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Virtual Construction

reprinted by permission of Ralph Grabowski, editor

November 10, 2004

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Graphisoft is looking for a growth strategy. They've got their CAD software (ArchiCAD) and FM software (facilities management), and they've dabbled in other areas, like supporting Autodesk's IFC (industry foundation classes) for exchanging AEC models between software packages. Graphisoft's Clay Freeman called last week to tell us that his company thinks it's found a big winner: virtual construction. It fits nicely between their CAD (design) and FM (operations) software.

Virtual construction software looks a lot like CAD, but the approach is different: the software determines how best to construct buildings. This isn't the kind of software that a CAD vendor cooks up at an off-site skunkworks; it needs to be created by the people doing the constructing. On their own, several mammoth construction companies have written software that helps them figure out how best to build a building.

The problem is not trivial:

  • Constructability Analysis - create a model as it would be built.
  • Properties - estimating the material, equipment, and manpower.

Alternate sequences

The idea is to provide the details needed for construction, not design. For example, a CAD drawing doesn't have to show all the rebar inside concrete slabs; construction software does. But how is construction data displayed?

One way is by "construction zones" - as opposed to layers, sheets and other groupings used by pure CAD programs.

All this is to pre-announce the launch of new software - Constructor 2005 (US$6,000) and Estimator 2005 (US$4,000) - and a new service, Construction Services to help transition firms from old to new, to be available in December. The software includes ArchiCAD CAD software, but uses links to third-party scheduling software. Next year, Graphisoft hopes to add change management to the software. The cost savings may be only 2 to 3%, Graphisoft hazards to guess, but the time savings may be more significant.

Graphisoft got their software from YIT, a Finnish construction company. Their BOMs (bills of material) are 99.5% accurate. I asked how transferable Finnish-developed software is to other countries and jurisdictions. Mr. Freeman said that large companies have their own cost data, which they import into the software.

A new class of software means a new class of software operator. Mr. Freeman noted that companies cannot hire stock CAD operators fresh out of community college CAD classes. Instead, this software is to be used by mature operators with experience in construction.

As far as Graphisoft knows, they are the first to integrate CAD with constructability software in the AEC world.

About the Author

Ralph Grabowski is an editor at upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. (previously known as XYZ Publishing, Ltd.). Ralph is the author of 60 books and several hundred articles for dozens magazines and newsletters about CAD, graphics, and the Internet.

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