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From PDF (back) to DWG
Disclaimer: I was politely asked by Emily Donalds from Cometdocs to possibly feature a post on their PDF to AutoCAD webservice. While wary about advertisement, this is an open and free offer and useful for CAD users.On http://www.convertpdftoautocad.com you can (obviously) convert PDF files to the AutoCAD DWG format. In a time were probably every single PDF containing CAD drawings was originally created as a digital drawing anyway, it makes sense to optimise on this kind of drawings.You can go to the website and, without creating an account or registering, you can upload a PDF from your computer. It should not exceed 40MB and you need to be willing to enter your e-mail address, cause the conversion process will happen on their servers.The service is free and upon testing, was reasonably fast.The example I tried was a PDF from a elderly care centre provided during a research project and was originally drawn digitally (although I'm not aware of the exact software that was used). I only had access to 2D PDF drawings. The file was about 350 kB so it was fast to upload.After a short while (a few minutes), I received an e-mail with a download-link. The file stays online for about 24 hours and although the link is not protected, it is including a globally unique ID (guid), so it would be statistically impossible to retrieve links for other files.The result?The file is quite large (almost 2 MB), which is caused by the abundance of smaller lines. All dashes and dots from linetypes and all hatch lines become separate line entities. The drawing in itself looks quite faithful considering the loss of information inherent in a vectorial PDF rendition of a CAD drawing.I detected that it was an AutoCAD 2000 format DWG (the first six bytes in the file contain "ac1015"), which is an old release of the DWG format, making it compatible to almost any software that can read DWG files. This is a good thing.It opened nicely in Adobe Illustrator CS4, Rhino 5 and ArchiCAD 16 (I don't have AutoCAD installed anymore), where I could detect that three layers were included: the obligatory layer 0 and two layers for all filled solid hatch entities (P) and another for linework (P).In my first test, the text was not actual text, but a series of lines and polylines, which is less convenient, but this was already the case in the original PDF. A second test, with a PDF with actual full text entities, they stayed real text, on a separate layer (T).Color information was apparently lost in translation.For me, personally, it would be a good way to replace a PDF as underlay with a DWG as XRef in e.g. ArchiCAD, since PDF underlays can not be snapped to directly, although you might be able to get usable results using e.g. Illustrator.Beware, this is NOT an OCR system, so your PDF needs to contain vectorial line drawings, as is usually the case when they are generated by CAD software [more...
Temporary free license of XMind plus for student and teachers
XMind is one of several mind-mapping applications. They have a temporary offer for a free student or teacher license, but it expires at the end of may. This offer is worth $79 so well worth a look.XMind is cross-platform (Windows, OSX, Linux) and is partially open source. The main application is free to use, but for some additional features, there are some non-free editions.While the free version offers a wide variety of diagram tools and sharing on a website, you need the plus or pro version for export to Word, PPT and PDF. There are some more "business" oriented features that are only available in the Pro edition. Check out the comparison here.I have been an avid mind-mapper user for a while and did use Freemind for quite some time. This is still available as Open Source, written in Java, so it runs on Windows, OSX and Linux.While I've turned more and more to use Evernote for note taking (as it syncs between laptop at work, iMac at home and my iPhone), it doesn't offer an integrated mind-mapping tool.For me the strength with using a mind-mapping system is the ease of folding out and in complex topics, to get to the essence. It is very useful when preparing an article or longer text, as you can play around with the outline of your document before commiting to a particular structure or order.The strength of mind-mapping for note taking can only be reached, however, when you master the keyboard shortcuts. Adding leaves and navigating around the tree need to be done almost blindly, without needed the mouse for most operations [more...
ArchiCAD 17 and Revit 2014: What's new? How do they compare?
