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By Ralph Grabowski, October 9, 2013
Ralph Grabowski speaks with Keymark product manager Aaron Dietzen about the company's BuildEdge PLAN add-on for SketchUp users.
Ralph Grabowski: Keymark is a name that might not be familiar to some
in the CAD industry. Can you give us some background on your company?
Aaron Dietzen: Keymark is an almost-40-year-old software company that began by writing software to automate load-generation and member design for wood components, like prefabricated trusses and wall panels. A year ago, we sold the wood component design software to Simpson Strong-Tie.
Now Keymark focuses on building design for light-gauge steel buildings and on our BuildEdge line. See http://www.keymarkenterprises.com. We are based in Boulder, Colorado.
Grabowski: Where did the BuildEdge PLAN software come from?
Dietzen: We began about two years ago with the plan to take the smarts from our Keymark design software and to bring its automation to CAD users. As we looked into the CAD market, we realized that the act of creating a building model is a difficult process, with a long learning curve for most of the available software. Another issue we ran into immediately was that we found CAD software in general doesn't know what it's doing; all it knows about are lines and surfaces.
So, the idea behind BuildEdge is to create models quickly and easily. We boast a five- to ten-minute learning curve for most users. That's our focus for now, but at some point we plan to move towards automating framing, load development, and member sizing.
Grabowski: What about AutoCAD and its ObjectARX, or BIM software like
Revit? Surely this technology lets the CAD software know about intelligent
Dietzen: We looked at a lot of that stuff. The issue we faced was conforming to someone else's data; we have a lot of our own data from our 40 years experience. BIM [building information modeling] is all over the place. Because everyone has their own concept of BIM, they have their own solution but nobody has a complete solution.
We actually began with Revit's API [application programming interface], and had a hard time with it, because it is limited. It did not provide us with access to some of the data we needed, and it did not offer full access to the UI [user interface].
After releasing a plug-in for Revit that simplified the input of roof geometry, we instead looked at SketchUp. SketchUp has a very open API, but the data that SketchUp is concerned with is very simple: it works only with lines and surfaces. This is a great feature for SketchUp users, who want to draw whatever they want in 3D, but is limiting for anyone who wants to try to use it for BIM.
And so we are working with SketchUp from the ground up, first allowing users to make walls with door and window openings, and roofs and floors - the basic geometry of a building. We have discussed making some of what we do available in other programs, but for now we are committed to SketchUp. The company is very helpful and easy to work with.
Grabowski: Plus, they are located in the same city as you?
Dietzen: They just on the other side of Boulder from us.
Grabowski: So, is the BuildEdge software useful at this early stage?
Dietzen: Definitely. I can model a building in a half-hour instead of a day. Because the model is parametric, users can move entities around everything stays connected. This was my greatest frustration with SketchUp: when trying to modify a building model, I had to create groups and layers and work hard to keep pieces separated to make them editable after input. We definably plan to add to BuildEdge.
Grabowski: BuildEdge is $29 now; any plans to change the pricing?
Dietzen: Our goal with the low pricing is to get people using it so that we can get feedback. As the product manager, I can only make a software package that people want to use if customers are actually using it! The goal of BuildEdge is to create useable software that gets used. As major functions are added, the price will likely increase.
Grabowski: Are you able to tell me about your future plans for
Dietzen: Sure! We have another release planned for October, where we will be adding a number of functions, such as automatic input of walls, roofs and floors with a single click. While BuildEdge currently just punches holes in walls for doors and windows, with the next release, we will be placing dynamic components, windows that look like windows, and a half-dozen types of doors (such as swing and bi-fold).
BuildEdge is for conceptual modeling: get something on the screen with a minimal number of clicks. And so the primary aim is to reduce 20 clicks to a single click. When the user looks at the 3D model from the side, he still sees the lines that make up the surfaces. The next release cleans up models to hide lines that should be hidden.
We are polling users as much as possible to see what they want but for now a more complete architectural modeling tool. For instance, at our Web site we ask visitors, "What would you like to see next in BuildEdge PLAN?"
Grabowski: Is there number of licenses you can give us?
Dietzen: We have two versions. One is a free trial version with limited functions but no time limit; the other is the version we sell. Combining free and sold versions, we have 7,000 users as of August, 2012. That's one year after the initial launch.
Grabowski: Who might be the competitors to what you are doing?
Dietzen: There are some, but the advantage we have is that we are a professional software company. We employ user-based design, software testing, and so on to create something solid and easy to use.
There are many plug-ins for SketchUp written by users, and it is wonderful to have the user base making them.
Grabowski: Who do you see as the market for BuildEdge?
Dietzen: BuildEdge is for anyone who wants to draw a building or a piece of a building. This ranges from professional architects and home builders to someone who wants to model a shed for the backyard. In fact, some video game designers use BuildEdge to design buildings for inside their games.
We find that professionals are easier to reach, because they are often looking for new software, but we see a real opportunity for highly usable, low price software like ours in the consumer realm, as well.
|Ralph Grabowski, TenLinks managing editor, is one of the leading CAD journalists and authors, with over a 100 books and many hundreds of articles. His upFront.eZine may be the industry's longest running newsletter. Ralph holds a civil engineering degree. More...|