Efficiency by Design: Visualization Technologies Help Zahner Build the Present and Plan for the Future

By Akio
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by Nick Lerner

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@azahner Build the Present & Plan for the Future @3DSAEC

For nearly 120 years, US based A. Zahner Company has been at the forefront of technology and innovation within the architecture, engineering and construction industry.

Recently, the company implemented a cloud-based design system to improve communication in what is oftentimes a fast-paced, fragmented industry.

Compass spoke with A. Zahner Company CEO and President L. William Zahner to understand how the company continues its success and innovation in a high-risk market.


A. Zahner Company is a family business. “That’s 210 families; one for each of our employees,” L. William Zahner, CEO and president, said.

L. William Zahner, President and CEO of Kansas City-based A. Zahner Company. (Image © Cameron Gee)

Founded in 1897, the architectural engineering and fabrication firm began making decorative metal cornices for buildings.

Now in its fourth generation of the Zahner family, it imagines, designs, fabricates and installs some of the world’s most innovative structures in cooperation with leading architectural practices including Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid Architects.

With a turnover approaching US$50 million, the company employs 30 design engineers; another 90 employees work on production and installation.

“Combining experience, skill, technology and craft, we make the complex simple and get buildings built on time and within or below budget,” Zahner said.

The firm works on signature architectural projects where design intent must be retained, despite the inefficient complexities of what Zahner describes as, “a very fragmented AEC industry.”

In this often unstructured environment, the company aims to reduce the building industry’s biggest challenge: risk.

The Inner Arbor Trust (IAT) contracted A. Zahner Company for architectural engineering of the Chrysalis Amphitheatre designed by Marc Fornes & THEVERYMANY. Michael McCall, President and CEO of IAT, said the 5,000 square foot performance space consisting entirely of curves will “feel as if it’s a living part of the environment, blending into the forest and the sky.” (Image © Michael McCall, courtesy of Strategic Leisure)

RISKY BUSINESS

“What we do is highly risky because we make large-scale things that seem very complex and have never been made before in an industry well known for going over budget and into court,” Zahner said.

To reduce risk and shrink project costs, the firm uses cloud-based 3D visualization to communicate designs and precisely define how those designs will be engineered and manufactured.

“This reduces waste, labor, materials, weight and cost while improving quality,” he said.

Complexity is inherent in the firm’s need to engage with many diverse owners, partners, stakeholders, building contractors and interest groups, including city planners and regulators, even as it develops grander and more complex structures.

Too often, Zahner said, perceived risk limits creativity and discourages innovation.

But by communicating ideas and plans visually through a digital representation over the cloud, the firm succeeds in explaining its vision in terms that anyone can understand, in any language and at all levels of expertise.

This accords with the British government’s “Construction Strategy 2016-20” which states that improved relationships and engagements across clients and the supply chain are key to increased innovation and reducing risk while cost transparency and collaborative working deliver value for money outcomes.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

“Building where there are no straight lines can be confusing,” Zahner said. “Our job is to make that simple, which increases people’s confidence to explore, collaborate and then innovate with new ideas.”

Improved understanding also generates efficiencies that help to reduce process redundancy and save as much as 20% of project cost.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: Improved understanding helps save
as much as 20% of #AEC project cost @azahner @3DSAEC

Zahner recently used this process to cut project redundancy for a federal courthouse building that was US$6 million over budget, delivering the project for US$1.5 million less than the original budget.

The Inner Arbor Trust (IAT) contracted A. Zahner Company for architectural engineering of the Chrysalis Amphitheatre in Columbia, Maryland (designed by New York-based Marc Fornes & THEVERYMANY).

IAT President and CEO Michael McCall said the 5,000 square foot (465 square meters) performance space consisting entirely of curves will “feel as if it’s a living part of the environment, blending into the forest and the sky.”

“Communicating designs and ideas with cloud-based 3D dashboards gives us the ability to see progress and understand the fine detail of this complex project even though we are at a distance,” McCall said.

“It gives us confidence in the design and it’s fun to use.”

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: Cloud-based 3D dashboards for complex #AEC projects gives confidence in #design (and it’s fun) – @azahner @3DSAEC

McCall also appreciates that, “in an era of transparency, the software gives us a sense of the challenges and solutions so we know about things that would otherwise be invisible to us. Their commitment to cloud solutions convinced us that A. Zahner Company is on top of things and at the cutting-edge of their industry.”

