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Thursday24 July 2014

Planar sailing with Vectorworks 2009

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By incorporating Parasolid, the best 3D modelling technology available, Vectorworks 2009 is racing ahead of the pack, reports Jonathan Reeves

Vectorworks is one of the most widely used cross-platform cad software applications within the construction industry, and has a rapidly growing user base among both Mac and PC users.

Nemetschek, like many other major cad vendors, has moved to a 12-month development product cycle, and this September it released Vectorworks 2009, with more than 70 new features, exactly one year after the 2008 version.

Interface

When Vectorworks 2008 was introduced, the interface was fully updated, making it easier to use but involving a significant change from earlier iterations. Sensibly, the 2009 version looks almost identical at first glance, but it is below the surface that the most significant developments have taken place.

The snapping system, which was already very intuitive, has been completely reworked and provides an amazing amount of feedback. This is fully customisable, with new options to control its size and timing.

There is now an extremely useful pre-selection indicator with which to highlight objects that are about to be selected or modified. This has been combined with a new system that shows all potential snapping points near the cursor, and once snapped, the actual snap point flashes red to confirm that an accurate drawing operation has taken place.

Another first for any cad software is the introduction of a snap loupe which dramatically increases accuracy by zooming in with a single click of the “z” key, then seamlessly zooming back once the operation is completed.

Another welcome feature, active tool highlighting, makes those objects that can be edited by certain tools glow as the cursor moves over them, which is a great help to beginners.

One of the simplest, but in my view the most time-saving features, is the ability to use a keyboard shortcut to enter infor- mation in the object information palette directly following a drawing operation — which is something the average user does hundreds of times a day.

Workflow improvements

Vectorworks has always supported drag and drop methods of using the resource browser, which now offers increased functionality for organising and viewing resources. This has now been extended to importing files, which makes it even simpler when working with other file types such as DXF/DWG, PDF, 3DS, SketchUp, and Parasolid. This also makes importing a multiple DWG or image files much faster. Also, PDF snapping is now possible, which makes scaling and redrawing information much more accurate.

In the past few years, every time new versions of cad software are released, the file format is updated — so Vectorworks 2009 has added full support for working with Autocad 2009, and even ADT objects. There are improved options for batch-exporting Vectorworks layers as separate DWG files, and also an option to export all fills from Vectorworks on to a separate layer, which enables much smoother transitions when collaborating with Autocad-based consultants.

The snapping system has been reworked and now provides an amazing amount of feedback

The Architect version features full referencing through its design layer viewports system, introduced in 2008. This means that when teams are working on larger projects, the drawing or model files can be split into smaller files to be worked on by multiple members of the team. Of course, this needs careful management but referenced files can now be opened directly from the navigation palette, and if someone else has the file open, a dialogue box provides you with detailed information about who it is.

Revolutionary dimension

Vectorworks has always been a very fast and capable 3D modelling package, but it had some limitations. With Vectorworks 2009, the underlying code has been completely rewritten and is powered by a technology called Parasolid. Originally developed by Siemens PLM software, Parasolid is widely regarded as simply the best 3D modelling technology available, with more than 2.5 million applications worldwide.

While that may not mean much to most of us, in practice it makes Vectorworks one of the most powerful 3D modellers in the cad arena, with support for parametric objects such as walls, doors and windows, as well as free-form modelling tools. This means that holes of any shape can be cut into 3D walls, tools such as the massing model tool can have completely customisable roofs, while advanced operations such as filleting, stitching and lofting are much more reliable. According to Nemetschek, Vectorworks 2009 is up to 12 times faster for Boolean operations, including surface addition, subtraction, and intersection; 3D modelling operations are four to five times faster; and viewport renderings are two to four times faster.

This technology will be increasingly important as more practices adopt the building information modelling (BIM) paradigm, where all elevations, sections, plans and visuals can be generated directly from a single 3D model. As you can imagine, this extra power requires a fast processor with a decent graphics card, and the recommended minimum system requirements have been increased.

Productivity

As well as the big changes below the surface of this release, there are a number of significant new or improved tools. For example, the “create similar object” command really speeds up drawing — by allowing users to click on any element in the drawing, then create a similar version wherever it is required without selecting the appropriate tools, attributes or layers. There is also a new visibility tool that lets you control your drawing visibility settings by selecting or isolating objects in your design based on layer or class, which saves a lot of time.

Another welcome feature is the ability to edit groups, symbols, 3D solids or viewports while the other objects are greyed out but still snapable. Small tweaks have been made to the polyline tool, which now makes it much easier to create meaningful shapes for site features and landscaping. The wall tool has improved greatly in the past few versions and has been made much more effective as symbols can now be moved, offset and duplicated directly within walls in 2D and 3D using standard editing tools and commands.

Conclusion

Vectorworks 2009 is a significant upgrade in several areas such as improved snapping, user feedback and the integration of the 3D Parasolid modelling engine. Combined with features such as true file referencing and design layer viewports, Vectorworks has matured further as a cost-effective product to rival other major cad and BIM packages. However, some of these features are only available in the Architect version, which has increased in price.

Some practices may find it hard to keep up with each new version of the software and will not require its more advanced functions, but there are enough useful time-saving features here to more than justify the investment.

Jonathan Reeves is an architect specialising in cad training and 3D visualisation. www.jr-architecture.co.uk or email jonathan.reeves@blueyonder. co.uk

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