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Industry Insights of a Consultant

If you read through my article in last month's AUGIWorld you would have read about how things have changed over this year. This month I would like to elaborate on this from a BIM/Technical Consultants role and how things have changed with software such as Autodesk Revit.

BIM/Technical Consultant

A BIM/Technical Consultant role can mean many things to different organizations, but for me it has become a role which I undertake everyday working for an Autodesk Reseller here in the UK. It must be a very diverse role because of the nature of how our industry is today. This said many of our roles across the industry have become more diverse due to industry standards, processes, technology, moving to digital ways of working and everyone needing to work collaboratively.

Why don’t you think back to when you first started out in your role and how much has it changed for you. I hope, which is for the better.

Software

Let's go back to 2007 before I was a BIM Consultant and I had just started working at a large multi-discipline engineering company as a Senior Structural Technician here in the United Kingdom and was introduced to Autodesk Revit for the first time. Back then, we were starting to move into a modeling approach to design instead of 2D drafting on AutoCAD or basic structural analysis design software. At that time, we were not even thinking about Building Information Modeling (BIM). Although, some people had started talking about it, many people had not even heard of it. For us it was just about how we could produce 3D models to improve how we design our structural models, then produce our drawings from a model.

Even if we were to roll back even further to 2005 and 2006 when Revit Structure and MEP released.

Figure 1 – Back to the Future

Roll on a few years later in 2009, and I remember reading about the new interface in this magazine called AUGIWorld (Issue 2) about the Autodesk 2010 software releases. Thinking no, why has Autodesk now moved to a ribbon in Revit? Autodesk’s first stab at the layout was not great. I am sure those who used it would agree. It did take some getting used to and then it was changed again the year later.

Figure 2 – Closer Look at Autodesk 2010

For me, and many other civil and structural engineering firms, Revit has become an integral part of the design process. Not just helping model up the potential built asset but push directly into design analysis software such as Autodesk Robot Structural Analysis and others. Even having the ability for engineers to design and model the frame in Robot. Then, push it into Revit to complete the design and detailing to produce construction issue drawings.

Using model software has not been without its challenges as well. Like I mentioned earlier, other consultants not using 3D model software and only producing 2D drawings makes coordinating information harder.

One area for me which did not make sense was being able to create concrete structures. But not having the full functionality to detail the rebar to standards or code here in the UK until 2014. The Revit extensions did not really work to UK standards and one big problem we came across was the bending radius was not always correct. So, we had to spend so much time creating 2D details, plans, sections, and elevations to then detail using 3rd party add-ons to AutoCAD such as CADS RC. This was a great tool to help produce the rebar drawings and schedules, but if things changed, we would need to update information twice. Really it could have been done once and then checked.

Collaboration

Collaborative working would not happen like it does on today's projects where we do have the whole design teams modeling their part of the structure in a solution which will provide a 3D model. Whether it is all in Revit or using another solution and providing IFC (Industry Foundation Class) which is an open file format specification not controlled by a single software vendor. Linking other discipline models in and coordinating their information with yours to enhance the design process. Even using Revit’s work sharing tools to allow multiple members of the same design team to work on the model at the same time. This only really started around mid to late 2010 with the Architect on projects. The building services were a lot slower on the uptake of modeling. It was difficult at times trying to coordinate builders' work holes for things like ductwork and pipework through concrete walls. Checking 2D drawings in plan, section, and elevation to align the holes on the walls.

Figure 3 – BIM 360 Design Collaboration

Today we are even collaborating in the cloud using Autodesk BIM 360 Design Collaboration, which has really enhanced how we work on our projects. It can be on the live model, a regular shared model or design freeze model.

This can really reduce the time spent sharing models, coordinating design changes, or sharing the model information without having to open a model locally using either Revit or another viewing application. Not to mention, the fact you can see this information from anywhere as it directly through the cloud and each design team can control what it is shared and when.

One thing that is most certain today, is the number of software platforms many of us use whilst undertaking our job role. Personally, I use AutoCAD, Revit, Navisworks, BIM 360 Docs, on the regular. And just to top it off, some Civil 3D and InfraWorks. That is just Autodesk software. There is also Enscape for rendering and walkthroughs, Microsoft Teams, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Zoom, GoToMeeting, Amazon WebSpace, etc. The list is endless. Roll back 20 years and it would just be AutoCAD, Microsoft Word, and Excel. How things have changed. It is good that we can now buy many of the softwares we use as a collection of tools and not by product.

Hardware

I found an old Autodesk Revit Structure training manual from 2009, and in it, it talked about memory usage.