While I can not put my hands on the new versions of both of these applications, the web is getting filled with announcements so it is a good moment to see where both of the most popular BIM authoring tools are going to. I go over the "new" features and see how they relate to their main competitor. This way, my post is not simply a copy-paste of the PR mailing ;)Revit 2014I got most of what I learned about if from this blog post.Displaced views to make open perspectives is nice to have.ArchiCAD does not have it, but it could be faked when placing multiple views on a layout.Double click to edit sketch of floor/roof is also a nice, small improvement, that might be quite handy once you get used to it.I remember it from MiniCAD when I used it in 1998-2000.In ArchiCAD, you click on an element and a floating palette pops up with all editing functions that are relevant. In Revit, you get a few extra icons on the ribbon.Edit and manage materials in a single dialog.Overall, Revit has too many dialogs inside other dialogs that open new dialogs, which is a burden to the user. These relatively minor improvements can be felt every single day so they are welcomed.The new ArchiCAD 17 has changed the material dialog for the first time since quite long.Non-rectangular viewportsI'm surprised this wasn't available before. I remember having this in ArchiCAD and AutoCAD for quite a while (forever?).Room Calculation point > you have more control over where an object should be related to, which is good. You could create this calculation point already in family objects, but I believe you can more easily change it as a user when placing objects.In ArchiCAD, you can mode the Zone (room) calculation point around, but not the reference point of a particular object.Scheduling generic models.From what I hear from experienced Revit users, this could be important. Inside Revit, families are always from a certain type, which has predefined characteristics. But when creating something more hybrid, they need to rely on generic models. It is important that they can be used the same way as any other family object.In ArchiCAD, you can schedule almost every parameter from a GDL object, but are limited to what is provided for native properties. And the truth is: there are several properties that you simply cannot schedule at all.Temporary View propertiesFrom what I hear is that it is a more logical use, for which you had to rely on View templates in 2013.This is more like how it behaves inside ArchiCAD: you can change settings while working, without ruining existing views that have already been placed. There is no need to define separate views for temporary display changes, e.g. toggling visibilities of layers or markers.Better stairsVery important as stairs in architecture are complex (in 2D as well). Every BIM tool should strive for improving them continuously. The StairMaker module in ArchiCAD has a lot of criticism, not without reason!New point clouds engineThis is from the Alice Labs acquisition, which is a huge performance improvement. One of my former colleagues is involved and there is some clever number crushing underneath the hoods. Point clouds can be gigantic and having them behave smoothly is not trivial at all.I still wonder how usable they are in the BIM context, as most parametric BIM objects can not be tweaked to follow the more irregular geometry of a laser scanned measurement.All in all, a fair update, with no "in-your-face" new features. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as many of the improvements seem to be oriented to productivity and making the system behave more logical, which can only benefit the user.ArchiCAD 17The official announcement and overview is on the Graphisoft website but I read it first on the Shoegnome blog. Apparently, as an end user, we are warned only later on.Priority Based ConnectionsThis is a huge new feature and one that I have been begging for since several versions. In fact, I have reported this limitation during the few versions I was involved with for beta-testing (8, 8.1, 9, 10, 11, 12), but never got a reply. It took a while...While I don't claim that I invented anything, I did describe a priority-based system for automatic solving of element connections inside my PhD. This was in 2007. But I honestly don't think that the GS team used this idea, as it was straightforward conceptually. I still have to see how it behaves in full 3D and in the corners (!), but it looks fabulous.Revit could solve floor/wall connections for quite some time already. Not sure how the two compare now.Intelligent Building MaterialsImprovements and consistency. In itself, this seems to be something that will have an impact on several levels: more consistency for derive documents, linking thermal properties to the material itself.Prior to 17, materials were defined a bit odd: through their fill (hatch). You could attach some thermal properties to the hatch, but hatches served several other duties as well. This is probably due to the increased importance of energy calculations from BIM models and the need for a more logical setup of where you store physical properties and where to set up graphical properties (hatch, pen colours, ...)This seems to be catching up (on some levels) to Revit, which had a better support for e.g. thermal properties already, but struggled in the complex interface.3D design improvementsMorph tool can now be used for mass modelling, e.g. for a quick spatial model with proper scheduling of areasThis is more like the Revit Mass modelling tools.BIMx is now included so everybody can generate realtime models from ArchiCADI'm not aware of something similar for Revit.Realtime cutting planes look like the SketchUp slice tool.Element heights can now selectively be linked to story levels, which is a lot like what was available since Revit 2.0 (the first Revit release I ever saw).Floorplan based 3D documentsThis will enable more fancy drawings. The plan view can be directly derived from the model, which enables shadows and colouring. Since this also allows to add hidden lines (e.g. from a floorslab above) it seems interesting to how consistent you can set them up, when compared to the regular 2D story-based view.PerformanceBIM project get larger and larger and contain more detail. So supporting 64-bit and multiple cores is a logical, technical step to support this. Will have to see how it behaves, before I make a remark.This is one area where Revit receives quite some complaints. Would be good to do a real-world model benchmark, if such a thing would be feasible.OpenBIMThis is important for a cross-application workflow. GS was always a huge supporter of IFC and this confirms that they strive to be at the forefront of the evolutions.Frankly, I did not read a thing about IFC in the new Revit announcement? Conclusions?As I am mostly an ArchiCAD user, I am probably biased. The new ArchiCAD 17 confirms that Graphisoft is still capable of producing enticing new features, hopefully not accompanied with a large list of unresolved old bugs. The new Revit version seems to be more about productivity and under-the-hood changes. I just wish that Autodesk would more openly support IFC and openBIM as to promote that we all need to collaborate.As an educational user, I'll have access to both programs without license cost, so I intend to keep them both installed on my laptop. But as usual, it can take a while, before they are actually available in the regionalised version; so the beginning of the new semester will be tricky, as always [more...
