Friday, September 30, 2011

BIM by numbers

As well as dropping the initially very promising 5D viewer, Vico has gone away from pushing the concept of “recipes”.
These claims I make based on the (previously mentioned in this blog) product demonstration I had the pleasure of attending recently.
While the first one saddens me, the second move is good.
“Recipes” was not a helpful word to use in the context of an intelligent construction planning toolset.

Not because of its inaccuracy.
The word correctly portrayed the information needed to be collected to fully describe the ‘ingredients’ and ‘steps to be performed’ for a building element, it was more the dangerous suggestion of a ‘BIM by numbers approach’ it tended to reinforce, that I did not like.

Funnily enough, in principle, I’d love to have a ‘BIM by numbers approach’ in place. One day.
I just think, it is a long way ahead for most companies doing anything BIM these days.
It requires the type of ‘knowledge banks’ that most cannot dream of yet, databases that include not just routinely used company and project information but also an extensive collection of know-how, all recorded and structured in ways that are not ‘natural’ for how these companies currently operate.

Time to scale back from the big vision and get some meaningful BIM under way, whether you call those information packages ‘recipes’ or something else.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

But, how do you KNOW it is correct?

This is the question I drive everyone nuts-with around work.
They think, it is a trick-question designed to trip them up.
No, I am genuinely interested, how all the entities claiming to be doing BIM models built-off other parties’ 2D outputs are able to satisfy themselves that the 3D model is the accurate representation of the drawings.

Not that it can’t be done, but is it practical?
When you need one party to chew through hundreds (if not thousands) of drawings to interpret and digitise the building, will another do the same, just to check the first’s work is acceptable?
Are ‘spot’ checks really efficient? Are QA procedures really any good?

There is an emerging army of BIM service providers claiming to be specialists in the field, able to create singing-dancing multi-D virtual buildings off anyone’s documentation.
Pretty renders, stills and animations of small to large projects are eagerly distributed to potential clients as proofs to these capabilities.
However when it comes to QA processes their offerings are all pretty ‘bland’, filled with procedural jargon, checklists and tables that give no assurance for me that they cracked this mystery.

I accept that whoever does crack it, will own a pretty nifty piece of IP and won’t want to share it with anyone.
I also suspect, to recognise the real one when I come across it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Just because a cure exists...does not make it automatically affordable.

Where did we get with this ‘BIM’ thing?

Many clever heads before me have recognised publicly and documented widely that the AEC industry is a highly inefficient and clumsy beast.
There is ‘sort-of’ enough evidence out there to prove that applying a BIM approach to many projects within it would fix up some of the inherent issues the industry has.

But then, there is the subject of cost.
Promoters of BIM like to brush this ‘little problem’ aside...
If pushed, they’d come up with case studies, percentages saved, crises avoided, painstakingly tracked, tabled, monetised.

How often you’d get the claim “300 RFI’s that were resolved before construction...saved us xxx buckets of money...”?
I don’t necessary disagree with this approach used to justify the introduction of a new set of tools to a project or business, I still wish to sound a little warning:
It is complicated!
Much more complicated than a simple equation can describe.

While the problems are often called ‘systematic’ they are also, most of the time triggered by simple errors compounding to bigger effects much harder to handle.
Similarly, the benefits are rarely immediate and straight forward, often delayed and serving a different party to the one that originally invested in the improvements.

Should everyone in AEC contemplate employing BIM?
But do understand, the question of ROI isn’t easy to answer!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I saw my second pink Hummer in a week...

A cool car if ever there was one...

Am not really a petrol-head (who’d admit to be one), still I often talk about personal transportation, as a manmade system we can learn a lot from.

All of us daily commuters are not friends, business relations, not even acquaintances.
Common to us all is that we need to get from A to B, with as little hassle as possible. So, we abide (mostly) by the rules, operate the machinery in a reasonable manner and look out for the fellow travellers.
Based on these very-basic but common goals and objectives, this system of multiple-parts is continuing to develop all around the world.

Now, imagine if there was a large portion of the travellers that refused to operate the machinery.
No problem, you’d say, that is what taxis, public transport, chauffeur driven limos are there for.
But, what if this segment, due to personal beliefs, fear, arrogance or ignorance decide that the only way they’d take part in this system is by using horses and carts, driven by others.

