Monday, December 29, 2014

BIM Viewers in the Cloud vs. PDF Spatial Re-constructors on Earth (Part 2 of the overdue PDF trilogy I promised some time ago)

The global AEC is swarming with BIM Viewers, any service provider dealing in Building Related Information appears to have a proprietary one on offer.
Some are better than others. Commonly they offer the ability to view BIM models of various origins, maybe combine them, rotate, zoom, filter information. Some have mark-up tools, others provide fancy gadgets for tracking model-revisions. The models are usually stored on remote servers, they live in the Cloud, so to speak.
While the intentions behind creating these digital spectacles are usually good, the self interest of the owners to get a larger market share combined with the genuine want to make the usually exclusive and elusive BIM outputs more accessible to the non-BIM literate, I can’t help but seeing them as ‘wasted efforts’.

In my experience, those AEC practitioners, that (for whatever reason) do decide to ‘suddenly’ get familiar with ‘a’ BIM originating software will always prefer the full software to a dumbed down viewer and will learn to use the ‘real’ thing as opposed to the somewhat idiot-proof substitute. The rest (majority) that are still doing fine in their careers even blatantly ignoring anything BIM, will stay ignorant to ‘viewers’ too, no matter how user-friendly they may become.

My view is that the ROI on any proprietary BIM viewer (apart from probably the absolute market leaders) is likely to be far too low and those engaging in the development and maintenance of these should think again about their investments and spend the efforts/money on something more worthwhile, instead.

For example, PDF Spatial Re-constructors.
These are 3D digital work environments where large numbers of PDF’s can be placed in for the purpose of reconstructing the physical environment they were originally created to describe. At a minimum they are able to accurately place PDF sheets within the digital environment, across 3 axes and to correct scales. The more advanced versions allow the users to spatially connect corresponding points within various sheets to create a digital mesh, approximating the end-(or originally documented) building. The really good ones are either synchronized within comprehensive modeling programs or offer a range of modeling tools to sculpture BIM ready models spatially tracing the PDFs.

I do not know of any comprehensive PDF Spatial Re-constructors available on the global AEC market at the moment. That fact by itself does not mean that they do not exist, i.e. are no tools to successfully combine lots of PDF’s (hundreds and thousands) into usable digital skeletons for BIM or other purposes.
The two BIM toolsets I’m reasonably familiar with, each have cracked parts of this problem, unfortunately neither is looking to be in much of a hurry to extend these, well established features into a comprehensive system.
GS’s ArchiCAD is pretty snazzy with large numbers of PDFs, able to bring them into the digital environment and manages these through nifty color/trace/slider options. It copes well with sizes and is very agile in handling them through all of its 2D views (plans, elevations, sections). It however offers not the same option for the 3D environment, falls short of making the PDF’s ‘dance’ in the real-imaginary-virtual world.
Autodesk’s Revit is pretty clumsy with PDF’s, the last time I looked at this issue, their import was still in a very around-about way. On the other hand, Revit will bring and manage DWG drawings well, including in 3D, resulting in very satisfying looking standing up ‘line section’ placed correctly within digital models.

Having got half way there, both of these companies are in good position to offer up a really useful PDF Spatial Re-constructor in the near future, should they decide to cater for this need. Alternatively, those that are struggling with making BIM-viewers built from scratch might also see some fantasy in going down this direction instead.

Admittedly this concept may not be as glamorous as the ‘full-on’ BIM likes to think of itself to be, it definitely has the potential to assist a large segment of AEC participants be more productive when reviewing drawing based building documentation.

Part 1: