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DESIGN IT RIGHT

Global IT powerhouse Bentley Systems has unveiled a wealth of tools covering the entire design, construction and maintenance cycle. Adrian Greeman reports from the launch.

With a flurry of international internet conferences in early November, US software house Bentley Systems began the launch of the V8i version of its MicroStation software and a host of specialist engineering software springing from it.

The critical feature of the new software is unprecedented connectivity, the company says, allowing transfer of data painlessly between a wide range of products for different tasks. "The portfolio is a collective whole to streamline workflows among multiple disciplines and throughout infrastructure life," the company declares.

Bentley will continue unrolling new products for 60 days, and says it has the most extensive set of tools available for the infrastructure sector. These include basic 3D CAD and civil engineering tools, like road and rail packages MX and Inroads and Bentley Rail; a host of engineering GIS tools, above which is a set of tools for utilities and specialist design, inspection and monitoring systems; process plant structural and flow tools; structural engineering and architectural tools; and pipeline network, mechanical and electrical and engineering software.

As well as launching the new software, Bentley is also unveiling its latest collaboration integration products, most notably the ProjectWise server system, which links together and tracks design drawings, survey work and other tasks across disciplines and geographically, and Navigator, which assembles data from disparate drawings and many others. It has also developed remote site inspection systems using portable devices, and recently moved into construction planning when it bought Common Point, a construction simulation package for developing timelines and logistics on site.

Altogether, the company has bought $1bn (£650M) worth of software products and companies in the last decade, chief executive officer Greg Bentley said at the launch press conference. The emphasis now, he says, is on linking it all together, with the "i" in V8i standing for inter-operability and "ntra-" operability. The key to this linking is a "translation engine" for the various tools that allows them to pass on data between the major products on demand, providing "intra-operability".

The format also remains compatible with past versions of the DGN file. The new version also allows links to a wide variety of outside data file formats, the company claims. To this end, Bentley and Autodesk agreed an exchange deal in the summer to swap the computer code that controls formatting of their design files. Microstation V8i also includes a new rendering engine licensed from Luxology, a virtual reality company that does Hollywood film work and computer games. Bentley global sales director Joe Croser explains: "The new render is extremely fast and high quality, and rules out the need for specialist rendering and visualisation tools. It used to be the case that you needed a parallel workflow – taking the model information into a separate programme, but this is now unnecessary," he says, adding that the tools can be used easily by engineers to quickly produce a rendered version of their design.

One major area for the new coordinated tools is in bridge design. Bentley has added a variety of new tools and companies in this sector, including LEAP, which produces software for analysing and designing concrete bridges. Other new developments include large bridge design tools developed by specialist Austrian firm TDV – now rebranded as Bentley RM – and load rating and analytical modelling tools Bentley BridgeModeler and Bentley LARS. It even has a program to help permitting authorities analyse routes for over-size vehicles.

Bentley is now pulling together these new tools, with its existing survey tools and road tools like InRoads Bridge under the banner "Bridge Information Modelling", enabling the firm to provide what it calls a "comprehensive life span solution" from planning and design to analysis, construction, maintenance and probable rehabilitation.

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