Once a tool purpose built for creating AAA videogames, Unreal Engine has now taken the architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) industries by storm, with design professionals using it for their design visualizations and renders. With real-time visualizations, designers, clients and extended stakeholders can experience their model or project before it’s built. As a result, more tools are coming out from small and giant 3D software companies to help 3D artists make the most of their 3D data. But there’s a bottleneck in preparing 3D content that Meshmatic is working on. Let’s talk about the problem first.

Why are AEC professionals using real-time 3D?

Real-time technology lets AEC professionals make the most of their designs. With real-time 3D, problems with designs can be discovered early on, instead of dealing with them further down the road with higher costs and repercussions. Currently, there’s a considerable demand for photoreal and interactive presentations that not only enable design professionals showcase their projects, but also facilitate collaboration with other project members and stakeholders.

With immersive visualizations, architects can bring their vision to life. Similarly, engineering firms are able to visualize unique project solutions and share it with project stakeholders. And in construction, where job sites are complicated and coordination between different parties is needed, 3D visualizations can help project teams visualize construction plans in real-time. In conjunction with all the three AEC categories, 3D visualization allows professionals to catch mistakes early during the design process, before, such mistakes would come to light after construction had already begun! But here is the bottleneck…

Bottlenecks with using real-time 3D in the AEC industry

While real-time technology is changing the game for AEC professionals, there’s a handful of bottlenecks that impede real-time 3D from fully taking off… overcoming these barriers will be essential to the boom of real-time 3D in AEC!

Large project sizes

Unlike gaming projects, where file size is generally not an issue (thanks to your desktop graphic card), AEC projects have more complex trigonometry and polygons. They also utilize BIM (building-information-modeling), which increases the level of complexity, resulting in a larger file size. BIM projects hold layers of complex information, they come together to create a final design file with both a buildings design and functionality information (like time and cost data), that need to be preserved. For real time tech to run smoothly, it needs high-performing 3D files. This means that 3D artists are left with no choice but to improve the FPS by manually optimizing 3D files for real-time visualization.

Tedious optimization

Manually optimizing a 3D files performance for real-time tech entails going through your never-ending asset hierarchy and manually finding performance-limiting factors like:

  • Duplicate assets
  • High vertex assets
  • Empty groups with transform data hiding in them
  • Hidden assets that never got reused and were never deleted

In AEC projects, mundane assets (like bolts and screws) are endlessly repeated throughout a design file. These assets are needed for the construction phase for example, but don’t need to be visualized in the design phase. In some cases, visualizations focus on exterior factors of a model, and not on the nitty gritty; or vice versa!

In any case, 3D artists must manually review and locate the duplicates in the hierarchy and delete them one by one or create LOD’s or instances repeatedly. This may sound like an easy task, but it’s time-consuming, budget burning, and tedious!

Time for visualization!

Or not… Now that the CAD file is optimized and ready for visualization, it’s time to add effects to your scene (like sky, cars, street). These effects are necessary to make an immersive visualization realistic and interesting, which is key for stakeholders and clients that want to get a life-like visualization. For example, an architectural firm visualizing a new condo might want to add street level effects like trees and cars to give clients an accurate depiction of the final project. While AEC design files are created in CAD format, additional props and effects may be built in FBX format. After optimizing the AEC CAD design, it’s time to optimize the FBX side of the visualization.

How can we solve these problems?

Large-sized projects and manual optimization for both CAD and FBX assets cause costs and delays. Finding an automated solution to remove these bottlenecks is essential for a smooth real-time 3D experience!

What solutions are in the market?

As the demand for real-time tech increases and 3D engines are used by professionals outside of the gaming and entertainment fields, tools to help 3D artists make the most of their 3D content are on the rise!

Optimizing both CAD and FBX

Many solutions in the market focus on optimizing CAD formats, it’s easy to understand why. Since the introduction of AutoCAD in the 1980’s, CAD has become the go-to format for design professionals in AEC fields. Therefore, most importing or optimization tools that help 3D artists with 3D clean-up specialize in only CAD formats. But the market is changing along with the expectation for a high-fidelity visualization; which requires the accuracy of CAD and the beauty of non-CAD assets (FBX) in your scene. Having a both a CAD and FBX optimizing tool is becoming essential… here’s why.

If we look at the final version of an immersive visualization, CAD doesn’t make up the entirety of the project, FBX is also in the mix! Optimizing the CAD part is necessary, but they only make up approximately 80% of an immersive visualization in the AEC industry. The final 20% is made up of FBX-based assets. Having both a CAD and FBX optimization tool will help companies ensure their whole project is performant for real-time visualizations.

Plug-in vs standalone

Another factor to consider is whether the tool is a plugin or a stand-alone, both have their benefits and setbacks. Plug-ins are great options for smaller studios that have small-scale projects. They add functionalities to extend the use of an application or software. In the case of 3D engines, importing different 3D formats into them becomes possible. Plug-ins also offer a lower-cost alternative compared to stand-alone software’s that tend to range on the pricier side.

The prime benefit of stand-alone software’s is they aren’t built on top of any software, so they aren’t dependent on another application; nor do updates damage their compatibility or functionality. Also, handling external factors, such as GPU usage, driver handling, memory management, and much more are far easier in standalone applications, which make them more suitable for larger scale projects. While they tend to be more costly, they also tend to have more features that make up for the higher cost.  

User experience and journey

Another factor to consider is the tool’s user-friendliness and whether it has a steep learning curve. 3D artists already work with a substantial amount of software, and optimization tools are meant to make their work easier, not to add more stress! Making sure the tool you decide to incorporate into your pipeline is compatible with your team is essential. While plugins are great additions, they also limit you to a restricted pipeline, thus reducing the project development your team can take on. With a standalone solution that doesn’t dictate your entire pipeline, your optimization is improved expanding your circle of options.

CAD and FBX optimizing tool in the market

Currently, Meshmatic seems to be the only stand-alone software that can handle CAD and Non-CAD (FBX, STL, and 38 more formats) to optimize for real-time and has a user-friendly user interface with a gradual learning curve. Incorporating a CAD and FBX optimizing tool into your workflow will ensure your entire visualization project is prepared for real-time 3D.

To find more about Meshmatic’s features and benefits, go to this page.