Presentation Looks at Evolution of BIM Tools and Designs

June 23, 2010

Interest and technologies surrounding Building Information Modeling (BIM) are continuing to evolve. As this happens, the availability of need-specific and re-usable Building Element Models (BEM) will be important for BIM-based projects. This was the point Andrew Arnold with Reed Construction discussed during a webinar yesterday afternoon. The presentation covered business motivations, technical challenges and practical steps that architects, contractors and subcontractors can take to develop re-useable BEMs and cataloging tools to manage and distribute BEM content.

“It is our observation that firms getting into BIM spend a great deal of time building the elements that go into the BIM design,” began Arnold. “And primarily, most firms are using BIM tools and developing BIM to produce construction documents for visualization in construction.”

Some of the key values, he noted, of BIM and integrated project delivery include increased collaboration processes with cross organizations with different project stakeholders and the incorporation of different kinds of analyses using BIM as input to areas such as performance and cost analysis.

“It’s our experience that these analyses have huge value but they also require all sorts of data [… to get it all in order],” said Arnold.

He explained that this is where the BEMs can become beneficial.

“One way to think of a BEM is as a collection of … composed objects, meaning, as you pull objects into a design you configure them and attach specifications to them, [creating] a particular instance or placement in the project,” said Arnold. “It’s also important to understand that these object definitions can specify the basis for design …. the design becomes the basis for procurement and construction. None of this is new [it’s what] the creation of construction documents has always been about ... but now we have a knowledge model that is more computer interpretable and effectively re-used beyond design and the completion of construction documents.”

Providing a more specific explanation of BEM, Arnold said it is a 2-D and/or 3-D representation of physical products, construction assembly and even parametric models of spaces of specific designs and buildings.

Another element of BEM is that it can be saved into a catalog in a library management system.

“The idea that you can index it, save it and manage it in a library management system becomes important as you begin to think about the investment of your time [and] collecting the data that you need to execute projects with these models and then being able to re-use them,” said Arnold. “By creating tools that manage models and support the loading of data into these models you’re going to establish new work flows that will decrease the risk of errors and omissions in your practice.”

In discussing the value of these models, he said they can have an impact on operation and maintenance.

“If you look at the national 2030 zero net energy goals for buildings, improving a specific system, such as a window fenestration system … will get you part of the way there, but you also need an integrated approach to looking at all systems in a holistic way to get to zero net energy,” said Arnold. “For that you need BIMs that reliably and predictably model these systems and can report on how they interact. It’s a combination of the building skin and the [mechanical, electrical and plumbing] systems in the building primarily. Getting all the data together and modeling it in an integrated way will become the challenge in the next 20 years.”

Another challenge, Arnold explained, is supporting the production of a model as it goes from schematic design all the way through to bidding procurement and operations.

“For example, in a schematic design you may have limited information about a door opening. But as you go into preliminary design maybe you have dimensional information, and then as you go through construction documents you begin to specify the fire-rating, sound attenuation and light transmittance for the given opening; you put together the hardware schedule, etc. and finally the bidding procurement where the distributors go out and put together a list of products they need to handle a door opening,” said Arnold. “So the ability to flexibly elaborate a model or increase the details about the model’s scope throughout the project delivery life cycle will become very important.”

According to Arnold, if companies can reduce the time they spend organizing and managing objects they’d be more profitable.

“BEM libraries will reference useful information for arranging context and object composition about the project,” he said.

During his discussion Arnold also looked at some future trends, notably the ability to create catalogs of families and manage them in library management systems.

“And what we’re bringing to see is both building owners and product manufacturers creating catalogs,” said Arnold, who added that another theme is building the index information that’s external to the CAD model to the object.

“[It provides] ability to index standards, specifications, unit costs, performance data, etc. and index them into the building elements in the projects and to be able to slice and dice this expanded definition of BIM, taking us from BiM with a small i, which is just geometry, to BIM with a big I which is geometry and data.”

He continued, “This will require enterprise systems that have the ability to enumerate views of information across projects, user authorization and authentication, the ability to integrate date from external sources and the ability for various project participants to go into the catalog of objects and distribute them across project teams.

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