xBIM, an Open Source .NET Toolbox for BIM development
While answering a LinkedIn discussion on Open Source BIM, I stumbled upon the open xBIM toolkit. Apparently, they use the "openbim" domain name, and seem to be related to the openBIM initiative by BuildingSmart and some software companies.It is not an end-user program, but a software developer toolkit, written for the .NET framework so it should be supported on Windows, inside .NET-supporting applications such as Revit or AutoCAD. In theory, it might also be usable using the Mono framework (an Open Source implementation of the .NET framework that also runs on other platforms, such as Linux or OSX).It is hosted on codeplex (http://xbim.codeplex.com) which is managed by Microsoft and relies on Open CASCADE for 3D modelling and visualisation.It has a CDDL license, which is comparable (but not identical) to the LGPL license, which does allow commercial usage, unlike the more stringent GPL license.The toolkit can help you to write custom software, requiring IFC reading, but it also supports creating BIM models and has geometric operations supported.You can download a precompiled IFC viewer, but inside the sources, there is also an iOS project for iPhone/iPad [more...
Let ADSK choose the right software for you... or not?
Today, when I went to the Autodesk Students website (http://students.autodesk.com) I was greeted with a "Product Selector". By answering a few basic questions, the most appropriate (Autodesk) software for your purpose is suggested. While I was not surprised at the answer, it was plain obvious that whatever you choose that is related to architecture, building or construction, the answer would be "Revit" in almost every single case.Select a project > house > RevitSelect a project > building > Revit...Select a field of study > Building and Infrastructure Design > Architectural Engineering > RevitSelect a field of study > Building and Infrastructure Design > Architecture > RevitSelect a field of study > Building and Infrastructure Design > Civil Engineering > Revit, Civil 3D, Infrastructure Modeler or AutoCADSelect a field of study > Building and Infrastructure Design > Construction Management > Navisworks, Quantity Takeoff or RevitSelect a field of study > Building and Infrastructure Design > Structural Engineering > Revit...Surprisingly, even Landscape Design points to Revit.I tried a few others that are related to architecture, design and construction and still have to discover the path to AutoCAD Architecture. Even AutoCAD was hardly the answer to my question. There is a link to a "full list" of supported products and there you get most of the software.While I do welcome a more friendly way to advice visitors to the most appropriate tool for the task at hand, I don't really see the added value over it here [more...
Evaluating an ArchiCAD model in Solibri
My newest tutorial video explains how to evaluate an ArchiCAD model with Solibri Model Checker, using IFC. It is quite long (over 50 minutes) and again in Dutch. It handles the main workflow and shows how to adjust some parts in the ArchiCAD model to have better results.I'm interested in providing English translations, but that would fall outside of my teaching work so I need to find another way of supporting this effort. Would captions be an option? (still a LOT of work)As always, everything is recorded using Screenflow on a Mac, but everything I show works exactly the same on the Windows versions of ArchiCAD and Solibri [more...
From ArchiCAD to Revit using IFC (with video)
It's in Dutch so maybe not for everybody, but I recorded a few video-tutorials discussing how to get a model from ArchiCAD into Revit in a more or less editable form, so you can still do some things with it. Using IFC and Solibri to inspect the exported model and see what is indeed exported but missing upon import.Inside Revit, we make a Schedule and notice that the room does not pick up the ArchiCAD Zone Height properly and the category needs special attention to get through.Important lessons: some ArchiCAD model simplification can make life easier (e.g. a SEO between wall and roof resulted in the window being placed one floor below its opening). Not sure if going back and forth between ArchiCAD and Revit to finetune IFC export is feasible for many people, but we have to deal with the current intricacies of the IFC implementations as they are today.FWIW, Revit 2013 was running inside Windows 8 in Parallels, whereas ArchiCAD 16 and Solibri Model Checker 8 were running natively in Mountain Lion. But Revit was very usable still. And Screenflow was recording all 2880x1800 pixels in full glory. That said, I had a crash and some long IFC loading sections have been edited out of the video.From ArchiCAD to IFCFrom ArchiCAD IFC to Revit (Part 1)From ArchiCAD IFC to Revit (Part 2)From ArchiCAD IFC to Revit (Part 3 [more...
