BIM Project Break Down
Owners, professional engineers, architects, and other stakeholders in the AEC industry are focused on Building Information Modeling (BIM). They are often more concerned with what goes in models than the process of BIM. In the end, a BIM process must be well managed to be successful. Putting more attention on management and less on modeling can have a high payoff.
Let’s explore the practice of BIM as it affects the entire lifecycle of a project. BIM can be defined as how all stakeholders of a project contribute data from all perspectives into a process of design, construction, and management from inception to ownership utilizing powerful, adaptive software.
BIM can be broken down into key aspects of a project:
- Information Gathering and Organizational Management
- 3D Modeling Management
- Building Analysis Management
- Time and Resource Management
- Monetary Management
- Construction Management
- Building Lifecycle Management
Information Gathering and Organizational Management
Information gathering not only requires the contribution of ideas to the knowledgebase, but more so the organization of this information into a concise, structured, accessible database from which to draw information and utilize that information effectively at every stage of a project. The standard building information model will require information such as all 3D elements, property data, parameters, and metadata. It requires a library of standard parts to allow for a fluid design process. It requires up-to-date and valid information. It requires information from vendors, suppliers, manufacturers, and others. The data required to make a proper 3D model for the BIM process is key to ensuring everyone is working with informative content. As professionals, we create the 3D model considering all the information gathered in a (hopefully) cohesive, adaptable, “breathing” model. All the information gathered must be in a central location in which everyone can build upon.
The information gathered for the project is not just 3D modeling content. It must include all types of data such as emails, correspondences, photos, videos, and specifications, to name a few. A quality project dictates that all information must be considered as part of the final deliverables to the owner…not just a set of As-Built documents.
With all this information, it is sometimes difficult to understand what data to include and what data to exclude. It is safe to assume that the data we need will not only be contained in the model, but also on a central server. How this information is organized is also vital.
Companies can struggle with how to organize BIM and CAD standards. We are fortunate to have industry standards available to us such as US National CAD Standard, National BIM Standards, Construction Criteria Base CAD Standards, and Building Information Modeling Standards from GSA, among others. Anyone can do a quick Google search for this information and utilize it in any project. These standards provide guidelines to how and what information should be organized. Figure 1 features one such standard.
From a BIM Standards “Server” level, everyone who contributes to the project wants to know how to organize their files/folder structure to make it easy to work on a project. Unfortunately, every company works on projects in a unique way. Because of this, a “one size fits all” hierarchy list of folder structures does not exist. Consider this basic example:
Project Number and Name
Although at first glance this looks plausible, it has inherent flaws in structure. Notably, the ability for consultants and clients to tap into and contribute to this folder structure is lacking.
From a BIM Standards “Cloud” level, we are concerned about how everyone can tap into a central location for all communications, data sources, and content. We are so entrenched these days into digital technology and the immediacy of how information transfers from one piece of tech to another. The BIM management of the project must be accessible from any device, at any time, and in any form factor. It should not be restricted to a particular operating system, a particular software file type, etc. It must be able to store, manage, control, and distribute the data to any contributor in any manner necessary.
From a BIM Standards Construction level, we are concerned about how this information transfers to a constructible model and a construction workflow to ensure the creation of the project efficiently and quickly while still providing profitability. To organize this information, the “system” needs to be able to quickly transition from a design mode to a construction mode and back at the flick of a switch. Whether the end user who is requesting the information is a drywall installer or a CEO of the firm, the construction information needs to be managed and organized to allow for risk mitigation at the highest level.
From a BIM Standards correspondence level, how do we manage and control the information such as phone calls, emails, photos, etc.? There are data management solutions such as Autodesk Vault, but this system, like others, requires proper setup and education in order to use it effectively. Nonetheless, some type of organizational database management system must be in place in order to keep everything organized.
The first hurdle we face is how all the information is gathered and organized cohesively before anything can begin.