What would this do to a dynamically developing system of infrastructure, vehicles and road-rules that we are familiar with?
Adjusted speed limits? Allowances made for horse watering holes?
An army of coach drivers matched by another of no-drivers?

Sounds bizarre?
Welcome to information-management within the AEC, as performed globally.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I don’t answer my mobile phone while I’m in meetings...

Nor at lunches, dinners, presentation or whenever someone is interacting with me in ‘real’.
Call me old fashioned, I find the practice rude.
Emergencies? OK, there are some, I admit. But current mobile technology will allow the receiver to know the caller, the place called-from, even the emotional level the message is likely to be set-at before the call needs to be answered.

There is a ‘BIM’ aspect of this little annoyance of mine and today I’ll attempt to describe here, what I call the ‘AEC engineer’s communication paradox’.

The AEC is staffed by a large number of well educated, smart, generally practical and able engineers of various disciplines, age and experience.
Common to most is their strong attachment to the mobile phone, depending on geography they operate in, sometimes two, or even three of them.
Observing them from a distance you’d think their lives are planned out in detail, their work highly efficient.

Contrast this the way they handle project information, building based, something that is at the core of their professional being.
They get someone else to create it, manipulate it, store it, share it...

They must always answer their phone as if their life was dependent on it (and most of the time it is not) yet, they hand over all responsibility to project information to draftsmen, caddies, admin people and others.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Throwing BIM pearls before...

Yesterday’s post was too specific yet cryptic.
That’s the feedback. Well, let me clear the message I hid so well (badly) only few may have got:

Some BIM products’ sellers should be allowed to set an entry test for their users before they were offered to buy them.
A minimum level of BIM IQ – a threshold of understanding of the approach, below what the clever software was not an option to purchase.
Sounds arrogant?
Maybe. Supply and demand are strong drivers of markets. Limited distribution of a BIM-toolset to only those that use it properly could ultimately turn into a wise decision for a developer.

It is not unusual for educational institutions to select whom they would take on as clients.
Could this not be applicable to BIM suppliers?
Does not tend to be, unfortunately.

The reason I did not spell this thought clearly out yesterday was partially because it was about Vico, and I am unsure of its current abilities, stability, robustness etc...
So, I could not suggest that they take up such selective marketing as to test their prospects before they offer-up for purchase.

But then, little old me, I’m happy to say that I have my own threshold I carefully maintain when I choose for whom I will work for.
Sadly, this had not always been the case and may change too.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What is your BIM IQ?

“With due respect”...said the guy forewarning that what he was about to say, paid no respect to his target...
Can’t quite remember his exact words, but he was belittling the presentation that the young-lady just delivered showing Vico, live.

Now, demonstrating any software real-time is a tricky-business, not recommended for the faint hearted. A bit like attempting tricky acts on stage, performing on the trapeze even...

I was contemplating in wonderment what the presenter just delivered, a sample-workflow shown real-time using an incredibly complex suite, so I missed the beginning of the chap’s talk.
Thankfully got the gist of it by the end, it was to do with how the software-providers presenting were trivialising the tasks that the audience faced daily, you-know, MEP coordination!

MEP coordination? Uttered in the same sentence with a putdown for Vico’s Office shown life in all its beauty?

True, she used only a limited number of building elements in her file. It is not a good sign either when GS’s building-site and brick-buildings are paraded endlessly to prove a point.
The 4D clip shown at the beginning started its life as a revolutionary 5D sample some 5 years ago, so maybe that was a bit of a let-down too.

Still, MEP coordination?
I should choose the events I attend more carefully.
Sorry organisers, my compliments do go to your lady-presenters!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The (lack of) BIM apprenticeships

Many clever heads before me had put their ideas and efforts into explaining why and where the ‘generation thing’ is letting BIM down, I tend to look at it as a see-saw too hard to get into a balanced state.

Consider those in their early twenties entering the profession and you can see they aren’t getting the opportunities they should. A youngster with some inclination to develop within the BIM field will very quickly find his wings clipped and be forced to play-ball (traditional) or search-for more exciting fields to put his talents against.

