The growing use of building information modeling (BIM) means that design and construction teams need to access project files from anywhere, anytime. Software developers have responded by creating apps for mobile devices and, in particular, for the tablet, which Tyler Goss, of New York–based Case Design, calls the “most disruptive tool” in the industry. “A lot of really robust information can be pushed through them,” he says. We asked Goss and three other tech experts to weigh in on three mobile apps designed to handle BIM in the field.
What it is: BIMx allows users to open and explore 3D BIM models created in ArchiCAD. Its add-on app, BIMx Docs, lets users navigate and view related construction documents.
Highlights: Allows users to flip from plans and elevations to 3D models. Andrew Fisher, a BIM applications specialist at DPR Construction who's based in Newport Beach, Calif., says that “ArchiCAD has long had the ability to quickly section your model to the parts you care about. [Graphisoft has translated] that well into the mobile platform.”
Pros: “Easy to navigate on site,” able to render “very quickly,” and reasonably priced, while eliminating the need to print 2D plans, Fisher says. Also includes gravity and egress recognition and the ability to trace 2D drawings over the 3D model.
Cons: Brent Mauti, principal technologist at CH2M Hill in Washington, D.C., says the app has been known to lose some “info from the source software” when opening files created in programs by other software companies.
Specs: Remote BIM editing | Apple, Android | tablet, smartphone | Bentley/Autodesk files compatible if imported through ArchiCAD
What it is: Passport gives users access to hybrid platforms, including: servers, such as Bentley’s ProjectWise Integration Server; desktop software, such as Bentley Navigator; and mobile apps, such as Field Supervisor.
Highlights: Added control and security thanks to Bentley’s platform; the cloud, where the 3D model is stored, can be hosted on-premise. The apps in Passport also allow for round-tripping,
says Shane Burger, director of design technology at global design firm Woods Bagot. “You put a comment in from the field, and it automatically links that into the Web-based version and the model.”
Pros: Field Supervisor allows you to “create personal views of what you want,” Mauti says. The same content can then be viewed in Navigator. “It maintains data as well as graphics from the model. … They say, ‘We know you’ll do some work in [Autodesk] Revit, some in Bentley. We’ll pull all these together.’ ”
Cons: Though Bentley’s mobile apps “have done well handling large models, the graphics aren’t as beautiful as what you get out of Autodesk,” Burger says.
Specs: Remote BIM editing with 2014 Navigator Mobile release | Apple, Android | tablet, smartphone | Model information from Autodesk through i-models
Cost: $72 per year, mobile apps free with Passport subscription
Autodesk BIM 360 Field, BIM 360 Glue
What it is: BIM 360 Field lets users create and update project issues, and access construction documents from the jobsite. BIM 360 Glue lets users access and connect project information across multidisciplinary 3D models.
Highlights: Goss says Field and Glue “are more about the workflow of design” whereas Bentley and Graphisoft apps focus on “document control and management in the field.” Autodesk apps “mirror how an engineer thinks about coordination, constructability, or quality control.”
Pros: Field provides “a better picture of potential constraints, and allows a better understanding of jobsite productivity,” Goss says, while Glue’s hyperlink generator tracks each action taken in the 3D model, making “communication with non-expert users a simple matter.”
Cons: Design data on the cloud is hosted by Autodesk—which clients with top-secret projects may oppose, Burger says.
Specs: No remote editing | Apple | tablet | Glue can manage 50+ file types, which the app can use
Cost: App is free, but full functionality requires Glue purchase (price varies)
Beyond the mobile apps that do the heavy lifting of handling BIM models are complementary apps well-suited for specific design tasks. For a simple conceptual design, for example, Burger recommends Autodesk FormIt, "a model based environment, a simplified version of what you can do in Revit," he says. Mauti often uses Tekla BIMsight "for more in-depth fabrication models," he says. "We’d ... bring [a BIM model] into the Tekla environment in the shop to fabricate." Mauti also uses goBIM’s eponymous app as a Revit plugin for viewing 3D models. Fisher has also used CadFaster Collaborate, though with mixed results. "Their tool was easy to pick up and use as a real-time 3D viewer. The idea was that I could be on my computer and you could be on your couch on your iPad, and as I rotated the model, you’d see it rotate," he says. “But we didn’t see a good correlation between the desktop and iPad—only between iPad and iPad, or desktop and desktop.”
Note: This article has been updated since first publication to correct the spelling of Shane Burger's last name, and to clarify that Andrew Fisher is based in the Newport Beach, Calif.–office of DPR Construction.