BIM 360 for Collaboration

It’s amazing how the construction industry is unrecognizable from what I remember years ago. I remember it as a linear path from negotiation to construction. Everyone had a part to play and was largely only involved with that part. The field had minimal communication with the design team outside of RFIs and submittals. However, as buildings and construction software have become more complex, we find ourselves handling more and more of the overall construction effort for the team. With BIM 360®, this has sent our collaboration effort into overdrive.

For those who have started working on projects that rely on BIM 360, there is a definite change in the way we communicate design intent. On the design side, the workflow formerly relied on what an architect would design and distribute to the rest of the team. This would come in the form of zipped CAD files that were periodically sent out according to the design phase, whether it was design development, bid documents, or addendums and bulletins.

Now, with BIM 360 we can interact with each other more regularly to convey our challenges and ideas to each other. I have seen how the BIM process has changed over the years—from sitting in a conference room with all the other trades for sometimes half a day discussing clashes, to being able to call in from anywhere and address action items as they present themselves.

Figure 1: Remember Buzzsaw?

Although the level of BIM 360 utilization may vary from project to project, for the most part, the design team should have constant access to one another’s models. It’s important as a BIM coordinator to convey relevant changes to the rest of the team. This puts the BIM coordinators in a position where they can speed up the flow of information to other teammates. Engineers, designers, project managers, and other such individuals will rely on the BIM coordinator, providing up-to-date drawings instead of waiting for drawings to be trickled down and sent back to them. This is how it should be (we do have coordinator in our name, after all!).

That being said, BIM 360 is first and foremost intended as a cloud-based project collaboration tool and is meant for all team members to use as a platform for coordinating with each other no matter where they are located. As such, it provides a focal point for information management and has many tools that provide analytics as well as task management. Now it’s easier than ever to even work on our models in the cloud. I think the selling point for me has been BIM 360® Glue. The ability to access the models, clashes, reports, and viewpoints easily has helped to stay on track and focused. Navisworks® is still beneficial to use, however, as it is an easy method to load your model into the saved merged model to make sure there are no problems created by recent work prior to uploading. The last thing a BIM coordinator needs is to solve one clash, only to create two more.

Another tool I have found useful is inserting Navisworks files (NWC or NWD) into Revit®. In the Insert tab there is a tool called “coordination model.” Clicking on that icon will open a dialog box where you can add Navisworks files into Revit. The workflow is similar to inserting a linked Revit file. With this method, the most current layouts for all trades can be visible in views.

Figure 2: Coordination models

Pre-Planning the Project

The tools provided by Autodesk have been invaluable for collaboration. We are communicating more than ever, but things can still become slow if proper steps aren’t taken at the beginning of a project to ensure its success. Consulting with all trades, getting their perspectives on building layout, and addressing possible challenges ahead of time will cut back on the number of surprises mid-project and will give BIM coordinators an idea of how they should model their trade’s equipment. Therefore, there are a few things I’ve found that need to be examined at the start of a project in order to ensure that the BIM process is smooth going forward.

First and foremost is developing a plan for corridor hierarchy. That may sound like preferential treatment, but it is not intended that way. Most MEP pipes, duct, and conduit run in corridors.  A planned pathway for the various trades sets a baseline the BIM coordinator should adhere to. There can always be areas where the location can be switched due to a clash, but setting a designated space for the trades ahead of time will provide a path for the BIM coordinator to take on an initial run of modeling their discipline.

To give an example: cabletray will always need to be accessed from below; therefore, it should always occupy space right above the ceiling, preferably close to a wall with sufficient space for it to be accessed from the side and above. Mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and others should all get a designated spot based on their accessibility. All too often I have worked on a project where this has not been set up initially and each BIM coordinator finds themselves making multiple offsets to get to where they want to go. This takes a while to fix and a solution may be more costly.

Figure 3: Results may vary

For the MEP side, it is imperative for the architect to develop a proper placement of the electrical and mechanical rooms as the floor plan is being laid out. I have dealt with projects where the electrical room had a mechanical chase on one side, an elevator on another, and a plumbing riser room on the third. That left only one wall for all the electrical conduit to exit into the corridor and go to their destination. Another example is utility rooms that are placed in the corner of the building next to two exterior walls. Obviously, we must work with what we are given, but if these areas were carefully considered at the start of a project, the BIM process would be much faster and provide space for each trade to work around each other.

Figure 4: Only one way to go

The same can be said for chases provided for each trade. It is best to come up with a proper space that is accessible from two or more sides. I often see one giant chase being provided for all trades to enter and exit. This creates a coordination nightmare as everyone is attempting to make their needed bends in and out of the chase where they may have several rows of piping and conduit. Moreover, an elbow to access ceiling space can be difficult to achieve as the bend radius that is needed for piping or conduit may require a large amount of space.

Figure 5: Here's your chase. Good luck getting out

All Hands on Deck

It’s very important that all trades have input into the project prior to engaging in the BIM process. It creates quite a situation when a trade finally has a signed contract and is ready to start modeling, but the rest of the team is already halfway through development of the coordinated model. If any trade hasn’t yet been invited into a project and the BIM process needs to be started, it would be a good idea to provide space for them to use in the future. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a project where a previously unaccounted for trade suddenly has to add their system to the coordinated model. This kind of late addition can become extremely costly.

It is a good idea to ensure all disciplines are accounted for when planning the BIM process on a project. Besides MEP, this can include fire protection, fire alarm, medical gas, vacuum tubing, pneumatic transportation tubing, as well as telecom and all associated low-voltage systems. In addition, if a specific equipment vendor is going to provide structurally supported equipment or needs space that is normally occupied by MEP systems, then they should be invited to collaborate in the BIM process as well or work with their associated trade if a BIM modeler is not available.

Pre-planning is essential before starting the BIM process on any project. This is especially important on projects where an existing building is being refurbished and various systems will be reused. The amount of up-front research and collaboration that is done prior to modeling will pay off that much more for the team in the end. It can be the difference between a project running late and over budget, and a project that is able to meet all the sites’ needs in a comfortable timeframe as well as providing valuable cost-saving solutions.

We have the technology we need now to work better than ever as a multidiscipline team. There’s no reason for a lack of communication, even if teams are working from separate parts of the world. Just be honest, open, and plan ahead.

Dominique Majon is a BIM coordinator for Guidepost Solutions LLC. He has more than 19 years of experience with AutoCAD and more than 8 years of experience with Revit and Navisworks. Dominique has worked on projects all over the continental USA as well as some projects overseas. His specialty is in electrical, telecom, security, and low-voltage systems design. He has worked on a diverse range of projects including museums, high rises, distribution centers, data centers, retail, and healthcare including hospitals, specialty clinics, and proton therapy cancer treatment centers.

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