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Monday28 July 2014

Crossing over to a new dimension

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Nemetschek sees Vectorworks 2011 as a milestone for the firm. Liam Southwood puts it through its paces

Nemetschek Vectorworks 2011, released earlier this year, is described by the company’s chief executive Sean Flaherty as a “milestone release… the largest ever”, incorporating a whole raft of new features to persuade the existing 450,000-strong worldwide user base to upgrade.

In this latest version, the aim has been to deliver convincing 3D tools and functionality, and offer a product that can produce presentation drawings and renders, model in 3D and generally “do bim” at a fraction of the cost of some other products on the market.

To achieve this a number of features have been introduced: Maxon’s Cinema 4D render engine has been integrated (as Renderworks); object modelling improved with push-pull tools which add Sketchup-like functionality; and there are new ways to convert 2D objects to 3D shapes with full nurbs characteristics as well as the reverse functions to extract 2D profiles from 3D objects. Building design in 3D benefits from new tools and methods: slabs, wall styles stairs and planar graphics. Text and dimensioning tools have had a makeover and improvements include wysiwyg previews, control of output via styles and integrated spellchecking.

Interoperability with other cad packages is catered for using industry standard IFC file exchange protocols for bim, a Sketchup importer and 2011 DWG exchange for everything else. Referencing external files sort of works and there is even a built-in batch output manager. Nemetschek is also introducing subscription licensing (for UK and US users initially) for the first time. This is marketed as Vectorworks Service Select and delivers product upgrades, resources, support and training for an annual fee.

It aims to model in 3D and ’do bim’ at a fraction of the cost of some

In use, Vectorworks Architecture is as responsive and intuitive as you would expect from a product that has been around for so long. The new 2D/3D environment is convincing, and tools incorporate sensible workflows which don’t require huge amounts of front-loaded configuration. The info palette offers easy access to object management, and drafting aids make accurate creation and modification of elements a doddle. I’m also happy to report that on-the-fly renders of simple building models appeared without any tedious waiting. There are reports of some issues with materials from previous versions not making it through to the new Renderworks engine. However, the reported 5x speed improvement makes the pain of reconfiguring a scene worth it.

These are interesting times for Nemetschek. Autocad is now available for Mac users after a long absence and Autodesk will be looking to take business away. Clients, contractors and publicly funded bodies are increasingly insisting on bim for projects – an area where Vectorworks has been perceived to be weak in the past.

In response, VW2011 has made a big play at nudging users down the 3D/bim road without radically changing the environment they are used to. Add batch printing and decent quality rendering at a highly competitive price and you get an attractive package.

The point of failure, should there be one, will be the same as for every other bim product – end user acceptance. Reviewing this product, I got the impression that in simplicity versus functionality, Nemetschek Vectorworks has erred too far towards the former. Posters on the company forums are already complaining, for example, that the door tool doesn’t allow doors to be sized to structural openings and that long-requested simplification of file referencing has still to be implemented.

As with other bim tools, my concern is that as soon as an architect wishes to model something non-standard they suddenly need to be a cad systems expert as well as a competent designer.

Liam Southwood is director of IT support provider nittygritty.net

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