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BuildEdge Plan 2.0 Review

By Rande Robinson, November 5, 2013

BuildEdge Plan from Keymark is new software that draws 3D walls, doors, floors, windows and roofs parametrically in SketchUp. One of the most interesting features of SketchUp is its use of plug-ins to add capabilities and enhance existing ones. I figured reviewing BuildEdge Plan was a great chance to check out how SketchUp handles plug-ins.

(SketchUp is a 3D modeling program that is popular because it is relatively simple to use. Originally developed by @Last Software, it became free in 2006 after Google bought it, and then more recently it was bought by Trimble. The free version is now known as SketchUp Make, while SketchUp Pro costs $495 upfront, plus a recurring maintenance fee.)

Purchasing and Installation

Before I could test BuildEdge, however, I needed a copy of SketchUp. Easy enough to go to www.sketchup.com, answer a few questions, and then download a copy. Then I was off to the BuildEdge Web site, but this proved to be a touch more difficult than getting SketchUp.

There is a free version of BuildEdge with limited functionality, though I didn't find it on the company's Web site. Instead, it is available through SketchUp Extension Warehouse (extensions.sketchup.com), which is Trimble's version of an app store.

The commercial version is $29, which might seem expensive in today's app-centric world. But in the CAD world this is about as close to free as we are going get. (Spoiler alert: I found the software well worth the $29.)

Within minutes of ordering BuildEdge, I received an email with installation instructions, activation key, and a download link. (Make sure SketchUp is not running; run the BuildEdge installer, and only then open SketchUp.) Other than being a bit dated (it made references to SketchUp 8 instead of SketchUp 2013 Pro or Make), the installation went off without a hitch.

When I opened up SketchUp, I saw BuildEdge PLAN as one of the available plugins (see figure 1).

Figure 1: BuildEdge added to SketchUp's menu

Figure 2: BuildEdge's initial dialog box inside a new SketchUp drawing

I selected BuildEdge Plan from the menu, which opened the BuildEdge Plan dialog box inside SketchUp. I encountered no problems with this 3rd party application. It means the developer took that extra step to ensure things work properly.

Modeling with BuildEdge

BuildEdge's purpose is to let us draw walls, doors, floors, windows and roofs in three dimensions, easily, and with parametrics that remembers sizes, positions, and physical attributes. To draw, I selected the icon that represented walls, doors, floors, or roofs from the BuildEdge dialog box (see figure 3). Each has its own set of parameters, such as height and width.

Figure 3a: Dialog boxes for creating walls and doors

Figure 3b: Dialog boxes for creating  floors and roofs

I filled in a few properties, and then placed the objects. The dialog boxes have a consistent layout and are pretty much self-explanatory. The wall, door, and floor dialog boxes are easy to use, and I feel anyone could use them immediately. The roof generator dialog box, however, is a bit more difficult due to the many options we have to enter. But a little trial and error, and then it is pretty easy to produce a nice roof. I found it helpful to look at the tutorial videos on the BuildEdge Web site.

Typical Run-through

Let me walk you through a brief tutorial in using BuildEdge with SketchUp.

  1. To draw a wall, select the Wall icon from the dialog box.
  2. Fill in information about the wall, such as its thickness (see left side of figure 4).

Figure 4: Placing the first wall with BuildEdge

  1. Start drawing with SketchUp's drawing tool. Notice the grey shadow that appears where you place the wall (see right side of figure 4).
  2. Issue mouse clicks to tell BuildEdge where the wall starts and stops. You now have the first wall (see figure 5).

Figure 5: First wall is in place

  1. Now continue the remaining drawing walls to your heart's content (see figure 6).

Figure 6: Four walls finished

To add doors and windows, follow the same basic procedure:

  1. In the Wall Opening dialog box, fill in properties. For instance, to insert a door, choose Door, and then specify its size (see right side of figure 7). The same dialog box is used to place windows.
  2. Choose the wall in which to place the door (see left side of figure 7).

Figure 7: Placing a door in a wall

  1. Use the same procedure to add other doors and more windows (see figure 8).

Figure 8: Walls with doors and windows added

Finally, draw the roof.

  1. Fill in the necessary data in the roof dialog box (see left side of figure 9). You can choose from roof type, overhang distance, and so on.
  2. Outline the area along the top of the walls the roof will cover (see right side of figure 9).

Figure 9: Outlining the location of the roof

  1. To accept the proposed roof, click the check mark in the roof dialog box (on the right, near the top). BuildEdge instructs SketchUp to draw the roof (see figure 10).

Figure 10: Finished house with shaded style turned on

That's it. The only SketchUp commands that are needed then are view manipulation commands to move the view around the drawing, as well as the styles commands to turn the various view types on and off. It is that simple. BuildEdge will allow you to produce a layout and create anything from a simple shed to larger buildings quickly and efficiently.

