Autodesk is aiming to merge and so strengthen the technologies currently contained in two separate solutions: Plangrid and BIM 360. The current focus, however, is more on construction than long-term asset management.
(17 June 2019, 10.45am BST) – Autodesk’s Connect and Construct Summit in London today started with a media breakfast hosted by Jim Lynch, general manager of Autodesk Construction Services. He highlighted CEO Andrew Anagnost’s strategic drive – “since August 2018 it’s been our number one priority” – to grow Autodesk’s construction solutions portfolio, evidenced by its US$1bn+ acquisitions of BIM solution Assemble (July 2018 news release), Plangrid (November 2018 post), BuildingConnected (January 2019 post), and continued investment in Autodesk BIM 360. The pace of population growth, particularly in cities, was part of the reason for this push, Lynch said. “The technology we’ve used to date won’t help us tomorrow – now is the time to be talking about the contributions that digital fabrication and manufacturing can make.”
There was some discussion regarding the focus of the two apparently overlapping solutions: Plangrid and BIM 360. Lynch said we need to separate BIM and digitisation of construction: “we needed a better way to collaborate on the jobsite, hence the deal to acquire Plangrid, a wildly successful business. But use of BIM in construction, on the jobsite, is in its early days, though this will change as rich data models are mandated.” Plangrid gives Autodesk a strong construction technology platform, Lynch said, along with a large installed user base and an established construction brand. Work is now under way to merge the offering: “they will start to merge and will become one sometime in the future“.
Will the two brands continue? “Branding is a different question,” Lynch said. Both products have strengths, so Autodesk needs to build up the combined offering and promote them to the market. Plangrid (with its association with traditional ‘plans’) resonates with construction users he admitted, but some people have shunned BIM 360 as it was seen as “only valuable if I am using BIM” suggesting the name has caused some confusion despite its value to people not using BIM in construction.
Autodesk’s Steve Manning, one of the company’s executives tasked with merging the offering, said efforts were under way to devise a single interface to access the BIM360 and Plangrid functionalities. Lynch added it was important to show existing customers that their past investments are sound for the future.
Digital twin thinking
The UK has pushed forward with its “digital twin” thinking since the National Infrastructure Commission published its Data for the Public Good report in December 2017, with the Cambridge Centre for Digital Built Britain publishing its Gemini Principles in November 2018. In the built environment context, a digital twin is defined as “a realistic digital representation of assets, processes or systems in the built or natural environment” which, importantly, is connected to and shares data bi-directionally with the physical twin.
Asked about Autodesk’s digital twin thinking, Lynch focused on how tools like Revit helped project teams to collate both the design and the data and understand their investment in the digital model, with tools like Assemble and BuildingConnected potentially allowing the addition of more rich data. However, he admitted that, while BIM 360 has some asset management capability, it is still in its early days, with partner technologies likely to add value during the life of the building.
Digitise, integrate, predict
(17 June 2019, 15.20pm BST) – Jim Lynch reprised some of his earlier remarks in the main Connect & Construct conference keynotes, highlighting that Autodesk wasn’t the only technology business expanding its construction portfolio, mentioning Oracle and Trimble. Autodesk’s vision he said: “is to deliver a comprehensive, integrated platform that seamlessly connects the office, the trailer, and the field.” The construction solutions group strategy was founded on three pillars, Lynch explained: first, digitisation (not just removing use of paper but enhancing how information is shared, leveraging connected devices, speeding decision making…); second, workflow integration (breaking down data silos, creating a single source of information to drive better outcomes) and, third, prediction (using machine learning to look at previous project data and use that information to drive better outcomes on future projects – Autodesk’s Construction IQ was cited as an example of what might be achieved).
Richard Parker (once a colleague of mine at BIW Technologies, but now Autodesk’s product line manager in the Construction Solutions team) and colleague Sameer Merchant (head of site construction – and Manning’s colleague in managing the Plangrid/BIM 360 convergence) did a product update. Conscious of the importance of ISO 19650 and the IFC data model in the EMEA region, Parker said Autodesk’s accredited IFC capability was now being incorporated across the construction solutions portfolio: “Autodesk will continue to invest in open formats, and is committed to free and open flows of data across projects.”
The past year’s acquisitions were said to have strengthened the construction solutions portfolio, which is also supported by connections with around 60 other solutions through the Forge platform. In the EMEA region, Assemble and Plangrid already have a presence and this will be expanded; BuildingConnected will be launched in EMEA in 2020.
Merchant highlighted how Autodesk had already invested in expanding Plangrid functionality to support BIM, citing integration with Revit so that models could be published to Plangrid with 100% accuracy on all metadata (Plangrid BIM was launched in April 2019 – post). Plangrid now has “BIM-enabled sheets” – 2D plans that leverage BIM capability, showing BIM data associated with objects in the 2D drawings – and a 3D BIM viewer that allows onsite viewing of models and spaces, plus fast and accurate measuring tools. Plangrid BIM data synchronisation also ensures information can be used without network connectivity. Merchant also highlighted the late 2018 launch of the BIM 360 cost management module (see my November 2018 post: Autodesk BIM 360 embracing 5D).