Beyond BIM

Buildings are amongst the most complex things produced in the modern economy; and construction projects are amongst the most complicated forms of human organisation. This combination demands that the quality of information on which projects are based should be of the highest possible standard. This is not possible in conventional construction, in which design is based more or less entirely on the use of dumb, line-based, two dimensional drawings. Almost all of the major shortcomings of the construction industry derive directly from this fact. Ray Crotty’s book focuses on the two most fundamental of these deficiencies: the failure to deliver projects predictably: to the required quality, on time and within budget; and the failure of most firms in the industry to make a survivable level of profit.

The problems associated with the use of drawings as the basis of building construction include, in particular, the fundamental lack of trustworthiness and computability of drawings. Every drawing on a project, and every document derived from each of those drawings, must be checked and appraised in detail before they can be used as the basis of any decision or action. No drawing-based document may be taken as true – correct, clear, consistent, coordinated and complete – as it stands. High and demanding levels of human expertise and judgement must be applied to every document before it can safely be used. And the information that documents contain can be re-used in their recipients’ computers only by being re-keyed, or re-entered in some other wasteful, error-prone way.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) presents a dramatic opportunity to change this way of working. The BIM approach involves the creation of ‘intelligent’, computerised, 3D building models, which can share and exchange the information they contain using efficient, secure, ‘hands-off’ techniques. No human intervention or judgement is required. BIM models are created by inserting precisely specified, digital components, at precise locations and orientations, into computerised 3D models. Each model component corresponds with a physical component in the real building. The digital components are intelligent in the sense that they ‘know’ how to behave and how to interact with each other – so (at least in theory) it is impossible to build the model incorrectly. The completed model – with all components properly coordinated with each other – can be used to generate drawings and other view forms, and ultimately to be used a perfect digital prototype of the building it is intended to represent.

The huge improvement in information quality that BIM brings about will transform construction in the same way that other industries have been transformed by improvements in the information on which their operations are based. Retail was transformed by EPOS systems and related technologies; manufacturing by CAD/CAM and associated systems. Most of the major sectors of the modern economy have, in one way or another, been transformed through information. A similar future awaits construction with Building Information Modelling.

The use of BIM – effectively perfect information – will transform the operation and structure of the construction industry. Such a transformation will obviously be important and hugely beneficial here and now; it will be even more important, and potentially much more beneficial, in the context of a global construction industry that is going to create upwards of 800 city-size conurbations over the next fifty years.


Comments

Beyond BIM — 16 Comments

    • Hi Terry, No we’re not doing a booth. But obviously I’ll be there myself. Planning on attending the BIM day on Tuesday in North Gallery 8 & 9. If you’d like to discuss further, perhaps we could meet up at that.
      Regards
      Ray Crotty

  1. Hi Ray,
    Very much enjoyed your book. Could I ask, as I understand the book went to the publishers prior to the release of the government’s BIM working strategy paper, which I’m sure you have looked at:
    The construction press has locked onto an early quote by Paul Morrell that all public works over £5m will require BIM, but there is no mention of this in the strategy paper only mentioning a much wider application than the £50m reported by the LCCIG team, what’s your take on a minimum value, both practically for firms in private work and as government standard?
    Do you think that COBie is a hindrance or natural progression toward the saturation you refer to in the implimentation of BIM by the industry, my feeling is that as a watered-down information vehicle and if this is all contractors’ need aim for then that is where they will aim?
    I would really appreciate any views you have on the above,
    Many thanks,
    Peter.

    • Hi Peter,
      The project value limit is just a short term obstacle – for demonstrably good applications. When I was running IT in Bovis we focussed our innovation and tested new stuff on our larger projects – generally because there was sufficient scope in the prelims budget and / or the client / design team were interested in the experiment. So, rather special conditions. However, as we proved things like the Hummingbird extranet information management functions on these big projects, the management teams on other smaller projects started to request similar services. With really convincing innovations it took little persuasion and surprisingly little time, before they became standard part of the Bovis offering. In other cases – I’m thinking cost control and change control particularly – project teams required a bit more persuasion. I’d guess that it was two or three years after we first demonstrated these functions working well before we were able to get Board mandate for their use on all projects.

