globally?
A: As a provider of BIM software to architects, our focus at Vectorworks is ensuring that designers have all of the necessary capabilities to participate in the BIM process. We are also very customerfocused, developing our product as a direct response to our customers’ needs and requests. In fact, 70% of updates to our latest release were introduced in response to customer feedback. Moreover, our BIM tools and IFC support were developed with industry initiatives in mind, such as those in the UK.
With Vectorworks 2017, we’ve included support for IFC 4, the newest version of the IFC file format. We’ve also introduced a more advanced IFC data mapping tool, which allows more customisation and control over the data export. This means that there is better support for the various versions of COBie that need to be met.
We’ve noticed there has been greater support and adoption of standards such as the UK’s BIM initiative among various countries and government bodies. In the US, BIM has been a significant part of the industry for some time now and this has allowed us to be better able to support this global embrace of BIM.
Q: Software developers have been very keen to jump on the cloud bandwagon. At AEC Magazine, we can see how this helps collaboration, but also that there are still hurdles to be overcome. How does Vectorworks handle group working and distributed team collaboration and what use of the cloud (or planned use for the cloud) does the company have?
A: Vectorworks handles group working with a feature called ‘project sharing’, which is essentially a singular file where multiple people can concurrently work on different parts of a project. The singular project file that everyone accesses is typically kept on a shared server to which all team members have access. In Vectorworks 2017, we have integrated support of cloud-based storage in our project sharing environment. This means that rather than hosting that file on a server, the project file can be kept on Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive and Box to be easily accessed by various team members. Overall, this feature enables employees who are remote, travelling or located in the field to work on their projects without being dependent on something like VPN.
Q: Looking at the BIM market today, what technologies and processes do you think will drive adoption and improve the benefits already delivered by BIM?
A: We will see Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) used more frequently in different parts of the process to communicate in ways where renders and drawings are insufficient. For example, customers may use VR/MR systems for design to show a client how the building will look in context, as well as inside, and contractors may use VR/AR to verify site conditions against design intent.
Furthermore, other technologies that will become more relevant include robotic 3D printing, an emphasis on high-performance buildings, as well as smart city initiatives.
The smart city initiatives strive for more livable cities, tackling challenges such as reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fostering economic growth, managing the effects of a changing climate and improving the delivery of city services.
In closing, the adoption of BIM standards and initiatives by governing bodies and industry organisations will drive the use of BIM further and further.
For most designers, BIM technology needs to adapt to the design process and not try to replace it. This adaption will greatly increase adoption and improve the benefits of BIM.
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