Making the move to model-based design

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How do you get from 2D to 3D, how should training be rolled out and what are the common issues encountered along the way? Paul Woddy answers these important questions and promises not to bore you with BIM

How much of what we do today will seem archaic and even laughable to future generations? Which aspects of the current workflow and process are likely to stand the test of time, and which will be footnotes for tech-history geeks?.

Contractors, large design firms, clients and even national governments are in the process of moving across to a more collaborative process; one which collates and manages object data in a much more effective and efficient way than we have ever seen. And while many small to medium companies are involved and even leading the charge, many more are either unaware, unsure or have discounted this upheaval as being an irrelevant, disruptive and expensive side-show.

To those that have made the leap, it might feel like we are in the midst of a revolution, but will this be remembered as the slow start of a rapid ascent which changed everything, or an experimental blip that disappeared as quickly as it appeared. We do not know whether this will be remembered as revolution or evolution, but then again, I guess the question is as equally unhelpful as debating the semantics of whether you are drowning in a sea or an ocean — we just have to keep swimming until we feel solid ground again.

While some take an early-adopter stance with regard to new technology and techniques, the vast majority prefer the tried and tested method of letting others iron out the problems and make all the expensive mistakes. Either way, you cannot deny that the landscape of the construction industry is changing around collaborative workflow and the associated technology to support these advances.

Although these concepts are not new; they are not something that has simply been made-up by software companies, nor can any one individual or organisation lay claim to having invented them. The current ideal is simply the evolution of an answer to a question that has been posed for as long as people have sought shelter.

Building better

We can trace the origins of this particular concept back well over thirty years and to the base principles that underpin modern software and procedures. In essence we are trying to achieve the following:

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• Better understanding of a concept or design.

• Better communication of ideas, problems and requirements.

• Less repeated work caused by information loss during communication.

How does the 21st Century design and construction industry answer these requirements?

Firstly, we live in a 3D world and yet for centuries, we have converted this 3D world into a series of 2D representations, or drawings when it comes to building About the author Paul Woddy, director at White Frog Publishing, has advised hundreds of companies on implementation and deployment of Revit and BIM in over a decade as a consultant.

There are many reasons for this and I am not suggesting that all of them are bad or outdated, but interpretation is always a personal perspective, and can lead to miscommunication, especially when it comes to passing information from one profession to another, or from professional to lay-person.

Yet we still hesitate to design in 3D, to put all of our information into one place so that we can present our ideas and our solutions from a dozen different perspectives with the same amount of effort. We can still deliver 2D technical drawings for those that want or need them, but we can equally deliver multiple cross-sections, isometrics, perspectives, fullcolour animations, detailed schedules or any other interrogation of the model that will ensure that the entire audience is left in no doubt as to what is intended and what the implications are.

By communicating better with everyone around us we get more informed feedback, but the best bit is often that we as designers understand the designs better ourselves. All told this means that we identify and resolve more problems earlier; we work through more iterations and make incremental improvements; we deliver a BETTER DESIGN as a result.

Having our data — both graphical and non-graphical — wrapped up in a 3D model also means that we have the opportunity to transfer this data to other disciplines and stakeholders in digital formats with less human interaction. As more and more data goes into the model, and more and more software learns to read that data from the model, we can also perform more accurate simulation analysis of a design.

Bored of BIM yet?

Are you as sick as I am of hearing about BIM? What does BIM mean? How do you do BIM? What software is best to do BIM? It is fair to say that there is a lot of noise out there which tries to explain BIM methodology, some of which is good, some of which is confusing at best and plain wrong and misleading at worst. BIM has been rammed down our throats so much that most people are starting to switch off at the mere mention of it, which is a real pity as with some clarity of the message, we can all benefit from this approach, regardless of where we sit in the food-chain – we just have to be careful not to mention BIM as we do it.

So despite that last paragraph, I hadn’t mentioned it once until then, despite doing nothing but talk about the underlying principles of BIM.

Is it for me?

If you are wondering whether this subject is relevant to you then you should start by asking yourself two simple questions, regardless of where you sit in the construction supply chain:

1. Are my clients looking at BIM methodology and BIM-capable software?

2. Does my competition offer BIM-related services?

If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then you need to do something, even if it is simply making yourself more aware of the terminology and implications. We will come back to this.

If the answer is no to both of these questions then we need to dig deeper as to whether the cost and effort of adopting the principles without market drivers can be justified, but remember to keep asking those first two questions on a regular basis because if the answer to question two changes then you can be sure that your competition will be wanting to redefine the answer to question one to their advantage.

The big question for many small practices is whether it is really worth changing all of the business workflows and software applications in order to adopt this new approach. Can the cost of software, potential hardware upgrade, staff training and short-term productivity dip, actually be justified if the client is not demanding it?

Firstly let us get one thing clear. BIM is not software, it is a process. Admittedly it is a process made easier if you use BIMenabled software, but this is not the most important aspect.

Do not rush out and spend money on software without first understanding how and to what extent BIM will impact upon your business.

You must talk to your clients, your staff and your suppliers, all of which costs nothing.

Speaking to a consultant or enrolling on a course which explains the business benefits and potential pit-falls will perhaps save you a lot of expense and heartache in the long run as you learn to speak the language and ask the right questions.

