‘Scan-to-BIM will become a reality in 3-5 years’

‘Scan-to-BIM will become a reality in 3-5 years’

Amar Hanspal
Amar Hanspal

Senior Vice President
IPG Product Group

The common thing between GIS and BIM is the ‘I (information)’, where one explains where things are and the other explains how things can be built and they both have spatial context, explains Amar Hanspal, Senior Vice President, IPG Product Group, Autodesk.

BIM+geospatial together facilitate not only design but also the context and the combination is a great enabler. Autodesk’s Infraworks seems to be focussed on this. Your comment?

Our thinking has evolved to a point where we see GIS as a key enabling block for making BIM-for-infrastructure possible. When we talk about ‘design in context’, it is knowing where everything is, knowing what the constraints/regulations are, what the environmental conditions are, knowing what the codes are so one could do procedural designs, certain types of turn radii that need to be factored in. The fact that it is a digital model, it fits very well with the concept of BIM because the common thing between GIS and BIM is ‘I’ (information). One explains where things are and the other explains how things are to be built and they are both spatial in nature.

Do you think the concept of BIM would become much more general so that people would start applying it within the context of manufacturing and other sectors or would that be the other way around? In the initial years of technology evolution, people used drawings, which then moved to 3D modelling. Currently, stateof- the-art in manufacturing represents the concept of digital prototypes. BIM is the digital version of a physical object. Parameterised BIM models can do performance modelling over the full lifecycle of a building. Manufacturing sector calls it PLM and we call it BIM, and both are the state-ofthe- art for the industry. Describing the building in the form of algorithms and letting the computer actually generate the BIM model is the next level of technology evolution.

Model of Los Angeles created using Autodesk InfraWorks 360, to visually explain how things can be built within the context of what is real.

Are hardcore architects and structural engineers insisting on developing tools that use real world coordinate systems because context is essential for design?

For large-scale infrastructure projects like stadiums, townships and urban scale projects, we do get such demands. For a new auditorium or a five-storey residential building, it makes sense to use real-world coordinates but I have no evidence to show that people are demanding for it. This could happen in the long term as the Internet of Things catches up, and buildings and smart buildings start creating more pressure to have their BIM know more about the context of the building.

The City of Milan, Italy recently used point cloud data to generate a 3D digital model of an 18th century theatre slated for renovation

Architects and structural engineers have their own tools and prefer working in silos. Is Autodesk bridging that gap and promoting convergence?

It is definitely starting to change, and two-three things are driving that change. One, construction industry is starting to embrace more and more manufacturing techniques. Lean construction is inspired by lean manufacturing. Concepts like pre-fabrication, 3D printing and other manufacturing techniques are being embraced by construction industry to increase efficiency. So, construction is starting to use words like assembly, sub-assembly, modules etc. This is one area which is converging.

Even at the software level, service-oriented architectures (SOA) in the cloud environment make it much more possible for one to mix and match software. If someone is designing a structure or designing a piping environment and needs a piece of equipment to be designed, that equipment design process could use an editing experience and they do not have to leave their actual environment. This kind of technology substrate is creating cross-over experiences. I also think the next generation users do not think in silos. The problems the industry is ridden with last 30 years have been created by silos. GIS and engineering industries used to work in silos and that is where the inefficiency lies. As projects become more complex, this approach does not really work.

A good example of today’s energy modeling capabilities can be found in such tools as the Daylighting Plug-in for Autodesk Revit software which analyses the entire model using Autodesk’s 360 Rendering cloud service in a matter of minutes

For these domains to work together there are a couple of important requisites. First, there is a need for vendors to play better together. For example, one needs several intermediate formats to make Tekla read Revit data, thus making the whole thing cumbersome. We should just license each other’s libraries. We have done that with Bentley and a few mechanical CAD vendors, and would be happy to do it with others. Today, we can read Bentley BIM directly and vice versa and this is the right thing from a user perspective. Secondly, it is important to have standards. Two hundred years later when none of us are around, if a building needs to be maintained, the data needs to be expressed so that something can read it. Standards are very important for this purpose.

The industry has excellent products for designing new buildings but creating a model of an existing building by scanning it is still a challenge. Is this an area of focus for Autodesk?

For the past three-four years, Autodesk has been investing heavily into reality computing, which is a combination of LiDAR, photogrammetry and other sensing technologies to capture the real world as digital information on the basis of which one can make decisions. The first step for us has been to give ‘information’ the status of a first class citizen inside our design applications. Until recently, point clouds were orphans but today Revit and InfraWorks use point clouds fluidly and facilitate high performance. The next level up is feature recognition to enable tasks like energy analysis, material substitution and quantity take-off. We acquired a GIS and engineering industries used to work in silos and that is where the inefficiency lies. As projects become more complex, this approach does not work The City of Milan, Italy recently used point cloud data to generate a 3D digital model of an 18th century theatre slated for company called Allpoints Systems which had infrastructure– based perception engines. These will start showing up in our products. Scan-to-BIM will become a reality in the next three to five years, which we call reality computing. We will scan into BIM so that it is part of the BIM model and turning it into real first class object is the next frontier for us. We are trying to work with new hardware manufactures and give them more of a real-time computing experience and be able to have their information move directly in to the engineering context. A lot of experimentation is going on right now and I do not think it is converging into a pattern just yet. It is definitely receiving a number of hardware experiments that people are carrying like UAVs, handheld scanners, extensions to tablet etc.

