Design authoring tool specialist Vectorworks adheres to the Nemetschek-wide policy of ‘Open BIM’, and, in addition to its inbuilt webviewing and cloud services tools, offers some integration to third party ‘common data environments’, CDEs.
Interoperability remains a major challenge for many construction IT users, with single vendor proprietary file and data formats vying with more open formats shared by multiple vendors. The Nemetschek group fits into the latter category and it has been a long-time proponent of ‘Open BIM’ since at least March 2012 – hardly surprising as the group’s product portfolio includes multiple design authoring applications. Allplan, DDS, Graphisoft, Maxon, Scia and Vectorworks are all established brands in the Nemetschek family, which has expanded in recent years with acquisitions including Bluebeam (October 2014), Solibri (December 2015), and dRofus (December 2016).
Allowing data to be shared across multiple applications is a frequent requirement in multi-disciplinary, multi-company project teams, avoiding the need to re-key information or to engage in sometimes unreliable export/import processes. When the first cloud-based construction collaboration platforms were launched in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the ability to support multiple file formats was vital, leading many of the SaaS vendors also to embrace BuildingSMART and the ‘open BIM’ movement, and to build out their platforms to support IFC and BCF-based functionalities.
While the primary focus within the Nemetschek group has been on design tools, the group and its subsidiaries have also dabbled with collaborative functionality, both in relation to BIM and to wider types of files and data. For example:
- In 2009, Graphisoft’s design authoring flagship ArchiCAD 13 was breaking new ground in BIM collaboration;
- in November 2013, Nemetschek launched its BIM+ cloud platform enabling the combined use of models of different formats and disciplines, followed by a BIM+ Team edition three months later;
- also in February 2014, Graphisoft launched its BIMx Docs mobile app;
- in July 2014, UK-based SaaS collaboration provider Asite announced a partnership with Vectorworks (it is listed as a BIM server provider among Vectorworks industry partners);
- and in June 2017, I checked in on Bluebeam’s collaborative capabilities.
Checking in on Vectorworks
September 2018 has seen the launch of the 2019 editions of Vectorworks products. Reflecting the suite’s primary focus on design, most of the latest enhancements are aimed at making designers more efficient, by improving 3D and BIM modeling, 2D documentation, and presentation workflows, and by improving usability and product performance, to increase overall productivity. ‘Enhanced openBIM interoperability’ is also delivered in the 2019 Vectorworks releases.
I got an update on how the suite manages collaborative workflows from Vectorworks Architect product specialist Luc Lefebvre. We talked about Vectorworks Webview tool – a slick way for designers to share models with clients via a browser-based session (video) – then focused extensively on Vectorworks Cloud Services, which has been part of the company’s offering since at least 2012, but which has expanded over time to incorporate new technologies, to integrate with other cloud services (notably Google Drive and Dropbox – apparently used by some Vectorworks customers as a common data environment, CDE).
The Cloud Services offerings include a desktop web portal accessed via a standard brower, a Vectorworks Nomad app that allows users to access, view, mark up, share, and sync Vectorworks files across iPhone, iPad, or Android devices, and the Vectorworks Remote App – which lets users connect their mobile devices to their Vectorworks desktop (they can use the app as a navigation palette, or as a remote control for presenting design options).
Lefebvre also highlighted how Vectorworks can link to other Nemetschek solutions, notably Solibri and Bluebeam Studio. The latter capability was released in March 2018 (news release) and provides an online real-time review, mark-up and approval process for digital construction drawings and 3D models. Marked-up PDFs can then be saved back to Vectorworks Cloud Services for easy storage and file management. In Vectorworks Architect, new options allow users to toggle off and on annotations, improve snapping, control background fills, and quickly resize and align multiple PDFs at the same time.
I asked Lefebvre about support for BCF but eventually determined there is currently no ‘live’ connection with BCF-based process workflows in Vectorworks – for example, no notifications to report when an issue has been resolved. The workflow is file-based (direct import/export) or a BCF web-based service can be used to manage the transfer of data but it still requires an exchange of BCF data. I was referred to a helpful online tutorial on Managing BCF Data for IFC-Based Workflows.
In relation to IFC and collaboration, Lefebvre also talked about Vectorworks’ support for IFC4 and about IFC data mapping, where users can control and filter what objects and IFC data are exported; custom export options and the ability to specify data for sub-objects provide even more granular control.
The conversation confirmed that, in some areas (integration with Solibri and Bluebeam, for example), Vectorworks is being increasingly integrated with other Nemetschek products, with IFC, PDF and other open standards a powerful driver for greater interoperability. But it also seemed the subsidiary remains mainly focused on design (no harm in that, of course!). Consequently, wider team collaboration via web-based collaborative ‘common data environments’ is provided mainly by third party (ie: non-Nemetschek) solutions, ranging from generic cloud file-sharing tools like Dropbox and Google Drive to integrations with platforms such as Asite.