One of the drawbacks with the production of 3D models of complex designs is that in order for them to be of real use, you have to be able to explore them. It's all well and good producing renderings from your model; but allowing your client to 'walk' through your creation in a non- scripted way can not only sell a scheme, but also give the client a taste of what is to come. This process can also be important in avoiding mistakes and minimising delay. Conflicts within a design can become obvious within a 3D cad model and be corrected before anyone gets on site.
The problem with this type of interaction is that models containing detailed levels of information can become huge. They may contain millions of polygons, and even the fastest computer has a hard time rendering on screen in anything like real time. The solution to this was often to produce a simplified version of the model for viewing. However this involves the creation of a number of versions of a model, which by their nature will be missing data, and the viewer may value this data greatly.
The other solution to this problem is investing in expensive design-review hardware and software, with its inherent need for trained, skilled operators. The cost implication of both these methods results in design- review products being viewed as an expensive luxury.
A new product from Sheffield-based LightWork Design, NavisWorks is a tool for collaboratively communicating the visualisation of large 3D models around the entire organisation without the need for expensive high-end computers and the software used to create the model. Communication is carried out via e-mail, allowing NavisWorks simply to slip into an organisation's current communications process.
Viewing the 3D model using NavisWorks couldn't be simpler. The user simply selects the frame rate desired, which remains constant throughout the viewing cycle, and opens a file. NavisWorks then opens an entire 3D model and allows the users to navigate quickly in near-real time. It does this by only displaying key information on the screen while you are moving your view and then rendering the entire image when you stop. LightWorks is responsible for some of the best rendering engines around. NavisWorks is the company's first 'out of the box' product and the result of the years of expertise in computer-rendering.
One of the first major uses of the software was as a design tool on the Human Body Zone in the Millennium Dome. Crown House Engineering, the m&e contractor on the Dome, was finding it very difficult to handle the vast data sets produced by the product. It needed a way to view quickly in 3D very large data sets as it was important to have complete 3D models to work with.
The arrival of NavisWorks on site transformed the process of design validation and clash detection. The full data set could be viewed at any level of detail. With the program, plan sections can be taken through a model at any level and the height dynamically altered. This allows the viewer to move down through the floor to the services levels and then zoom into a detail. Every valve and ahu is in the model so the engineers can use the working model as reference material as well as for production drawings.
When the Human Body Zone architectural team saw NavisWorks in action, it was amazed; everyone involved in the project could understand how they managed to get by without it.
Full automatic clash detection will be available as a plug-in product for NavisWorks by the time you read this. The clash-detection module automatically senses any 'soft' or 'hard' clashes and produces a list of such items to view and review.
NavisWorks can currently read dwg, 3ds and dxf (Autocad) files. As of this month, NavisWorks will also be able to read MicroStation dgn files. The append facility allows these file formats to be imported into NavisWorks together and viewed as one complete model, allowing several companies to work together. NavisWorks can run on any standard desktop pc, even a 486, and is packaged into two different formats: Publisher and Roamer.
NavisWorks Publisher allows the user to import Autocad and MicroStation files into NavisWorks. This ensures that the trained cad users are responsible for producing the main files for viewing around the organisation. NavisWorks Roamer allows all other users to view the models, comment and make changes to their own model in order to communicate their queries. Therefore, there is no need to be specially trained in computer-aided design to be able to use the product. In short, anyone who can use a pc can at least get started in NavisWorks.
Information on NavisWorks is available at www.lightwork.com or by ringing tel 0114 266 8404. NavisWorks starts at £950