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Sat 19 Aug 2006 04:00 AM

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Building in 5D with virtual revolution

Virtual building solutions are offering consultants and architects extra dimensions to work with during the design process. Zoe Naylor looks at the latest software solutions on the market that are aimed at streamlining the entire construction process.

|~|134prod200.gif|~|By employing virtual construction solutions, firms can link design, estimating, scheduling, procurement and site management all under one roof.|~|As construction projects become evermore demanding, so does the need for IT design software that can keep pace with fast track, complex jobs.

Model-based software is one rapidly growing area within the construction software industry. It essentially refers to the virtual construction of a building before it is actually built, and is a process used to help identify issues during the design and preconstruction phases.

By using this sophisticated technology, project managers and construction modellers can work with clients to deliver well-designed projects that are more predictable to build and less expensive to operate.

Graphisoft is one such model-based software supplier that is seeing an increasing demand for its products. Founded 22 years ago, the company develops a range of virtual building solutions for the construction sector.

Graphisoft’s Virtual Construction solution recently picked up a US-based construction award in recognition of being the first commercially available application to integrate the key processes required to successfully deliver construction projects to completion.

By linking design, estimating, scheduling, procurement and site management, Graphisoft claims its solutions can help reduce the cost of building projects and identify preconstruction issues.

“Graphisoft’s software and services are revolutionising the way construction professionals deliver projects,” says Dominic Gallello, CEO, Graphisoft.

“Our customers throughout the world are delivering major projects faster and with reduced costs. Owners, contractors and subcontractors have benefited tremendously from this new approach to planning and managing the construction process.”

According to Gallello, Graphisoft’s Virtual Construction solution transforms the entire construction process, from preconstruction planning and estimating right through to the work performed on site.

Distributed throughout the Middle East by supplier atOne, Graphisoft’s solution suite of technologies employs 3D modelling to virtually construct the project, which is associated with ‘schedule’ (4D) and ‘cost’ (5D) to provide accurate estimating quantities and to analyse alternative construction sequences.

It also allows entire construction teams to be informed of the cost and scheduling of a project by automatically updating the entire process, ultimately keeping projects on time and within budget.

Tekla is another company that is benefiting from the surge in demand for design software within the region’s construction industry. Developer of the Tekla Structures brand of software, the Finland-based firm supplies its 3D modelling, detailing and automated materials listing system to steel detailers and fabricators worldwide.

“Tekla Structures is an ideal solution for integrating the entire workflow from sales and bidding to detailing, engineering, fabrication and erection,” says Tahir Sharif, area director, Tekla. “Seamless integration with other project phases and other software enables all processes to work via a common platform.

“All structural information — regardless of material, location or project complexity — is now much easier to manage and share throughout the project lifecycle,’ adds Sharif.

One local firm that is investing heavily in this Tekla Structures system is UAE-based building and construction firm, Mammut Group. The building and construction company is adopting Tekla Structures in all its design and detailing processes for both precast and pre-engineered buildings (PEB).

After the software is fully in use within Mammut Group in 2007, the group will be the largest Tekla Structures user worldwide. Implementation has already begun, and after the first two months Mammut Building Systems has recorded an improved increase in throughput from engineering to production.

“With Tekla Structures we have open technology, ready for our PEB and precast needs, and it can be customised to adapt to the competitive demands of each project,” says Behzad Daniel Ferdows, president and CEO, Mammut Group.

“Tekla’s building information modelling [BIM] technology enables Mammut’s one model vision to be realised and to achieve a globally recognised market leader position in providing PEB and precast structures with state-of-the-art software,” adds Ferdows.

Another of the region’s major construction firms to adopt Tekla’s BIM solution is Saudi Arabia-based Zamil Steel Industries. Zamil’s Structural Steel Division (SSD) is the largest fabricator of steel in the GCC region and currently employs nearly 70 detailers and checkers at its offices in Dammam and Jordan.

The company has used Tekla Structures on a range of projects for over six years including support structures and platforms, buildings, bridges, walkways and dome structures. And according to Ahmed Taher, engineering supervisor, Zamil Steel, the initial change from traditional 2D drafting to 3D modelling was worth it as the company has been able to avoid errors in drawings — as well as increasing overall efficiency.

“We have increased revenues with the same amount of employees,” says Taher. “There has been a reduction in the engineering costs due to increase in efficiency, and reducing the drawing errors has reflected very positively in the company’s revenue.”

While the increased usage of design software brings with it numerous technical advantages, at the same time it is also prone to the global phenomenon of counterfeiting. It doesn’t stop at fake watches and computer games: The region’s construction industry is also reporting a surge in sub-standard products.

Much of this stems from the high costs associated with buying legally licensed computer software. Combine this with the low cost of cracking and replicating software and the result is a lucrative and thriving piracy market — despite the adoption of international treaties on copyrights and anti-piracy laws.

“Companies and even individuals face serious legal risks when employing illegal, pirated software,” says Erik De Keyser, founder and CEO of Belgian design software developer, BricsCad. “But with the high prices associated with buying or licensing software — especially in specialised industry segments such as building and construction — buying legal software becomes a major cost element.”

The high cost of licensed software has helped pave
the way for open source software applications i.e. software that is available under a copyright license that allows users to study, tweak, improve and redistribute it as a viable alternative.

Market surveys carried out by BricsCad show an increasing number of companies in the Middle East region are using pirated copies of the industry standard design software, AutoCAD, mainly due to its high cost.

According to De Keyser, this encouraged BricsCad to develop and upgrade its own BricsCad V7 software package — which it claims is a powerful and affordable alternative to AutoCAD — and make it available to regional markets.

The recent launch of BricsCad V7 in the Middle East market means that engineers, architects and design companies will now be able to legally own an effective alternative to the more expensive AutoCAD.

Distributed in the region by Tecnoserve, BricsCad V7 will sell for less than 10% of the price of AutoCAD. BricsCad uses AutoCAD DWG as its native drawing format and can read and write AutoCAD DWG directly without any conversion.

“We already have a number of users in the Middle East and their feedback has been very encouraging,” adds De Keyser.
So far, local BricsCad users include Dar Al-Handasah, Adnan Saffarini Engineering Consultant and National Petroleum Construction Company.

“BricsCad is seen as an ‘almost clone’ of AutoCAD and users
get the functionality they need for their work at a very favourable price. Users can continue working on drawings that were started in AutoCAD and freely exchange files with AutoCAD users.

“Not only that, the user interface is made in a way that a CAD operator trained on AutoCAD will fully master BricsCad after a few hours without any additional training,” adds De Keyser.

Delivering projects faster and at reduced cost are the watchwords of the construction industry worldwide. Rapid developments within the realm of IT design software mean that today’s architects, designers and engineers can adopt a more efficient approach to planning and managing the entire construction process.

But as with any type of software, there is always the threat of fake and substandard products entering the market —especially within the niche industry sectors of building design and construction.

How this will be resolved is anyone’s guess, but what is certain is that the high cost of purchasing legally licensed computer software will continue to be a major contributing factor to software piracy.||**||

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