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Thread: BIM File Translation

  1. #1
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    Default BIM File Translation

    I will start off this thread with some funny stories to set the scene, so bear with me.

    I remember previous eras in CAD history when debate about file formats and file standards was 'white hot'. I remember when the old DOS 3DS format was considered a standard for translation between applications. I remember when DXF, drawing exchange format, was considered a standard for 2D CAD translation. DXF was a very painful 'lossy' translation process which many users of CAD applications had to go through, to communicate and collaborate.

    Young people nowadays would never believe these stories, but they are true. These are the hard and tough battles or skirmishes that computer aided design ploughed through in order to survive and prosper. Computer aided design has emerged from its bloody history with its reputation intact, and a lot stronger. But not without the battle scars to show.

    I remember when MicroStation J version 8.0 was released in 2002 and the big deal was, being able to work on a DWG file from within MicroStation J. Instantly all of my 'black art' knowledge for collaboration between AutoCAD and MicroStation became a valueless commodity. I was left feeling cheated and quite hollow inside.

    Such is the life and pain of a CAD manager. You struggle for so long to ring fence a monopoly on a small piece of esoteric knowledge, only to see your prestige evaporate as time and progress marches on. It is never fair when that happens. You have to experience it to know exactly what I mean.

    I remember one work flow I participated in, where we used DXF as a three dimensional file translation format. A FormZ 3D solid model was export as an large unwieldy DXF mesh, which contained the 'LAYER' information. That large DXF file could be imported into ArtLantis ray tracing rendering software, and saved in ArtLantis native format, which compressed it back down to manageable proportions. For those of you interested in my views about 'LAYERS' in computer aided design, I encourage you to visit this blog entry.

    In future, I will elaborate further and in more detail about the system employed at that multi-disciplinary organisation. The fact is, LAYERS as a concept had outstanding success in terms of the DXF file format. That is, in the old days when one CAD application had to collaborate with another. The LAYERS information in the DXF file format allowed for basic communication of intelligent information. LAYERS in a DXF file were like an ancient Hebrew text version of what is contained in today's BIM file format.

    But inside of an AutoCAD environment, LAYERS were of more limited value than many realised. Especially if you intended to collaborate across disciplines within the same organisation. I have learned that through tough experience.

    XREFs did succeed spectacularly well, where LAYERS never did. XREFs were a concept which had been embedded in MicroStation software for a lot longer, than in the AutoDesk equivalent. To this day, the reference file as a concept seems far more native to Bentley than it is to AutoDesk. Even though, both vendors have succeeded in providing the functionality.

    Though LAYERS and DXF file format served the CAD industry well in the early years, there were some noteable failures I remember. Disasters which seemed to forewarn of future challenges awaiting the CAD industry. When CAD finally broke through the mountain hill pass and spread down into the fertile valley that is 'building information modelling' and the IPD era.

    One funny experience I had over 10 years ago will serve to illustrate the point. We were invited to partake in a prestiguous national competition. A new county hall extension and renovation project for Cork city in Ireland. This story is something that experienced BIM users will probably cringe at, but relate to all the same.

    All invitees to the limited competition were issued with a 100MB Iomega Zip disk. Remember those? They usually had a sticker on them to say, please return this disk to so and so. I often wonder how many of those pigeon carriers of the construction industry made the round trip! On the Iomega Zip disk was a set of digital files to enable competitors to work on their entry.

    We didn't have a copy of AutoCAD in that workplace, so I proceeded to do the usual. I imported the DWG file from the zip disk. It would always come in as a 2D flattened CAD file, because we had some £500-00 CAD software in those days. From the 2D flattened CAD file, I would bring some kind of cleaned up version into FormZ to work on my model. I spent the next month creating a 3D site model in FormZ, with the existing buildings all carefully mocked up. I was quite pleased with my productivity for that month, until later something else happened.

    Having moved to different employment afterwards, I wanted to clean the zip disk and use it for something (maybe I was sending the pigeon back home). Something flashed in the back of my brain, so I decided to open the DWG file in an AutoCAD program. Wow! There in fully modelled 3D site model including existing buildings. The very same as I had worked up from scratch using FormZ. In other words, that work was available to all competition entrants pre-done. I had wasted the entire month for nothing.

    That experience sent a cold shiver down my spine. But it was a valuable lesson that I learned very early in my career. I often discussed it afterwards with fellow CAD users and they all agreed, this kind of thing should not happen. But often does.
    Last edited by garethace; 2010-06-05 at 03:34 PM.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: BIM File Translation

    I created this thread to facilitate some discussion and debate on the challenges we face in trying to get disparate BIM software applications to communicate with each other. I notice that AutoDesk have come some of the way, it releasing an 'exporter utility' for Navisworks file format. It enables many software such as Sketchup, 3DS MAX, ArchiCAD, MicroStation, Vectorworks and so on, to create files read-able by Navisworks. I also notice that ArchiCAD have released a import tool for Revit Structural to allow it to read ArchiCAD design files from architects.

    I can imagine this will become a major flashpoint area for a lot of BIM CAD managers around the world. It will lead to many innovative solutions, creativity and much, much heated debate into the small hours. It will no doubt lead to many crashed dreams also, as standards become more inter-operable, the 'dark arts' knowledge of some CAD professionals becomes commoditised. It is like a 'chicken and egg' situation. How much creativity of your own do you invest in resolving the BIM file translation problem. Or to what extent you do sit back and wait for the big vendors to come up with the answers. This is a perennial challenge for practitioners of the 'dark arts' of computer aided design.

    Much discussion which goes on at AUGI forums may revolve around AutoDesk Revit and Navisworks software. But what is happening in the wider industry, where many exotic and lawless tribes roam the planes? Two articles I read this morning from Upfront Ezine, do shed some light on the evolving landscape and power struggles that exist on today's map of the CAD world.

    Explaining BIM to Small Firms

    It is not good enough to translate files from Vectorworks and Revit into IFC for archival purposes; translation has the potential to create errors, and so the translated drawings must be checked; architects will have to become familiar with model validation as part of their customary coordination process.

    Archicad 14 Solves the BIM Roundtrip Problem

    For instance, it is common for architect to use the Slab tool to create false ceilings. (Slabs are considered load-bearing by IFC and ArchiCAD, but ceilings are not).

    The Cloud's Fundamental Flaw

    When the system crashed, we could only eye the red "System Down" light and hope the outage wouldn't last more than a half hour or so. And when we left, we couldn't take the data with us, except on a large tape reel that probably didn't work at the next place. (I have one, never reused.)

    Request for information - If there are any threads already existing on AUGI forums, which deal with this subject, why not post a link here?
    Last edited by garethace; 2010-06-06 at 12:46 PM.

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