3D Modeling Management
MEP engineers are concerned about the content used to generate the models. Unfortunately, Autodesk® Revit® MEP content that comes out of the box is not that extensive. It is easy to control, customize, create, modify, and manage the systems. Although this seems like a limitation, the ability to use manufacturer- and vendor-specific families lends to easy design and creation of the design intent model.
What about a model that is not a design intent model? If a constructability model is required, is the content available? Is it manufactural? Is it correct? This is an issue that has plagued 3D modeling in design for quite some time. Luckily, things are changing. There are third-party applications that interface with Revit and allow for easy integration of true components for construction processing. In fact, this year Autodesk has introduced Fabrication-specific parts within Revit 2016 that truly integrates free-flow design and constructible modeling. These manufacturer-specific parts come directly from industry standard databases created specifically for this purpose.
Great! We have the parts…we can “rebuild him.” Not so fast. Just because we have the parts and tools necessary to design to construction the model properly, does that mean that the model is true to accuracy? In order for the ultimate in 3D constructability modeling, the knowledge of the professional must be transferred to the end users who are creating the content. If you don’t know how it’s put together, then it doesn’t work…period!
So how do we manage this information? Companies who have invested in this approach lean towards custom API programming to make it work. Those who cannot afford this approach rely on Autodesk to provide a method within the software being used. We can obviously grab all the content and just place it on our servers or in our cloud storage locations, but it isn’t managed well. Data management solutions such as Vault may help.
In the end, managing our 3D model becomes tedious and sometimes feels like a burden if not controlled properly.
Building Analysis Management
What forms of analysis do we provide for our clients as services? Do we concern ourselves with energy analysis, design iteration analysis, or a variation? No matter what type of analysis we perform on our model, this information also needs to be managed properly. We should concern ourselves with the engines that are used to do the analysis. Without properly understanding the nature and engineering behind the software/hardware we use to do the analysis, the results could be misleading. Fortunately, Autodesk provides tools such as Autodesk Green Building Studio, Autodesk Ecotect Analysis, and a host of other products to get at the heart of wind, solar, heat and energy analysis.
So once the 3D model is digested, what information is retrieved? How is it organized? How is it presented to the end user? How functional and easy is it to perform various iterations for multiple design situations? These basic questions need to be answered in order to understand how we manage the data. For example, Autodesk Green Building Studio provides several methods for displaying the analytical data (see Figures 2 and 3).
When considering the analysis management aspect, we must also consider how the information transfers from software to software. To what file formats can the data be exported? What file formats can be imported into the accompanying software? Lastly, can the information be “round-tripped” between software? The flow of the information needs to be seamless in order to allow the analysis portion of the project work properly. If these factors are considered, management of the information will be easier.
Time and Resource Management
Time is money. The more time we waste, the more money we lose. How do we manage the time we have and the resources available at any given time? Professionals spend upwards of 10+ hours a day working feverishly on our “to-do” list and never seem to get ahead. As with anything we do, schedules are made, modified, thrown away, and rebuilt. Getting a handle on what is important and focusing on what is absolutely necessary at that moment in time while still thinking three steps ahead is a goal we all strive for. So how do we manage the time and resources?
One method is to wake up earlier to allow for time to organize our thoughts for the day. If we spend just 30 minutes to gather our thoughts and calm our mind for the day, our stress level drops and our ability to foresee what the day will look like will be remarkably easy.
Another method is to write a “To-Do” list ranked by level of importance. If we control our list of priorities, we can organize our resources such as materials, talents, people, and equipment to the right place at the right time. Having a TD list also means we have to chip away at that list as quickly and as efficiently as possible…but how?
A third method which lends a hand to method two is to manage the people and talent around us. We know we cannot do everything ourselves, even though we want to. We have talented people all around us. Why not put them to work for us? Why not ask for their help? Knowing who to ask for help and when is just as important as knowing what needs to be done. My eldest brother taught me that you do not go to college to get a degree. You go to college to learn how to think. For example, when he has a pressing issue that needs to be addressed and he doesn’t know the answer, he doesn’t worry. He knows to call on the experts in the field to help him and relies on their knowledge to get the issue resolved.
