Collaboration has always been a big part of any CAD or AEC workflow, and it’s become particularly prominent in the last few years as BIM principles have gained traction and mobile devices have made it easier for works in office and onsite to work together.
However, getting everyone in your pipeline to chip in and buy an Autodesk suite isn’t the only way to get everyone working together. PDF review tools like Bluebeam have been around for years, and newer releases like CadFaster even allow you to share 3D models with colleagues and clients, so you can all agree on a design more quickly. As you can currently get a free one year CadFaster licence by responding to this Vectorworks offer, we thought it was time to revisit review tools…
The iPad angle
There’s no escaping the huge growth in mobile devices and the cloud recently – Microsoft have reported they estimate 14 million jobs to be created by cloud computing by 2015, and mobile devices are set to outnumber laptops in the workplace by 2013. Why? Because they’re efficient, cost-effective and enable the kind of flexible workflow you need when you’re trying to coordinate HQ, on-site operators and clients.
While the thought of having to learn new kit might be off putting, the fact is that most of your workforce probably already own or is looking to get a smartphone or tablet, and that many of the controls and processes will already be familiar to them. And if the investment sounds scary, remember that smartphones and tablets come in cheaper than most laptops, and encourage the sort of out-of-hours and on the road work that big jobs demand, making them a great opportunity to ensure your workflow’s as streamlined as possible. Luckily, Autodesk already has its own apps, and major review tools will allow you to work from a smartphone or tablet.
Paperless PDF review with Bluebeam
Reviewing amends is a key part of any project, but delivering the massive files CAD workflows create, keeping track of versions and making sure everyone is working off the most up to date information can be a huge hassle. Now the cloud is helping the process become more streamlined, with colleagues able to review projects simultaneously and edit them in realtime.
One solution we’ve recommended to some of the top architectural firms recently is Bluebeam PDF Revu. This is a PDF editor, viewer and markup tool which supports the WebDAV protocol so that it can access content from collaboration software such as Autodesk’s Buzzsaw, Microsoft SharePoint or similar services over the Internet – popular programs covered included AutoCAD, Revit, Solidworks and Microsoft Office.
If you’re using Revit, Navisworks Manage or Navisworks Simulate, you can also create and mark up 3D PDFs, complete with the same camera angles, lighting and cross section information as anyone reviewing the document on a desktop machine.
We recently rolled out 1500 Bluebeam licences for a customer, and it has significantly improved how their architects on-site communicate design amendments to the team back at HQ – changes are made more quickly, more clearly and all without needing to print anything out. (To put this in perspective, US construction company Turner reported a 65% saving on reprographic fees and 50% saving on courier fees after taking on Bluebeam PDF Revu. In this climate, who wouldn’t want to free up that much spare cash?)
Collaborate on CAD models
Getting clients to feed back to you quickly and coherently can sometimes be a challenge, but cloud working can actually help there, too. Having projects stored remotely means that you can have multiple users accessing 3D CAD models simultaneously and making amendments in realtime, so you can talk a client through changes as you make them, getting instant feedback and reducing the risk of misunderstandings.
One new solution that came along last year is CadFaster Collaborate for Revit. As the name would suggest, it’s big on collaboration so Richard John gave it a thorough test to see if the actual speed and ease of use matched up to CadFaster’s claims.
“I found CadFaster Collaborate to be an impressive little plug-in which, unlike a lot of solutions out there, doesn’t require any training,” Richard said. “This would make it a great tool for sharing designs with clients who aren’t architects and wouldn’t necessarily be up to speed with other 3D viewers. It’s also good value too, with only the Revit add-in incurring an annual subscription fee.”
– You can find out more and buy a one year subscription of CadFaster Collaborate for Autodesk Revit here. It’ll also work with Microstation and Vectorworks – in fact, Nemetschek are giving away 1500 free one year licences to Vectorworks users.
Another plus of the mobile revolution is that architects out in the field no longer have to rely on their ageing laptop’s shonky wifi connectivity to send amended CAD models back to the office. An iPad now packs enough power to make it just as viable a tool as a laptop, and a poll last year by Business Insider revealed nearly 40% of those surveyed use an iPad as their primary computer. Combined with the cloud, this means you can now have someone walking around a building site marking problems and issues on a plan on the iPad, then the architect or engineer in the office can see the markings in realtime, fix them and push the changes to the guy onsite.
You can use a tool like Bluebeam Revu for IPad to redline PDFs from your tablet using industry standard symbols, or save your own custom markups for a project so everyone involved can use them in sessions for that project. It’ll even let you store and share documents using Bluebeam’s cloud service, Bluebeam Studio.
Even better you can do this for free. Autodesk’s AutoCAD WS web and mobile app allows you to upload .DWG drawings to an online workspace, then view and edit them from anywhere using an iPad or iPhone. It’s free to download and has been given the Apple stamp of approval, so you should be able to enjoy a fairly risk-free rollout. While it may not have the functionality of a full CAD application, or the rich mark-up tools of an app like Bluebeam, it does still allow you to work on files on the move without having to install any CAD software, and lets you store content on Autodesk’s servers, or on your own servers using WebDAV depending on how close you like to keep your data.
How we can help
These are just a couple of the options we would recommend for design review and collaboration in the field. If you’re a larger enterprise who wants advanced mark-up tools but doesn’t require as much access to files, a platform like Bluebeam would be ideal, but if you’re part of a smaller team, the collaboration tools of AutoCAD WS or CadFaster Collaborate will be a big help to your workflow.
As well as being able to provide all the software you need for a mobile design review workflow, we can also set you up with deployments of Apple iPad. We can kit you out with tough iPad cases like the Griffin Survivor to protect your tablets while you’re out onsite, and help you keep track of your iPads with powerful mobile device management solutions too.