By Stuart Tanfield
Autodesk is developing its cloud platform and associated portfolio of products at a rapid rate. The vast array of cloud-based applications provide some excellent capabilities for sharing for all sorts of users and organisations, both at a personal level as well as a collaborative team level. Understanding the right tool choice can be a little confusing, but drawing some clarity on these tools can offer some much needed assistance.
Storing data in the cloud has now become a widely accepted day to day activity. Autodesk has recognised that this once feared and unknown area of working in the cloud has become an acceptable part of a project lifecycle. Admittedly, I think there are still a few areas which require an amount of attention to understand the full implications around security, but Autodesk has a strong focus on this. That said, cloud-based collaboration is something I have seen a distinct increase in with our own customers.
Figure 1 A360 Viewer Interface
With the increased activity from Autodesk around its cloud offerings, this also brings an element of confusion as they have a full range of services in both A360 & BIM360. Due to the number of tools available and with many of them providing what appears on the surface to be the same functionality, it begged the question, what was going on? Initially, I was fairly confused but after taking a few moments to scour Autodesk’s sites, I quickly realised that we have some tools which have the benefit of looking and feeling similar, but in fact provide very different collaboration platforms.
As mentioned, removing the confusion around this is simple. Autodesk has a range of cloud services hosted on the A360 & BIM360 Platforms. For sharing of design files, there are a few which are of significant interest, amongst others I want to focus on: -
• A360 Viewer
Cloud based viewing of over 50 file types removing and incorporating a one-time communication tool.
• A360 Drive
Cloud-based sharing of files peer to peer. Providing full audit of activities on a folder based system.
• BIM360 Team and Fusion Team
Cloud-based file sharing supporting collaborative activities across all project stakeholders.
A360 viewer is a fast and easy way to view and access files through the cloud. This requires absolutely no software and is completely free. Simply navigate to the A360 viewer page and upload your file. After a short time, an email notification will confirm your file is ready to view, all without the need to install any native software.
Many users would see Autodesk TrueView as a staple part of their day to day work activities. If this is you, then A360 Viewer may well be a slicker, easier way to view your files and not just DWG’s, in fact over 50 different file formats including RVT, DWG, DWF.
Figure 2Model Viewing Capabilities
If you receive a number of files which contribute to a federated model, you can upload all the files and the viewer will maintain the links in order to display the file(s) correctly. Uploading any Revit model will automatically extract any sheets hosted in the file. The same principles apply for uploading an AutoCAD file with multiple tabs. In addition to providing file viewing capabilities, A360 Viewer also delivers the ability to host a Live Sharing Session. Gone are the days of trying to describe over the phone the area of focus in a manner which can only be likened to Battleships! This neat facility will give each participant the capability to navigate around the file whilst reflecting the screen position on other user’s devices. Using this in combination with the commenting tool and communications become significantly easier than the traditional methods we may have become accustomed to.
In addition, nice features including sectioning, element properties are viewable, and background colour option of black or white offers users an environment they may be more familiar with. This is a fantastic tool if you often receive design files that you need to view or interrogate, but not necessarily edit.
Whilst A360 Viewer can act as a one-time tool for quick communications, A360 Drive requires an Autodesk ID to sign in. This also means all activities are saved and tracked throughout. Each Autodesk ID carries 5gb of storage, so really supports file sharing at an individual level. Inviting other users or friends to view your files can be controlled. Access rights are issued at the same time as the sharing of the file. Here users can decide whether they want the recipient to view, view & download, download & update or have full access rights to the file. Once a design file is opened, Drive offers sectioning capabilities for closer interrogation of model geometry.
Figure 3 A360 Drive Section Tool
Tracking of files also extends to versioning. Multiple versions can be accessed through the application, enabling users to quickly confirming any previous design iterations. Typically, amongst others, Dropbox is used for this sort of sharing, but the restriction is viewing the file, here we can view the files directly within the application reducing the need to install software directly onto any workstation.
BIM 360 Team
Previously known as A360 Team, this has now been rebranded as BIM360 Team. This takes our A360 Drive concept and scales this up to enable file sharing on a project level.
Sharing files with multiple users whilst also including some additional features, BIM360 Team is now currently being offered for free alongside the purchase of any Autodesk Collection. If this is something you have been thinking about, then this is the time to move.
Creating favourite projects by pinning them makes frequently accessed projects easy to locate. Taking ownership of a project(s) allows the administrator to invite other users. Advancements beyond A360 Drive include the capabilities to add mark-ups. These mark-ups can be utilised in conjunction with the drop pin function. This supports both element level and area level attachments. All pins within the file are neatly stored in the comments areas for review.
Figure 5. Pins Identify Areas or Elements for Discussion
Finally, looking at the project in an overview area extracts each induvial sheet in an easy to view thumbnail, making identification of the desired sheet quick and easy.
Overall, there are a number of options available for the sharing of files, dependent upon what you are required to achieve thereafter will lead you to a decision on the most suitable 360 platforms. All the technologies discussed here support file sharing right from entry level through to project level sharing.
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