Architectural Software for Virtual Construction is Gaining Popularity
"Build it twice, once virtually in the computer and then physically in the real world" is an approach that is gradually gaining appeal among architects and structural engineers.
The Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry is often considered to be a late adopter of modern information technologies. Part of the reason may be that each architectural or civil work is a single unique "product", and therefore the benefits of automating certain design procedures may not be that rewarding as in the other engineering industries, such as automotive and mechanical, where many identical physical pieces are manufactured from a single design. But things may have started changing recently.
The current buzzword in the AEC community is Building Information Modeling (BIM). BIM software enables designers of the various building components (such as structural, electrical, water supply and wastewater disposal, ventilation, and architectural) to work on a single shared model of a building, which always represent the most current design. Coordination is greatly improved, because all possible conflicts (such as ventilation pipe running into the main structural column or beam) can be promptly identified and resolved. There is no more tedious and prone-to-error sharing of information between independent models or coordination of multiple 2D drawings.
The transition that is currently taking place is considered to be the same step forward as was the move from drafting boards to Computer Aided Design and Drafting (CADD).
The major players in the field of CADD software for AEC, Bentley and Autodesk, are heavily developing and promoting the BIM software. Along with many other players, they make the BIM technology possible by building upon open standards or formats for sharing information and data related to building design - one of the most popular formats is called Industry Foundation Classes (IFC).
The benefits of BIM software go far beyond the design stage. During construction, the entire erection sequence can be modeled in the computer before the structure is actually built. This can virtually eliminates any fit-up problems later on the construction site, as was reported on projects that had successfully used BIM. During the building operation, the BIM model can serve as a central database of all building components and facilitate maintenance. BIM model can be rendered in its actual surroundings. It is envisioned that the BIM concept could be extended to the entire city blocks, to encompass engineering utilities and networks. In connection with Geographic Information Systems (GIS), such as Google Maps, this would bring an almost revolutionary change to how engineers and architects work with information. Let's see what the future will bring!