Quick on the draw

Schematic is a UK-based software developer with a difference. While most companies fitting its profile are the brainchild of technology engineers or enthusiasts, Schematic’s origins can be firmly found in commercial kitchen projects.

Two years ago, the company took the bold step of moving away from the installation business in order to channel its catering equipment expertise into creating a 3D design software package, buoyed by the belief that Building Information Modelling (BIM) — a process that uses virtual design tools to simulate physical plans — is set to become an essential part of future foodservice design needs.

Schematic’s flagship product — AutoScheme — was born out of its industry knowledge and aspiration to create a tool that would combine equipment dealers’ traditional and frequently disjointed activities of 2D technical planning, 3D visualisations and the compilation of itemised quotations for commercial kitchen schemes.

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“Dealers have for years carried the significant overhead of a design service they frequently cannot charge for and which required specialist CAD software operators,” notes Schematic’s technical director Stewart Millar. “Schematic evolved the idea of a system that requires less skill to use, was portable, and featured the revolutionary principle of designing in both 2D and 3D for increased design perception. When it became evident that the aspiration could also simultaneously create itemised quotations, then the idea became reality.”

Millar says the product, which has now been submitted for worldwide patent, contains a series of features which distinguish it from other design systems available to the trade.

“Whilst we were working on writing the software program, moves were afoot in the US to do exactly the same thing for 3D building design, which was termed ‘BIM’. It was clear we had converging paths: BIM with its sophisticated architectural and engineering needs, and our simpler requirement for 3D space planning of objects within a defined area. The result is a fascinating synergy of complex BIM software for architects or engineers and an easy-to-use space planning software.”

Being a BIM-compatible software system, Edinburgh-based Schematic claims that AutoScheme is cheaper, easier to use, faster and requires little training to learn. It is adamant that the system reflects the future of commercial kitchen design and other forms of space planning, where visualisation is increasingly important and cost reports are delivered by instant, itemised quotations at the earliest stage.

The immediate challenge that Schematic faces is articulating the merits of its offering to a market where the understanding of BIM and, in some cases 3D design, remains limited.

AutoCAD, produced by software titan Autodesk, currently remains the most widely used and referenced software system in the industry, but there are also other competitors developing both mainstream and industry-specific solutions. Millar insists one of the main features of its offering is that Open BIM standards lie at the core of its functionality, allowing sharing of designs with architectural and engineering BIM systems in new class-compliant BIM file formats, as well as native DXF for standard CAD systems.

This, he claims, makes AutoScheme the only system that is universal and talks to everything else. “To put this revolution into perspective, not all BIM software has backward compatibility or legacy support and some developers don’t even support one another,” he says. “All members of project teams using BIM need to be using the same versions to support file sharing to a full extent. By adopting the Open BIM Standards, AutoScheme will be a universal communicator for all BIM and CAD software ensuring an excellent ROI and peace of mind for future compatibility.”

From a user point of view, the ‘Drag & Drop’ approach to designing in AutoScheme uses technical 2D symbols and 3D models of actual manufactured brands of equipment. BIM information can be displayed in customisable lay-outs for services schedules, estimates and quotations, with easy export to spreadsheets or PDFs.

Designs are automatically generated in 3D when the technical 2D scheme is being created, while cameras in the 3D view can be used to produce near photo quality renders or video walk-throughs showing flow within a design and giving clients an enhanced appreciation of space.

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“The AutoScheme render engine has been optimised for rendering stainless steel and average render times on medium to large kitchens come in at around two to three minutes per image,” says Millar.

“Optional extras are selected using ‘The Factory’ within AutoScheme. By double clicking any object which contains extras, users can add and remove optional extras in a few clicks. The selections then update the 2D drawing, 3D layout, price, spec, and services accordingly. Along with automatic numbering of equipment in the drawing, complete designs can be completed in a fraction of the time. The alternative BIM solution to this would have been creating individual models with every permutation of optional extras. AutoScheme has this solved with the simple yet extremely powerful factory within our software.”

Schematic — which is headed by Joe Smith, a 40-year veteran of the catering equipment industry who in the past has worked for Stangard, Dynamic Catering Design and Scobie & McIntosh — claims the AutoScheme database is highly optimised for both desktop and mobile devices, consigning protracted loading times to the past and making live pricing a reality.

One of the big questions surrounding 3D software is how real industry products are utilised within a bespoke object, especially when BIM is only effective if every object in the design carries technical data.

Creating a bespoke object in the more sophisticated architectural software is a highly complex procedure, but AutoScheme purports to simplify that process.

Millar explains: “As we know, virtually all kitchens contain bespoke or re-used existing items. Using the simple 3D modelling tool ‘SketchUp’, users can create anything from a custom timber bar to an odd-shaped canopy design and import into AutoScheme. During the import process, you can attribute your own data such as price, specification and services. This stores the model in a local database for the user, allowing a complete bespoke library to be available for use in-house.

"The huge benefit of using AutoScheme in this way is that it guarantees BIM compliance for your bespoke products within major schemes and large building projects in the easiest way possible. This means your bespoke models will be compliant with the developing Foodservice BIM Standards, which Schematic are committed to supporting and progressing.”

AutoScheme’s web app provides the user with direct access to the same database for live global pricing 24/7 and allows direct communication with the design office to instantly send quotes and equipment lists.

Additionally, AutoScheme features its own advanced rendering program, which is also being sold to users of other 3D modelling software. “It incorporates a library of approved textures specifically selected for foodservice and interior design, which keeps render times on a standard PC to under five minutes for highly complex scenes,” says Millar.

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Millar adds that it is essential for models to be developed by a single source that comprehends the industry’s needs, creating cohesion across brands. These standards are critical when designing a scheme which invariably includes multiple brands from cooking and warewash equipment right down to a humble wash basin.

“These models must look and perform the same way if they are to integrate with BIM software. A classic example would be confusion with layers or simple textures that cause the required standard to fail. Models would invariably look incompatible and perform differently to those created by other brands who would use different modellers or design models only for specific BIM systems. The result will ruin the look of the images and the method of showing optional extras will vary, as would loading times of the symbols slowing up the overall render process.”

Millar claims the answer to this is freebimmodels.com, a site that will serve as an industry symbol library and provide a single source for all the right information. “Manufacturers would have direct access to the data base to input specifications and amend pricing. Printing annual price lists becomes obsolete and complete flexibility in pricing can be facilitated by implementing ibooks or electronic publications in a single click.”

It would seem that dealers have some serious software decisions to make in the coming years as BIM slowly makes its mark on the catering industry.

Jargon buster

BIM
Building Information Modelling. The collective name for future software systems which design buildings as virtual prototypes.

Render
A process that digitally enhances a 3D image to near photograph quality.

Render farm
A cluster of high powered computer systems used for time efficiency in the production photo rendering.

Revit
A specific BIM software created for structural engineering and design, which is produced by AutoDesk.

SketchUp
The most commonly and easiest-to-use 3D modelling tool.

Web app
An online application environment designed for mobile and desktop computer hardware which runs in a standard browser.

WYSIWYG
‘What you see is what you get’, a system in which onscreen content during the editing process appears as it is displayed when shown as a finished printed or online product.

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