Monday, December 29, 2014

BIM Viewers in the Cloud vs. PDF Spatial Re-constructors on Earth (Part 2 of the overdue PDF trilogy I promised some time ago)

The global AEC is swarming with BIM Viewers, any service provider dealing in Building Related Information appears to have a proprietary one on offer.
Some are better than others. Commonly they offer the ability to view BIM models of various origins, maybe combine them, rotate, zoom, filter information. Some have mark-up tools, others provide fancy gadgets for tracking model-revisions. The models are usually stored on remote servers, they live in the Cloud, so to speak.
While the intentions behind creating these digital spectacles are usually good, the self interest of the owners to get a larger market share combined with the genuine want to make the usually exclusive and elusive BIM outputs more accessible to the non-BIM literate, I can’t help but seeing them as ‘wasted efforts’.

In my experience, those AEC practitioners, that (for whatever reason) do decide to ‘suddenly’ get familiar with ‘a’ BIM originating software will always prefer the full software to a dumbed down viewer and will learn to use the ‘real’ thing as opposed to the somewhat idiot-proof substitute. The rest (majority) that are still doing fine in their careers even blatantly ignoring anything BIM, will stay ignorant to ‘viewers’ too, no matter how user-friendly they may become.

My view is that the ROI on any proprietary BIM viewer (apart from probably the absolute market leaders) is likely to be far too low and those engaging in the development and maintenance of these should think again about their investments and spend the efforts/money on something more worthwhile, instead.

For example, PDF Spatial Re-constructors.
These are 3D digital work environments where large numbers of PDF’s can be placed in for the purpose of reconstructing the physical environment they were originally created to describe. At a minimum they are able to accurately place PDF sheets within the digital environment, across 3 axes and to correct scales. The more advanced versions allow the users to spatially connect corresponding points within various sheets to create a digital mesh, approximating the end-(or originally documented) building. The really good ones are either synchronized within comprehensive modeling programs or offer a range of modeling tools to sculpture BIM ready models spatially tracing the PDFs.

I do not know of any comprehensive PDF Spatial Re-constructors available on the global AEC market at the moment. That fact by itself does not mean that they do not exist, i.e. are no tools to successfully combine lots of PDF’s (hundreds and thousands) into usable digital skeletons for BIM or other purposes.
The two BIM toolsets I’m reasonably familiar with, each have cracked parts of this problem, unfortunately neither is looking to be in much of a hurry to extend these, well established features into a comprehensive system.
GS’s ArchiCAD is pretty snazzy with large numbers of PDFs, able to bring them into the digital environment and manages these through nifty color/trace/slider options. It copes well with sizes and is very agile in handling them through all of its 2D views (plans, elevations, sections). It however offers not the same option for the 3D environment, falls short of making the PDF’s ‘dance’ in the real-imaginary-virtual world.
Autodesk’s Revit is pretty clumsy with PDF’s, the last time I looked at this issue, their import was still in a very around-about way. On the other hand, Revit will bring and manage DWG drawings well, including in 3D, resulting in very satisfying looking standing up ‘line section’ placed correctly within digital models.

Having got half way there, both of these companies are in good position to offer up a really useful PDF Spatial Re-constructor in the near future, should they decide to cater for this need. Alternatively, those that are struggling with making BIM-viewers built from scratch might also see some fantasy in going down this direction instead.

Admittedly this concept may not be as glamorous as the ‘full-on’ BIM likes to think of itself to be, it definitely has the potential to assist a large segment of AEC participants be more productive when reviewing drawing based building documentation.

Part 1:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

If banks were truly running the global AEC, all construction sites would be paperless by now!

Banks generally like to keep a close relationship with the AEC industry.
Apart from small scale works and cash-jobs here and there, anything to do with creating buildings in large parts of the world involves banks as financiers or partners. In return, banks’ fortunes tend to be impacted by the destiny of the AEC markets, the threat of a ‘property bubble busting’ is well known for both.
Conflicting with this cozy association is what can be perceived as an apparent disinterest from banks on how the AEC is going about its day-to-day work.
One can argue that bankers should stick to their knitting and leave the hammer-heads to run their industry as they see fit, but it is interesting to note, how different the two sides are in their approaches to information management.

Paper as a medium rules the AEC while the banks have all but banned it from their processes.
Where did the practice of going into a bank with a little saving-account’s book to withdraw (deposit) money, fill out multiple forms, get a stamp and signature from the teller disappear?
I recently phoned one of my bank managers for advice using her mobile number and she asked to call back on her main-line. As they say, ‘all our calls are recorded for quality purposes’.
While it is partially to assist efficiencies and maybe even to improve customer service, the main driver for ‘ being all digital’ with banks is to control their own risks.
Banks ‘know’ at a very high level that what makes or breaks them at the end is their handle on the information part of the business, possibly even more than the ‘real money’. The high level strategy is then implemented throughout the process leaving little room for individuals to manipulate the data against the banks’ interests.

