By Nick Harris
Over the Christmas break I have been thinking about some of the potentially big design technology trends that are coming our way in the year ahead. The cloud is now well established and trusted to host sensitive data and to allow collaboration between partners with varying levels of access. Furthermore, the ubiquity of the cloud, supported by almost unlimited processing power and data storage, means that it powers many of our day to day personal and work tasks. It gives us the freedom to try, and sometimes fail, at automating the most complex operations in the home and at work.
I believe that this is the year that some of the most sophisticated cloud-based technologies will be evaluated and adopted by a wider audience. Autodesk is already integrating some of this technology in its core products, especially BIM 360 and Fusion 360.
This is a very broad field but Anand Rajagopal, a Senior Data Scientist at Autodesk, puts it succinctly:
‘It is primarily concerned with getting computers to do tasks that would normally require human intelligence.’
He goes on to define two subsets of AI that apply to the work he is doing at Autodesk.
‘Machine learning is one such subset that deals with writing algorithms that allow computers to learn from data without being explicitly programmed.’
‘Deep learning can be considered a set of specialized techniques under the umbrella of machine learning that have really developed more recently. They are based on neural networks, a type of machine learning algorithm that simulates the neurons in the human brain. Deep learning has allowed several breakthroughs to be made in the fields of image and language processing allowing the possibility of advanced applications such as the home assistants and self-driving cars.’
The application of AI that is most available to Autodesk customers is Generative Design. It works for both construction and product design. In construction it is possible to provide a computer with real world data about the performance of existing buildings and then ask it to provide a group of options for a new building based on the required building characteristics. Based on the existing data and using building design algorithms for calculating the optimal energy performance, the computer should deliver the best possible design options. It is the same in the product design world and possibly a little more straightforward. With an engineering component it is possible to specify the design options based on geometry, material and other performance characteristics. Existing performance data is not required, though in some circumstances is useful.
To find out more about how Autodesk has integrated Generative Design in Fusion 360 click on the link below.
BIM 360 Construction IQ is currently at preview status. It uses the data collected from building site observations across multiple projects and the resulting issue resolutions to identify high risk areas in new and ongoing projects. The technology uses algorithms to sort through hundreds or thousands of project issues and categorise and prioritise the highest risk projects, subcontractors and issues that need attention each day. To find out more about this technology click on the link below.
Sophisticated Immersive Environments
Now that the developers of the big game development platforms have turned their highly agile attention to the design world, we will see an acceleration in the integration between industry specific design tools and game production environments. Unity announced the availability of its Reflect software at the end of last year. Unity says:
‘With one click, Unity Reflect brings multiple BIM models with all their metadata to real-time 3D and maintains a live link between them.’
We have seen plenty of other AR/VR BIM solutions appear over the last decade. Many are excellent, but the difference here is that Unity has developed a bridge to its world building environment where an unlimited set of custom rules can be used to drive the behaviour of the user once they start their experience. Different design options can be evaluated, metadata accessed and people behaviour analysed. I anticipate that we will see many new features being added to Reflect over the course of the year making it even easier for native Revit users to quickly produce highly impressive immersive environments. Look at the Reflect roadmap by clicking on the link below.
Design for Fabrication
Of course, no one produces designs that can’t be made or built. However, in some industries there is a disconnect between the engineer tasked with designing an amazing building or product and the one who must fabricate it. Autodesk is thinking about this problem too. In Manufacturing it has enabled the interchange of model data between Inventor and FeatureCAM, the software that is used to program the CNC machines that cut metal to produce parts, prototypes and volume product moulds. A design engineer can test that their design can be machined successfully long before the manufacturing design engineer finds problems. Similarly, with additive manufacturing the design model can constantly be checked for printability using Autodesk NetFabb. To learn more about Autodesk FeatureCAM, click on the link below.
In construction, factory production is becoming increasingly viable. Off-site fabrication has been a driving goal for many contractors installing HVAC equipment in large projects. It often makes most sense to bring prefabricated units to site rather than carry out dangerous cutting and welding operations in difficult conditions. Now, using technologies like Dynamo and Autodesk Civil 3D it is possible to create multiple variations of a component such as a bridge section based on the path of the bridge and design rules that control how each component varies. These components may then be fabricated in an on-site factory, to precise model dimensions. This is just one example of what is becoming known as a modern method of construction (MMC), a term you are likely to be hearing more frequently this year too. To find out more about Autodesk Dynamo for Civil 3D, click on the link below.
My advice for the year ahead is to start trying out some of these new technologies. Most of them offer time limited free trial periods that allow you to put together risk free pilot projects and evaluate their benefits for your business. Don’t be daunted by all the new terminology and choices that come your way once you start looking into the detail. Talk to your Cadline account manager about how we can help get you started.