Definition of Collaboration – col-lab-rat-ed, col-lab-ra-ting, col-lab-o-rates.
1. To work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort.
Collaboration is the foundation of all successful designs and “working together in a joint intellectual effort” is exactly what architects, engineers, contractors, and supply chain partners do to successfully take a project from design through to construction. The way in which we collaborate has changed from 2D visual collaboration on paper or with AutoCAD® to 3D digital collaboration with tools such as Autodesk® Revit® and Autodesk® Navisworks®. We are building things twice: once virtually and once again on construction sites physically.
Figure 1: Model Coordination
The benefits of the collaboration process are similar to the BIM process. Collaboration follows a 360 degree circle starting with and ending with the client and, like the BIM process, every member of the design and construction team will benefit from improved efficiencies through collaboration.
For the Client – Early collaboration will give the client a clearer understanding of their building and the spaces they have to work with.
Not everyone understands how to read a drawing, but people can relate to images and animations. The ability to show a Revit model or a Navisworks walkthrough to a client and discuss their needs early in the design stage is quite powerful; this will assist in ironing out any issues the client may have early in the process where most benefit can be gained.
For the Design Team – Improved collaboration = improved coordination, which makes the whole design process smoother.
Revit gives Architectural, Structural, and Building Services designers the ability to collaborate in a digital 3D environment. The tools available in Revit such as interference check make coordination between all disciplines a much simpler process when compared with traditional 2D drawing. For me, the main advantage of interference checks lie with Structural and Building Services elements.
For the Fabricators – Collaboration with supply chain partners such as steelwork fabricators streamlines the process from design to fabrication.
More often than not steel fabricators will use tools other than Revit to produce shop drawings, I’m not saying Revit can’t be used, but there are tools out there that are more suited to the job. For a steelwork fabricator receiving a Revit model in the form of an IFC there is a two-stage process to go from Revit model to fabrication. A fabricator will import a Revit Structure model as an IFC. Depending on the software they are using, they have the ability to convert a model from ‘reference’ to ‘physical’ members in the model. This method isn’t foolproof as catalogs can vary slightly between packages, but once the model is converted, profiles and orientation of members can be checked and amended as required. Connections can then be detailed. Working from the same model as the structural designer saves the fabricator a huge amount of time and ensures the team is working with the same data, and reducing waste from the overall design to fabrication process.
For the Contractor – Collaboration results in improved design coordination between disciplines, which results in a practical, buildable solution when the project gets on site.
There is a lot of talk in the industry globally about virtual construction, “build it twice; once virtually, (a digital prototype) and once on site” is one of the tag lines coming out of the UK Governments BIM mandate. Revit not only allows the design team to virtually build a 3D model of a building, it allows the contractor to take that model, and use Revit to break it down into a ‘construction model’ (for example, splitting floor slabs from one large slab into a series of pours).
From here the contractor will import the Revit model into Navisworks and use Navisworks to virtually construct the building, creating construction sequences to ensure every element slots into place, almost like a jigsaw. Linking the model to packages such as Microsoft Project will allow digital construction monitoring against the project schedule. This is happening all over the world—large contractors in the UK, US, and Australia are all doing this and there is also at least one major contractor in New Zealand following this exact process.
Figure 2: Navisworks Coordination
For the Client – As designers, our end goal is to deliver a project to a client on time, within budget, and to the best of our ability with minimal waste. Collaboration is essential to achieving this.
Using Revit to collaborate digitally across the different design disciplines has a number of client benefits. A key point that is raised over and over again when discussing the benefits of Revit is a reduction in RFIs, because the design team collaborated throughout the design phase to ensure no clashes between services and structure, for example, and the contractor followed this up with a more in-depth look at the construction process. The RFIs should be cut right back. I’d go as far as saying some projects could be completed with no resulting RFIs in relation to the team listed above. This results in a construction schedule that is on time, within budget, and with little to no variations.
A Lot of Waste
The construction industry still has quite a lot of waste embedded in its processes. If you look at the process of designing a steel-framed building, there is the potential for at least four steel frame models to exist within one design team—four models that have been built from scratch by different people within that design team.
