Collaboration has always been a very important part of creating and maintaining any product but it really has been only recently where we have seen a significant increase in the technology solutions trying to provide a better way to collaborate and communicate.
The Autodesk 360 Technical preview is one of Autodesk’s newest technologies which is supposed to help a team communicate and collaborate during product development. Shipbuilding has always struggled with these new technologies because of the size of the 3D model. On the surface (no pun intended) a ship or marine structure does not seem like it is any more complex than an airplane or even a complex building however because there is significantly more shape to every component, the model becomes extremely heavy.
I have used virtually every beta, technical preview and new technology Autodesk has released and in many cases I was on the team of industry experts which evaluated the technology before it was brought to the public. This is why I was very excited to test out the new Autodesk 360 Technical Preview which has a new technology backbone to visualize and interact with a large model.
I have racked up many hours using Autodesk BIM 360 (which I absolutely love) so I had a certain level of expectations with this new technology.
For those not familiar with Autodesk 360, it is a project-based collaboration tool where it connects all the stakeholders to the project data and the activities which revolve around that project. At the center of this is an interactive and immersive 3D visual viewer of your data. This 3D viewer is where my initial focus was since this is where ship and marine structure projects usually test the technology.
I used a medium sized shipbuilding project with around sixty thousand parts. The Navisworks model statistics are:
Triangles, Lines and Points: 9 532 325
Bounding Box: (-1.53279e+006,-2.12567e+006,-92068),(659687,223666,844899)
What I liked with Autodesk 360 Technical Preview Viewer
- 100% browser enabled, in other words I did not have to install any software. This is nice even though I do not think it is a current deal breaker; using Web Apps and Apps to access the model is usually fine.
- I like the selection of the items via the Model Structure (Hierarchy) feature. The model I used had some structure within it however, knowing what I know now I would setup the model slightly different to better leverage this feature.
- The ability to search was awesome. The search was fast and allowed me to find items quickly. I especially liked the way it selects searched items in the model and then greys all the other objects.
- ShipConstructor part properties are supported. This is not a surprise but I have to say I am always glad when they are there 🙂
- Over 60 file formats supported. You can never support too many formats especially for any technology which wants to be your collaboration backbone.
- The exploded view was cool and I can see the possible opportunities in shipbuilding. Imagine having an assembly and then using the explode feature to see how the individual components come together.
- Support for downloading the model to work on the native desktop application. This is beneficial as not all features are supported, nor should they be, on the current viewer.
Areas which needs improvement
- There needs to be a better way to upload project data. Currently I was only able to upload the model (DWG & NWD) via the browser interface. It was easy but I like the way Autodesk 360 creates a sync folder which I can interact with my data via what seems to be a folder on my computer. If you are familiar with Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive’s desktop client you will know what I am referring to
- Markup and redlining is missing. This is something which is needed in a collaboration tool.
- Context commenting. This is usually done by selecting a view or a subset of parts and adding a comment which is relevant to those items. This is important for effective communication. There is just simply too much noise (model is too big) to have a specific comment related to a portion of the project to be viewed as a general comment on the model.
- Would like to have AutoCAD 360 capability to interrogate, modify, and comment via Design Feed, within the Autodesk 360 environment. I suspect this will improve when it is promoted from a Technical Preview.
- Not all browsers are supported. No, I am not talking about Microsoft Internet Explorer but rather a browser on my Android or iOS device.
- I need support for my 3DConnexion navigation device. Using the mouse was like going back in time.
- Refreshes constantly. Every time I make a selection or search, it seems to be reloading the model which causes flickering. It might be the size of the model I was using but again this is not a big model in shipbuilding terms.
- It was difficult to select the entity and not its subentity. This effects what is displayed in the object properties window and therefore reduced the benefit of the object properties.
- Even though I liked the search, it did not leverage the object properties values. Since I usually search on criteria which is contained in my object properties, I would of liked to see this supported.
For those interested in how the model performed and some of the details of each of the features, you can watch the YouTube video which I created during my testing.
Collaboration can mean different things to different people but at the source of any good collaboration is context and the product data model. For shipbuilding, the product data model is huge compared to pretty much any other industry including automotive, aerospace and AEC which really tests the bounds of any technology which revolves around the 3D product data
I was generally pleased with the Autodesk 360 Technical Preview but think there are still some critical features which need to be supported before it becomes the collaboration and communication technology backbone for any shipbuilder. The biggest one for me was that I did not feel it had a strong emphasis on communicating around the context of the model.
I will be keeping my eye open for new features as this product matures.