Democratised BIM - for everyone, not just the 'experts'!
Is it conceivable that everyone on the project from the Owner and the Architect, to head Contractor to the Plumber has access to BIM. Let's lose the acronym that has become synonymous with ambiguous esoteric elusive computer models and rephrase it. Is it conceivable that everyone on the project has access to Building Information? When we lose the 'M' in "BIM", not only does it slap you in the face with its obviousness, but it makes you question why this isn't the case already? Why doesn't everyone have access to all the building information? And what have we been doing all this time?
At Virtual Built we've set this as one of our goals - to democratise BIM and provide greater access to Building Information, and provide it to as many project participants as possible. Here are a few of the obstacles that we're often tackling from project to project…
Obstacle 1: Technology isn't in there yet…
In 1965 Gordon More described a doubling every year of the capacity of a circuit board. Moore's Law set a trend that has seen technology experience rapid and sustained growth. Using computers for drawing production (CAD) and then design, and now manufacturing, has placed Architecture, Engineering, Construction and Ownership right into the path of the tech industry juggernaut. The problem is that we believe that the technology is "already here". Today the whole project team can access models and building information out on site and in the office. But with Moores Law in mind, it'll become far easier and a whole lot more accessible tomorrow. The biggest hurdle here isn't so much about the technology not being available, it is more about establishing new practices (and doing away with old ones) and training users.
Currently we're using a mix of BIM 360 Glue and Revizto to get the model out of the content creation environment, and into the hands of the project team. Both applications allow for a mix of devices from Android, iOS, PC and Mac. There are other applications, but for the moment, these two take our pick.
Why Glue and Revizto? While they come from different developers, they share some strengths:
- a super simple interface
- they strip away the complexity an allow for easy navigation of models
- they're not modelling applications, they just simply view and interrogate the model. This means the barrier to entry for some becomes a lot smaller and we're finding success because…
- many project participants are taking hold of the Building Information at their fingertips.
Using hosted cloud platforms like Box.com or A360 allows our team to efficiently connect with the wider team. In this respect, data and internet connections play a factor, and is something that may need to be addressed (particularly in the local Australian market).
Obstacle 2: You need to be a BIM expert…
Building Information Modelling has traditionally been a ground up movement that typically was driven by the CAD Manager or drafter. As BIM matured, protocols needed to be implemented, standards needed to be set, and terms needed definition. This has unfortunately led to BIM becoming more of an expert field. Though some level of expertise is required, there also needs to be some levelling out, - where BIM becomes less esoteric and more grounded in the real world of 'getting things done'.
BIM Management and Execution Plans need to be readable and understandable by more the just the select few. All project participants need to, on some level, understand what is in (or out of) a model. This isn't rocket science. What we build in a physical world, we're building in a virtual world first - we're just adding the information that's required to build it.
Back on the software front; a small amount of training on these simplified applications and non-technical users are up and running in half an hour! We've done away with 4 week Navisworks Manage courses and are opting for 2 hour BIM 360 Glue sessions for 90% of the project participants.
Obstacle 3: The models aren't reliable…
This is an interesting argument. The more the model gets opened and used, the greater the accuracy - to use computer game terminology, it becomes a "levelling up" process. When there are 50 to a 100 sets of eyes looking over specific element modelled by individuals, there is an inherent responsibility felt by technicians to 'get it right'. And why wouldn't you? If elements are modelled in place for the purpose of coordination, then surely you'd model it correctly? If you don't you're letting the team down (the whole team - not just your fellow services subcontractors). There is an added bonus here, where technicians take greater pride in their work. Their effort isn't just seen as representation of black lines on white paper, it's seen by everyone as a coordinated complex array of pipes a ductwork, project managers see it, and team leaders recognise it.
With the democratisation of BIM, models inherently go through a rigorous validation process. Project participants looking intently live federated models, including detail views and sections of models. All this crowd-sourced, collective investigation leads to discovery of coordination errors that may otherwise have been missed.
'Fudging' or manually overriding dimensions in CAD drawings is proving much more difficult today than it did in times past, and it's now quite rare to find deliberately 'inaccurate' models. But yes, amazingly there are still some operators out there who think that BIM is just a phase. We think time will tell?
Obstacle 4: We still need drawings…
Drawings exist as a way of translating the design and intent from one person to another. Someone takes a 3D picture in their mind, flattens it out into 2D lines, and then leaves it for someone else to interpret and recreate that 3D picture. Why don't we just leave it in 3D? If we democratised BIM, and everyone had access to the model, why bother flattening it out into 2D at all?
This isn't really the argument though, the argument here is that 2D drawings, can contain a bunch of 'information' that isn't present in the model, or at least isn't immediately obvious to the viewer (think a water proofing detail, or slab reinforcement layouts). Additionally, the static nature of 2D documents make them a natural candidate for some key project milestones, such as development approval or tender. For this, we concede there is still a use for this type of traditional 'format', for now. However, many of the drawings generated (and maintained) for any particular project could be removed, and therefore reduce the overhead of drawing production, revisioning and maintenance.
We're pushing for some of these ideas, though it might be some time before we see any real change. For the moment, we're using Revizto to link 3D models with those 'necessary' 2D documents like never before: literally combining 2D details and information overlayed on 3D federated models. For us and our teams, Revizto removes ambiguity, adds detail, and provides a level of comfort in the drawings and models not otherwise achieved. And, all in one software application.
At Virtual Built, we are actively disrupting traditional design, construction, and facility management processes, enabling more people to gain the maximum benefit from Building Information. On real projects, we are pioneering a new, better way, using the latest in Design and Construction Technology.