Editing SketchUp Models Parametrically

The drawback to the simple 3D modeling approach used by SketchUp is that its models are dumb. Editing them is not like the 3D CAD systems some of us are used to. While it may seem awkward to use BuildEdge to place building elements, you'll greatly appreciate them when it comes to editing.

If you don't like the model you created, then change its elements using BuildEdge's parametric properties. I found it easy to move, edit, and delete doors and windows, and so on. Here are some of the editing tasks that I was able to perform.

Removing Doors and Windows

To delete an opening, I took these steps:

  1. I bought up the Wall dialog box, and then clicked the Select Wall Opening icon; it's the one that looks like an arrow (see figure 11).

Figure 11: Use the arrow icon to choose elements to edit

  1. I chose the opening I wanted to delete. BuildEdge gets SketchUp to highlight the selected opening; this acts as a confirmation that the correct opening is being removed.
  2. Finally, I selected the Trash Can icon to remove it (see figure 12).

Figure 12: Clicking the Trash Can to delete selected elements

Relocating Doors and Windows. Moving openings is easier; here's how:

  1. I selected the Move Wall Opening icon from the dialog box, and then chose the opening. The opening is highlighted (see figure 13).

Figure 13: With the opening selected, choosing the Move Wall Opening command

  1. I then dragged the opening to its new location in the wall. That's it! (see figure 14).

Figure 14: Moving windows, one at a time

I found some limitations, unfortunately. BuildEdge only moves one object at a time; it does not allow me to select (and move) more than one. Another limitation is that other openings do not move in relation to the one I chose.

Modifying Doors and Windows. To modify an opening, I took these steps:

  1. I selected the door or window (see figure 15).

Figure 15: Choosing a door to modify

  1. I made the necessary changes to the properties in the BuildEdge dialog box. There are a number of door and window types available through BuildEdge (see figure 16).

Figure 16: Changing the properties of the opening

  1. Finally, I clicked on the Apply Changes button. The modified door is shown in figure 17, where I made it wider.

Figure 17: Door made wider

I noted earlier that when I moved or changed a door or window, its movement did not affect other openings present on the wall. I wanted to find out what would happen when I moved an entire wall. Well, it turned out that I needed to use SketchUp's select and move commands - unlike moving just a window or door.

  1. First, I chose the wall using the SketchUp's Select tool (see figure 18).

Figure 18: After enabling the Select tool on SketchUp's toolbar, choose the wall to move

  1. Then I used SketchUp's Move command to move the wall in the direction I wanted (see figure 19).

Figure 19: Moving the wall

  1. Finally, I left-clicked the mouse to accept the new location and place the wall (see figure 20).

Figure 20: Walls and roof moved to new position, but not the slab

The wall moved to the new position, and BuildEdge instructed the roof and connected walls to move along.

However, I found some more limitations. One was that the floor slab does not move with the wall; I would have to stretch the floor separately. The other limitation was that I could not change the heights of walls.

Modifying Roofs. The roof is modified similarly, but when working with the roof only it is affected.

Committing Edits. Once I was satisfied with all my edits, I committed them to SketchUp. This step removes all BuildEdge parametric data from the model! The BuildEdge Web site recommends that we take this step, because the information BuildEdge adds to the model could interfere with certain tools in SketchUp.

Keep in mind what this means: all additional modifications have to be made with SketchUp, because BuildEdge commands only work with only with models built by BuildEdge. The limitation also works the other way one: we cannot use BuildEdge to modify or edit existing SketchUp models.

Conclusion

Who could use BuildEdge? Just about anyone, I figure. I could see weekend hobbyists creating models to place in Google Earth. Or interior designers explaining to clients what they are thinking. Whoever the users, they have to keep in mind that SketchUp-BuildEdge works with simple 3D objects; there are no doors or windows, only openings. (According the BuildEdge blog, however, they plan to add them with the next release). And adding extras like doors, shingles, and bricks needs at this time to be done with SketchUp or another plug-in.

One issue I had was that there isn't much documentation for BuildEdge, other than installation instructions. I could find no hardcopy documents on how to use the product. The BuildEdge Web site has a simple manual in HTML (which would be better in PDF), and a half dozen useful tutorials that I found very useful in getting started. I'd like to see in-depth information on how to use the roof tools more efficiently, such as videos on how to create different roof types. (Keymark notes that a new release of the software is due soon, and will include a PDF user manual and rewritten help and video tutorials.)

The bottom line is that if you need to create 3D buildings with SketchUp, then I seriously recommend that you take a look at the BuildEdge plug-in. BuildEdge does what it says it will, does so easily, is not expensive, and comes with a 30-day money back guarantee. You can't ask for more than that in a program.

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Additional Information

http://www.buildedge.com

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About the Author

Rande Robinson has over 24 years of experience in IT, construction, bridge and roadway engineering with 2 state departments of transportation and several community colleges. He trains and supports users with engineering and design applications. Rande holds a civil engineering degree and has written several articles on the use of IT in engineering. Moreā€¦

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