by Dan Roberts
Bricsys has a really good story to tell about its BIM solutions and its vision of a workflow based around the .dwg format is compelling.
The ability to produce a conceptual design, import it directly into BricsCAD for detailed design and then ‘BIMIFY’ it to produce a full-blown BIM model should be simple enough to convince many of the BIM sceptics.
There were plenty of time-saving features too, including leveraging Artificial Intelligence to identify similar features to copy detailed designs onto.
At a purely product level, the developments are enough to make leading AEC vendors sit up and take notice.
But the big announcement at Bricsys 2018 has the potential to be even more disruptive to the AEC market. The acquisition by Hexagon pairs the Bricsys BIM vision with Hexagon’s much larger sales and marketing resources. There is no doubt that over the next few years, more potential customers will have heard of BricsCAD than ever have before.
Over the last few years, Bricsys has invested a lot of its resources into R&D – around 46%. This investment has resulted in some impressive technical developments, but the lack of focus on sales and marketing has meant that Bricsys is not in a position to leverage the new technology to grow significantly.
Also, the acquisition by such a big player immediately removes some of the sales objections – particularly that of longevity As part of Hexagon, Bricsys is not going away. The ability to challenge Autodesk – the main Bricsys competitor in its primary AEC market – is greatly enhanced by being part of a larger organisation.
From Hexagon’s point of view, the acquisition makes sense just to secure access to platform technology for its CADWorx line. Indeed, simply migrating the CADWorx base from AutoCAD to BricsCAD may well justify the acquisition on its own.
For Hexagon, the ability to offer customers a perpetual license was crucial. Some CADWorx-designed plant may be operational for 40 years. Not having access to the design data would be a disaster, so dependency on third-party software was a risk. Now that it has control over BricsCAD, it can offer perpetual licensing to reassure customers their data will be supported for the long term
Hexagon and Bricsys have ambitious goals for this tie-up. According to the press briefing from Erik de Keyser and Rick Allen, they want to have “substantial market share within 2-3 years”. When pressed for what ‘substantial’ means, they mentioned a figure of 25%.
How will they get to 25% BIM market share? They intend to target the reported 84% of AEC users that have no BIM solution yet. They believe that by giving users a compelling reason to switch, making it easy to do so and offering a less expensive option, a good proportion of the 84% will be persuaded to move to Bricsys BIM.
The challenge will be to get market share outside of the European Bricsys heartland. Also, it’s not just the leading BIM players like Autodesk and Bentley to contend with, but companies like Nemetschek and the local heroes in the DWG space, like ZWCAD and IntelliCAD-based products.
Focus on Buildings not just Plant
How this acquisition is managed is crucial to the success or otherwise. From a Bricsys point of view, it needs a greatly enhanced level of sales and marketing support. Importantly, this must encompass the whole range of customers that Bricsys target, even though that isn’t necessarily in Hexagon’s comfort zone. As I mentioned earlier, there may be a temptation for Hexagon to concentrate on the CADWorx user base for quick wins; what Bricsys needs is a focus on Construction of Buildings.
Erik de Keyser has stated his intention to remain with the company. This is important, since his vision for the product and experience of the market that Bricsys targets will be crucial over the coming months.
It’s also important to keep the product development running – Hexagon’s choice of BricsCAD as a CADWorx platform differentiates Bricsys in the AutoCAD-workalike market, but the increasingly crowded BIM market needs a strong product development drive.
Erik de Keyser’s mantras
In his keynote speech, Erik de Keyser detailed the principles that drives his decision-making within Bricsys:
- Dare to rethink everything every day
This is the overriding principle – just because it’s worked before, doesn’t mean it’s always going to be right. It also means that products are never ‘finished’ – development is always on-going.
- Less is more
This was the motto adopted by Mies van der Rohe to refer to his minimalist aesthetics. For Bricsys, it means a need for simplification in the user interface. There have been 36 years of adding functionality to the classic DWG user interface and adding 3D capabilities just makes things even more complex. So the BricsCAD user interface is being simplified, whilst still being familiar. The plan is not to need 250 training videos.
- God is in the details
This is another Mies van der Rohe saying. Erik de Keyser mixes it with Jim Eyre’s philosophy that you ‘need to think in 3D’.
So for BIM detailing, that means that every solution needs to be full 3D, with easy visual control. So you think in 3D, express the design and details in 3D; then generate the exact 2D drawings you need from the 3D model; and generate the exact QTO data from the 3D model. Getting the detailing right “will determine the BIM winner” according to Erik de Keyser.
