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2021 Tech Trends—CAD/3D Industry Executives Share Thoughts

2021 Tech Trends explores impacts and accelerations of both CAD/3D and larger ICT trends, with key input from CAD and 3D industry executives.

IN A POST-PANDEMIC WORLD WHAT TECH TRENDS will have emerged, accelerated, or changed for us all in the years ahead? And specifically—what impacts will there be in the CAD and 3D industries?

To answer these questions, CAD and 3D industry executives share perspectives, impacted naturally by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Firms and individuals around the globe have had to make numerous adjustments to live-work life arrangements. Many of these changes will remain with us for years to come. Additionally, we look at long-arc tech trends and how they too have been possibly impacted by pandemic context. But first, five trends for 2021.

Trend 1: Mobility is Heightened

This is both the most obvious and most interesting trend with respect to the pandemic context. To get the best sense of what is happening across multiple CAD and 3D industry segments, we had the good fortune of Lenovo approaching us to discuss 2021 trends. Speaking to a world-leader in workstation computer hardware added insights we might not get from software folks.

Chris Ruffo, Worldwide Segment Manager, Architecture, Engineering, and Product Development, Lenovo, told us the pandemic has altered the mobility parameter in computing. “Mobility is going to be the new norm,” he says. “We believe this is going to continue and many of the things that our customers learned in the past year are going to be a part of their permanent workflow.”



We partner with a firm called TGX that enables users to connect a mobile workstation to a desktop workstation or a rack workstation to do more powerful workstation type work.

Chris Ruffo, Architecture, Engineering, and Product Development, Lenovo



With professionals forced to work from home, the CAD and 3D industries faced myriad challenges—from computer power, collaboration to data storage. These three core challenges drove the importance of other trends listed below. But the initial factor facing the closures of offices was how do I bring my work home? 

The pandemic suddenly highlighted the concept of “grab and go” for end-users and computer manufacturers alike. And it’s going to have an enduring impact. “The easiest thing was for people to pick up their workstations and take them home,” says Ruffo. However, today’s computer systems were never designed for a pandemic context. Ruffo said that challenges for IT departments and professionals have included learning how to securely access their work files, connect mobile users at home back into their offices or data centers, and how to do high-performance work remotely.

The easiest solution seems to suggest that powerful laptop computers could support the “grab and go” utility for a pandemic and post-pandemic world. However, laptops want to be thin and light. And that’s the challenge. Such machines don’t support the GPU power necessary to respond to pre-pandemic workflows much less the present pandemic context. (see trends below).

“We partner with a firm called TGX that enables users to connect a mobile workstation to a desktop workstation or a rack workstation to do more powerful workstation type work,” says Ruffo. He says that in the AEC space as well as other CAD/CAE environments, IT departments want to create a one to many environments where many remote workers can connect to a powerful centralized server. “We believe that mobility will become a permanent part of what AEC firm do going forward,” he adds, “and certainly solutions that enable powerful GPU-based workflows that are centralized in the office or data center are going to be a part of that solution.”



I believe this completely ignores the fact that human beings actually like being around other human beings.

Istvan Csanady, CEO, Shapr3D



One final note about the Mobility trend. This isn’t the same as the Remote Work trend. The latter is a long-arc trend that got a forced massive boost. But Istvan Csanady, CEO of Shapr3D says he is not convinced the degree of remote work will stay this high long-term. “I believe this completely ignores the fact that human beings actually like being around other human beings,” he says. He emphasizes what the pandemic context really emphasizes is that “having a modern technology stack is inevitable in 2021.” This implies that firms (especially) but even homes, need to have an up-to-date technology stack (see Trend A below) and this will include the use of “mobile devices and running cloud services,” he says. “Not having a modern infrastructure in place is a liability and a blocker for productivity.”

