Silence Is Silver, Communication Is Golden
The construction industry (more than any other industry) involves many players with different experiences, personalities, and skill sets... which is great! But there’s a flip side—how do you ensure consistency of cost, schedule, quality, and even safety with so many colors and flavors? How do you maximize productivity across various trades, various projects, and various countries even? Contrary to a production line in a manufacturing plant, which produces similar products over and over again in a controlled environment, a building project is most often unique in terms of design, location, and people involved.
Getting alignment across the entire team becomes the #1 priority for BIM managers, using 3D models as communication tools to quickly illustrate the intricacies and complexities of a given project.
And that’s the key: communication. Disclose, share, inform, publicize, suggest, announce. I know what you are thinking—this sounds like more emails... Absolutely not! The tools are out there, and they can do amazing stuff! Let’s discuss a few examples.
Building an Integrated 3D Model
The 3D model (or what is mostly used nowadays for coordination as a collection of 3D files) is already a step up from 2D design documents simply by adding another dimension. 4D, 5D, 6D all the way to 8D models build upon the same concept to add time, cost, and lifecycle management all the way to accident prevention data, pulling the type of information conveyed in multiple different directions.
The added features open new avenues to specific types of analysis. But how about this: instead of continually trying to add more dimensions to a complex tool, why not focus on spreading out its use to the wider audience and integrating the model more consciously into our daily work processes?
The idea is to improve the number of people interacting with the model on a regular basis instead of relying on a few experts focusing on very specific dimensions to digest the information contained in the black box that is the 3D model. In practice, this would mean identifying the most common work processes and aggregating them into the model.
The point is to leverage work produced by team members to enrich the 3D model with information from outside the modeling and 3D coordination process. Examples include tagging the model with RFI (request for information) data, publishing submittal information, linking the model to document repositories, tracking design releases, or even using it as a notification tool.
Integrating RFI Data with the 3D Model
On the construction side, one of the most common tasks for a project engineer is managing RFIs. A formal question is sent to the designers and once the answer is received, it gets distributed to the rest of the construction team, including affected subcontractors. Multiple parties can be affected by an RFI response and it is imperative they analyze the constructability, the cost, and the schedule impacts associated with the response.
On very large projects ($500M+) this often means having to track and manage thousands of RFIs. Moreover, field personnel need to be made aware of the design changes through the RFI process. This commonly means the RFIs need to get tagged on the design documents, generally by a dedicated resource.
But what about adding another dimension to that process: publishing and managing RFIs through a 3D environment? This would mean fewer items falling through the cracks and better communication on their status, leveraging the 3D information to better illustrate the issue and track in real time the updates to the individual models as RFI responses get coordinated. This can be done two ways: manually, using that dedicated resource; or automatically, using the metadata from the 3D environment.
Guess which one is faster, cheaper, and less prone to mistakes?
To automate the process, the easiest way is to use Navisworks DataTools, with a little added discipline on the project engineer’s side and a few added fields of metadata in the model. Each piece of the model would have a property filled with a very specific value. That value would be replicated by the project engineer in the RFI and will serve as the link between RFI and model.
The key is to use a predetermined Work and Location Breakdown (WLB) code that is unique to any group of items in a specific location for a specific trade. Basically, break down your coordination model by area and by trade and assign (i.e., have the model author add) the associated code to the model pieces. The granularity of the breakdown will drive how precise the results will be, but will take more time to input. You can structure the code whichever way you want, as long as both the code in the model and in the RFI are the same.
With the groundwork laid out, simply configure your Navisworks DataTools to fetch the RFI information (from your RFI database, spreadsheet, text file…) and link the WLB code from the model to the RFI. For help on the DataTools configuration, the Autodesk Navisworks team created a great article in 2011 that I still use to this day.
The last step involves color coding the model pieces based on the RFI status using the Appearance Profiler: all closed items are green and are ready for construction; any item that has an open RFI associated with it is colored red and should not be built until the RFI is answered.
It always looks better with a little color!
Figure 1: Connection with the RFI database is leveraged to color code pieces based on construction status using the appearance profiler—be careful of the order in which you apply the colors (Navisworks works from top to bottom).
The result is searchable model properties that include RFI information (in this case RFI number, title, status, company or trade affected, and date closed) and a color-coded 3D model that shows what can be built in green, and what cannot in red. For easier viewing, specific viewpoints were saved for each trade (in this case, concrete).
