Collaboration in 2017 and Beyond

Collaboration, at its core, is the idea of working together. When the word collaboration is brought up, most people think of the human element and almost always the shortcomings of not working well together. That is only part of the overall picture of collaboration. We need to also embrace the technology side of it, as well as what the future holds for collaboration.

The Human Element

In the past, I have written on collaboration and focused quite a bit on the human element. We all know that the key to good collaboration starts with the individuals involved in the project. As great as the technology is, it won’t communicate without human involvement.  That is why having BIM kickoff meetings is crucial to getting a project off on the right foot as well as keeping the lines of communication always open.

I believe most of us have seen a silo on a farm.  What is a silo’s main purpose?  To keep its contents (grain, corn, etc.) inside the walls. We often operate in what I call a silo mentality, driven by our discipline, and when we work in a silo we don’t look outside of our area until we are significantly into a project or until problems arise that make us look outside our silo. Silo-driven projects are destined to fail at the most inopportune time and are usually a significant detriment to the overall project.

Silo mentality isn’t driven only by different disciplines or companies not communicating. I have worked on projects where even people on the same team work in a silo. One group may be designing and modifying embedment plates, but don’t take into consideration the concrete and rebar in which they are being embedded.

Silo mentality also lends itself to looking like a good design, for each individual discipline, but in the end it just won’t work. The structural design may be excellent, with everything well thought out, but when it hasn’t taken into consideration other disciplines the design becomes pretty useless. It doesn’t matter how much time and effort has been put in on the project—you are still destined to clash with the other commodities.

I often find myself dwelling on the negatives of not collaborating and not really looking at the positives of it.  I believe that is driven, more often than not, from seeing collaboration not done well. I have been guilty of it and have witnessed others guilty of it. 

I believe when you hear about a project that went well and all parties are happy, then collaboration was happening.  From the beginning of the design until the day it is turned over, if you are having up-front conversations about what you are doing and how it impacts the overall projects, everyone benefits. Of course, the biggest benefit comes when the client’s expectations are met or exceeded. 

The Technological Element

My background is in information technology and as a BIM manager I absolutely love the technology side of this industry.  My group’s main task at this moment is to do a constructability review of all civil commodities.  To do this we are utilizing a 3D software, incorporating as-built information in both a traditional way of singular points as well as utilizing LIDAR scans and running clash detection to find major issues that will cause significant construction delays.  All of these items point to collaboration.

The 3D software that is so prevalent today in the industry is driving a reduction of RFIs as well as giving an overall cleaner design.  When modeling, we can find design issues well before they would be discovered in the field.  If these discoveries can be made well in advance of the field, significant time and money will be saved. 

We all know that change paper costs money, and sometimes large amounts.  The only way these types of savings are made is if all the players are doing the same.  What good is a structural model if there isn’t anything to clash it against?  Sure, it helps to make sure there aren’t any self-clashes, which we all know can exist, but it doesn’t bode well for collaboration.

Utilizing LIDAR, also referred to as a point cloud, has been a game changer in design for renovations, additions, and even multi-story new builds.  In the past, if you were lucky you may have the original design drawings or CAD files and you could typically only dream about having an as-built set of drawings.  Even if these drawings were available there was still time to go to the field and verify what is shown there is accurate, then translate that to a 2D drawing or 3D model so that it would be beneficial to your project.  Without fail you always were missing a crucial dimension, or missing a picture to better explain the field situation (or maybe that’s just me!).

By utilizing point cloud scans, you are getting a much more complete picture of the existing conditions, down to millimeters of accuracy.  You will almost always get more data than you need, but when was the last time anyone complained about having too much information?  You can easily convert walls to a 3D object or in some cases, depending what your deliverable is, you can build directly from the interface of the point cloud with your new addition or renovation.

Clash detection is another big part of collaboration.  When you utilize 3D modeling it gives you the ability to see what is occupying any given space.  We all know that two objects can’t occupy that same space and our software is able to flag that as a clash.  When you are holding clash detection meetings you can get resolution quickly and efficiently.  You can walk away with everyone taking ownership of the clash and making a commitment to do what is needed to resolve that clash.  Depending what your work process is like, these can even be changed on the fly in the meeting to resolve some issues.

This only touches on a few parts of the technology our industry has available for everyday use.  I would love to hear how other individuals are using current technology to collaboration’s advantage in their projects.

The Future Element

The future is even more exciting than the current technology.  I see articles every day discussing new technology and how it may be used in our industry.

We have Virtual Reality (VR) being used around us daily.  VR is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment.  VR has been around a lot longer than we really think about.  You can go as far back as panoramic paintings from the 19th century that worked on filling your entire field of vision to make you feel as if you are present.  Who didn’t have a View-Master as a child?  Well, there were even earlier versions of that dating back to the 1800s.  How about flight simulators and the action of putting you in flight without ever leaving the ground? 

These are just a few examples, but why does it seem like newer technology?  The biggest reason is the accessibility to the devices that display VR are much more readily available than they were in the past.  Think of Oculus Rift, Microsoft HoloLens, Samsung GearVR, Google Cardboard, and the list goes on and on. All these viewers are available to the consumer market and pretty affordable overall.  With this type of technology, you can take what you have built in a 3D model and place your client in the middle of their project so they are able to walk through it, look around, and see what their finished product could look like. 

Walt Disney was able to utilize this type of technology on the Shanghai Disney Resort’s Castle and found it to be very beneficial.  Penn State’s College of Engineering ICON Lab is specifically used for collaborative design.  They have the ability to walk through projects both on large screens as well as with different viewers.

We have the development of Augmented Reality (AR).  AR is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics, or GPS data.  We are starting to see more and more of this with apps that will allow you to put paint on the wall of your room so you can see what it looks like or furniture in a room to see if it will fit.  Being able to see your project in its true context can be monumental in design visualization. AR works with many of the VR devices mentioned above, and is being further developed all the time.

All these areas of technology give you a much more complete way of collaborating with your design models in the world that they are going to exist. You can see with both Virtual and Augmented Reality that it gives you a whole other way to interact and collaborate in the design process.  With LIDAR scanning equipment becoming more affordable and technology such as drones being used in the construction industry, you can see why I say the future is even more exciting.

What Does This Mean for Collaboration?

We see that the human element will always be a critical part, and that will never change.  Let us avoid a silo mentality and work together collaboratively to deliver a great product for the client.  Whether that team is with the same company or multiple entities, we all look better when we work together for the better of the project.  We have the opportunity to learn from all the players of each project if we just learn to listen to one another.

Let us use the technology that is available now so that we can have a different level of interaction with the models we are creating, to deliver a better product to the other people involved in the design, and ultimately to the project owner.

Let us look forward to the new technology that is being developed daily.  Let’s not be of the mindset, “this is how we have always done it.” Rather, let’s be open to utilizing new technology that will benefit the process and the project.  We have technology available to us currently and being developed that can truly change the front of design and construction, so let’s utilize it.

Let us make 2017 the year of collaboration on all fronts.

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