If you're looking for a new startup idea and you can build a cross-platform 3D modeler that:
* is compatible with existing file formats
* can cut real-time 2D plans and sections
* provides a well documented API in multiple modern languages (please no more BASIC)
Seriously, I think there is real money to be made here.
But yes there is real money to be made, and Autodesk is reaping it in. There are contenders for the small time market like Chief Architect but they're not bleeding money it seems. This is a winner takes all market and Autodesk has a 30 year advantage.
But for my end -- designers that depend almost entirely on Rhino or similar products -- those functionality needs aren't there.
But yes, we then have to have our designs "reimplemented" as construction documents if they are going to be built. It would be great if I could work solely in a BIM package, but none of them come close to meeting my (or most progressive designers') needs yet.
There are already a few companies dabbling in this space http://www.shapeways.com/ being the one I'm most familiar with. The most interesting approach would be if you could find a market niche that had idle capacity and a need for creative custom solutions that was currently going unmet.
The real chicken and egg problem with this idea is that you won't have enough designers and qualified production bureaus to form enough of a critical mass of purchasers until you have a critical mass of purchasers to make the service attractive to designers and production shops. It would probably work best if you start off with a small regional network of production houses that employed their own designers.
Big manufacturers already provide construction blocks, in standardized formats, for importing into design tools. From ICF forms to wallpapers. The 'marketplace' part is missing though, that's true. I don't even think it's a matter of technology, it's just that the industry isn't ready for it IMO. Construction is a very conservative industry.
(Yes, Blender, Sketchup, and so forth. Not tailored for the industry well enough.)
- can link in/import a number of existing file formats
- can cut sections as you described
- API is well documented and in .NET which lets you program in C#, F#, VB, C++ and any other language which runs on the CLR.
Great product, which improves dramatically in each release (so if you only looked at it a few versions ago, try again). It will cost you more than $1000 though!
The 'traditional' way of CAD for architecture is to draw a bunch of lines and circles, much like you'd draw a plan by hand, but on a computer. This is very error prone and labor intensive. Your client asks you remove a window, you need to remove it in several views etc.
The holy grail of architectural CAD is in a part of what is loosely called 'BIM', Building Information Modeling. You make a 3d model of a building and generate separate views on that, like cross sections and plans, but also use that same model to do e.g. earthquake simulations or energy efficiency analysis or cost estimating. Autodesk has a product called Revit that purports to do this, but it has a long way to go to really fulfill the 'BIM dream'.
This is a subject near and dear to my heart - working with architects and contractors who run around with A0 format paper copies of plans, who do cost estimates by measuring, with a rule (!) each room on the paper plan and calculate areas with a calculator on a piece of paper, it makes me die a little bit inside each time I get a quote and I see the areas or dimensions or whatever different for each fricking ocntractor, instead of using software that would do pretty much everything that they just spend a day on in a few seconds.
Now I would like my 2D cuts. By this, I mean I would like to look at a 2D cross-sectional drawing of my design. This may be at the XY plane, YZ plane, or some other arbitrary plane.
Most 3D modelers can do this, but when you make the 2D cut, you're often exporting the cut to a new file. If you change anything in the design, the cut does not update, and you must "re-cut". This is what I mean by real-time.
Good 3D modelers don't do this well, and poor 3D modelers can do this exceptionally (I'm looking at you Revit). Some can do both, but they're incredibly complicated and cost tens of thousands (Digital Project)
Have you tried Chief Architect? It works rather well in this respect, it's really made for ease of use. I don't know how well it would scale for large projects though, I've only toyed with it for small residential design. Plus the estimating and electrical/HVAC tools are poor to non-existent.
"plans" means 2D overhead views of a 3D model. "sections" means 2D side views of a 3D model, like a cross-section. I don't know what "real-time" means here, but I'd bet that it means you can grab onto the plane that defines the cross-sectional cut, move it in the normal direction, and have the model update smoothly. (The non-real-time alternative is that the location of the plane is specified by a value in some dialog box.)