I have to tell you the truth, my first impression of BIM back in 2009 was that the benefits were awesome, but I was slightly confused on how it would exactly work in our everyday project life. I was lost in an ecosystem of tools and formats.
So I started investigating what we call the “legacy software solutions” (ex: Revit) and witness their potential. At this point, I knew BIM wasn’t just a buzz word and I started figuring out how we were going to do what we wanted to do to improve our project processes. However, there were still missing links in the chain that created obstacles to achieve the full benefits out of collaborative BIM.
Having a first BIM enlightenment when exposed to the potential benefits is great but, it comes flat pretty quickly if you don’t go beyond that point. A famous quote says:
“Ideas without execution are hallucinations”, Thomas Edison
You truly achieve BIM enlightenment when you start doing it. It’s when you start separating it in steps, analyzing data flow, break down the workflow, etc. It’s probably during that phase of your BIM development that you discover add-ins and that they are available for a vast variety of what you wished to do with BIM.
An add-in is an extension module that is added to a host (legacy software in that case) to provide features that the host doesn’t provide. Software like Revit and Navisworks have an Application Programming Interface (API) allowing this to happen. APIs have been used by many developers who have created these extension modules extending software limits to enable new workflows (A good example is flux.io).
Why APIs are good for BIM evolution? This environment allows different add-ins to be used for precise tasks at the right time. The developers behind these applications have smaller operational structures, they are lean and then can adapt quickly to the user’s immediate needs. The add-ins can interact with external file formats or software. As, for example, BIM Track’s add-ins connects to a web-application hosted on a cloud server, allowing data to be published directly from Navisworks or Revit using a web interface.
It is beneficial for legacy software developers to have open APIs. As the number of add-ins grow in the market, customers have access to more features and it generates interest in legacy software. It’s like apps in the Apple App Store. Part of Apple’s attraction factor is the variety and the number of apps available.
Free add-ins take an important part in democratizing BIM. Often way smaller and more focused on a few functionalities, they allow users to solve non-productive tasks that are common in a BIM oriented environment. This is not a secret, to achieve the maximum success with BIM, you have to reduce inherent time consuming tasks. By sharing add-ins for free, companies or individuals are giving the community an efficient tool kit. BIM One, BIM Track’s mother company, is already sharing 5 add-ins for free and recently took over 40 Case inc. free add-ins distributed with our add-ins manager. One good example is the BIM One Excel import/export add-in. With this add-ins, users can now modify model parameters without having to input them manually in the models. It’s not only saving them a lot of time, it’s also helping them accomplish tasks they thought were just too much “time consuming” to do.
With BIM Track’s add-ins for Revit and Navisworks, users can work directly “in context” to solve issues assigned to them and synchronize data through the cloud to the web platform. Time is spent on providing better model quality instead of managing emails and Excel spreadsheets. Furthermore, with BIM Track, project managers have direct access to online 3d models, they can review the issues list or follow the coordination evolution with the metrics provided.
This is just a couple of examples why add-ins are so important in the BIM ecosystem of tools. So go ahead and discover what you can do now with add-ins to make your BIM more efficient.