The Future of BIM
Don Strimbu shared the Bricsys vision for BIM and started with a simple paradox:
“BIM is awesome; but BIM is too hard”
Busting BIM myths
To start with, Don Strimbu addressed some of the myths about BIM:
- BIM is just hype
It’s not – it’s the future of AEC
- BIM will just cost more
Not with Bricsys
- BIM is just for the big guys
Not true – it’s for everyone
- BIM is just too much work
Not any more…
Bricsys wants to make BIM accessible to everyone, easy to use and much less expensive than the current market leaders. The four features that Bricsys believes will achieve much of this are:
- Start in 3D, stay in 3D
- High fidelity through AI
- Visual control
- Faster to design documentation
These were demonstrated using the three different scenarios described below. These were aimed at demonstrating BIM’s usefulness on all types of project.
BIMIFY your conceptual design
The first was the design of a house (a small project). The demonstration showed how you can use the new conceptual design tool, Quickdraw, to speed up the design process.
Quickdraw’s interface is very reminiscent of Minecraft. It allows designers to quickly sketch out the design concept. It’s still a little limited in its ability – for example, it’s only good for straight lines in the current version. But the point is that the model is in DWG format. So you can open your conceptual design in BricsCAD and use the ‘BIMIFY’ feature to convert to a fully-featured BIM model.
Easy design documentation
The second example was a medium-sized office building project.
The demonstration showed how you can easily generate 2D sections automatically from the 3D model; use the new Project Browser to navigate more easily through the design; and automatically update schedules when you make changes to the design.
The final demonstration was of a large, complex project – that of a twisted tower.
This demonstration showed how the artificial intelligence built into the tools can help architects. The ‘Propagate’ tool allows you to design a feature once; the tool then suggests where the same feature might be repeated. The example shown was for the columns within a single floor of the building; the designer only designed one column, the propagated that across the floor. Similarly, once the floor had been designed, that could then be propagated to all similar floors, even though they were not exactly the same shape. So the architect only had to design one of the 24 floors of the tower, not all 24.
The other tool demonstrated in this example showed how you can automatically specify glazing for a complex shape. The tool works out a grid of points that can be replaced by a flat, standard rectangular shape, allowing the designer to glaze complex shapes with simple flat panes of glass.
The future of mechanical
Mechanical design is not something that Hexagon has offered until now, but we were assured that Bricsys will continue to develop its mechanical modules.
In common with the BIM solutions, BricsCAD Mechanical is a full-blown 3D modelling environment. A number of features were demonstrated, including parametric modelling and kinematics analysis. It’s possible to auto-explode assemblies from the 3D model and annotate them with a single click.
Some clever features of the sheet metal tool were demonstrated, showing how you can automatically unfold sheet metal parts. The tool can not only automatically detect which parts are sheet metal components, but also identify parts that could be sheet metal with a little tweaking.
Much of the technology slated for future developments is (or will be) based on artificial intelligence. Full Artificial Creativity (the vision for Generative Design) is not feasible yet, because of the way current Ai systems work – they need clear goals or precise feedback. But there is no common language to give high-level feedback (like “that’s great, but it needs to be a bit bigger”).
Instead, Bricsys sees an intelligent collaboration between the machine and a designer. This allows each to use their strengths. So the designer would;
- Set design goals
- Manage prototyping
- Make style and detail choices
- Control aesthetics
- Give constructive feedback
- Lead innovation
Whereas the machine would take on the time-consuming or repetitive tasks:
- Design documentation
- Local solutions based on previous experiences
- Suggest styles as inspiration for designers
- Manage complexity (e.g. automated requirements checking)
- Verify adherence to design goals
For this to work, solutions will need to be reliable, have shared semantics and have an intuitive interface.
The Bricsys story on BIM is compelling – a straightforward workflow that goes right from conceptual design, through detailed design and into a BIM model, all in the same format and using a familiar user interface.
The Mechanical design story is a little behind and seems very much based on targeting existing AutoCAD users, rather than offering an alternative to the leading solution for smaller companies (i.e. SolidWorks).
Erik de Keyser was understandably miffed at BricsCAD still being referred to as an AutoCAD clone in some of the event coverage. But every presentation mentioned either AutoCAD explicitly or Autodesk (as the “A” company). Maybe it’s time to stop talking about Autodesk and instead focus on how Bricsys and BricsCAD can improve designers’ productivity.
Disclosure: Bricsys provided a free ticket to the conference and paid for travel and hotel expenses