You could stab the stuffing out of the SolidWorks documentation, but you won’t find the mention of BIM or AEC anywhere. What you will find is another cushiony three letter acronym synonymous with both, IFC.

In fact, for SolidWorks 2011, you’ll see a little .IFC format compatibility, the addition of walk-through visualization, and special reference geometry to help in the creation of tiny… or massive grid structures. They are three features being added to push SolidWorks kickin’ and screaming onto the AEC dance floor. Does it have the moves and the mojo to groove?

I’ll touch on the first two real quick like, but what I really want to focus on is this .IFC file export business.

Acronym guide

AEC – Architecture, Engineering and Construction
BIM – Building Information Modeling (Wikipedia)
IFC – Industry Foundation Classes (Wikipedia)


Part of the new visualization tools is the ability to add a walk-through. This is a typical visualization of large-scale building that gives you a first-person view of the surrounds. It’s nice for plant design, but also for residential or small commercial setting where you want that perspective.

Testing in SolidWorks 2011 Beta 3, the set-up and moving about in SolidWorks is a tad wonky, but the controls are simple and easy to pick up. You can record the walk-throughs as well.

SolidWorks 2011 features a new tool to create walk throughs of your models. (Click to Enlarge)
SolidWorks 2011 features a new tool to create walk throughs of your models. (Click to Enlarge)

Grid System Tools

The Grid System tool is simply a way to insert a group of sketches as a single feature which can be used to construct structures suited for Grid layouts. In addition, you can apply Weldments to the Grid System. The Reference Geometry tool basically automates the process of laying out multiple planes, deriving sketches or creating sketch patterns.

SolidWorks 2011 has a feature to create Grid layouts that weldments can be applied to. (Click to Enlarge)
SolidWorks 2011 has a feature to create Grid layouts that weldments can be applied to. (Click to Enlarge)

.IFC file export for YOU

The .IFC file format is simply a format that allows you to exchange building data with other BIM programs. So for instance, now you can export a file from SolidWorks and bring it into Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD, Vectorworks Architect, Autodesk Revit and a slew of others.

Currently, SolidWorks simply exports IFC 2×3 format. It doesn’t import, so it’s not a fully certified IFC compliant application and I don’t think SolidWorks intends it to be so. This functionality is there to allow you to work in glorious 3D with SolidWorks, then export. There’s another aspect to this format though.

The new IFC 2×3 Version was launched at the beginning of 2006. In addition to 3D information on objects, this new IFC 2×3 Version also contains 2D layout elements such as labels, texts, symbols and hatching styles. Consequently, IFC can also be used for layouts and is thus able to replace existing 2D standards like DWG, for example. Via IFC2x3 Guideline

“Replace… DWG.” I sure SolidWorks/Dassault Systemes has (almost) nothing more desirable than to replace that format. It may be an unintended effect, but nonetheless, an effect. On top of this, allowing AEC professionals another options to model their structures in while not having to give up an existing workflow, makes sense. It may be that this is the beginning of more architectural functionality coming to SolidWorks. I know many who hope this is so.

To me, what’s frustrating about this, is that SolidWorks now supports IFC format export, but not export or translation to it’s sister CATIA or previous SolidWorks version… begin beating dead horse… again.

Image via AEC Magazine: ArchiCAD 14


Josh is founder and editor at, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.