We caught up with Maria Lennox, who heads up Datacubist’s BIM services, to dig a bit deeper into Simplebim and talk about the challenges of working with structured BIM data on big projects
Maria Lennox has an impressive CV. Prior to joining Datacubist in February 2022 to head up the company’s BIM services, she spent several years as an architect and several more in large construction companies. Her first move was to NCC Sweden where she was given the time to develop how construction companies could make the most out of BIM. Lennox then became BIM director at SRV in Finland.
At NCC, Lennox first assumed that there wasn’t a problem with BIM data – teams make models, other firms use the models – but the reality was a lot more complex. With her small team of BIM experts, they made all kinds of use cases for cost estimators, design managers, site personnel, together with guidelines for designers to meet the demands of construction companies.
After a while the team realised that it was a hopeless effort, providing guidelines and support to engineers and architects to ask them to add information for their use cases, as Lennox explains, “You can’t expect people to add information they are not responsible for. They are not interested in data that a site engineer needs to make a schedule. Even if you request for them to provide the concrete information for the model state, and they do it once, it’s never updated again.
“It’s exactly the same thing with everything else, like classifications or making it possible to pick up an object for purchasing, or cost estimation, it’s always different kinds of classes or needs. You just can’t rely on it.”
In 2016, Lennox started using Simplebim on projects and realised that her team was able to take control of the data inside of the models, so instead of asking people or designers to fix their models or add the extra information, the decision was the reverse – to ask for as little as possible and minimise the expectations!
Instead of trying to maintain 15 to 25 common data fields, the team managed with two or three. Based on that concept, her team added everything else for their own use cases. By creating the data and handling their own data, they could keep control of the model information in the IFCs. Lennox refers to this process as having established internal ‘BIM data factories’ to automate the maintenance of IFC information layers. In a typical month at SRV, Lennox explained there would typically be between 500 and 900 incoming IFC models from all disciplines, being handled automatically by the system, creating models that made sense to the construction teams.
In today’s BIM world, even with BIM standards and quality checking with Solibri, backed up by contractual obligations and national standards, this is still a woeful process. The easy answer would be to just accept that a perfect world cannot be achieved. However, there are tools that can make sense of the madness, as Lennox explains, “It’s a huge advantage, because, after a little work, you’re able to actually control the data yourself.”
Simplebim offers both manual and automatic methods of wrangling data which is spread out over lots of different kinds of property sets or filtering too much of the same information. Simply create a new standard property set in Simplebim and standardise within that fresh layer, obviously checking for missing critical data. Then let the software pick up quantities.
The first step is to standardise the information properties to enrich the values and select groups of objects to define as assemblies for use downstream. Obviously if you have 900 models a month coming in, even with a team, this isn’t possible, so Simplebim has a scripting capability which drives the creation of these.
On Dropbox or OneDrive all you need is two folders: folder ‘In’ and folder ‘Out’. By dragging and dropping IFCs into the ‘In’ folder, Simplebim will run its automation, enriching the IFC and will save the updated IFC in the ‘Out’ folder. This could be the architectural, structural, electrical, plumbing or MEP models.
I believe that in construction companies, there is a lot of potential waste inside of BIM models because people don’t know how to use it, it’s too difficult
Models can then be loaded into Simplebim for further refinement, such as sections made, new groups created and even more ways to create sophisticated ‘chain groups’.
In an ideal world, Simplebim advises you always to create the same groups in your models, because then they become much easier to use. You can, for example, always add a ‘pre-cast elements’ group, which makes life much easier for the person scheduling the pre-cast elements.
“From my perspective, I believe that in construction companies, there is a lot of potential waste inside of BIM models because people don’t know how to use it, it’s too difficult,” explains Lennox .” The data itself is very hard and it changes every single time. When you move to another project, you get the files from somebody else, knowing the data fields may change. You shouldn’t need to be an actual expert, but should be able to be the site engineer. We just need to be able to use the model quick and dirty, fast, and move on instead of being a BIM expert. And that’s something we are trying to make possible with this [Simplebim] to make it as easy as possible for every single person.”
Be like water
It’s at this point that I am oddly thinking about Bruce Lee and his philosophy about fluidity and being adaptable to change – “Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” It’s much better with Lee’s delivery.
However, it’s important to realise that a lot of the problems caused in BIM workflows, especially in IFC, are to do with errant labelling and missing data. By accepting the nature of the humans who created the models being hosepiped in your direction, Simplebim can turn the roughest torrent of non-aligned IFCs into calm water by automating naming, tagging, and grouping of the models, and building that logical layer.
Using the Simplebim Hub and scripting is an important capability for handling large numbers of models with a high transaction level and getting dependable standard models out the other end. It centralises the data wrangling and the automation takes out the hard work.
BIM-based projects are coming with ever more overwhelming delivery documentation / model requirements. Some are over 300 pages thick and written by people who have had more to do with the theory of BIM than the practicality of what’s actually of use. Having ridiculously high deliverables is simply just going to cost the project more money. The problem is that these are coming from customers advised by academics. The answer is to adopt an open standard deliverable and be like water.
This is the second of a two part article on Simplebim.
Simplebim at Hinkley Point C
The construction of Hinkley Point C Nuclear Power Plant in Somerset, England is very much in vogue, with the country caught short in the production of its own electricity during the recent energy crisis. It is one of the most important infrastructure projects in the UK at the moment.
The new nuclear power plant will deliver 3,200 MWe, enough to power six million homes. While announced in 2010, construction didn’t start till 2017 and suffered further delays because of Covid-19, with the latest estimate that it will cost £26 billion to be completed by 2027.
After extensive testing, Bylor (a joint venture between Bouygues Travaux Publics (TP) and Laing O’Rourke) chose Simplebim to manage the build properties of the estimated 30,000 concrete pours over the 50 million reinforcement bars in the project.
Despite having thousands of IFC files, Simplebim automates the cleaning up, mapping and structuring of the data. This lets the Bylor team accurately forecast quantities of materials. And by mapping data to activities in Primavera P6, they can associate material requirements to time. This has allowed the team to more effectively plan resources and manage supply chain and logistical issues. This is important as it also maps to the way that Bylor gets paid, which is by the number of walls, slabs, sofits etc. that it produces. Being able to quantify and track each job feeds into billing, as well as quality management, which on this kind of facility is exceptionally important.
By holding all the engineering data in IFC, the project data is efficiently collated and in a format which can be repurposed to match the daily activity on site. Most BIM tools model objects and entities, which might match the end-product but may be the result of many concrete pours or discrete construction processes. Simplebim provides Bylor with the tools to break the model down to a granular level to define the data for how it will be constructed. In addition, if any changes need to be made due to delays or problems during construction, these can easily be highlighted and updated. All activities within Simplebim are recorded so there’s a comprehensive history log that can help analyse past performance which will enable teams to learn from past experiences.
“This is not necessarily about doing something new. It’s about an making it more efficient, more scalable, less resource intensive, and ultimately more flexible,” explains Terry Parkinson, senior digital engineer, Bylor. “Simplebim allows us to adjust and tweak the information to support our processes. It gives us a level of control that we have never had previously.