But then, spare a thought for the forty-somethings, themselves only just making it on the rickety ladder of professional success, having a ‘new’ BIM thing showed down their throat, something that they often ill-understand and would rather ignore.

Rare is the company that manages this see-saw well and gets the best out of both parties.
This than results in an industry where no meaningful BIM apprenticeships exist to those wishing to subject themselves to challenging and demanding boot-camps that will earn them their ‘rite of passage’.

In parallel, those that have spent decades in getting where they are, but more importantly learning what they’ve learned, are afforded no real platforms for passing on the knowledge without looking stupid and out of their depth (on some of the aspects of the BIM-thing).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

When did promoting BIM turned to be so un-cool?

When did it happen?

One day you are the flavour of the month, the forward thinker, the innovator, your name is uttered with the utmost respect by the highest ranking in the company..., you feel like you’re selling the idea of eating green broccoli for breakfast to a bunch of preschoolers.

One day people tower over your screen in dozens to admire the latest interactive digital creation you produced, breathlessly watch every move of your mouse. They forward you BIM related internet findings, they refer to you their colleagues with BIM aspirations...
next...they treat you like you were all of the company’s H&S and Q&A officers blended into one and no one shares their table with you at the cafeteria.

One day you are their savour, the ticket out of the drudgery of everyday work, the tamer of the 2D dragon..., you are part of the fun-police, you make rules, talk policies, procedures and are boring (even to yourself...)

The ‘research’ label is dropped from your door, the hologram of your business card fades.
You no longer feel ‘leading’ anything and even your biggest fans stop referring to you as the ‘cutting-edge dude’.

An everyone’s-friend, geek-prince you find yourself turned into a detested autocratic frog!
If this is what one means by maturing BIM, I can’t say that I like it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Can your Grid do what mine can?

Daily blogging has gifted me with a stable readership.
Steady if largely passive, mostly and thankfully, polite too. Any ‘abuse’ I get comes from those that know me and would probably challenge me regardless of the medium.
Occasionally an anonymous spike hits, but comparing to the ‘anonymous’ phone threats I was subjected-to in the past from concerned competitors, these I easily brush aside.
All-in-all getting on with the blog...
BTW – did you know that ‘generic’ blogging is a bit of a geriatric thing nowadays?
Tumblr is all the rage. Must make an effort to explore it a bit...and if I miss it, there will be another coming up soon...A bit like buses... Or was it girlfriends, someone famous said?

Read a good book last week: Ian McEwan – Solar. Recommend it. Even managed to get my husband to read it, started at the middle, but got back to the beginning and is close to finishing it without losing interest.
Apart from the beautifully crafted language I so enjoy from McEwan it is the way he deals with global warming.
In a thoroughly ‘refreshing’ way if I may attempt a pun.
I wish he could get interested in the subject of BIM.

And what about the grid from the title?
Just realised that Archicad’s grids indeed turn towards the viewer.
The little Mona-Lisas of the BIM world!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Revit’s Perspective is skewed

“Currently, perspective views are used only for visualisation. You can select elements and change their properties (or delete them) from a perspective view, but you cannot edit any of the model using grips nor edit commands within these views.”
Says Chapter 16 of Mastering Revit Architecture 2010 (G Demchak, T Dzambazova, E Krygel);

If you think I’ve been shimmering with delight as I was copying this paragraph, you’re wrong.
It gives me no pleasure at all to shine my little torch on this ‘little’ shortcoming of Revit.

Twenty years ago any ability of a software-package to place a 3D view on my screen, axonometric or isometric earned my respect. Ten years on I expected my modelling tools to allow me to work directly in 3D and not have to flip-flop between camera setting and 2D reference views.
Nowadays, my expectations are higher. –  Considering I have not grown up on computer games, i.e. my expectations are still in synch with the way the field developed, this is reasonable.
Products may be OK to be developed in axonometrics , buildings need workable and dynamic perspective views.

I’d forgive Revit all of this if it was not pushed so heavily as the ‘leading BIM application’.
A bit like watching a famous celebrity struggling amongst professionals in “Dancing with the Stars”.

For a ‘leading’ anything, it should do better.

Monday, September 19, 2011

“Go easy on the architect...”

