Where there’s a will there can be BIM

  • Building Design Expert
  • 6 years ago

2012 – the year of BIM? Not quite, but it’s certainly bigger news than it ever has been.

Who knows how long it’s been around. Hard to put a definitive on precisely when Building Information Modelling started ……… Although I don’t think 15 – 20 years would be unreasonable. Like anything that is apparently innovative, you will usually find it has crept upon us over time, until suddenly ‘It’s Here’.  The likes of HOK have been active users since 2006. But, as you will see, this is where the multi-disciplinery practices have a distinct advantage.

BIM is not just about using 3D visualisation software. Although, of course, this is a key ingredient. BIM is primarily about ‘process’ with a capital ‘P’. Of which 3D CAD is just one large jigsaw piece. Probably  the central jigsaw piece in actuality, to which the remaining pieces made up from the design team fit. But it is the ‘Fit’ that is proving to be the problem in the advancement of BIM.

Industry watchers will know that Paul Morrell, QS and senior partner at Davis Langdon, who are part of AECOM, and the governments Chief Construction Advisor, has placed firmly and squarely on the line that ALL government projects will be prosecuted under BIM by 2016. His vision has been modified from originally merely including projects valued around £50m, to now take in the cheapies at under £5m. Small beer indeed by government standards.

Interview with Paul Morrell

Is he forcing the issue? Yes, without a doubt. But the way I see it someone has to. Without a push like this, the industry will pussyfoot around for another 15 years I am sure.

Why BIM? What is Building Information Modelling?

So what’s stopping everyone jouneying down the BIM highway tomorrow?

Investment – That’s a biggy. Particularly in the current economy. 3D CAD packages are still very expensive. Not to mention suitable hardware, and training staff to get the best out of the whole system. So that begs the question are government design / construction contracts to be limited to those larger organisations who have the financial muscle to implement them? Maybe, unless the leading CAD software authors like Autodesk (Revit), Graphisoft (ArchiCAD) and Bentley (Microstation) are able to step over that supply and demand threshold that will make the whole investment process less painful.

Integration and harmonisation – When we talk of the software authors, we talk about a number of different ways of achieving the same end. Of course every one of them claims their way is best, and are currently paying lip service to the idea of file format harmonisation under the IFC banner (Industry Foundation Classes) based on 3D object file format.

NBS are just about to release the beginnings of what they hope will become the industry standard in 3D object libraries The National BIM Library to which manufacturers will subscribe there products. The main criticism being that this ground breaking facility will only be available to Autodesk users initially. Graphisoft and Bentley will continue in the wings as understudies until such time as the NBS are able to expand the horizon (technology) sufficiently to allow them in as co-stars.

The Design Team – Now the various disciplines: architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical et al; are most certainly under the cosh. – The sheer cost of investment? What to invest in? It’s like VHS and Betamax all over again! Well, no, not really. Autodesk have held the lions share of the CAD market for many years now, and Revit does seem to be dominant if sheer numbers are the sole measure. But the staying power of ArchiCAD and Micro-station is proof (if needed) that Autodesk might be the biggest, maybe not the best. A bit like Microsoft and Apple really. Windows may still be the biggest, but the best? No, I don’t think so.

So there’s Problem No. 1. Do you run with the main stream? Or, take what looks like a chance and buy into something that might just be more suited? In the belief that one day soon it will all be OK, because harmony is just around the corner.

Problem No. 2 eases seamlessly into the last. Individual consultants from individual disciplines, by the very nature of our democracy, will carry any of the afore mentioned  CAD packages, and maybe more besides (yes there are more). So here we have the issues of integration and harmony centre stage. Beware even last years issue of Revit may not be compatible with files / documents created using this years software. Until ALL software houses can agree on a common format, the fusion of a design team using 2, 3 or 4 different CAD packages is going to frustrate the process, possibly beyond even commencement.

It has also been reported that consultants with compatible CAD software are reluctant to release their 3D models to their design team for fear that information may be mis-managed, or corrupted in the translation / integration with the ‘BIM’ model. Is that down to the fact that the structural engineer does not trust the architect to assemble the building frame correctly? It’s akin to the parent not letting out the teenager for fear they might get hurt. So just like the child will eventually realise they can climb out of the window, perhaps we should take comfort in the fact that one day it is sure to happen.

The multi-disciplinery practice has the distinct advantage. Assuming of course that they have implemented an outbreak of ‘Revit’, ArchiCAD or whatever, across the organisation, and that all design is in-house. This is perhaps why it was a relatively painless transition for the likes of HOK into the world of BIM. Organisations of this size and standing, even if all design does not reside in-house, have the muscle and clout to insist that design team members tow the line. Wonderful, but the only way that helps the rest of us is the lead by example. The rest is a hang glide with options of landing safely on the river bank, or plummeting into the raging torrent.

I have read many recent forum posts on the subject of BIM, and how scary it all is. There is a choir (not a great sounding one either) of voices promoting the idea that implementation of BIM has got to come from the client. The reason for this seems to be founded on the spurious fact that the process of BIM, by it’s nature, front loads the project fee structure with a requirement to include far more detail at the start than would otherwise be addressed. Agreed, this would bring forward the detail design input. But any experienced Building Design Professional knows that, notwithstanding the fact that a client may elect to run with x,y and z design specification on day one. As the building evolves that same client (being human) will change his mind about any given aspect numerous times. This is OK. As designers we expect this. We live with it daily. So why shouldn’t a 3 dimensional floor finish start life as painted concrete and end as flame textured granite. The QS might not like it, but that really doesn’t worry me as we all have our crosses to bear.

On this basis architects, engineers and the rest should be banding together in a cohesive CAD compatible design team, to take BIM to the clients. The ‘mountain can move to Mohammed’, but there has to be the will for it to happen. So let’s stop with the head in the sand approach. Where there’s a will there can most certainly be BIM.

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