Page T1.2 . 21 September 2011                     
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    CadFaster 3D Collaboration Tool


    When we first tried it out, we really hadn't seen anything like it before. Certainly, the traditional way of looking at a design is to look at two-dimensional drawings. The more advanced software, such as Navisworks, will show you a 3D, or even a 4D model, but you need a powerful workstation and the ability to open big files.

    What CadFaster Collaborate enabled us to do is look at our very complex models in a lightweight and nimble way. The 3D geometry was amazing and showed us so many details. The software operates as a plugin for our Autodesk Revit program. It can also work with SolidWorks and Bentley MicroStation platforms, and we've been told there are more plugins in the works. And now there is also an app for the iPad.

    Early in our trial period, a fellow member of the London Revit User Group tried out the program and said it was like magic. He was using it to display a model from both a Mac and a PC. It was quite astonishing.

    One person was on the PC looking at the 3D model and making annotations, someone else was sitting on the Mac signing off on the changes, and a third laptop was projecting the live conversation onto a screen. You could see people around the room looking for the wires — it was all done over a 3G connection.

    The way it works is that models and assemblies are exported to portable, self-extracting, executable files that include a 3D viewer. CadFaster Collaborate compresses the original data so that huge files can be shrunk to a size that can be emailed or downloaded from a link. Files are even small enough to run on low-powered laptops.

    This means virtually anyone working on a design can distribute, annotate, and view large 3D models quickly, without installing any additional software.

    Everyone has the ability to make annotations in real time on the project that is being discussed. It provides a great way to control the view of the model and talk someone through aspects of the design without having to deal with a clumsy "meeting" aspect to the collaboration file.

    The great thing here is that when our design team updates the master model view, all session members' views are updated instantly. This is intrinsic to CadFaster Collaborate.

    Typically, as one of our design projects progresses, the model we are working on becomes more and more involved. With this collaboration software, we can start to drill into the model live across an internet or 3G connection.

    And we can use it to communicate live with team members far away. Arup has 160 offices around the world and we just opened three new offices in China. Using the CadFaster application, we were able to conduct online design review meetings among London, China and Qatar, with approximately 30 people involved at once.

    When we work with parts of the world that are on different time zones, we also have the option to load the annotations and comments into the software so they can be quickly retrieved when our collaborators start their day (or at their leisure).

    The collaborators don't have to do anything, since the software uses cloud-based technology to publish data from one copy of the file to another. The notes are pushed to the model via the cloud by CadFaster Collaborate.

    Personally, I also like using this program to work on projects solo. Because it's a collaborative tool, this kind of usage isn't as obvious. But I can cycle through components that I have put into one of my Revit models and react to them quickly.

    Things tend to jump out at me when I'm looking at the big colorful 3D images that I wouldn't have noticed otherwise. I can do it right at my desktop and it's quite easy.

    Through the entire 12-month evaluation period, the team at CadFaster has been very helpful and responsive. Based on our working knowledge, we've given them a number of suggestions that are now incorporated into the tool, such as the commenting feature.

    In the next version, I would also like the ability to bring comments into a new file from a previous version of that file. However, we've advised CadFaster not to make the tool too feature-heavy because that would go against its biggest advantages: it's easy, fast, and intuitive.

    We are continuing to work with CadFaster and will be conducting negotiations into licensing models for our global business.

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Carl Collins is a CAD manager for Arup Associates in London. He began using CAD in 1983 with the first commercial release of AutoCAD, having had experience in electro-optic instrument systems as a practicing mechanical design engineer. As well as being highly conversant with document control, QEMS, and IT systems, Collins is an experienced user and manager of all Autodesk products, including AutoCAD 2012, AutoCAD MEP, AutoCAD Architecture, Revit Architecture, and Revit MEP.



    ArchWeek Image

    CadFaster Collaborate ties into a central cloud server where an individual user's models are stored. Shown here is the iPad app.
    Image: Courtesy CadFaster Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    In the iPad version, users can quickly review recent markups and comments on model files, which are stored in a separate tab.
    Image: ArchitectureWeek Extra Large Image

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    The CadFaster Collaborate iPad app includes basic features for navigating, annotating, and querying the model, and supports real-time viewing sessions with other users.
    Image: ArchitectureWeek Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Basic information on the model is available via the iPad app.
    Image: Courtesy CadFaster Extra Large Image

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    The primary viewing mode in the iPad app is a traditional object-focused axonometric view with pan, rotate, and zoom features accessible through the iPad's multitouch interface.
    Image: Courtesy CadFaster Extra Large Image

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    On viewing a model file in the iPad app, a list of markups is presented for the user to review.
    Image: Courtesy CadFaster Extra Large Image

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    When an object is selected using the tap-and-hold input of the iPad's interface, a short menu of options appears.
    Image: Courtesy CadFaster Extra Large Image

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    The CadFaster Collaborate iPad app also includes a basic measuring tool that automatically snaps to object vertices, for taking quick dimensional readings on the model.
    Image: ArchitectureWeek Extra Large Image


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