Texts me my architect friend, another ponytail – this one a lady, and a good one at that!
A lady and an architect. She thinks I have something against architects, I single them out in my blog.

The year I graduated with has produced a number of really successful architects over the last 2 decades. Some went into private practice, won awards and international acclaim. One became a mayor in a town; a number of others served (or still are) as government architects.

That reminds me, I read recently that the UK has a Government Chief Construction Adviser.
Fancy that!
Paul Morrell OBE was appointed some time in 2009 and he talks ‘BIM’!
He declared publicly that the UK Government would de demanding Level 2 BIM by 2016.

So, all you little BIMmers operating in UK, anxiously waiting for your break, sleep easy from now on. After all, Paul Morrell is a past senior partner at Davis Langdon. A QS and an OBE.

Davis Langdon, Global Construction Consultants.
I have a distant memory of them being ‘design consultants’ not that long ago – but maybe I’m mixing them with another company that AECOM gobbled up in the recent years.
Or, were they ‘risk and cost consultants?’
Definitely not BIM, I would’ve heard if they were BIM consultants too?
Maybe when Level 2/BIM spreads globally, they will be!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

BIM and the Mona Lisa

Call yourself a BIM practitioner? When did you last use a 3dimensional text or a space label within your model?

For me, presence of any type of 3D text within the digital building model implies the creator has reached a ‘certain’ level of understanding when it comes to BIM.
A totally non-scientific measuring tool, it has proven to be quite accurate on the long run, when I try to filter out those that ‘get it’ from those that hardly ever will.

There are many that argue to the contrary, promote clean models where all-in built data is accessible through properties, look at 3D text as adding impurity to the project, dumb distractions even.
This line of thought may also be the reason for tools designed to create and manipulate 3D text within BIM modelling applications tend to be largely undeveloped, if present at all.

This is, I think very unfortunate.
3D text should be alongside 3D grids, level (storey) markers (also 3D) and ‘real’ North points at the top of any modeller’s priority list.

If I was good at application development, I’d also make the text dynamic, able to align itself ‘on the go’ with the camera’s or observer’s view.

A bit like in historic paintings – some very famous, that depict portraits of people whose eyes seem to follow the viewer.
That would be cool.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

“Here, take it! I’ve got nothing to hide...”

Says the architect, ponytail flicking vigorously from left to right, then in reverse.
He throws a CD onto the table (came prepared?) then lifts both hands up in the air, palms turned to me – showing the non-existence of any weapons.
“The building is resolved, coordinated, documented.
You are free to pull the model apart, reference it back to the drawings we issued.
It is fully in synch with the written specifications, the BOQ is automatically generated....”

A fanciful story I imagine while repeating for the ‘n’t time, ‘why releasing the digital model by the architect to the contractor would do no harm to the project’.
And for the ‘n’t time he says ‘no’, ponytail sitting calmly on his neck, protruding modestly behind one ear.

Guided by the wise words of his insurers, that advise designers not to get involved in means, methods, safety, sequencing and anything to do with releasing digital models to anyone, he is confident and calm, whereas my frustration is steadily building up.

“Actually, I do not see where your concerns come from...” he says, adding to the injury “There are proper channels to address your queries. Send us an RFI. Or...” he pauses, pocking an expensive-looking fountain pen into his mouth..” if you ask us nicely, we’ll print you still shots of any parts of the model you like...”

Thanks, mate.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Filled out a car-lease form today...

In Archicad. No joke.
The form came as a jpeg.
Typically I’d print it off, hand-write the data, scan it back to the sender.
My computer and the one I have the printer-and-scanner on are not directly linked up, I email between the two, sometimes use a pen-drive.
I walk from my desk to the other, a couple of times.
And worse of all: I have to handwrite the document!

Today, at the end of a long working day, I’m too droopy to do all of these steps and pull the form into Archicad.
Well, it was open anyway, one less click...
Fill it out, sign (have tools for the curvy bits) and send it back as a PDF. Done!

This little non-event proves little apart from my laziness but there is an interesting parallel to consider:
Not that long ago, vast teams of researchers attempted to design ideal kitchen layouts for housewives to move shorter distances between the sink, the stove, the fridge and the pantry.
The approach got somewhat discredited when the obesity epidemic hit the western-nations and every extra step wheedled into one’s life had a possible positive impact on longevity...