To minimize possible instability in Revit Structure when its uses operating system memory, you can:

  • Restart Revit Structure regularly.

If you receive a message that the current session's memory usage is approaching the operating system limit, save your work as soon as possible and restart Revit Structure. If you are using a work shared environment, save your local file, restart Revit Structure, and then save to central.

  • Enable the 3GB feature on your Windows® operating system to improve performance on 32-bit machines.
  • Run Revit Structure on a Windows 64-bit operating system.
  • Reduce the number of loaded DWG and RVT links.
  • Reduce the number of loaded RVT and RFA files.
  • Limit the number of views open. If you have multiple views open, you can quickly close all hidden views by clicking Window menu > Close Hidden Windows.

We would be using Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista on 32-bit machines which were limited to 4GB of virtual address space. If you were lucky you may have made the switch to a 64-bit machine. You would need 3GB of free disk space on a 32-bit machine and 5GB on a 64-bit machine. We did come unstuck a few times as the disk space was only about 300GB at that time, which sounded a lot at the time, but it soon filled up.

If we look at the specification today on Revit 2021, you are going to need a minimum 64-bit Windows 10 operating system, Single or Multi-Core Intel, Xeon, i-Series processor, or an AMD equivalent with SSE2 technology. The memory needs to be a minimum 8GB on the entry level going up to 32GB running large or complex models. Just to install the application you need 30GB free disk space. Hopefully, you will not have issues with disk space today.

Trying to render something in Revit on a 32-bit machine would take hours, even with some simple settings. So, trying to do something in a higher resolution could take anywhere up to 24 hours to render, then praying it or the computer would not crash, or be a power outage. Then, it was still not the best render. Now, the options are endless with tools such as Enscape, Twinmotion, Unity, and many others.

Bridging the Gaps

Over the last few years, Autodesk and other software vendors have been addressing the gap between designers and manufacturers or fabricators by improving interoperability. They then take the manufacturers model information and design model information and push it from one software to another reducing rework, such as a curtain wall from Revit to Inventor, or Steel frame in Revit to Advanced Steel.

Data

Many project requirements ask for BIM to be delivered. And as we all know, BIM is not producing a Revit model with some data attached to the elements modeled within. It is a process in which the model is a small, but integral part. When a project starts, the client, lead designer, contractor sets out what their information requirements will be and within that will be specific data delivery requirements. That could be data to manage, maintain or operate the asset through the life cycle of that process (e.g. location, asset id, manufacturer, asset no, warranty expiry date, etc). This data could be included as general information attached to the elements within the model, or structured as part of an IFC, COBie schema.

One of the big questions today that has been asked many times is, “Are we delivering the information which is actually required by the client?” or are we just including thousands of unneeded data fields within a model and wasting time including them. I know many design consultants who use the Revit families provided by the supply chain and end up stripping out so many non-required data parameters.

I guess this is a question that will continue for a long time to come. Along with, “Do we actually need the data within the model, or should it be stored outside in a database?” But, for the structure’s delivery not much of that information is needed to operate an asset like a building. Something like a bridge would be a key part of the asset.

Supporting Clients

I do not know many clients, if any, who actually used a 3D model of their assets ten years ago to manage, maintain or operate their asset. Today, more and more are and it has become a standard requirement for many projects. A big problem is that clients have the skills, knowledge, training, and even the know-how to use a 3D as-built as-constructed model whilst operating their own asset.

I have yet to see an actual as-built or constructed asset model which matches the actual built assist. Many of those models have been issued by the design team and the contractor has only updated major changes in the model or added assist data. Whoever creates these models does not tend to think about the end user and what they intend to do with it. Models are only created with the purpose of the creator and maybe the contractor/manufacturer. Which really makes me think, Why? The end user will need to spend further time, money and resources amending to suit. Also, this problem will open sources like IFC. These are like a 3D PDF. You cannot edit them, and you are better off with the native format. 

The integration with existing systems and CAFM systems is generally not easy and can mean a big change and cost for the owner/operator to ensure they do. Which many see the cost and scrap the idea. Then, continue how they did previously.

Gareth Spencer is an experienced BIM Consultant at Man and Machine (Autodesk Platinum Reseller) in the UK, with a demonstrated history in the computer software industry. Skilled in Autodesk software such as AutoCAD, Revit, Navisworks, and BIM 360. Also certified professional in Revit Architecture and Structures. Speaker at Autodesk University in Las Vegas and London. Follow Gareth via Twitter @TheDarkAsset, on his blog http://www.garethspencer.com/blog/ or email gareth.spencer@live.com.

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