Surprising... For fans of TopSolid CAD/CAM (computer-assisted design and manufacture) software, the prestigious Swiss school has put it to use in a rather unexpected way. A bit of background on EPFL: known for its science and technology programs, it consists of five schools, two colleges, a cross-disciplinary entity, 28 institutes, and 354 laboratories where more than 10,000 students from 112 countries work and experiment. Its educational teams are always at the cutting edge. As proof of this, the Architecture Section of the ENAC School (Natural, Architectural and Built Environment) uses the French publisher's powerful and user-friendly design and manufacturing tool to manage its students' projects.
The person behind this highly original approach is Professor Bernard Cache, who created the Laboratory of Digital Culture for Architectural Projects at EPFL in 2013. "The first time I used TopSolid was in 1991, to manage the architecture projects I had created in the firm OBJECTILE to make custom decorative wood panels," the old hand with Missler Software explains. By creating this original structure at EPFL, the goal of this specialist in building architectural components was simple: "I wanted to see how we could transpose industrial design and manufacturing methods to the field of architecture. With its orthogonal geometries and large assemblies, architecture is a world of its own." He continues: "Naturally, software solutions for integrating the work of designers have been around for a while, but our approach – using a tool like TopSolid, which has a powerful configuration engine – is different. It gives us a solution that integrates design and manufacturing while offering very efficient PDM (production data management). This allows us to machine architecture project elements on the large format, five-axis Maka machining center we have." A tried and tested approach, for example in the design and manufacture of parts for a HydroContest project in 2014, and most likely for BIM management of a Solar Decathlon project in 2017. Conducted in collaboration with the School of Engineering and Architecture of Fribourg (HEIA), the goal of this project is to build a life-sized, fully operational house in 18 months that will use solar as its sole energy source.
Featured throughout the university program, TopSolid is used intensively in the EPFL Architecture Section. Several hundred students use it simultaneously, a first in the world of education. "Some 300 first-year students create their geometries during my classes using TopSolid thanks to its access in VDI (Virtual Desktop Interface)," Bernard Cache explains. CAD/CAM is introduced in the second year, all the way to machining on the five-axis machine, and the 180 students can therefore follow the entire cycle. The software will facilitate the teaching of BIM (Building Information Modeling) in subsequent years in the Master’s program, an approach conducted in connection with the Swiss Study Center for the Rationalization of Construction (CRB). It should represent one of the experimentation platforms for standardizing BIM in French-speaking Switzerland. Students also have direct access via VDI to special software dedicated to architecture, as TopSolid interfaces with Archicad, Revit and Revizto.
At the other end of the university program, a few of the students participating in this educational experiment have become pioneers by modeling their graduation project using TopSolid.
The strong points of TopSolid:
- An economical, user-friendly and powerful solution that integrates a production data management (PDM) tool that is perfectly suited to BIM applications in architecture
- The software covers every step of a project, from design to five-axis machining
- The tool is efficient for both educational geometry work and for experimenting BIM standardization
Bernard Cache's opinion:
"By associating design and manufacturing, TopSolid allows you to manage the entire life cycle of an architecture project in BIM, while allowing young non-engineer users to get a feel for the industrial approach."