So the management of our time and resources is dependent on talent, patience, focus, and direction, which in the end lead to money…maybe lots of it.
So now that we can focus and manage our content, 3D model data, analytical data, time, resources, and talents, how does this affect our monetary situation on a project? How do we manage the amount of money needed to ensure a successful project? Let’s focus on money for a second.
We worry about the project budget. We worry about making the payroll. We worry about the bank loans needed to fund the cost of the project. We worry about paying every stakeholder the necessary amounts of money they need in order to keep them going. That is an immense management process. How do we manage?
Your company’s CFO can be your best friend. The CFO ensures the profitability of the company and the projects now and into the future. Use him or her! Seriously, we as did not go to school for business management. We went to school to become professional engineers. Let us do our thing, and let’s use the CFO to do his or her thing to get what we want…plain and simple. I would rather give the management of money and the projects’ financial responsibilities to the one member of the team who handles money best. Not only would I rely on and request the CFO’s help on managing the money, I would ask him or her to teach me how to think about the monetary aspects of each and every project so that I can be ahead of the game on the next project.
MEP engineers are concerned to a certain degree with the construction of the project and how the information is managed. We rely on the general contractor and sub-contractors to manage the construction of the project to ensure it is built properly. However, we must ensure that our part of the project process is correct. For example, if there is a custom HVAC unit that needs to be installed on the roof, how do we manage that task? Do we work with the GC hand in hand during the installation? Do we call on the structural engineer early to ensure the structure can handle the load? Do we rely on the manufacturer of the custom unit to help us with instructions to provide to the installers? All of these issues and concerns and many more are addressed more often than we realize during the construction of a project.
How do we manage the GC? Are we giving the GC the correct up to date information at the right time? Are we holding back decisions and information that affect his construction timeline? Who handles the creation of the construction timeline? Do we rely on the GC’s expertise to tell us how long systems are built on site? All of these questions must be answered and ultimately, the entire team needs to be educated and informed of all the answers to these questions and many more.
Construction management isn’t just managing the raw materials, equipment, and people needed to build the project at the right time. Construction management is also about predicting the outcome long before anything happens. At the heart of construction management is the risk management involved in any project. The more risk the GC can avert, the more profitable the project is. If managers can foresee what issues may arise such as a ductwork/piping interferences, they can prevent them from happening and can avoid a costly mistake.
In the end, we must work closely with the GC and communicate clearly and concisely the information needed to ensure a proper building of systems for the project.
Building Lifecycle Management
The owner is concerned about how much money is spent to maintain the building. If we can provide MEP systems that are efficient, buildings with the lowest renewable and recyclable design, with the best structural design for the lowest price, and if the GC can build the project with the future in mind, the owner wins!
Things to consider when we speak about Building Lifecycle Management:
- Cost of energy annually
- Cost of equipment replacement (lights, plumbing, etc.)
- Cost of landscaping materials annually
- Cost of materials such as paint, roofing, etc.
- Timeline of when parts of the building need replacing/renewing
Don’t consider only those previously mentioned, but think as though we are the owners of the project. What would we want in our design of the project to ensure the lowest recurring costs on an annual basis?
Lastly, do we design for the owner a project that is meant to last for 25 years, 10 years, 5 years, etc.? Knowing the owner’s intent for use of the project will give us initial foresight as to what materials and resources to use and manage. This will ensure not just a profitable project, but also one in which the lifecycle costs eventually break even and bring profit to the owner long term.
BIM…Building Information Management is about all the following:
- Time Management
- Profitability Management
- Building Design and Engineering Management
- Construction Management
- Lifecycle Management
- Owner Expectation Management
- and…your Expectations and Management
Dzan Ta is an application engineer for Repro Products Inc. He holds a B.S. in Architectural Design from Florida International University and is an Autodesk Revit Architecture, Structure, and AutoCAD 2010-2015 Certified Associate and Professional. An Autodesk Certified Instructor for Revit and AutoCAD, Dzan is also Autodesk Building Analysis Certified and has taught at Autodesk University in 2014. Contact Dzan at email@example.com