Saturday, June 28, 2014

Why AECOsim?

Notes for Spanish Architecture students - 

Yeah, why AECOsim? Why do we need a new BIM architecture suite? We don’t have enough with those three, ArchiCAD, Revit and Allplan? Why on earth there is a new application laying around? Yeah, it is probably a new program that is trying to jump on the BIM bandwagon, now that everyone is talking about it.
BIM -a concept that hardly anyone knows what it is, here in Spanish speaking architecture communities, But, they say, BIM it's the future, it would lead us to a marvelous world full of job opportunities and, who knows, maybe even leads us to earn some money.

So it sounds like AECOsim Building Designer, whom nobody had heard of until a couple of years ago, must be something new that tries to get into the act of BIM and wants to take a chunk out of it. -
Let's try to clarify things.
AECOsim is an old pal
First. No one had heard anything about AECOsim until 2011... because it had another name before.
Bentley Architecture.
Well, okay, it is not a household name. But there it was, much like AECOsim, struggling around since 2004.
A couple of years before Revit was born, for example.
Ok, well, that’s not much, two years before Revit, bah.
But it had another name before... Bentley Triforma, born around 1996. And before that, it has another one, Brickworks... created around 1986.
Ok, that names are not very known either.
But a BIM app that comes from 1986 is another matter. 1986 is the year when, for example, first Graphisoft application, Radar CH, was renamed Archicad. The year when Allplan was created. CAD Prehistory.
It was also that year in which Argentina won the Football World Cup, Maradona and that 'Hand of God'. Golden years.
Anyway. The fact is that AECOsim is not newIt has ben growing throughout all history of BIM development.
I think that changing its name from time to time is not very commercial, really.
In fact, the name changes are so confusing that a lot of people here at Spain calls AECOsim "Bentley". No, that's the name of the company, Bentley Systems. Same as if we use "Autodesk" instead of Revit.
Anyway, I hope you all are totally confused by now.
Taking the long story short: AECOsim is a BIM application designed around 1986 by Bentley Systems Inc.
Ok. So AECOsim is laying around yonks ago and it deserves a little respect and all that -it´s an old boy. But once we accept it, what sense does it have to have this application around? We have said it before, BIM Spanish market has not enough with the three musketeers, Revit, ArchiCAD, and Allplan?
Bentley Brothers
I know, it sounds like a trio, a group of comedians, or something taken from a Dostoeivsky book (notice the cultural note). But the truth is that I am talking about the Bentley brothers (Keith, Greg, and Barry), founders of Bentley Systems, creators of AECOsim (formerly known as... etc, etc).
Back to the story. Around 1982, a man called Keith Bentley created a CAD app for a company called Intergraph. Same year that gave birth to AutoCAD and ArchiCAD, etc.
Intergraph -an engineering software company. This time we are talking about truly ancient times. Beatles' days. Its president started developing applications for Saturn rockets and Apollo capsules, those ones that went to the Moon. And Intergraph is still around, is a very well established company in the world of industrial plants. A mega company.
So Bentley created a CAD, MicroStation, for Intergraph.
Oh wait, MicroStation, I've heard about that. It's kind of AutoCAD, right?
The other CAD, MicroStation
Indeed, it is a kind of AutoCAD.
MicroStation is a generic 2D / 3D CAD, which allows to create all kind of technical drawings for any use you need. You can create elements, modify them, add dimensions, make plans and get them printed, all that stuff.
AutoCAD has its differences, of course.
For example, in AutoCAD to draw a line, you must press "LINE" (an icon with a line), and then "click" in the window to place the start of the line, and another "click" to place the end. There is also a text command for this, "LINE".
For example, in AutoCAD to draw a line, you must press "LINE" (an icon with a line), and then "click" in the window to place the start of the line, and another "click" to place the end. There is also a text command for this, "LINE"…
Ok, it´s obvious that two CAD programs that have same objectives are necessarily very similarAnd most of the objects are the same kind if not equal, they have the same commands, the way to place them is similar. When you know one of them, it is just a matter of some time to get used to the interface of the other one, to find where the button "line" is located, here or there.
Sometimes, there are rather funny differences. In AutoCAD, you can display a 3D model without the "hidden lines". In MicroStation, if you want to do the same thing, you have "to show only the visible edges."
Well, as usual, they use different file formats, DWG in AutoCAD, DGN in MicroStation. But in the end, their files contain very similar data - they are somehow condemned to understand themselves, so AutoCAD can open DGNs and MicroStation can use DWGs.
But there is a fundamental difference that came from the start, and it has influenced the evolution of both applications  and, consequently, the development of AECOsim.
"Because we came here to talk about AECOsim, right?" Be patient, I´m coming.
The nitty-gritty
The essential difference is that MicroStation DGN files are saved automatically (no need to File > Save), but AutoCAD DWGs are not (you have to File > Save).