One of the trends that is catching up is modelling for the full lifecycle of infrastructure including construction, operations and maintenance (O&M). Is it within the vision of Autodesk that Revit models could start playing a critical role in O&M?

Yes. What we need for that vision to really pay off are the owners who have their skin in the game, and in this case they are the construction companies. There was a time when architecture and engineering professionals were the BIM proponents but now contractors are driving it as they started embracing lean manufacturing concepts. If you look at the economics, about 70% of the cost of a building is in the operations phase and a lot of it is in energy use and maintenance. If BIM can be used to drive these costs down, the pay-off is tremendous. It is within our vision to achieve that and we are looking for a few visionary owners with whom we can work to achieve this.

Is there an opportunity for facilities management (FM) vendors to work together with BIM vendors like Autodesk and Bentley or is it only going to be an owner play?

Today, the world is getting more and more digital and physical goods are becoming digital goods. Buildings are physical objects too and once they get into the Internet of Things, they start becoming more digital because they will continually output information and that will create the ultimate driver. It gives the owner the ability to know what is going on. We have a digital model against which they can compute and A good example of today’s energy modeling capabilities can be found in such tools as the Daylighting Plug-in for Autodesk Revit software which analyses the entire model using Autodesk’s 360 Rendering cloud service in a matter of minutes calibrate and take some real time decisions. That is where the payoff lies.

For example, buildings today do not know when to switch on/off lights or air conditioning based on the occupancy of the rooms. If they start using a smart thermostat which adjusts the lighting and heating based on the occupancy and is cloud connected, power can be saved and that is where the future of smart buildings lie. Companies like IBM and Cisco can get into the data centre of the building and use the Internet of Things to analyse the data. Our specific value-add is to understand the digital model of the building and do a cross correlation between the two.

Is energy modelling a big area for Autodesk?

Energy analysis is still in its infancy. There is a divide between people who want to do a very quick estimate and people who want to do detailed analysis. We have been improving the analytical model in Revit and today energy calculations on Revit are way more accurate than they have ever been. Now, our work is to speed up things on energy analysis. The EnergyPlus analysis engine has been converted into programming language ‘C++’ and is available in open source. We will continue to enhance that and use the cloud to speed up the results so that people can do quick analysis. The US Department of Energy describes EnergyPlus as a code that lets you know ‘what if’ scenarios and combine and solve multiple variables. Autodesk has acquired start-up companies like Pixlr (online photo editing service) and Socialcam (mobile social video service). Is Autodesk moving into consumer space or is it acquiring such technology because consumer idea is driving everybody’s IT these days? About 95% of Autodesk is focussed on B2B applications, be it AEC, manufacturing, film and games. The consumer market started off as an inverse experiment. We started off with the idea that any IP developed for businesses can be used for consumers and vice versa. SketchBook was the first experiment in this regard. We thought professionals can also use and work on the applications like Pixlr or Socialcam. So, we started off with the professional segment, moved into consumer space, which again fed the professional segment. This cycle keeps us alive. This is not a revenue driver for us, but is adds to our learning. To some extent, we do get new customers and next-generation customers like students and supports our branding activity.

Autodesk is seeking to inspire the business use of applications initially developed for consumers, such as Autodesk SketchBook for mobile devices.

Initiatives like the Maker and Instructables are encouraging do-it-yourself (DIY) culture. Will this trend have implications for professionals in manufacturing and construction?

The Maker trend is the fundamental change happening in how products are made. We are already seeing this trend in consumer devices. For instance, the famous Pebble Watch, jewellery, prosthetics, casts etc are being developed using the Maker methods.

The cost of developing an enterprise-class application for us was $12-15 million in the year 2000. Today, that would cost only $50,000. So the cost of developing software dropped dramatically and app stores are providing low and inexpensive way to get the software to the market, reducing my sales and marketing costs. I have a different challenge on how to get my app found on the app store, but that is a digital challenge. A parallel thing is starting to happen in the manufacturing world. On the one side, we have virtual markets like eBay, where one can buy all the products. On the other hand, the means of manufacturing have become cheap as one can go to the local tech shop or 3D print or find people who do shortterm manufacturing. So, instead of having a factory, you just can use these means, reducing the cost. So just like Maker, one can come in the middle with an idea and intermediate between the customer and the manufacturing shop. The Maker movement inspired the creation of infrastructure like Etsy, Kickstarter and many tech shops. Now that infrastructure is being used to generate real products and there are more hardware start-ups today than ever before, so there are incubators that are building hardware.

Manufacturing is leading the way in this, construction will definitely follow. Right now, construction is not following the Maker trend as much as lean manufacturing is, which is the last step of industrial revolution version of manufacturing. But in the long run, it will.