Every week I get a fair number of e-mails and phone calls from users looking for quick answers and solutions. I’m (usually) more than happy to help. This week’s calls and e-mails involved confusion about layer combinations, concern about a missing navigator, questions about rendering and movie making options, and some general file export/import options. One of the most frequently asked questions I get: ‘What file types can ArchiCAD import and export?’ This doesn’t surprise me at all.

We don’t work in isolation… Usually.

A spectrum of collaboration exists. Open BIM represents the grander scale of collaboration. In an Open BIM world, everyone follows certain guidelines and standards, but isn’t shackled by a limited choice of software. It is a lofty goal, and something we as an industry will be pursuing for years to come. We all need to push for this. To maintain relevance, we don’t have much choice. On the path towards this paradigm, it is helpful to understand and think about the smaller scale of collaboration – the various export and import options that each program has.

Even when I was working on cabins to be built by multi-generational builders in Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, there would always be at least one exported file. Typically that meant a .dwg, but not always. There are so many programs out there and every team member has his or her comfort zone. I for one love that this diversity exists. Why should anyone be forced to use the same program as their collaborators? Can we even expect others to be as technology savvy and capable as us? Maybe it’s a door guy looking for an Excel file for the door schedule. Or perhaps a timber framer who works in SketchUp. Or some fabricator that needs a bizarre file type to feed into his CNC machine.

ArchiCAD Door Schedule

That’s a huge list, but there’s a catch right? Ask your IT guy about PICNIC, PEBKAC, and EBKAC.

This Archicadwiki page has a comprehensive list of what file types ArchiCAD 16 can import and export. With each new version of ArchiCAD, the list of importable and exportable file types changes subtly. If the file type you need to export isn’t on the list, don’t give up right away. If you’re looking for a specific file type, odds are other people have had the same issue and might know of solutions. Exporting to gbXML, for instance, is available via an add-on. If you have specific questions about a particular type of data exchange, ask on the Data Exchange and Information Sharing section on the ArchiCAD-Talk forum. Sometimes the solution involves an extra translation step via an intermediary program; in that case, the forum will likely have a post about the process or some fellow user will be happy to share their solution. In general, if you just want to learn more about data exchange, sifting through and reading old posts on the Data Exchange and Information Sharing section of the forum is an amazing way to learn. That’s where I start all my collaboration research.

Import/export options and results are going to be dependent on three things. The quality of the information to be sent or received, the time spent fine-tuning the export process, and the time spent fine-tuning the import process. I talk about one example of this on my blog. The import/export process can be robust, but sadly it is not yet capable of reading your mind. For example, this ArchiCADwiki article does a great job of explaining the various options with exporting .3ds files. Sometimes you want the object to import as one element, sometimes as discrete components. Having researched your specific import/export options, you’ll have the tools needed to make the right choices.

Static Objects No More; Importing in 2012 is more fun.

What would an article about ArchiCAD written after the release of version 16 be without at least one mention of the Morph Tool? Knowing what you can import to ArchiCAD is even more important now that we have the Morph tool. Since any object (native or imported) can be turned into a Morph, you can find objects that are close to what you want and then add, subtract, slice, bulge, and tweak to your heart’s content. Hopefully that’s old news by now. BUT… if you start doing lots of importing and morphing, you need to be aware of two big things. What you can import: Don’t just look at .skp and .3ds files; keep an eye out for good .obj and other file types. And remember to check the import list with each new version of ArchiCAD. Who knows what we’ll be able to import in 2013 or 2014. What happens to file size when you import: Not all objects are created equal. If you start importing a lot of objects, whether or not you morph them, you’ll need to start using the PolyCount Add-On. I wrote about my adventures with that Add-On for the BIMx competition last fall. Why does that matter? Polygons effect rendering time, model regeneration speed, and slow down 3D navigation. If you import an object that was lazily made in another program, morph it, and then smooth the surfaces, you can easily get an object to go from maybe a few thousand polygons to close to 100,000. For perspective, a highly detailed two story home modeled in ArchiCAD (with furniture, door knobs, a generous site, etc.) is around 50,000 polygons. At least in my experience. It’s not hard to find cars, trucks, people, and light fixtures from SketchUp that are of an equal polygon count. Makes you appreciate the modeling efficiency of native GDL objects and ArchiCAD elements, doesn’t it?

So where do I start?

Okay so you’ve been exchanging 2D data for years and you’re ready for something bigger and better. Where to start? Look into exchanging data via IFC with your structural engineers. If your structural engineers are working in Revit, read up on that collaboration process here. Look into doing clash detection yourself manually through ArchiCAD (by importing consultant’s 3D models) or in a free third-party viewer and collaboration tool like Telka BIMsight (which by the way you can conveniently download via www.myarchicad.com). Remember, you can always ask for 2D along with the 3D. It’s time to start pushing some boundaries and experimenting.

So where are you in the collaboration spectrum? Are you sharing anything beyond 2D information with your consultants? Let’s raise some awareness and take some next steps.



If you want a really quick, clear explanation of OPEN BIM… find four minutes and watch this video.

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