When it comes to mobile devices Csanady is a fan of Apple’s iPad Pro and has built a thriving CAD industry company on it, with Shapr3D. “What we see in our customer base is that there are a plethora of Shapr3D customers wanting to do more and more on their iPads,” he says. When it comes to “grab and go” in the time of Covid, grabbing a mobile device like the iPad Pro is hard to beat.

Trend 2: Cloud Connectivity/Collaboration/Digital Twins

Cloud computing is a central feature of ICT innovation in the past decade. What happened with the forced remote work situation during the 2020 COVID-19 crisis is that companies accelerated both the use and adoption of cloud-based software solutions. Storage of data in the cloud became mission-critical during 2020. And the BIM industry, in particular, entered the pandemic context far less than optimally prepared.



Design freedom maintains a position of high importance to the Archicad development team…




While nearly every CAD and BIM company offered some form of cloud-computing solution to aid the remote work orders during the pandemic, typically what was offered was centered on the more collaborative or storage side of BIM. There is no major BIM authoring solution that works natively through the cloud at the present time. BIM models are large data files. Working on federated and centralized BIM data sets, AEC professionals learned to adapt and develop workflows that prior to the pandemic were often only found in large or tech-forward practices.

“Design freedom maintains a position of high importance to the Archicad development team,” says Huw Roberts, CEO, GRAPHISOFT. “When the move to cloud-powered offices—necessitated by the pandemic—became a part of the day-to-day reality, GRAPHISOFT made certain firms could facilitate on behalf of architects using Archicad.” GRAPHISOFT’s BIM solution was better positioned to deal with the pandemic than most. The Hungarian software leader led the industry back in 2014 with its patented delta-server technology inside its BIMcloud solution.

Both BIM and CAD users in the AEC space have needed a method during the pandemic to access and work on their data with others (including multiple users working on the same file at the same time) from remote locations like their home. This persistent need will drive up innovation in cloud connectivity and collaboration. While there are excellent online meeting tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, few of these tools are integrated with existent BIM collaboration tools, to say anything about BIM authoring tools. The emergence of API connectivity (the Integrations era) will hopefully aid these issues.

There is substantial room for improvement, not only in the current set of video conferencing solutions available but in the integration of online meeting tools technology with BIM and CAD drawing collaboration environments. As remote working looks more likely to be an impact change for years to come, a healthy set of startups is looking to improve things. Bluescape, for example, offers virtual workspaces for teams and clients. Other solutions like Figma, and Slab, join existent tools like Asana and Slack.



In the building design sector, digital twins are used to optimize project delivery and enable efficient collaboration.

Eduardo Lazzarotto, Director of Product Management Design Integration, Bentley Systems



Another part of this second trend in cloud-focused and collaborative technology is Digital Twins, and they extend off of these trends in BIM and the push for cloud and collaboration. If you read about Foster + Partners using the robot dog Spot in our emTech feature tied to our Xpresso newsletter, you know that recording as-built data is made both three-dimensional and serially recorded in daily or weekly treks around the job site using sensors and 3d cameras on and inside Spot. That data is creating a digital twin back in Foster + Partner’s office.

“In the building design sector, digital twins are used to optimize project delivery and enable efficient collaboration,” says Eduardo Lazzarotto, Director of Product Management Design Integration, Bentley Systems. “Many organizations are already using digital twins on projects to prove their value. An excellent example is Sweco’s use of Bentley’s digitization workflows. Sweco established an open, connected data environment that supports cooperation over many countries and disciplines.”

Some in AEC think of digital twins as something that is akin to passing on the BIM model to the client for CAFM (computer-aided facilities management) at the end of construction. But digital twins are far larger than the data inside BIM models and systems. Sure, the data inside BIMs can reduce costs, streamline maintenance, and streamline operations. But in the case of Sweco’s use, Lazzarotto says their “integrated project teams create intelligent models and use analysis to elevation design, as well as help more than 300 members gather, manage, distribute and validate project information in real-time.”

next page: Trend 3: Real-Time Design and Trends 4-5

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