"So, what's the big deal?
Indeed, it seems nothing. But it has traced an evolution path that curiously, ultimately, has determined the position of the two programs on the marketAnd accordingly, the two companies' paths, Bentley, and Autodesk.
Each time an item is created in MicroStation, it is written in the DGN file. Each new object causes the file to be overwritten again and again. Written in the pure and hard drive. Instead, AutoCAD loads the items in RAM memory and only writes the DWG when you decide to do it.
So? In AutoCAD a lot of RAM is used by items data, while in MicroStation RAM is more free. And therefore, it is more available for object creation, 3D modeling, view management,... ie, that means greater agility.
In short. From the beginning, MicroStation is much more operational for handling huge filesAnd I am not talking about some megas, I´m talking of some gigas. I have opened DGNs bigger than 100 Mb with MicroStation V8 2004 version on a 1GB netbook, and I have managed them with reasonable agility.
In fact, using federated reference files system you don´t have a real limit - In theory, you can reach over one terabyte projects (although you will need a very very strong set of computers...). 
Both programs have evolved and now the differences are not so huge. But that nuance made that Bentley customers tended to be those companies that handle AEC drawings made of large amount of dataWhat kind?
Industrial engineering companies, civil engineering, administration & surveying companies (and therefore municipalities)... that mean bridges, mining, railroads, process plants, subsurface utilities…
Not much architecture, it seems.
But hey, those ones are solid Bentley customers. They require strong support -'you had to always be at their service', but they buy and renew their licenses. And they still there... loyal customers.
MicroStation Market: few customers, they pay well. MicroStation is less known, but by 'large' customers.
Moreover, if you get MicroStation, you get into a kind of 'Bentley at your service' mode too.
Meanwhile, AutoCAD spread like wildfire to cover that "other" customers. They may not require such large file handling, but they are a lot of customers. A lot. Of customers.
So, AutoCAD market: many, many customers, but do not generate much money. And most of all, everyone knows AutoCAD, AutoCAD is 'the' CAD. If you think on CAD, first word that comes to you is Autoetcetera.
It might not have as strong support as Bentley has, but has at its disposal a key weapon -I call it "Wikipedia support ". That is, if something happens to you using AutoCAD, it has already happened to someone else, and someone more knows the solution that is waiting for you over there on Google.
But hey, we were not talking about AECOsim?
I'm coming, I'm coming.
Look. If I have been speaking about MicroStation is because AECOsim BIM is not a standalone applicationSimplifying a bit, AECOsim is an extension of MicroStation.
Something like Autodesk Architecture (ADT, yes, is still here) -MicroStation, that 2D / 3D CAD, is AECOsim's base app.
In fact, you can unload the discipline modules from within AECOsim, and you will get MicroStation with no string attached.
This has its little advantages. It lets you continue drawing with 2D or 3D CAD what you've created in AECOsim
And at the end, it also has a qualitative advantage, in my opinion. A personal opinion, more about BIM concept in itself.
For me, the one and only goal of BIM is Operation. Final building use. "Owner - Operator" phase.

AECO comes from 'Architecture', 'Engineering', 'Construction', 'Owner / Operator'), the four phases of the creation and operation of a building. 

"Ah, ok!" 

BIM has no sense if it is focused exclusively on architecture phase. Sorry to say, since I'm an architect and I really like to be one. 

But I have to admit that BIM is showing us here in Spain something that we all architects have always feared: the important thing is a fully functional building. 

A magnificent project does not justify that, at the end, the building does not meet the client needs. Even worse, a building that is not used at all. And if this happens, no, it´s not contractor´s fault (as we tend to say), but a bad process management. Not only partial, the overall management of all building process. From design to operation. 

