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FOR SMALLER JOBS A DIY APPROACH CAN BE APPROPRIATE

The initials IT have gradually morphed into ICT - with the 'C' standing for communications - and it was the range of applications that made use of communications via the web and wireless that caught the eye at the recent Construction Computing exhibition.

3D MODEL MOVIES OVER THE WEB Communicating via exploring 3D computer models can be particularly useful for keeping clients in the loop and working with groups that find conventional drawings a bit of a mystery. Doing this via the web is potentially very flexible, but in practice the internet's limited communications capacity can turn what should be a movie-like virtual building tour into a stop-frame experience.

One difference today is the increasing pervasiveness of broadband, improving communication speeds and reliability.

Making use of this is a smart piece of programming from 3DToGo which allows for the streaming of reasonably complex 3D model data over the web in 'real time', which means that you do get the movie experience. Users to whom you send the model can access it with a free viewer and use a conventional computer mouse to steer around the model - no special joystick needed.

In outline, this is done by first downloading just the geometry of the model - which would be a few MB for say a 100MB model. After that, the (compressed) data needed for the selected viewing path is streamed to the user in real time. It is not foolproof, of course. Web communication speeds are not totally dependable, and if too much data is needed for a view, the movie will become jerky anyway. The demonstration at the exhibition was, unsurprisingly, impressively smooth.

Currently, the system works with Autodesk's 3D Studio models. If you don't have 3D Studio, you can send a standard AutoCAD format model to 3DToGo, which will render it for a fee in 3D Studio, and charge again for streaming it to your users.

Contact: Andrew Milton at 3DToGo, tel 01344 742839, email andy. milton@3dtogo. com

DIY PROJECT INFORMATION MANAGEMENT Project information-management systems can be overly complex and expensive for smaller jobs. For these, a more simple, DIY approach can be appropriate.

This means that someone needs to project-manage communication, to log documentation and communications, say in a spreadsheet or database. Another main element of the process is implementing the sharing of and commenting on drawings, models, specifications and other project information. Email is often the first resort, but may fail because email attachments become too large or those on the receiving end don't have the software to read the attachments, especially clients and some subcontractors. Which is where Adobe's latest incarnation of Acrobat ?7.0 Professional - may come in, and especially the new capabilities offered by the accompanying new Acrobat 7.0 Reader.

Those managing the project need the Acrobat 7.0 Professional software in order to put together, in one PDF document, anything that can be sent to a printer, namely CAD drawings, emails (read-only), text documents, images, PowerPoint slides, and so on. This combined document can then be circulated for comment.

Those in the project team receiving the PDF document can use the latest free reader, Adobe Reader 7.0. And what's new about this is that the 'reader' includes the functionality for writing too - you can red-line areas and attach notes (that you key in), then email the annotated documents back or on to others.

Security is implemented through passwords and digital signatures. Users can be given the options simply to view the document, copy it, or mark it up or comment on it.

There are also archiving capabilities, either for a particular project or general archiving for the long term.

The archive can be held simply as PDF documents or with the original source files (eg CAD) attached.

Contact: www. adobe. com, 020 8606 1100 OUT ON SITE The increasing pervasiveness of mobile technologies like camera phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants, such as Palm or Blackberry) is prompting vendors to offer new packages. At the exhibition we picked out one package for site surveys and one for snagging.

The background of PowerCAD is in desktop CAD (in Germany), but latterly it has implemented this on laptops and PDAs too. And that move to mobility is now complemented by its PowerCAD SiteMaster 3, a site-survey package that can feed site data to PowerCAD or indeed to your existing CAD system.

The package involves a small laptop (the Flybook) running the SiteMaster software, and a hand-held laser distance meter (which can be wireless, using Bluetooth protocol), which together allow measurement and drawing on site.

A camera function also allows you to import images and reference them by adding icons to the drawings. The most sophisticated version of SiteMaster includes an image function - for direct insertion and scaling of photographs and creating image underlays within a drawing.

Contact: Michael Axon at PowerCAD UK, tel 07831 271873, email mail@maxon. me. uk At the other end of the project process comes a site-based package for data capture and management during snagging, called Priority 1 Defect Management. Currently implemented on Palm PDAs, it allows input of defect descriptions using a range of keywords that cover remedial actions - make good, add, paint, etc - and locations - corner post, plinth, etc. The aim is to increase consistency of defect descriptions and remedial-action instructions.

The software includes some data management tools for defect scheduling, action lists and their distribution, say via the web or a project intranet.

Contact: Mobile Computing Systems, tel 01792 485750, email enquiries@mobilecomputing. uk. net

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