What pulls these two stories together for me is the way we humans operate – sometimes predictably, often not, instead just follow the line of least-resistance.
I guess, that is predictable too!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Figurative, Virtual, Literal and Actual

Five-or-so years ago I had dealings with a company that claimed the copyright to ‘virtual construction’ within its home-country.
They could’ve been just pulling my leg, never checked – either way, it was an interesting concept to contemplate, as by then the activities my own company was pursuing fit nicely within what a ‘virtual contractor’ was supposed to be doing.
Graphisoft also trademarked VB (virtual building) – so we all seemed to be heading in the same direction.

I have since heard numerous people arguing against GS’s move to lock up such a ‘fitting term’ and consequently turn the industry off using it.
Only recently occurred to me, that the trade-marking step may have had nothing to do with its lacklustre acceptance within the industry.

The ‘virtual’ word did it.
If you see nothing dangerous in that word, you are too involved, too deeply affected, infected even.

Look at the following two definitions, a few from many possible for ‘virtual’:
“Almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition
Not physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so”

Now, if you were the future building owner of anything, would you be eager to place your building’s fate in the hands of anyone that claims publicly to be producing something a bit fake?
I’d definitely think twice about it!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mesmerising MEP Models...

There is a hard-to-explain high level of delight people get from looking at digital representations of MEP models.
No matter how ugly and utilitarian their real-world counterparts are, these still- and moving images are treated like newborn babies with genuine wonder and uninhibited admiration.
Not sure!
Is the dynamics of the colourful pipes and ducts that does it? Something childish and playful, yet complex too?
Like a marble-run remembered from childhood or a McDonalds playground slide set?
Or is it the presumed intelligence of the creator that makes it so attractive?
One must be really smart to be able to create such graphically pleasing digital spaghetti AND make it look meaningful too! A computer geek, a digital artist and a mechanical engineer, all rolled into one person? I’ll have one of those, please!

Contrast this reaction with the reception a typical 3D representation of a reinforcing detail gets. Show a nicely rendered maze of colourful rods to a random sample of people from AEC and they will shake their heads in unison...
“why would you model reinforcing?...we’d NEVER model steel within concrete!...”

The ‘random’ sampling may be overstating it – those charged with getting some of the more complicated steel connections executed tend to be quite enthusiastic about these instructional graphics. Based on my experience, anyway.
And my team has modelled reinforcing.
Lots of it!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The dubious LOD scale...

I quite like the look of the BIM addendum of the Consensus301.
...But the LODs of AIA E202? The more I explore the concept, the less I like it.

Fixed and agreed-on LODs are supposed to bring certainty to projects, instead they introduce ambiguities at multiple levels.

They seem to be set up based on the assumption that there always is a process of gradual refinement from big picture to small, from bulk down to detail.

Let’s put this to a test: Take a staircase as an example!
According to my experience a typical stair in a high-rise will go through the following transformations:
It will start-off as a blob, if you are lucky someone will allow for a rectangular space big enough for a typical-staircase capable of spanning the height.
Gradually it will get more defined, structurally, with finishes, handrails, guards, balustrades.
Nosing details will be designed, fixings, materials specified, colours chosen...

So far so good...
Then, someone will decide to replace the concrete stair by a steel one.
Someone else, will realise that the accessibility code hasn’t been taken into account and the stair is too-steep.
The allowed space will not accommodate a fully accessible stair.
A supplier of nosing-tiles will suggest an alternative.
Another staircase will become the accessible staircase.
The fire-rating will be down-graded and the nosings amended....

Gradually increasing LODs?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Husband crushes cans for living...

...well, he did over the last summer... Entertained dozens of children stuck in the desert city for parts of the long, hot school holiday by suspending ping-pong balls on columns of air, blowing up vinegar based rockets, crashing empty cans of fizzy drinks using cold water...
 He also created make shift pulleys and kept me worrying for days that someone will get injured through these exciting but sometimes accident-prone experiments...
Like getting poked in-the-eye with a straw.

Today, it is his birthday.
A real thinker and tinker if there ever was one, poor man had been bitten by the bim-bug through marriage numerous years ago.
Ever since that happened I’ve had enjoyed the luxury of using him as a guinea-pig whenever I needed one for my own experiments of outputting complex construction information to ‘lay’ people.