Introduction to BIM courses are available on-line or in colleges, universities and commercial training centres, pretty much everywhere and at this stage of the process, their generic nature should be enough to get you started.

For many people and companies in the construction supply chain, the ability to hold a sensible and informed conversation on the topic, alongside the readiness to supply data in a BIM-ready format is enough to get started. In time, it will become vital to be able to ‘talk digital’ with other stakeholders, using 3D data-rich models to extract information at bid stage, refine prices, resolve potential issues and feed information back into the model for others. This will become the norm for everyone, but small steps start the journey.

For those of you who adopting a new software application is the answer, then understanding of the principles is far more important than choice of which software to go for, so focus your research attentions here rather than on reading software reviews and sales literature. Your staff, your clients and the available labour market will make the software choice for you in most cases so this tends to be the easy bit and with most of the big software companies offering a low-cost entry-level package or even a rental option. Beware, this can also be the cheapest bit.

The more expensive aspects of adopting BIM are in education and the dip in productivity while you relearn how to do your job in a different way. But even here, there are cost-effective and less painful ways of being effective.

There tends to be two objectives to BIM adoption for most practices – internal improvements in productivity and quality; external marketing of new capabilities – and these two goals can be mutually beneficial. If we are going to announce to clients that we use BIM then we need to be able to define what that means in terms of demonstrable standards and protocols, and these same foundations are essential to underpin good office practice and software usage.

Fortunately there are plenty of freely available standards and best practice protocols out there, including all of the relevant BSi documents which are currently downloadable for free, plus some more coal-face documents such as the AEC(UK) Protocols, and the NBS Content Standards. So you can arm yourself from a corporate strategy perspective without reaching into your pocket at all.

You then need to ensure that any training you receive teaches these protocols. My driving teacher told me that he would teach me to pass the driving test, then teach me to drive. This is often what happens with software training where the focus is on what the tool is capable of, and you have to work out how it applies to your job once you get back to your desk. While this might be fine if you are swapping comparable applications, it certainly is not when you are changing the underlying approach alongside the delivery software. This is the main reason why a large percentage of people are using modelling software as 3D CAD tools, and think they are delivering BIM.

Be wary of using peer-to-peer video websites to learn software and processes, because no one is validating that the concepts shown represent good practice. It is very easy to pick up bad habits and a lot harder to break them afterwards whereas a structured course should incorporate workflow as well. Ask training providers to outline the BIM process aspects of a course and if they say it is a different course then keep looking around. Good training is out there, both on-line and in classrooms that does promote principles as well as software tools, but as it is a large expense, you should do your research.

If you sit a course on any topic then the price of admission is often minor compared to the loss of income associated with being away from the desk. To ensure that any training is cost-effective, timing is everything and if you do not apply the learnt skills within a short time-frame, then it is wasted time and effort. When asked, I always suggest an average of five days of learning is required to bring someone fully up-to-speed but I would never suggest that this is delivered as five consecutive days but rather 30 hours spread over an 18-24 month period if possible.

Finally, how do you price for using these new skills? What is the price of BIM on a project? This is always a difficult one to answer, partly because of lack of documented empirical evidence, but also because the figures for performance improvements that I have seen from successful implementation can be so high as to be unbelievable. Done correctly, BIM adoption should deliver advantages and efficiency improvements that justify the expense in-house, regardless of wider collaboration, so your costs on future jobs should go down, not up.

There are additional tasks associated with adopting these workflows and these do need to be built into project and corporate budgets. I will leave the breakdown of those costs for another day but needless to say that additional tasks can be absorbed into existing responsibilities for small jobs but become increasingly time consuming as the project complexity increases.

■ whitefrog.co

About the author

Paul Woddy, director at White Frog Publishing, has advised hundreds of companies on implementation and deployment of Revit and BIM in over a decade as a consultant.


This article is part of an AEC Magazine Special Report into the Future of Building Design, which takes a holistic view of the technologies and processes, which are set to change and enhance the AEC industry in the coming years — from concept design all the way to construction.

Click to read the other articles that make up the report.

1) Introduction New technologies are empowering architectural firms to improve quality, capabilities and process.

2) Conceptual design There are a whole host of digital tools for early stage design experimentation.

3) Rapid site design The rapid capture of site topology is being aided by new technologies.

4) Benefits of 3D design Evolution, not revolution when making the move to 3D CAD.

5) Moving to model-based design How to get from 2D to 3D, how to roll out training and how to overcome common issues encountered along the way.

6) Design viz Advanced new rendering technologies are opening the door to design realism in architectural workflow.

7) Design, analysis and optimisation Once you have a 3D CAD model, optimse your design for daylighting, energy performance and much more.

8) Collaboration and model checking How to share models with clients, contractors and construction firms and test the quality of your model.

9) Workstations What to look out for when choosing a workstation for 3D CAD.

10) Virtual Reality New technologies are now available to support powerful new design workflows.

11) 3D printing Architects are 3D printing architectural models with impressive results.

12) Fabrication As building time gets compressed what will revolutionise fabrication and construction time?


To download a PDF of the March / April 2016 edition Special Report click here

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