In today’s most iconic designs that incorporate visually stunning curved façades, detailed precision edges and junctions are key to achieving the aesthetic. “We work on beautiful buildings that require a beautiful finish,” Zahner said.

“We produce digital visualizations of buildings that some clients believe cannot really be built. So we invite customers into the factory and show them physical examples to prove that designs can be made that exceed their expectations and are a lot more beautiful than they ever believed possible.”

One such building is the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, which opened in December 2015 after a US$90 million refurbishment.

The Los Angeles Times architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, described its new stainless steel and red aluminum façade, engineered by A. Zahner Company, as among “the most extroverted ever built in a city famous (and in some quarters infamous) for architectural exuberance.”

WORK OF ART

Many of Zahner’s ideas are inspired not only by visionary architects and designers but also by sculptors who hire the company to manufacture their work.

“When you put artists and engineers together, new ideas come out of that collaboration,” Zahner said. “The artists see what is possible and engineers understand the physics in the art.”

Zahner holds an annual sculpture competition and then manufactures the winning artist’s work. “The sculptures can be very challenging to make, but the rewards in terms of inventive input and technical R&D are considerable,” Zahner said.

“And it’s a lot of fun working with some of the most creative people you’ll ever meet.”

SMARTER TOMORROW

After 120 successful years as a family business, the company now is investing for future generations. “In the future, buildings will dynamically adapt to their environments with structures that respond to the needs of smart cities, smart populations and changing climates,” Zahner said.

“New surface finishes will be invented that can generate and store energy and even clean the air. Robots will be doing a lot of physical construction. We may even see the emergence of master designers, people who tackle AEC industry fragmentation and inefficiency in the historical role of master builders who use technology to see how everything fits together.”

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: Prediction: Master #designers will take on
the historical role of master builders – @azahner @3DSAEC

In line with its company principles, “be smarter tomorrow,” A. Zahner Company is researching and innovating in business developments that capture and capitalize its knowledge and experience using cloud technology to keep everyone informed and empowered.

“We are reinventing ourselves to be at the forefront of this industry with new spin-off companies that enable employee ownership and success for everyone,” Zahner said.

Thus ensuring that advanced technology, robots, new thinking and a strong artistic and maker temperament will carry its families forward for the next 120 years.

Originally published in COMPASS: The 3DEXPERIENCE Magazine

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: Efficiency by #Design: Visualization #Tech Helps
@azahner Build the Present & Plan for the Future @3DSAEC

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Sunlight on Imagina 2011

By Michael
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Monaco in the south of France is an attractive venue especially this time of the year when people living in places further north are hungry for some Mediterranean sun beams.

During my one day here I not only was able to see trees filled with oranges during what elsewhere is called winter (see my iPhone shot for a proof), I also had the pleasure to visit the Imagina 2011 event and exhibition, and to get updated on the latest news in 3D simulation and visualization solutions.

I wanted to share with you my personal impression and what stood out for me during my technofair walk-around:

1.) Convergence of the Physical and Virtual Content

During the visit of the vendor exhibition I’ve seen solutions targeted to digitize real objects, and to transfer them into a virtual environment – for augmenting the value of such application.

Objects range from whole  landscapes (for geo localization systems), houses to whole cities (in architecture and construction, city development), any industrial object (for reverse engineering) and also living objects (for health care applications).

To illustrate the point I choose a company called Topcon. They offer scanning solutions to digitize physical objects up to the size of a mountain range with an equipment in a fixed position.

In contrast to the statical use above, the equipment also can be mounted on a car and thus become a mobile data acquisition unit.

When cruising a city the whole environment can be digitized in 360° (other than Google’s service which consists of patch-worked 2D images) and the data are used to create a full 3D model of the recordings.

Imagine how a digitized environment of real 3D can add value to a virtual experience. It just gets more real.

See the video to understand how that works:

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Looking at the the digital environments and virtual worlds presented to visitors at Imagina I have seen many efforts to let the 3D scenarios and characters show a maximum of realism. 3D geometries, colors and surfaces, human-like movements. Everything is done to convey the perception that the “virtual is real“, to draw the user into the scenario.

