Wednesday, July 25, 2007

All Things Navisworks?

These days you can't find a story about BIM implementation in large firms without referring to the use of Navisworks - a robust 3D collaboration and coordination platform. With the recent announcement of Autodesk's intent to acquire Navisworks, I felt it timely and relevant to discuss the potential of this acquisition and give a brief background on this program. A historical examination of Autodesk acquisitions reveals several fates to which a subsumed product can succumb. Think of Softdesk's Auto-Architect which vanished after their purchase...or, more recently of Robobat which was announced, but apparently never executed. Finally, let us remember April 1, 2002 - when Autodesk incorporated Revit Technologies into their portfolio of Building Solutions products. To condense the thoughts of many devoted Revit fans into the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, "I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened." We all know now that noble intentions were indeed underlying the wallets of big A.

Navisworks is a 3D viewing engine in which one can open and integrate about 150 different 3D file formats for the purpose of model review - or "3D spell checking" according to one of it's main competitors, Solibri. The company is based in Sheffield, UK with representation in several other countries around the world. Their product/module line has some peculiar names and is organized as follows:

  • JetStream: The overall conglomeration of modules. One can purchase a seat of JetStream, which includes all modules listed below.

  • Roamer: The core model experience engine and the minimum requirement for building a collaborative 3D file set.

  • Presenter: Adds the ability to assign photorealistic materials and lighting to imported geometry

  • Clash Detective: Probably the most valuable (and thusly most expensive) module. Provides the ability to automate clash detection between 3D elements, including the ability to perform 'soft' or clearance detection, generate reports, as well as custom views of each clash.

  • Timeliner: Adds 4D or timeline simulation to the Navisworks file set. This data can be imported and synchronize with programs such as MS Project, Primavera or ASTA Power Project.

  • Freedom: The free viewer for clients and other downstream recipients
While JetStream does not have any native modeling tools, it has the ability to construct a "file set" of reference data. As an example, these file sets might be comprised of a CIS/2 structural model, exported Revit Architecture model, and DWG model from Autocad MEP. Some file formats can be opened directly in Navisworks where others must be exported from the original platform with an exporter tool included with the Jetstream installation. In reality, the exporters emulate what happens when Navisworks 'natively' opens a model file (keep an eye on the folder of a file when you open it in JetStream).

The most common question I receive is "where is the Navisworks exporter for Revit?" Older installation packages of Navisworks would automatically find the related installations of Revit and add the exporter to Revit's INI file. For reasons unknown, they have ceased this process - opting to leave it in the hands of the users, but not necessarily telling anyone about it. Through Navisworks customer support, I learned how to enable the exporters for Revit and other programs.
  1. Go to your Windows Control Panel and select Add or Remove Programs.
  2. Find Navisworks JetStream and click Change/Remove.
  3. Use the Modify option and click Next.
  4. Choose the Plugins for the CAD/BIM software you have and click Next.