      BIM belongs in the first of these two types of innovations. As more and more project teams see what you can do with it, it will diffuse across the industry very quickly. Unfortunately BIM in this context really just means clash checking, mainly probably of 2D drawing files, using non-BIM-authoring tools like Navisworks, Solibri and Tekla BIMSight. And people will do the COBie thing only if they are compelled and paid to do so. You see what I mean? The industry is not dumb (despite what many would would have you believe), so obviously good stuff takes off quickly, less convincing innovations take more time, more coercion. (We’ve seen all this with phones, faxes, PCs, LANs and Web – essentially communications technologies, in a highly communications intensive industry.)

      Bottom line: BIM clash checking – yes, easy, soon; BIM COBie – probably no, hard, way off. The Morrell Mandate obviously changes that for government work, but still, it’s hard to see enough private sector clients pushing for it – so it’s not going to happen easily or any time soon.

      The question of COBie as a hindrance to widespread diffusion of BIM is actually more complicated than it looks. You’ve got to see COBie as part of the overall BuildingSMART / IFC programme of construction data standards – in this context COBie is very much just the tiniest tip of a bloody huge iceberg. To me IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) is very much a mixed blessing. On the one hand, in conjunction with IFDs and IDMs (don’t ask…) the IFC initiative should end up being a comprehensive, rigorous data model of all the possible things that might ever be used in the construction and operation of the built environment, together with all the possible things that might be done to those things, by all the possible actors involved in the entire built environment sector. This would be a very valuable asset which could be used to underpin all sorts of subsequent data modelling exercises in specific sub-sectors of the industry. On the other hand, the work has been going on for nearly twenty years already, who knows how much longer it will take to complete. (Fairly typical construction industry project of course: won’t know exactly what we’re building until we’re finished building it.)

      I’m concerned about this – as you can probably guess – for six main reasons:
      1. The huge ambition of the project, problems of governance, lack of scope definition
      2. The overall technical approach – as outlined above; modelling the universe
      3. The technological approach being adopted (basically 1980s data analysis and modelling techniques)
      4. IFC etc is modelling today’s construction industry – threatening to cast this in concrete, a potentially profound hindrance to advancement
      5. The work is all falling on the shoulders of a number of volunteer, necessarily self-selecting, committees of ‘experts’, rather than industry practitioners. Little or no external challenge / audit. (See 1 above.)
      6. The (perhaps only apparent) sense that the project is looking exclusively inwards at construction, and is having to exclude operational models and technologies from other industries, from which direction much of the innovative aspects of future construction is likely to emerge.
      And a few others…

      I find this incredibly frustrating and annoying. Here we are with the technology breakthrough necessary to really transform construction, to yank the industry completely out of its ancient craft-based way of doing things, and we’ve more or less completely committed ourselves to this single, somewhat questionable, solution to the main challenge to that opportunity. We need three things:
      A. Business people must take direct, hands-on control of the standards development process
      B. Quid pro quo, the industry’s businesses must commit the effort and resources necessary to do this thing rigorously, openly and quickly
      C. Start by looking at what other industries / sectors have done
      D. Seriously investigate alternative modes of analysis and technology platforms

      Hah! Thought you’d get a few bland comments, eh?

      • Hi Ray,

        I made a post earlier today about the need for a more “trustworthy” BIM Standard cast as an ideal Vision with actionable paths to that vision. Somewhat like FIATECH does with Vision and planned Paths. bSi – had a BIM 2020 working paper.
        However, your reply to Peter conveys much better what the NBIMS 3.0-US implementers should be reading:

        The question of COBie as a hindrance to widespread diffusion of BIM is actually more complicated than it looks.
        You’ve got to see COBie as part of the overall BuildingSMART / IFC programme of construction data standards –
        in this context COBie is very much just the tiniest tip of a bloody huge iceberg.
        To me IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) is very much a mixed blessing.
        On the one hand, in conjunction with IFDs and IDMs (don’t ask…) the IFC initiative should end up being a comprehensive, rigorous data model of all the possible things that might ever be used in the construction and operation of the built environment, together with all the possible things that might be done to those things, by all the possible actors involved in the entire built environment sector.
        This would be a very valuable asset which could be used to underpin all sorts of subsequent data modelling exercises in specific sub-sectors of the industry.
        On the other hand, the work has been going on for nearly twenty years already, who knows how much longer it will take to complete.
        (Fairly typical construction industry project of course: won’t know exactly what we’re building until we’re finished building it.)
        I’m concerned about this – as you can probably guess – for six main reasons:

        1. The huge ambition of the project, problems of governance, lack of scope definition
        2. The overall technical approach – as outlined above; modelling the universe
        3. The technological approach being adopted (basically 1980s data analysis and modelling techniques)

        4. IFC etc is modelling today’s construction industry – threatening to cast this in concrete, a potentially profound hindrance to advancement

        5. The work is all falling on the shoulders of a number of volunteer, necessarily self-selecting, committees of ‘experts’, rather than industry practitioners. Little or no external challenge / audit. (See 1 above.)

        6. The (perhaps only apparent) sense that the project is looking exclusively inwards at construction, and is having to exclude operational models and technologies from other industries, from which direction much of the innovative aspects of future construction is likely to emerge.
        And a few others…
        I find this incredibly frustrating and annoying.
        Here we are with the technology breakthrough necessary to really transform construction, to yank the industry completely out of its ancient craft-based way of doing things, and we’ve more or less completely committed ourselves to this single, somewhat questionable, solution to the main challenge to that opportunity.
        We need three things:
        A. Business people must take direct, hands-on control of the standards development process

        B. Quid pro quo, the industry’s businesses must commit the effort and resources necessary to do this thing rigorously, openly and quickly

        C. Start by looking at what other industries / sectors have done

        D. Seriously investigate alternative modes of analysis and technology platforms

        ====/

        Thanks for the challenging vision. Now to consider the drivers and how East and Eastman initiatives play out. Any further thoughts?

  2. Hi Ray,
    Lot more than a bland comment, thanks.. I think.
    Couple of points you raised, I’m trying to get my head around. I agree that BIM (in a watered down guise) will flow from top down implementation with big projects being used first, make sense, and that process (I think) will be client as much a contractor lead. This follows with the government’s ‘push-pull’ policy but I do believe there is a cut-off point financially that building a model is not warranted.
    From what you have said, COBie is not part of this strategy as there will only be ‘pull’ from the government. With your description of COBie it does not sound attractive at all, I think I understand the IFC procedure that you describe, but is that going to be used in a COBie spreadsheet?
    Looking at Appendix 10 of the Strategy Paper ‘What is COBie’ it states that the information can be captured using direct entry into the spreadsheet, using cut-and-paste from schedules and documents. So at the government’s maturity Level 2 this will be based on Building Smart IFC/IDM and IFD standards and this information will be by human entry… sounds disastrous.
    Final point, the capturing of construction information to create this (IDF) library as you describe, is it not being done around the wrong way? Would it not make more sense to develop a system/program that any object can be inputted into and then the relevant information is outputted in the standard format? Then just allow the industry to use it, and then monitor it, kind of like Wikipedia information, this would allow for new developments and product growth.