And within this, unfortunately, the initial work of the architect is only a small part of the process. We are the first. But just in time. 
Say: two month for project phase, two month for structure and mechanical, twelve of building phase... and who knows, fifty years of operation. In months, 1200.
But we'll have a lot of time for talking about BIM.
I'm saying this because, in my opinion, AECOsim has a target market somehow different than the other three BIM apps it is associated with.
It is a suite of programs designed for the whole process AECO, created for a market of loyal MicroStation customers that need to work on large engineering-related building projects.
And not for that kind of architectural offices we are here used to.
For me, AECOsim is mainly focused on the 'EC' of the 'AECO'.
Put it another way, for me BIM is created for those who need to manage large architectural projects mostly developed at large engineering companies: buildings associated to civil works, plant engineering offices, large buildings where the design is much less binding than construction, large buildings cheking at contractor´s offices etc... 
Uncreative, anyway. Boring, maybe.
So what...
So what. But now we are looking for something, to get a jobWe are architects, many, many architects, and we want to work. And money, and that stuff. So, I´ll talk a little more seriously.
If we take a list of the 100 companies around the world that have most number of architects on staff, we´ll see that the vast majority are civil works engineering companies.
The first in this list is AECOM -I do not have it associated with the kind of architecture offices we are here used to, but has more than 1,300 architects on staff. Ugh.
Among the top 10 names there are IBI, Nikken Sekkei, Perkins, Stantec, Aedas... They don´t sound to me like architectural offices, may be they are, I admit I'm not very up to date on international market. The only company that really sounds architectural to me is Foster & Partners -located at number 10. They have nearly 700 architectsIt´s not small.
Well, the fact is that these top ten companies account for over a third of the total architects on staff on all that 100 -around 10,000.
Main Bentley client? AECOM.
Main architectural office using Bentley apps? Foster & Partners.
You see what I am talking about.
And what if I want to be creative...
Well, I think you have to look for something else. AECOsim does not help you to create too showy stuff.
Mm, wait a moment. It has a render module inside, called Luxology , that comes from modo (yes, lower case) -that´s a competitor of Maya, Maxwell and all that stuff. They have used modo recently for Ironman movie. And for Wall-e. Architecture at its best. 
That agility I was talking about before has allowed MicroStation to have from the origin a very powerful render core. There´s no need for an external app, you can create movies with actors traffic simulations... 
And also has a thing called Bentley Generative Components that... 
Well, that´s all, I´ll keep this for another time.


  1. And? Any conclusion? Want to move on on that discussion? As an Architect long. time connected to the Microstation family of products I may be very supportative if you want to know some other reasons to implement Aeco or even discuss Revit pros and cons. We need to keep that discussion alive. It is an invitation to bring new light on your post. Regards

  2. What conclusion? Do you mean who is going to win in this battle? I think the BIM concept in itself leads to a no winnner at all (and perharps that´s the reason because coordinator tools like ProjectWise seems to have such strength).

    ArchiCAD? Seems to be good for European design architects. Allplan? It seems working good for European design-build architects or engineers. Revit? It seems very strong and easy for initial phases. AECOsim? It seems designed for engineers that need a good construction tool.

    But what´s the common point in that fast comparison? The verb: "seems". Any of these tools have to redesign its own place now. And I think that now that we are talking about full 'AECO' proccess and not only about 'AE' (or 'A') I think it´s mandatory to share and live together. What will you say if there in Dubai your collaborators use Revit? Convince them to switch to AECOsim?

    Two questions. Have you read my "ARC/hinese, ARK/orean" post in this blog? What do you think about it?

    And the other, why MicroStation is still alive if there is AutoCAD?


  3. I have the pleasure of working with a Microstation based Structural engineer, and a Bentley (yes multiple products) process engineer...

    I have AECOsim... It appears that at around 1.3GB of information there are serious stability issues... no-one at bentley nor the firms involved can stop this from happening.... Regardless of how 'Great' your software solution is, doesn't stop idiots from misunderstanding its capacity.... Fabrication level models are not yet supposed to be included in a large scale coordination project. This is the main reason for poor performance/stability...

    Navigator/AECOsim/Microstation are sooooooooooooooo slow when navigating a large model. the same model imported into navisworks performs like a breeze....

    Graphisoft re-wrote ArchiCAD's kernel a few years back to combat some legacy code issues. AECOsim (Microstation seems painfully sluggish, as does AutoCAD, old code struggling in a new world.

    I say out with the old, in with the new. Give me data driven models, not model driven data.

  4. AECOsim is pure rubbish! The most complicated software on the market! It can't handle simple things, like roof and handrail. Why is Bentley claiming that their AECOsim is a BIM package?
    If I am designing a handrail, and at a certain stage, I want to change the handrail it is not possible! I have to delete and redraw the path for the handrail??? Where is the easy part of it???
    Bentley's focus is on how difficult can we make the software not how easy.
    So people who say that AECOsim is better than other BIM packages need to wake up and check the other software first because it is obvious that they don't know what the other software can do and deliver.
    Last thing I would like to say, if AECOsim is BIM than I am President of the World!

  5. BIM is all about collaboration, and at the moment AECOsim does a beter job of this than most of its competitors with its association with ProjectWise. I've used Revit and frankly, it struggles with the big infrastructure projects I work on. Maybe that will change, but until it does I'll only work on smaller projects with it where sharing models with multiple disciplines isn't such a pain in the a***. And don't get me started on Autodesk's decision not to make the software backward compatible, forcing all users to upgrade yearly or get left behind.

  6. Very helpful. Thank you!

  7. Yes, very helpful! Thank you all.

  8. Revit was released in 2000