Figure 2: Color code the model by RFI status for a specific trade (concrete) to get a clear picture of what issues remain before the walls and columns get poured.
Some of you might point out that equipment sets in BIM 360™ Field could achieve the same things, and you would be right. But this would mean having to change the RFI process for companies that are already using a specific software to tie the cost and schedule impacts of an RFI to their cost control system. (The DataTools solution shouldn't impact any existing processes.)
Automating Schedule Links for 4D Animations
The same principles can be applied to the schedule where the same Work and Location Breakdown (WLB) code can be added to a custom property in your scheduling software. Depending on what schedule is used for the animation, the code’s granularity can be adjusted to show less detail and match the schedule activity in question.
For example, if your master schedule shows an activity for pouring all the walls on a specific level, your code in your model should be adjusted to match the level of granularity in the schedule, meaning all walls on the same level in the model would have a property with the same WLB code.
You can then import or link the schedule in Navisworks “Timeliner” and use the “Field Selector” to import your WLB code.
Figure 3: Link your schedule (left hand side) to the model in “Timeliner” (right hand side) by importing the custom WLB and Task Type fields.
Tip: Make sure you have a “Task Type” column in your schedule with a default value set to “Construct” (by default; this will save you time when you refresh the schedule).
One you have synchronized your schedule, use the auto-attach feature with a rule that links the WLB code from the schedule to the same WLB codes in the model pieces. After a few minutes of linking process, admire the results in the Simulation tab. Voila! …a fully automated 4D animation!
No more manual linking of tasks!
Integrating the Integrations
Independently, the last two examples already provide the team with more visible ways to interact with RFI and schedule data produced on a regular basis (with no additional effort).
NO! I would rather look at lengthy spreadsheet or a CPM schedule instead of colored elements in the 3D model... (said no one ever).
The visualization capabilities of the 3D model are used to convert the "1D" information into a clear, visible result that reduces misinformation and confusion, thus improving intelligent communication.
But what if we combined both examples? What if instead of a color-coded model on one side and an animated model on the other, we combined both to produce a color-coded 4D animation? Used together, these two methods can be even more valuable; not only helping identify issues, but also prioritizing them.
By combining the color-coded model with the schedule animation, teams can focus on solving upcoming issues when needed, as opposed to spending time and resources working on non-immediate concerns.
In practice, this requires a few aesthetic modifications to the 4D animation to make sure the color coding is only driven by the metadata and not the schedule status. By setting all statuses to display “Model Appearance Color” in the “Timeliner, Configuration” tab, you ensure that the only colors to look out for during the playback of the animation are for RFI issues.
Figure 4: Configure Navisworks Timeliner to only show RFI status colors during playback.
Once you have configured Timeliner, it’s time to play back the animation and admire the results: as the 4D animation displays the objects according to the schedule, the items that are ready to be built are either white or green; the ones that are not appear in red.
Figure 5: Color-coded items appear during the 4D animation to indicate if they are ready to be built or should be held off until issues are resolved.
So what have we learned, boys and girls?
The result is an easy-to-use and view color-coded animation showing the status of RFIs and prioritizing them to follow construction. Instead of having to shift through a spreadsheet and matching the various design or construction-related questions being asked, the entire team can focus on the ones that matter. Moreover, on the back end this does not take any extra work and as long as the RFI and information in the model is entered in a disciplined fashion, this automatically refreshes to always show the latest and greatest information. Communication and sharing of information is improved, more reliable, and easier to analyze.
Jean Goyat is a BIM Engineer at DPR Construction. With a solid educational background including a Master's Degree from the Ecole Centrale de Lille in France and a Master's in construction engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, Jean applies his knowledge of BIM products (AutoCAD, Civil 3D, and Revit certified professional) to improve construction technology usage on large technical projects in California. Passionate about innovation in construction, Jean is constantly pushing the boundaries of technology implementation and integration into work processes to foster better communication and collaboration between project actors. Currently focusing on a large hospital project in Palo Alto, he is known by his team as the BIMja.
Kaushal Diwan leads DPR Construction’s National Innovation Group, fostering the culture of “ever forward,” and challenging the status quo by pushing the limits of change. Kaushal also leads DPR’s corporate BIM training program and supports project teams across the nation. His 10 years of experience in the industry consists of BIM implementation and cost estimation for technically complex healthcare, higher education, life science, advanced technology, and commercial building projects. Kaushal is actively involved in national and local BIM groups and has also been a popular speaker at Autodesk University, local colleges and universities, and within the Sacramento Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) Community.