It was through his use of 3D PDFs as primary presentation tools to our clients that I got convinced of the importance of ‘user-friendly’ communication, how ‘intuitive’ should be truly that both for the receiver as well as the sender of the information. 

He managed to highlight the shortcomings of construction information communication to me like no one from within the industry could previously and consequently re-infect me with the bim-bug. From those beginnings I’ve been chasing clarity, meaning and purpose in communicating AEC projects.

Happy BD Graham!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

But, can your BIM do this for me?

No matter how often this question is asked, I still get surprised!
Why should BIM ‘per se’ do anything for me or you?
Due to my role and working within BIM in AEC, I regularly get interrogated on not just BIM’s capabilities but also its perceived willingness to ‘serve’ us one way or other.

Don’t all BIM narratives start with the “BIM is not a technology, BIM is an approach”...question?
A philosophy, I like to add, a belief, a toolset, a lifestyle.
As little or as much as you’d let it to impact on your life, in good ways or bad, sometimes in totally unexpected ways...
but still, will not ‘do things’ for you, I’m afraid – you are on your own there...

‘...Ask not what your country can do for you...ask what you can do for your country’
A bit naughty to misuse the famous Kennedy quote in such a lowly context, still it so often pops to my mind when I get questions like today’s title – that I can no longer fight the urge to use it somewhere. Sorry.

Also just realised the significance of today’s date... my intention to garnish this little post with a historical picture of two popular presidents looks suddenly less than appropriate.
Hopefully still not a big deal for a little bim-blog lost in the BIG World Wide Web...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Our cat stretched out on the ceiling...

...or rarely anything is the way it appears at the first sight...

I caught the cat on camera lying by the deck-door and amused myself for a while, after having down-loaded the picture to the laptop.
...He is stretched out on the floor...or is he lying on a skylight?
Maybe stuck to a stripy ceiling covering?

Simultaneously to rotating the cat-on-the-mat (digitally) round-and-round, I have been researching software that can convert PDFs to DWGs.
A depressing process this turned out to be, not due to the lack of applications available, more because the exercise made me think more about the way we share information in AEC projects.

The industry has been doggedly-loyal to the misguided belief that some sort-of-risk management is being exercised when CAD files are not issued out. (talking Flatcad here, not models!).
Instead we get PDFs.
Consequently, our guys are constantly crying out for converters.
There is no shortage of them on market. From dubious freebees to sophisticated applications there is something for anyone wanting to reverse-engineer PDF drawings into vectorial files or doctor other raster-images, scans and pictures.
Most leave me cold; despite of the marketing-fluff they come wrapped-in.
They should be called ‘reverters’ instead!

Don’t you wish sometimes that you were a cat?
No furry-scans to be needed to make digital sense from... and they can jump really high too!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Put me out of misery, are they or are they not?

Woods Bagot. Bulk moving to a different modelling software?
A friend of mine applied for a position there recently and was given a long list of software packages (each a lifetime to learn properly) to declare his expertise level on.
Did not get the job, unfortunately.

Now, I am one of those people that has been uttering things like “we do not want to be locked into one package..” and “choose the right tool for the right task...” for a long time, even before the now fashionable label of ‘BIM agnostic’ was introduced.
BIM agnostic? Sounds a bit like being gender-neutral, not pink or blue, just a pasty shade of cream.

Still, I am a bit sceptical about a large, international firm being truly able to maintain an open mind on what software packages to use and still have a consistency of services/outputs throughout the company.

Did a bit of a speed-research on the company myself, scrolled over their word-wide job ads.
They DO appear to cover a large range of tools, from Revit, through Archicad, Rhino, Sketch up, even hand sketching... Not quite sure if the last implies sketching hands or sketching using hands, hence the Escher illustration accompanying this post.

There was one beauty I found while trawling though their ads though:
a role advertised as ‘Design Intelligence Coordinator’;
Really liked that one!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

If I had a spare million Dollars...

I’d spend it on a particular ‘prize for a solution’ project.
I know, I know...there are millions of holes in the world that my money could fill, not to mention the multitude of needs quite close to home...

