An Architect’s Place in a Connector Plate Economy

Design software has advanced to the point that any person with a bit of training can build a simple model, populate it with building components, and click “calculate.” The simplicity and potential time savings – not to mention the ability to bypass a notably flawed process of communication and iteration between architect and truss designer – seems to hold incredible value which can be passed on to the consumer. As we have sought to incorporate the most accessible truss design software plug-ins available to the architect in our designs for this research, we found ourselves able to work with a manufacturer in this capacity only through great initial effort. Hindered by a lack of access to software training, architects remain dependent upon strong communication between architect – component designer to achieve unique or customized component conditions.

Companies like Autodesk make revenue by selling licenses to their software and are therefore motivated to innovate to compete with other software companies for the business of the architect. Conversely, truss design software providers like MiTek and Alpine are driven by their sales of metal connector plates. The software is secondary, and although there is noteworthy competition for software innovation among the plate suppliers, architects are outside the target market. Suppliers have little motivation to consider how the architect may utilize the software, which is evidenced by the fact that the software licenses are not available for general purchase. Alpine’s ModelMap Revit plug-in, which simply converts a model to a format accessible to the manufacturer’s software, must be requested and a 1-year license acquired before it can be used.

Alpine does offer a Revit toolbar geared specifically toward architects and contractors called VisionREZ which sells for $600/year per license. Bryan Randall of Alpine says he gets a few calls per year from architects requesting access to the IntelliView software, which includes engineering features and is only available to manufacturers. He asks them, “Do you sell trusses?” and when they say no, he apologizes and explains that he is unable to provide the software. Furthermore, there is no training material available for architects using the free ModelMap plug-in and arguably not enough training material available for the paid software.

Randall explained that it is his personal desire to see architects more involved and model communication more streamlined, but this would seem to require a structural shift in the connector plate business model. The software provided by MiTek, the bigger of the two competitors, has even less flexibility. While MiTek’s plug-in is easier to acquire by downloading directly from MiTek’s website, the software does not interact with Revit, a common BIM software used by architects. The plug-in makes a Revit file compatible with MiTek’s design and engineering software, but no function allows the model to be reintroduced to Revit later. This is a way of keeping the software closed; if you wish to interact with the structural model, you can observe it in MiTek’s Sapphire Mobile Viewer. Alpine seems less concerned with exclusivity; their software is open source, a strategy which allows innovation to occur more freely because developers can build off of the progress of others.

It seems that the interoperability between Revit and component design software is inevitable, but indifference and even resistance within the industry remains an immediate hindrance to opportunity for this technology to benefit the architect and thus, in many ways, the design and end consumer.


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