Contrary to this approach the AEC is anything but organized with their information – at high level there is talk and maybe meaningful looking strategies set by the big players, but what trickles down to the everyday work of individuals is as archaic and manipulative a framework as it has ever been in the past of the industry. Probably even worse than in the ‘old, traditional days of building’ where certain level of global technical knowledge and universally accepted tradesmen’s ethics guided the use of information away from the muddy waters of mistreat.

Exemptions do exist in both camps. Low level individuals can sometimes intentionally or by error mismanage information/funds, causing large losses to affected banks. There do also exist AEC based organizations that can truly claim to have their fingers on the pulse of their project information, meaningfully assisting their companies’ risk management and also helping the bottom line.
However, so uniform in behavior the two camps are within their own fields, that the exceptions, if anything, prove and solidify the rules.

And they are unlike to change in the near future.
As much likely is for the large scale mandating of BIM (in the UK and elsewhere) to work and make a significant impact on the industry as it would for any bank to suddenly opt out of central and digital information management in favour of a paper based one and still thrive.
My guess is, that the banks will continue to keep their own houses as tight and tidy as possible but indulge in the fruits of the chaos, that their closely related sister industry, the AEC serves up.

Meanwhile, congratulations are due for David Philp, who has a new job and is now Director BIM – EMEA @ AECOM! A news that warrants an entire blog-post on its own. May yet write it in the near future as it offers young generations of AEC professionals a great example of a career-path as dazzling as a successful politician’s might be.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Ten out of ten people think that paperless construction sites are about saving paper

I did an impromptu survey today and asked a dozen people for what reason did they think I was pursuing the idea of establishing a paperless construction site. Two of them gave silly answers I had to discard and that left me 10 with responses loosely classifiable around the topic of the ‘greenies and saving paper’.
A surprising result.
While saving paper is not a trivial goal, it is definitely not the main driver for this project. What is even more exciting than the savings project owners could be making by eliminating paper from their construction sites is the behavioural change that this move would likely to cause.
A controlled environment that forced information creating, storing and sharing exclusively digitally, better even doing it in a managed way and within a relatively short timeframe a full cross section of project participants will start positively changing their own behaviour …. TBC

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The question is not WHY should one ban the use of paper on construction sites but WHY NOT?

The ‘Paperless Construction Site’ concept has interested me, for a long time.

The starting premise is similar to all ‘BIM stories’, it builds on the theory that the AEC industry is notoriously bad at modernising its processes and its archaic information management causes losses to many, if not all participants.

The proposed solution to the problem is however fundamentally different to most globally accepted ‘mainstream’ BIM approaches.
Rather than turning to smart tools, software packages, programmes and systems, the onus of the strategy is put on the non-BIM construction practitioners to raise their performance.  And the strategy suggests, they will do so when they are put in a paperless environment for a long enough timeframe (i.e. the length of a construction project) while tasked with their ‘usual tasks’.

Think of the Project Directors, Construction, Planning, Engineering, Design and/or Cost Managers. Foremen, tradesmen, labourers, document controllers.
They make up the large percentage of any construction project’s team, BIM people, even on highly mandated BIM projects will be in a small minority compared to them.
Far from being judgmental about them, I actually admire how they get by – and completes projects, sooner or later, to budget or thereabouts, largely let to their own devices.
Rarely a day goes by that I don’t see something that confirms that buildings are often completed in spite of, as opposed to, because of, the available tools, systems and generally the ‘smarts’ of the industry.
Consequently, for a long time I’ve had this theory that, this part of the industry IS able to ignite a real change  given the opportunity, right circumstances and necessary help.

Here comes the concept of ‘the’ Paper Free Construction Site.
This simple plan modifies only ONE condition of an/any ‘average’ construction project, takes the right to use the ‘paper’ away.
Even that, ONLY on the physical site (bounded by a physical Paper Proof Fence and accessed through a strictly monitored gate). Supporting offices, off-site factories, territorial authorities are all exempt.
Everyone is free to do their jobs the best way they think should be done, or the way they always have, packaging project information into 1D, 2D,… 27D - parcels. Use words, drawings, tables, schedules, sketches, whatever.
Employ mobile phones, tablets, lap-and-desktops, small and large projectors, LCD walls, movie theatres, smart labs.

Just, no paper.
The plan provides for a highly specialised on-the ground support – 24/7 help and solution team – funded by parties other than the owner.

A truly promising idea for the industry?
This concept has been with me for a loooong time and over years I have figured out the entire machinery to make it work, down to the tiniest detail.
Have not been publicising it in any way until recently.

And the feedback has been pretty lukewarm.
Apparently, I’m not selling the idea very well.
Sure, I do accept it, I lack the charisma of a good marketer, I go off topics, use long sentences, my pronunciation is annoyingly Eastern European.  I employ amateurish graphics and I wave my hands around a lot.

The interesting aspect of this ‘fact’ is not that I’m not selling the idea well, (that really is not such a new phenomenon) but that people think the idea needs selling at all.
These people, most of them deeply engaged with this industry genuinely think, that any construction project owner would be hard work convincing to declare their construction site ‘paper free’ – given the chance and no additional cost burden.

The scary thing is, they are probably right. This industry is deeply troubled.

Not that will stop me working on the idea.