AuSIM speeds up production of development scenarios early in planning processNAPA -- As San Rafael-based design software developer Autodesk expands its civil engineering products into the evolving realm of three-dimensional building information modeling, or BIM, a Napa-based civil design firm has combined that and other software to accelerate the integration of engineering in early project stages.

[caption id="attachment_18436" align="alignleft" width="272" caption=" Screenshot of the SiteOps software showing automatic generation of a parking plan"][/caption]

Riechers Spence & Associates has pulled together a package of software-enhanced services, including Autodesk's recently augmented BIM product for civil engineers, to give the firm a competitive edge in winning design and consulting contracts. That includes quick production of development alternatives for real estate investors considering the purchase of properties and public works officials looking at major upgrades to old infrastructure.

"In the last one and a half years, we've seen the construction industry going down," said associate principal Carl Butts, P.E. He's project manager for the new suite of services, which the firm is calling AuSIM, for "site information modeling."

"We're trying to stay five years ahead of trends."

The firm has leveraged government incentives in the past two years to keep engineers employed on research-and-development projects as housing work slowed.

Such innovations include a novel geothermal building heating and cooling system, high-efficiency winery process wastewater treatment and the honing of methods for accurately and efficiently moving computer-aided design work between software used by architects, engineers and contractors as well as pulling in data from various sources.

BIM is an outgrowth of architecture, but it allows all parties involved in a project to see, often in 3-D, where job-site problems will occur, such as new pipes that would run into planned beams or existing pipes, what's called "clash detection."

With the addition of philosophical and regulatory mandates to reduce project energy and water use, BIM is allowing design changes early enough to allow for project cost adjustments. For example, buildings can be quickly re-oriented to reduce emissions from truck trips and site work for excavation as well as to reduce sun exposure and thus energy use for cooling.

Autodesk has been upgrading its Civil 3D in the past few years to bring BIM design to civil engineering and transition the discipline from 2-D plan sets to 3-D models that can be analyzed, according to Richard Humphrey, infrastructure industry manager for the company.

"In the past, engineers worked in more of a detailed design almost like drafting, where they had to complete things before they could find out how much volume of earth to truck onsite or offsite or whether a parking lot would work with hydrology," he said. "Now, they can work in a more conceptual way."

Last year features were added for analyzing costs of hydrology in stormwater and wetlands management. Last month Autodesk acquired a product called Dynamite to streamline the link from Civil 3D models to Autodesk's 3-D animation and visualization software and back.

Riechers Spence has been converting project plans for use in Civil 3D, but the firm has been exploring less-expensive alternatives. Civil 3D retail pricing starts at $8,000 to $9,000 per copy, although Autodesk has been offering discounts through resellers and professional associations.

The firm has become a certified user of the Internet-based SiteOps software by North Carolina-based Blueridge Analytics. Earlier this month, large design firm Stantec, which has an office in Petaluma, also became a certified user.

This software-as-a-service product uses data centers elsewhere to crunch up to 249 site-specific parameters for a given imported computer model of a building, access roads and needed utility connections to automatically generate the most cost-effective layout and budget.

"If you came to me one or two years ago, it would take me three months, but now I can produce 10 scenarios in an hour," said Riechers Spence President Hugh Linn.

What's also helped speed up the process are not commonly used in engineering. Mr. Linn's team has used Google SketchUp, which allows quick building of 3-D structure models by "pushing" and "pulling" on geometric shapes. Those models or ones from standard architectural software can be combined with site data in Google Earth to illustrate design proposals and constraints to project owners and public officials.

Autodesk started fluttering in software-as-a-service "cloud computing" with the release in January of Project Butterfly. Still part of the Autodesk Labs product-development group, it allows online manipulation of and collaboration on basic AutoCAD designs.

For more information, contact Riechers Spence & Associates at 707-252-3301 or www.rsacivil.com or Autodesk at 415-507-5000 or www.autodesk.com/civil3d.