But, just for a moment, let’s imagine a bag with a million dollars falling from the sky with the option to use it one and only one way, and that is, as prize money for my project.

And the project?
To figure out a fool-proof way of assessing any set of construction 2D documentation, interpreting it and turning into a 3D digital model.
Creating ‘the’ magical box that one can feed in sheets and sheets of drawings and it will spit out the digital 3D model after a press of a button.
Can’t be done?

Let’s see what a million dollars can do? From my end, I’ll do my part for free.
I will not contest the prize, as my way of doing the above described task-set is less then magical and far too slow to be considered ‘press of a button’ even in a symbolical sense.

I can still contribute! I can help with PR, provide awareness of the competition going on, talk to clients and media, get the interest going, ask the tricky questions!
Like, why is such a machine needed in the first place?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The road to BIM is paved with wasjigz...

Part of the basic training of any BIM coordinator should be the exposure to and prolonged practice at solving wasjig puzzles.
If you have not had the pleasure of any of these little exercises given to you before, in brief: wazjigs are  jigsaw puzzles where puzzlers have to use their imagination and follow hints/clues to work out what the image they need to create from the box containing (most usually) 1000 pieces is supposed to be.
This game in fact asks for skills very similar to those needed to tackle 3 out of the 5 main task sets of a BIM coordinator;

Step 1: Assess the information given to you
Step 2: Interpret the information given to you
Step 3: Turn the information into a meaningful output

Admittedly, there are many thinking games available to those that want to keep their brains in good shape for problem solving, the reason I like wasjigs is that they promote the same feeling of despair as a standard set of consultant provided building documents, when I first look at them, yet I also know, they are solvable.

I look at the box of pieces and think, ‘no way I can put anything meaningful together from these...’ but I also appreciate, that it is only the matter of time and patience for a comprehensive image to emerge...
Go wazjigs!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Is IFC good enough?

It’s better than what it used to be.
Fewer rogue elements are left floating in space after conversions, storey-settings come through OK, so do most walls, slabs, doors and windows.
On the downside though, even a relatively small file still converts into thousands of objects.
Topographical meshes, stairs, curtain-walls turn into objects, parametrical and with some intelligence retained, nonetheless with very limited ability to do modelling work with or around them.
Based on this one can deduct, that at least 3 groups of specimens that work as ‘tools’ in one program will only function as objects in another when imported as IFCs.

Should this be a worry?
Not necessarily. It is quite reasonable to have a complicated terrain-model created by one party inserted into another’s file as a relatively dumb object.
Similarly a stair and/or a curtain wall.

The problem I see is where elements that belong to multiple parties are at stake.
...most building elements. A bit like the column I wrote about previously, the column that was simultaneously everyone’s and no-one’s.

This issue is not insurmountable; there are numerous ways to move forward.
Step one however is to accept that building elements are a bit like children, belong to many people, all wanting to put their stamps on them...
... and they are people in their own right and owned by no-one!

Monday, September 5, 2011

There is no such thing as natural beauty...

...says Dolly Parton playing the confident hairdresser Truvy, in Steel Magnolias..
A lovely, slightly sugary movie studded with stars and memorable quotes.
Truvy sets herself up with lifelong clientele working on the principle of nature always being able to do with a bit of a helping hand.
There is no perfect modelling package in AEC, all can do with a bit of Truvy type magic.

Today, I take a break from the big questions of the BIM philosophy as I wish to point out some nice features that I like in two different modelling packages (see pictures attached):

DWG vector files when imported to Revit show up in 3D as visible lines, circles, hatches.
Archicad has a little gadget within the Trace & Reference command that will allow you to split the screen and slide either up/down or sidewise.

Neither could be called an absolute must but oh, so useful when one models at the construction end.

BTW, have you noticed that there are NO modelling packages on the market dedicated to construction? Or are there?
Everyone seems to assume that there is either no need to do modelling in construction (I.e. all models come from designers ready for construction-BIM) or that design modelling packages will do fine for the contractors as well.

What is good for the goose should work for the gander?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Happy Feet of NZ BIM...

