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TECHNICAL & PRACTICE - COMPUTING: Although the seasonal festivities are over, Christmas may have come again with the latest version of NavisWorks

An afternoon spent with NavisWorks 2.1 turned out to be as much fun as opening presents and drinking fine wine. It has been a long time since I last enjoyed using a piece of software quite as much as this.

First launched a little over two years ago by Sheffield-based rendering guru Lightworks, NavisWorks has gone from strength to strength, collecting some heavyweight support from Arup and Laing Technology, to name but two.

Used for reviewing, presenting and checking three-dimensional models, NavisWorks delivers modular tools in the form of Roamer, Publisher, Presenter and Clash Detective (I can't remember the other names of Santa's reindeer).

The plans that we made

What makes it so appealing? To start with, the interface has been stripped of all clutter and the tool icons intuitively represent their functions, making it one of the most logical interfaces I have ever used. The online tutorial continues the trend towards simplicity, leaving me with a sense of empowerment after just one hour. So much so that I was able to open one of my own AutoCAD models in Presenter and add textures to the geometry with ease before wandering through the space on screen. I completed my NavisWorks adventure by saving my wanderings as an AVI Windows mini-movie format for distribution by e-mail.

Covering almost all bases, the suite of modules allows the designer to import CAD models using the industry's most popular file formats, including the ubiquitous DXF file format, Autodesk's DWG and 3DS, Bentley's DGN and offerings from Infomatix and SolidWorks. It is possible to import more than one model from these different origins while displaying the different data formats in the same window at the same time, thus improving coordination.

The original file structure, including layers and x-refs, is retained and the layers can be switched on and off by the designer or reviewer to view the right information at the right time. Dynamic sectioning tools can also be used to make the building look as though it is being constructed before your eyes.

Once the 3D data has been imported, the options available within NavisWorks are almost endless. Incorporating a number of redlining (safe sketching) tools, the designer and reviewer are able to highlight areas of the model and add comments for access by others. Furthermore, hyperlinks can be assigned to individual objects or groups of objects.

Walking in the air

Alongside the navigation methods for interactively moving through the model such as walking, flying, zooming in and out, looking around from a stationary point and rotating the model, there is also the ability to save any specific viewpoint. These saved viewpoints are one of the methods to create animation. By specifying a chain of individual viewpoints, the designer can move or fly seamlessly between them and record the product for export to AVI.

NavisWorks' newest module, Presenter, enables the designer to interactively drag and drop textures on to the model to create a more realistic representation of the design.

Incredibly easy to use, the results are quite impressive considering that my little laptop still permits me to fly around the model without any great loss of performance. There are currently no shadows, nor is there an ability to add light sources, but I am assured that this will come.

For the financially well-endowed, there is even a module which will check for clashes. Described as hard and soft clashes, two or more geometric elements are checked to make sure they do not share the same space. If they do, the designer is alerted to the clash, whereupon he or she can make changes to the model or accept the clash as permissible.

All designers who have struggled to communicate spatial designs to clients using flat drawings or simple 3D models will appreciate the difference NavisWorks will make.

Roamer, the standalone viewer for NavisWorks models, costs approximately £300, while Publisher and Presenter weigh in at £950 and £1,250 respectively, and Clash Detective is a whopping £3,500.As many of us produce 3D models for our own design exploration, we are hardly likely to need Clash Detective or Roamer, preferring Publisher and Presenter. And at a smidgen more than £2,000, a single licence of each is a real bargain.

Joe Croser can be contacted by e-mail on joec@adrem-dcx. com or call 07973 263360

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