Architect – The architect will add steel framing members to the model during the early design stage to try get a feel for how the structure will look and how it will impact the architecture.
Engineer – The engineer will create a structural analysis model using packages such as Robot Structural Analysis.
Modeler – The Revit Structure modeler will build a structural model for coordination and structural documentation.
Fabricator – The steelwork fabricator will create a fabrication model showing all connections, cleats, and bolts for fabrication purposes.
Sharing models and data across the design team will reduce a lot of this waste, but I don’t think the tools are ready yet for designers to “create the information once and pass it downstream” without the need for some rework. Yet there are a lot of efficiencies to be gained by all disciplines from sharing information.
Model Things Once
In some instances, architects will need to model structural members in the early design stages if all they have to work from are engineers’ hand sketches, but as the design progresses it is important that elements within the models are not duplicated across different disciplines Revit models. Duplicating elements across models can lead to uncoordinated design—changes could be made in one discipline and not followed through into the other disciplines model.
The design team should sit down at the start of a project and map out who owns what elements at what stage of the project. This might mean that in the early stages the architect models and owns all elements. When the structural engineer is on board the architect will relinquish ownership of all structural elements (delete from their model or put onto a workset that is not visible by default in all views) in favor of using elements modeled by the structural designer likewise, with elements such as plumbing fixtures. As owners/operators become more educated in BIM and the benefits to their facilities management, eventually all design team members will hand ownership of all model elements over to the facility manager. This is still some way off, but in an ideal world this is what will happen, and maybe as designers we should play a part in this and start to educate our clients in what full circle BIM has to offer.
One common “issue” I hear regularly from architects is that while they want to show the Structural model for steelwork etc. as a linked file, they don’t want to have to spend the time turning off the other elements in the model like structural rebar, steelwork connections, etc.
This is where view templates come into play. Each discipline should create view templates for their views based on what they do and don’t want to see in the other disciplines models. The one problem that is still to be resolved is who owns walls? Structural walls need to host reinforcement, and architects also need to host windows and doors in some structural walls. The copy monitor tools within Revit are far from perfect, but this seems to be the only option for walls at the moment.
Communication Is Critical
In the digital age we live in it is becoming more and more common for architects and engineers to make changes to their Revit model, and by simply sharing that model with other design team members they feel that all the changes they have made will be picked up “because it is in the 3D model.”
A lot of people have forgotten how to use something which has been around since 1876, the telephone. The simplest form of collaboration is verbal communication, and as design evolves into a digital process I think the need for communication is critical to making collaboration work. Just because I have modeled my structure in Revit doesn’t necessarily mean the architect will instantly pick up any changes I make.
In traditional 2D, drawings would be issued and revisions clouded; in the 3D model revisions can’t be clouded and drawing issues between the design teams are becoming less and less frequent. This means any on-going changes that are being made to the model that aren’t visible on drawing sheets can be difficult to pick up.
The Importance of BIM Start-Up Meetings
An initial BIM or Revit meeting should take place at the start of every major project, purely from a Revit and collaboration point of view. Items for discussion should be:
- File format for data exchange.
- How often are files exchanged?
- Clearly define what the model is to be used for at what stage in the design process
- Who models what and when?
- Who owns what and when does element ownership go from one discipline to another?
- Level of development (LOD) – what level of model information should I expect to receive at what stage? And does that meet my expectations?
- How often should clash detection take place?
- Project coordinates and project north position.
It is important that the above items (at least) are discussed before a project really starts to evolve, and the decisions on each item should be documented and set out in a BIM Execution Plan. Collaboration will be much easier to manage if every member of the design team has the same set of core principles to follow from start to finish.
Revit and other Autodesk 3D design tools have vastly improved the way we in the design and construction industry collaborate with each other in recent years. As we move further into this digital era we shouldn’t forget the basics—combining the 3D digital design tools we have at our fingertips with careful planning, regular communication, and good team management. This, I believe, is a recipe for success.