Having become a self proclaimed expert on the subject matter, I thought I was right declaring ‘evolution in making’, when Happy Feet, the revolutionary emperor penguin made it to New Zealand following a 2000 mile swim.
A fellow immigrant myself, I could see the guy got fed up with the Southern Ocean and took on to find a better life.
No such luck. A couple of nights ago it boarded the research vessel Tangaroa and is on his way back to the Antarctica.
Something must have got lost in translation between him and his penguin whisperer at the Wellington Zoo.

Commiserating over the poor fellow’s fate I thought back on the times when we attempted to BIMorise the NZ construction industry.
It was a failed by nonetheless vigorous campaign my team and I pursued.

A bit like the bird, we swallowed quite a bit of sand and other debris on the way to the new BIM world.
We encountered numerous storms and scary sea-creatures in the form of government supported engineering consultants and government courting project management firms that all wanted us under water.
Occasionally we enjoyed the blue skies for days-on-end and the promise of calm waters and gentle breezes taking us into the right direction...

...Only to be washed up on the shore and waking up one day disillusioned, tummy-aching and mostly broke.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The question of BIM scalability...

When I talk of ‘scalability of BIM’, I think of the ability to maintain integrity of the end-product while expanding the workforce from one person doing the job (me) to a few and then to many.
Over the last couple of years, I found this issue to be another ‘elephant in the room’, too big to tackle.
It is generally ignored. The various ‘p’ words get banded around a lot instead – process, people, procedures, policies, performance, practice...all linked closely to the issue of scalability, still, I am yet to find a company operating within the BIM space than can convincingly prove to have tackled the issue of ‘quality’.
This elephant does go under the name of ‘quality’, scalability stands for the ability for me to maintain the quality of my product/service even when I stop doing the work myself but employ others to do it.

You know, the McDonalds thing.
The critical factor in making a ‘real business’ out of a ‘good idea’.

Some mistake this scalability requirement with the size of the projects, they show me LARGE buildings done in BIM. Square meters and feet get shouted about, anything can be handled, they claim.
Others quote the numbers of people involved in each project, graphically present locations of participants, peppered around the globe.

All good. Still, size does not equal ‘quality’, or does it?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Balls and balls....

“It takes balls to stand up and say, BIM isn’t working”...comments a friend privately on my latest post. Hmmmm...
Not sure if I can take this as a compliment, though makes me think about how ‘balls’ get used in all sorts of parallels, in business world as well as everyday life.
“I never said BIM was not working, just...” I start my response, then delete it.
“Never mind...” – never makes it to him...

Still, if you are a shrewd project manager representing a building owner (like my friend), your gut feeling is right: squeezing the tendering/constructing general contractor’s balls is still cheaper than employing any meaningful BIM on your building-project and will get you the same results, or better!

You also have the ability to manipulate the consultants, get them produce tonnes of mildly intelligent looking documents at less than acceptable rates.
I know it is like herding cats, still easier than getting a middle-of-the road BIM solution off the ground.
As long as they meet the target dates and deliverables are plenty, everyone is happy.
Throw in a well known name for good measure and some quirky design and who said making buildings wasn’t fun?

I have a-lot-of respect for PMs operating in the AEC – when they see real potential in BIM that’s when BIM will start to make headway.
Balls or no balls.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The birds and the bees...

Or the subject of buildings’ lifecycle-costs...
I’ll leave the opportunity to study this topic in depth for the future;

Today, a note to building owners:
“If you are being talked into using BIM purely to have an OM/FM ready model at the end: BE CAREFUL!”
Remember, you are sinking your funds into creating a building in the most efficient way.
There are numerous ways that you can achieve this goal and you employ professionals to get you the best blend of technology, skills, experience, work-methods, productivity etc etc...

Don’t get fooled into shiny solutions that are not proven yet!
Why agree to be the experimental rat for someone’s pet science-project or fund others playing with technology to prove a theory that has shown to be unworkable for two decades?
Since when have you been known as easy target for software companies selling boxes of overpriced tools?
Think again! Traditional construction information management is rubbish.
But there is still no better alternative widely available.

And for that OM/FM ready model?
Well, in the last quarter of your building you can get your as-builds and go down to a good digital modelling shop and have it modelled, quick and cheap.
Alternatively, the FM provider may chuck the services in for free just for the opportunity to work for you.
You just never know with this BIM stuff...