Two behemoths in the AEC software and technology industries announced an interoperability agreement yesterday to alleviate workflow inefficiencies for designers who traverse between the companies’ respective products. San Rafael, Calif.–based Autodesk, the provider of such programs as AutoCAD, Revit, and 3ds Max, and Sunnyvale, Calif.–based Trimble, whose titles include SketchUp, Sefaira, and Trimble Connect (formerly GTeam by Gehry Technologies) along with a catalog of surveying and positioning equipment, will be collaborating to “support seamless data transfer between their solutions, from software to software, from software to hardware, and vice versa,” says Mark Sawyer, general manager of Trimble’s general contractor and construction management division, in an email.
Many architects use both Trimble and Autodesk products in their daily workflows. For example, an architect may use Trimble SketchUp to develop preliminary design concepts and visualizations for marketing, and then proceed to design development and building information modeling (BIM) in Revit. Along the way, they may want to draft other building aspects in SketchUp and then plug those into their growing 3D model in Revit.
Because the Trimble and Autodesk platforms were previously not directly speaking to each other, users risked losing information in the models during the file conversions, such as material selections and object-geometry details, an issue that did not go unnoticed by the companies, says Nicolas Mangon, Autodesk’s vice president for AEC industry strategy and marketing. “When you did a round trip of data, from product A to product B to product A, you didn’t always get what you had in the beginning,” he says.
The information loss could also occur between an architect and their consultants, Mangon adds. A mechanical engineer using Trimble DuctDesigner 3D software or a fabricator using Autodesk Advanced Steel may lose data while importing from the native program into their own. “The lack of coordination between professionals in the construction industry is a continuing challenge to project delivery,” Trimble's Sawyer says.
Talks of a formal agreement between Autodesk and Trimble began about a year ago. With the collaboration now public, Mangon says the companies will start meeting with their customer councils (in the case of Autodesk) and other product users to identify pressing issues that would benefit most from an improved connection between the platforms. Moreover, they will exchange application programming interfaces (APIs) and developer tools that will allow the platforms to communicate and exchange data better. Sawyer expects software users to see improvements to workflows relating to document management, data management, and BIM-to-field workflows.
Dates have yet to be determined for when these improvements will be realized, but Mangon believes the exchange of APIs, demonstration releases, and beta testing will happen sometime this year. As Autodesk has moved more of its products to the cloud, the company is able to push software updates to their customers as needed throughout the year. These updates would incorporate the improvements made to the Autodesk-to-SketchUp conversion and vice versa.
Though neither company releases market-share information, Autodesk's and Trimble's products rank among the most popular for architects and engineers in the U.S., according to the business software review platform G2. Designers have long asked for software companies to embrace more open standards to ease file sharing and collaboration among project teams, whose employers may not or do not want to invest in licenses for the myriad AEC programs.
Both representatives say their companies have long been proponents of open standards, one step in aligning project workflows, terminology, and data organization regardless of the software on hand. Trimble and Autodesk are both members of BuildingSmart International’s OpenBIM initiative, and both have similar interoperability agreements with Bentley Systems, which develops MicroStation and AECOsim. In May 2015, Trimble announced a strategic alliance with the Nemetschek Group, a holding company with brands that include Vectorworks and Graphisoft, and in March 2016, Autodesk announced an alliance with Siemens to better align their product-lifecycle-management software packages. “We believe in open standards and workflows for the benefit of the entire industry,” Sawyer says.
Note: This article has been updated since first publication.