BIM to CNC

Our talk from KA Connect 2011: Seven Steps for Digital Fabrication

We recently were invited to give a talk at the wonderful KA Connect 2011 conference. A meeting focused on how we all capture and manage know-how in the building industry, it was a very informative and inspiring two days!

BIM and Digital Fabrication together create a lot of interesting new challenges and capabilities. We gave a brief talk about our 7-step process we use on all our projects that helps us fully leverage this new way of working for a design-build studio like ours.

Check out the rest of the talks! They are so awesome. Lots of great information!

See us at the AGC's BIMForum Conference in Phoenix, AZ later this week

We're honored to be included in this year's BIMForum conference in Phoenix, AZ! We'll be giving a talk about BIM-to-CNC fabrication on Thursday afternoon, January 14th, at 3:15 pm. We'll be focusing a lot on our in-house process we use to go from BIM to Digital Fabrication. We'll also be talking about the big changes that have been recently happening in that space. With a few fun things to show off, we've got high hopes that it will be a great talk!

In the past, CNC machines were used to solve one of two problems: either you needed to make a whole lot of something quickly, or you needed to make something that wasn't easy to make by hand. CNC machines were all about high production rates. And they had to be, for they were ungodly expensive, and the software and know-how even moreso. But now with CNC machines getting cheap enough, and the knowledge widespread enough, so that anyone can use them for almost anything they can think of, well, it really changes the whole game. And that's exactly what were going to be talking all about!

The BIMForum conference is held twice a year by the Associated General Contractors of America, an industry group akin to the AIA or AIGA but for builders. With a focus on emerging technology and it's use in the building industry, BIMForum looks to be wonderful conference of AGC people. People who are really making changes and making things work. So many of these technology-focused building industry talks can wander into the tall reeds of theory. So we're rather interested in talking to a bunch of people who are more about the day-to-day realities of getting things built! We're really looking forward to meeting everyone.

Hope to see you there!

Short talk at the AIA conference

Back in April, we were invited to give a brief talk at the AIA conference in San Francisco. You can download the video here, and the slides are available as a PDF here. No embed, sorry, don't know why the AIA site decided to go with a download for the video.

The talk is a five-minute overview of the five-step process we use here at Because We Can to make stuff, and we're pretty happy with how it came out.

While the AIA puts on a different conference just for technology-focused topics called TAP, for Technology in Architectural Practice, they also had a 'mini-TAP' if you will during the main larger AIA conference.

The San Francisco Digital Design group, an informal breakfast club we're part of, did a group presentation as part of that 'mini-TAP'. It was a http://www.pecha-kucha.org format, i.e. 20 slides with 20 seconds per slide, with ten different people presenting. We were excited and honored to be one of the presenters, as our other nine co-presenters were all terribly smart and experienced experts. I highly recommend watching all the presentations!

Revit to CNC process recap

So we get designers asking us sometimes about how we work with Revit and CNC tools together. Or they say that they tried doing it, and didn't have it really work out very efficiently. They wonder what special tool or bit of software we're using that makes it work.

Well, it's not about technology or tools. It's about people and process. We here at BWC have worked out a process that allows us to quickly and efficiently go from a BIM model in Revit to CNC-produced physical elements.

The thing that most designers don't understand about a CNC workflow is the CAM software, isolation of elements for export, and general fabrication and modeling methods and limitations. It's all about the process in how you use these tools, and how you link them together, than in the tools themselves.

Having decent CAM software is a big part of this being successful. We use something called Aspire from Vectric, and we love it. It's great for three-axis work, which is what our CNC router is. We're not simply dumping out whole messes of models and feeding it to the CNC machine directly as if it was a 3D printer, we're exporting discrete elements from Revit, importing them into the CAM software, setting up the jobs within the CAM software, and then running those jobs on the CNC.

So we model things in Revit in a way where we can easily separate out all the bits. Good families, view templates, sections in families, lots of isolated 3D views, and more go a long ways to making this work. By exporting clean 2D sections of flat parts as DWG/DXFs, or 3D solids as DWG/DXF/SAT files, you can import those parts into CAM software for proper toolpathing.

We also at times use Revit families as a placeholder for a more complex model, or sometimes have a simpler representation in Revit of something we know we'll add more details to in the CAM software. For example, we might start with a solid in Revit, export that to Blender, manipulate it further, and then bring that into the CAM software. Or we might simply have two solids overlap in Revit, and within the CAM software we'll insert in the vectors requred for toolpathing the proper joint.

The final thing really is that we know how things go together. We know fabrication and construction, and a lot of Architects and designers simply don't really know how to build things. A huge part of making the CNC work is the actual craft of the thing, understanding tolerances and material strengths and weights and joinery details.

So it's really a whole process, not just a single tool or bit of software that makes it work. I'll be talking about this at the upcoming TAP pre-AIA conference, and I'm hoping to talk more about this at AU this year. With an actual demo of making something via a CNC or laser cutter on the spot if they will let me!

Also, if you are an Architect or Designer looking to go from Revit BIM models to CAM software and CNC production, well, give us a call. We love to help people out, and we're fast and reasonably priced, as well as being fun to work with! We've helped a number of designers as CNC consultants with modeling, toolpathing, and actual production and fabrication of their ideas, and we've got a proven track record of using BIM and CNC together.

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