The power of add-ins

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 for our every-day projects. I was lost in an ecosystem of tools and file formats.

I started investigating what we call “legacy software solutions” (ex: Revit) and to identify their potential. At this point, I knew BIM wasn’t just a buzzword 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 into steps, analyzing data flow, breaking down the workflow, etc. It’s probably during that phase of your BIM development that you discover add-ins that are available for many of your BIM needs.

An add-in is an extension module that is added to a host (legacy software, for example) to provide features that the host doesn’t provide. Software, such as Revit and Navisworks have an Application Programming Interface (API) that enable this to happen. APIs have been used by many developers who have created these extension modules to enable new workflows (a good example is flux.io).

Why are APIs good for BIM’s 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 can adapt quickly to users’ immediate needs. The add-ins can interact with external file formats or software. For example, BIM Track’s add-ins connect 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 grows in the market, customers have access to more features, generating interest in legacy software. It’s like the apps found in Apple’s App Store. Part of Apple’s attraction is the variety and the number of apps available.

Free add-ins take an important part in democratizing BIM. Often 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 OneBIM Track’s mother company, is already sharing five add-ins for free and recently took over 40 Case Inc.’s free add-ins distributed with our add-ins manager. One good example is the BIM One Excel import/export add-in. With this add-in, users can now modify model parameters without having to input them manually into the models. It’s not only saving them a lot of time, it’s also helping them accomplish tasks they thought were just too “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!