Most realistic presentation of virtual content makes use of  stereoscopic projection (needs glasses) and 3D screens (without glasses, and more and more convenient to look at), enabling power of graphics accelerators, innovative combination of standard hardware components to accomplish user immersion (AMD/ATI Eyefinity, can be visited at Dassault Systèmes Campus in Vélizy), and finally immersion by multi-touch navigation or full body use.

Dassault Systèmes runs a partnership program with leading manufacturers of devices and technologies which helps to drive this integration of physical and virtual environments. Lifelike experience needs the means to accomplish interaction of users and virtual applications.

2.) 3D Industry Applications

Imagina, as I was told, used to be a show for artists, designers and movie makers. Now my impression is that those are outnumbered by people who are interested in solving challenges in key industrial processes, such as design, simulation, manufacturing – with the help of 3D virtual environments.

Further, there is the application area of 3D simulation which allows for behavioral studies of objects in environments. Examples are traffic simulation in urban environments, or the analysis of panic scenarios in underground transportation for security optimization.

Applications in virtual learning, also called serious gaming, are used for service simulation and enable the use of products before they are physically available. Trainees are able to experience an environment which is not yet real, in a distant location or not readily accessible. Instead, trainees can visit the virtual copy.

As an example I’ll show an example for such a learning experience on an oil rig (built with 3DVIA) where the crew can be prepared for what awaits them there:

YouTube Preview Image

3.) Dedicated Solutions

This may be neither surprising nor new – but generally good news:  there is no general “one size fits all” 3D solution to meet all objectives at once. With the increasing capabilities of today’s 3D applications there is an increasing focus on users: what they need, what they can handle, what they do not want.

It’s all about using 3D as a media. But applications are very different dependent on which industry segment is served, which are the application domains (ranging from engineering to marketing communication to artistic use) and last but not least who are the people who become users.  As people are vastly different there is a rich variety of solutions specializing on different uses of 3D. Clients need good guidance to find what is right for them.

Dassault Systèmes has been at Imagina 2011 as a platinum sponsor with our 3D solutions to support human-centered sustainable innovation and development. Some of our alliances partners were present too: AMD, ESI, Immersion, Noomeo, nVidia, Optis and Wacom.

P’tit bonbon for you: Trailer of the TRON legacy movie which was projected during the Wednesday evening party at Imagina. Unfortunately you’ll not have it in 3D (yet).

The original TRON dates from 28 years ago and presented this crazy idea of bringing a guy, via laser scan, into the virtual environment created by a “computer system”. At Imagina 2011 I could see that we are not so far away from making this a reality.

YouTube Preview Image

Thanks for stopping by.

Best,
Michael

3 Ways to Visualize Hierarchical Structures

By Oleg
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I’m always thinking about alternative ways to present information to PLM software users. I think one of PLM’s challenges is to be able to present complex data in a simple way. Using 3D is one of the possibilities to reduce the complexity of data representations and visualize it for users. Hierarchical data is everywhere in PLM – product structure, bill of materials, drawing. Today, I’d like to show three possible ways to visualize hierarchical data to make it more presentable to a user.

Tree Map

A tree map is a visualization of hierarchical structures. This type of visualization is very efficient in a space constraint situation. The best you can do with such a visualization is to show attributes of leaf nodes in trees with appropriated color-coding and size. You can read more about this type of visualization on IBM’s Many Eyes project and here on 3D Perspectives. On the picture below you can see an example of a tree map visualization related to car fuel consumption. You can change the order, color code and sizing. This is, of course, depends on a specific implementation.

Botanical Tree

Here’s another interesting approach o visualizing huge structures. You can take a look at this research for more information. I found it very interesting. The authors are proposing models for tree organizing and visualization. I found this 3D visualization approach as something promising when we face a huge structure of information we want to discover. On the below image you can see the visualization of a Unix Directory using this method presented in this work.

Timeline Tree

This type of visualization, in my view, is an efficient way to combine hierarchical structure and time-related information. In many situations in product development, this is an interesting case. So, you can download and take a look at this research. I can imagine many situations when such visualization can be very useful (i.e. to present product structure with the relevant maintenance schedule and many others).

I’m sure there are many additional ways to visualize hierarchical data. I’m looking forward to your comments and discussing this.

Best, Oleg



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