Bentley’s courtship of Synchro started when the two firms collaborated during the Crossrail project in London, and the Synchro acquisition is a significant step forward in Bentley’s support for construction operations.
This year’s Year in Infrastructure conference provided a platform for Bentley executives to talk about the June 2018 acquisition of Synchro Software, the 40-strong UK-based 4D BIM pioneer, and to explain how this broadens the Bentley ProjectWise construction offering.
Tom Dengenis presented Synchro at the conference, highlighting how 4D construction modelling can make a critical difference to timely project delivery. In a product keynote, he showed how Synchro was used to help plan future construction work at Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium, and contrasted the performance of the team delivering London’s Shard versus the team delivering another – ultimately discontinued – skyscraper in the City of London).
In a building and construction press briefing, Noah Eckhouse, Bentley’s SVP of Project Delivery, told a building and construction press briefing that Synchro provided greater “situational awareness” in projects and said “Synchro is being used by construction teams instead of post-it notes, Gantt charts and thick packs of plans.” And Steve Cockerell, Bentley industry marketing director for rail, thought Synchro was ideally suited to managing rail track possessions. Greg Demchak, now Bentley technical architect, joined Synchro in 2013, and hosted a conference session showing how Synchro helped a project team from PC3 rapidly review constructability options for the Echowater treatment plant in California.
Founded in 2007, Synchro applied learning from other industry sectors to combine scheduling tools with spatial data. The Synchro Pro platform can import project schedules from Primavera, MS Project, Excel and Asta PowerProject, and then synchronise these with building information models, so that project teams can better understand how a project might be delivered, and then – once a project is underway – to monitor progress against the programme and make adjustments as necessary.
The Synchro product portfolio includes: Synchro Site, which allows users to monitor progress on an iPad or on Microsoft HoloLens; Synchro Scheduler, free software which provides traditional 2D Gantt chart project planning and scheduling software with an advanced CPM engine; and Synchro’s free open 4D model viewer.
Expanding construction support
Bentley VP for construction, Steve Jolley said: “For infrastructure projects, integrating Synchro’s 4D construction modelling completes the reach of our ProjectWise CDE.” While Bentley had been investing heavily in BIM for years, he highlighted how the company had gradually been expanding its construction-oriented toolset, citing the 2015 acquisition of EADOC and ProcureWare in 2017, and looking to expand its support for construction managers beyond BIM – “Their primary concerns are time, money, risk”. He said Bentley has formed a construction group to try and take a larger slice of the construction space.
“If you imagine construction projects as pyramids, we have good relationships with the asset owners and operators, and we have good relationships with the Tier One contractors who are managing digital construction and design integration. As we have engaged more with them and with Tier Twos we now know what we need to do.”
This may involve further acquisitions, Jolley said.
“Time – 4D – was the obvious first step after 3D, and while Bentley Navigator provided some 4D capability it was nowhere detailed enough for construction project management purposes – hence the Synchro deal. We have a very good foundation in Connect, in iModel.js, but there could well be some further acquisitions along the way.”
Jolley said Bentley had a long working relationship with Synchro dating back, in his case, to work with Crossrail, where Bechtel wanted greater certainty about the project’s planning, particularly when it came to complex structures like stations and to interfaces with operational underground lines and other infrastructure. Demchak recalled some complex workflows with data needing to flow from ProjectWise, through IFC, into an access server and back again.
“At that point we decided we needed an API. We couldn’t evolve with all this crazy data exchange, so we started building an API and a mobile app – Crossrail was one of the first users of that tech – in around 2015. … This was the point when Synchro became more than just an animation tool, more than a visualisation tool.”
The integration of Synchro into Bentley’s ProjectWise CDE offers a potentially powerful differentation from other project delivery platforms that are mainly focused on managing 2D and 3D information and workflows (though other vendor applications are also addressing the 4D aspect, particularly on detailed planning – Aphex and Visilean, for example).
Announcing its ProjectWise integration with Microsoft 365 (post), Bentley stressed the importance of workflows:
“With Synchro’s digital workflows, constructors don’t need to recreate 3D construction models from scratch, which would have orphaned the BIM models created during design. ProjectWise, with Teams and Flow, will automate digital workflows for construction planning to leverage the BIM intelligence. This immersive environment for visibility into the path and sequence of construction completes the reach for project delivery. Microsoft and Bentley are working together on further HoloLens applications for ProjectWise and Synchro to be introduced later in the year.”
The company’s iTwin Services will also integrate Synchro’s 4D construction modelling into its monitoring of project timeline states. Such detailed monitoring is vital for construction projects, said Jolley, mentioning the views of Hatch’s program manager Johan Palm who had collaborated with Bentley on its open source library iModel.js developments:
“iModel.js gives Hatch the ability to implement a stakeholder engagement technology that extends the iModelHub visionary technology. We can expose complex project information to a level that is accessible, consumable, and extendable via the cloud and in context to the 3D model. Most importantly we can do so in a manner that embraces change as the project progresses.”
It will be interesting to see how Bentley’s construction offerings grow over the next year or so, but the early signs are that it is growing a strong suite of solutions that take the company well beyond its design roots and into the capital-intensive project delivery phase.
It seems to me that at least two great players are emerging in this market. Autodesk recently acquired a series of startups, including Assemble systems, to embrace more effectively the AEC área. Bentley, beyond had acquired Synchro systems, now is rolling out the iTwin services. A good fight is coming to conquer this market… and there are others were arriving. Let’s see which going to happen.