Our Journey in Building & Construction
The Old Days
Tech Soft 3D’s history in engineering graphics dates back to the early 90’s and from the very beginning the Building & Construction Industry has been in our DNA. Initially acquired for the technology that is now HOOPS Visualize, Tech Soft 3D was spun out of Autodesk in 1996 and our relationship continues to this day as the sole reseller of Autodesk’s construction-focused RealDWG and AutoCAD OEM. However, it is fair to say that at least in this century most of our customers have been in the mechanical CAD space and all the different types of applications and verticals surrounding it. When the Data Access group in Lyon, France, joined Tech Soft back in 2012, this focus on mechanical CAD only deepened initially as those formats were the core strength of what would become HOOPS Exchange in the following years.
When the first iteration of HOOPS Communicator came along, which combined a zero-client WebGL viewer with CAD Conversion through HOOPS Exchange on the backend, its initial focus was also on mechanical data. Built originally on top of an open-source graphics engine, most of the early development-time was spend supporting precise measurement of BREP entities, display of complex PMI and CAD-Views, and related concepts mostly applicable to mechanical models. We must have been on to something because around the same time, Autodesk released Forge, a SaaS-only, web-visualization platform. Forge powers Autodesk’s 3D efforts on the web to this day and has always been primarily aimed at interacting with Building & Construction data, fueled by Autodesk’s rich end-user application eco-system in that space.
Beta Version of “Camaro”
Performance, Performance, Performance
Eventually, the first version of HOOPS Communicator hit a performance wall and we realized that we had to build our own technology from the ground-up to best serve the need of high-performance engineering graphics and to stay competitive with Forge and other offerings. It was also around that time that BIM really gained steam. Various countries especially in Europe were starting to have mandates around the usage of BIM in the construction industry and it dawned on us that with most BIM-workflows centered around the web we had the perfect product in HOOPS Communicator to support the new companies emerging to serve the needs of this industry. One of our launch partners for HOOPS Communicator 2.0 (which we internally code-named Camaro) was RIB, a leading German company in the Construction space. RIB was an existing Tech Soft partner, using HOOPS Visualize for their desktop application, but they knew their next generation software needed to be cloud-based. They, among others, really challenged us to efficiently support huge, federated building models consisting of hundreds of thousands of individual elements and more. One of the primary design goals of “Camaro” was to offer best-in-class performance for those large and complex models, not just with regard to framerate and interactivity, but we wanted users to be able to interact with those type of models in seconds. Additionally, while we had managed to cobble together Server-Side Rendering for the first version of HOOPS Communicator, this mode became a higher priority and architecturally a first-class citizen in “Camaro” as an alternative path to client-side WebGL to support huge models on any type of device.
The Strength of the Platform
In parallel to all our efforts on the web, primarily geared towards the needs of various types of web-based BIM applications that aggregate and manage data in the cloud we also have a sizable number of partners that are on the CAD side of Building and Construction. For them, but also for applications like Bentley’s Synchro, HOOPS Visualize on the desktop has always been a powerful and reliable graphics engine that fuels the development of “hardcore” engineering applications for design and authoring of data from the ground up.
We realized that we had something to offer that most of our competitors couldn’t match, a platform that offers best in class engineering focused visualization and data access on any device, no matter if it a $5000 workstation, a mobile phone or the HoloLens with the unique ability to bring together Building & Construction data, mechanical Models, Drawings and Point-Cloud Scans. Of course, tight integration between our SDK’s is key to unlocking that benefit and it is something we are still working on.
Closing the Gap
While our engineers spent a lot of time on the Visualization side of BIM, we also realized that we needed to improve our BIM-specific file format support. In 2015 we still only supported IFC and while we could read DWG files through our RealDWG integration in HOOPS Communicator and HOOPS Visualize, there are restrictions around this library imposed by Autodesk that make it unsuitable for cloud development and other use-cases. We also needed to support Revit which is an essential file-format in the construction industry. All of that brought us to the decision to leverage technology from the Open Design Alliance for these two formats to fill those gaps quickly. In parallel we also saw an increased desire of our customers for better UI and other “Ease-of-use” features that makes our SDK’s and Viewers more tailored and capable out of the box to work with BIM data. That meant better camera handling for building models, new measurement operators suitable for mesh data, a more BIM focused model tree, better 2D Drawing support but also support for double-precision models as well as client-side support for the BCF format. One area we didn’t pay that much attention to when initially developing the IFC import capabilities was metadata. This was largely due to HOOPS Exchange (and the PRC file format that is at its core) being primarily rooted in MCAD when it comes to internal structures and conventions. It took some “pushing” from our customers to make us realize that better support in particular for the vast amount of “relationship” data that is stored in an IFC file was needed. While we are not at the end of this journey, our customers can now access a lot more of that type of data in the latest version of our products.
It is fair to say that the Building & Construction market is very important to us, and we continue to invest in this space with every release with a dedicated team of engineers focused on new features, enhancements, and bug-fixes. We realize that there is more to do when it comes to fully supporting the IFC standard and its various workflows, which is why support for IFC Export and authoring is already on the roadmap. Data Access, in general, is our bread and butter, so we also plan to close the gap when it comes to format support with Navisworks support already in active development and DGN support planned for next year.
Our goal is simple. We want to be the best development platform to build your application in the Building & Construction space on, no matter if you are developing a BIM Design Review Application on the web, a desktop CAD application, or a BIM Viewer on a mobile or XR device. We are not there yet in all aspects, but we are committed to this sector and are making strong investments to stay ahead of the competition.
Guido Hoffmann is a Technical Fellow at Tech Soft 3D. He has spent the last 21 years driving innovation at Tech Soft as an engineer, product manager of HOOPS Communicator, and researcher.