Digital Archeology - recovering old ClarisCAD files
Last week, I got a question from one of our master thesis students. She is working on a historical reconstruction project and received some old files from the architectural office, responsible for a renovation project in 1993. They used ClarisCAD. The files had no extension and the software is, obviously, part of CAD history.Recovering the softwareClarisCAD is not available anymore, but on Macintosh Gardens, an archive is maintained with downloadable installation files. You can download the full software freely and it runs without requiring to enter a serial number. I assume, as the software is abandoned, that using it can be considered as some kind of "fair use". I did not fully investigate though and as it was only used to recover some files, I think it is OK.Recovering the operating systemTo be able to run this on a current computer, you need to emulate the Operating System (unless you have the actual hardware still running around somewhere).Luckily, there are some Open Source systems that allow you to do precisely this. I used SheepShaver. This can run on most operating systems. It emulates a PowerPC hardware and you can install the classic MacOS in it.There are some caveats: you need to download installation discs for the OS (unless you happen to have the original ones from quite some time ago) and you need a hardware ROM which you can only legally get if you download it from an actual hardware Mac you own...Some more information on setting up SheepShaver.While it did take some effort to get this far, this wasn't the actual crux of the message.In short: I looked hard for both installation discs for the OS and for a ROM. I used to work in an architectural office in MacOS 8.6 (and some 7.1 and 9.0 machines as well) and think that at that time, the hardware was even too now to get the right ROM I was trying at the time.And you'd think that it was easy from then on?Recovering the metadata of the filesNow once I got MacOS 8.6 running and ClarisCAD was also available, it could still not open the files, even though they were copied to a folder that was visible for the virtual machine. They simply did not show up in the open dialog.I created a new, emtpy file, drew a few lines and saved as a ClarisCAD file. Surely, this showed up in said dialog. So there was something missing. And then I remember that, back in the days, people sometimes used to hack the file Resource Fork. This is a system to store information about a file: the metadata, such as the type of file and the application that created the file.I remembered that there was some system administrator software, called ResEdit, which you can still download and install in the classic OS. I opened the freshly created ClarisCAD file and looked at the Resource info. The File Type was "CAD2" and the creator was "CCAD", short for ClarisCAD, I guess. So I opened one of the provided drawings, added a Resource Fork (ResEdit can do this automatically when opening a file) and then opened the info dialog, in which I could manually type the missing pieces. Closing the file saves the resource fork.And yes, now ClarisCAD recognised the drawing as a valid file and can open it. I could open all but one of the files. The last one complained about having not enough memory, although I increased the OS memory to 128 MB and the memory provided to ClarisCAD to 12 MB (instead of the default 4 MB).Converting the files into something usable?Now ClarisCAD did not provide the means to convert the file into something usable out-of-the-box. There is support for the old PICT format, but this turned the 2D CAD drawing into pixels.I really wanted a DXF or DWG, but assumed other vectorial formats would be acceptable. I finally chose to install a PDF-printer driver (I used the freeware PrintToPDF from James Walker). You can set this printer as default in the Chooser menu.Now I can print the ClarisCAD document to a PDF and that can be opened in other software or can be used as an underlay.ConclusionsThe process was not intuitive, but I survived installing an old OS, emulating discs and drivers, on a machine running a totally different architecture. I have good hopes that some older discs can still be run this way, but then I have to make disk images as my newer machine has no optical drive anymore.When testing, I had the occasional crashes, but it was pretty to fast to reboot the whole system on a modern computer, so that wasn't too problematic.And I also had to set the keyboard to a Flemish layout ("azerty") to make typing more convenient on my machine [more...
I'm alive and so is BIM
So I haven't had the chance to post a lot, lately. That is not because I had nothing to say, but because I was busy. As anybody else, I guess. In fact, most of the people I meet are more than busy and getting eaten up by work, responsibilities...Well, this isn't a post about complaining, beware. I thought I'd share a little thing, which might appeal to some of you. I'm working quite a lot with IFC files lately and while I clearly recommend to at least use a good viewer to check what you are exporting from your BIM software of choice or when checking an IFC you get from somebody else.But from time to time, you need to dig inside the raw IFC data. The well-structured but otherwise not-meant-to-be-read IFC text code.So you load up Notepad (on Windows) or TextEdit (on Mac) and open an IFC file... Well, better stop at this point. For one, notepad is nowhere up to any serious text editing task and secondly, well, it'll frustrate you. You need at least a decent code-editor that supports syntax hightlighting and line numbering, at the very least.I have been using Crimson editor (discontinued since 2008) and more recently Notepad++on Windows with good success and on OSX TextWrangler, which has been free for quite a while yet still with sufficient functionality for most text editing efforts (writing php, editing source code file, checking cmakelists.txt, reading "readme's", adjusting system settings files).When loading an IFC file, non of the default Textwrangler language modules properly formats the IFC STEP-formatted file, so I created a language module for IFC.So instead of looking at this unformatted spelling-checked raw text inside Textedit (or Notepad):you can at least look at this inside TextWrangler:While I assume that some dedicated IFC-editors (that is, looking at the rough text) probably exist, I'm quite pleased with a decent, constantly updated and well supported editor such as TextWrangler. It's inside the Appstore for free, it supports the new Retina display, it has powerful find and replace functionality, syntax highlighting, some macro's for text editing. The only thing bothering me is that I cannot indent text using the Tab key, like I used to do in other code-editors and that I haven't figured out how to 'run' a script from here, e.g. cmake a cmakelists.txt file or python a py file.The actual Language Module for IFC that I created, which might be incomplete, but is far better than none, can be downloaded from my dropbox. It's very small (26 kB) and you need to copy it into the (hidden) Library subfolder on your Mac:Go to your hidden Library folder underneath your used profile (in Finder: Command-Shift-G and enter the path ~/Library) and then to Application Support > TextWrangler > Language Modules and copy the file ifc.plist (an XML-formatted property list).If any of you makes an improvement, please be so kind to share it [more...
Many free video tutorials released (in Dutch...)
MotivationI have worked literally day and night on a expanding series of video tutorials. They are made as part of my teaching assignment at KU Leuven and are meant for our students of Architecture Engineering to replace to a large extent that traditional class-room based sessions. Partly out of necessity, as it becomes harder and harder to support large groups of students and partly out of didactic motivation, as the speed with which students learn CAD and 3D software differs widely. For some, it is always too fast in a class setting, so they give up and start entering Facebook or messaging on their cellphone. For others, they are frustrated as they are already ahead of the explanation, exploring other tools.The actual tutorialsSo here is the full YouTube page where I'll post all current and future video's in separate playlists.stefkeB - all YouTube video playlistsAt the time of writing, there are videos about ArchiCAD (3 series), AutoCAD (2D basics), SketchUp, Cinema4D, Unity and Artlantis.Current playlists on Youtube channelComments and suggestions are welcome, as are requests for other tutorials (applications or subjects).The plan is to finish a series of ArchiCAD tutorials on collaboration and simulation in the second half of this academic year and also a series on Rhino (probably using Rhino 5.0 and Grasshopper, on Windows). I'm not sure about a series on Revit, as I'm not too experienced yet to start teaching it. I'd like to work on an openBIM series as well, but I have to learn Solibri Model Checker first to get the workflow in place. Preparations are going on as we speak.Background informationI've began to use screen-recording using the excellent Screenflow software for OSX applications and the free Open Source CamStudio (less polished, but very usable) for the applications which only run on Windows (e.g. Grasshopper for Rhino - videos are not yet recorded) or for which a Windows-version is more common (e.g. AutoCAD).My old and aging laptop is getting into trouble, as the hard drive gets quickly filled (40 Gb and counting) and interactive 3D applications while recording full-screen video is quite demanding. Any sponsors who have a spare rccent Macbook Pro (or similar)?The videos are all in Dutch, which might be a pity for most of you, but I decided to focus on this first, for the first batch of tutorials. I'm still pondering the option of overdubbing in English, but e.g. the ArchiCAD-based BIM tutorials use the Belgian/Dutch template and library, so it might not be so relevant to be translated. On the other hand, many English tutorials already exist for these applications, so this could fill a niche and is directly used by my students.I am wondering if English captions would be sufficient, as this is something I can add (over time) to the existing YouTube videos. Full English versions are also possible, but then I have to re-render everything and upload all of them again, which might take a lot more time than subtitling. Not sure. So far I have one request for a translation of the "split-level" video using ArchiCAD [more...