  3. Hi Peter,
    Really sorry for the delay in getting back to your comment. Just got back from a fascinating holiday in Turkey.
    Briefly to go back to our discussion about dissemination of BIM. I think two key things will drive it: first, design consultants will be scared not to do it. Their peers flaunt it, so their customers will demand it. In the near future, if a project fails for any reason that could reasonably be prevented by a model, and a model is not used, the designers will be sued for professional negligence. Therefore professional indemnity insurers will compel it. Also, I think design build will continue to increase market share. In this mode, main contractors will do BIM a lot.
    I sort of think COBie doesn’t matter much. It’s almost a sort of false target, a straw man, set up to challenge the industry to get its collective mind around interoperability. Of course real interoperability really does matter – a lot.
    As I suggested earlier, initial use of BIM will be to create clash check models based on the use of conventional 2D drawings, in things like Navis. There is no intelligence in these models, so the COBie spreadsheets will probably will have to be done by hand, as you suggest.
    There is a real problem here. If firms and project teams can show that they’re doing 3D modelling, even if it’s just in Navis, and if they can show that they’re providing proper COBie files, even if it’s just done manually, then it’s going to be hard to say that they’re not doing BIM, and we get back to the same old CAD thing. The whole beauty of BIM information slips out of our grasp.
    This, interoperability and home-made object families are the three big threats to the successful diffusion of BIM in the industry.
    I think your final point deserves to be developed further. I don’t think the system/program idea is quite right. It’s sort of the other way round: we should have standard industry components that we can pass from one system/program to another and be confident they both interpret a given component in exactly the same way. I’m actually trying to get a research project going to develop a comprehensive catalogue of the components we use in buildings for just this purpose. (Don’t hold your breath.)

  4. Excellent book! Thank you Ray for writing it. I’d like to read more. Your industry knowledge and foresight is very compelling. Please let me know of additional resources you recommend.
    My particular interests are in BIM for MEP trades, pre-fabrication, and “Transforming construction” (increasing manufacturer scope and decreasing specialty contractor scope of work).

    • Hi Ty,
      Thanks for your good words. I haven’t yet got a copy of the second edition of the BIM Handbook, by Chuck Eastman, Paul Teicholz, et al., but the first edition was really very useful, so I guess the second has to be necessary reading. I’m also a bit of a fan of James Cortada’s Digital Hand. This is actually a bit hard going, and is strangely lacking in analytical content – really just a descriptive narrative of the history / impact of Information Technologies of various types and times. Pretty comprehensive (at over 1500 pages it ought to be!) Very interesting though. Nearer to your area of interest perhaps is Digital Design and Manufacturing, by Schodek, Bechtold et al. This is pretty well exclusively about AEC design and manufacture ( not about generic CAD/CAM as the title implies.) I think Lachmi Khemlani’s AECBytes online journal is about the best up to the moment resource on BIM at the moment.
      So, these are a few to be getting on with. I noted with interest your wording of your area of particular interest: “…(increasing manufacturer scope and decreasing specialty contractor scope of work). This will become a pretty hot area, fairly soon.
      I also find it interesting that the process and petrochem construction industries have not made a big issue of BIM. They’ve been doing something similar to BIM for nearly twenty years now, haven’t they?
      Again, thanks for your support – spread the word … got to go now.
      Ray

      • Thank you Ray for suggesting the additional resources. I’ve subscribed to AECBytes (wish they would do a country analysis of Korea). I’ve purchased Bechtold’s book “Digital Design and Manufacturing…” and while I was ordering from Amazon.com I also bought “Prefab Prototypes: Site-Specific Design for Offsite Construction” and “Components and Systems: Modular Construction Design, Structure, New Technologies”.
        As I mentioned before I would like to learn more about increasing manufacturer scope and decreasing specialty contractor scope of work. I’ll continue watching BIM’s role in this process and will research which manufacturers and/or distributors (Graybar, etc.) have embraced the movement. I can say first hand that I am impressed with “assembly” offsite construction techniques used by a few sophisticated speciality contractors (SASCO in Southern California and Mojave Electric in Las Vegas).
        Thanks again Ray. Please keep us updated.

        • Ray, of the three books mentioned above, I found the one you recommended, Bechtold’s book “Digital Design and Manufacturing…” by far the most interesting. Thank you. Please let me know of any additional information about off-site construction / prefabrication and packaging of building components with the help of disruptive technologies. Thanks again.

      • Hi Ty,

        Matt West, a long time Shell Oil researcher, worked on a standard – ISO 15926 – initially around oil industry data exchange & construction issues. FIATECH just last November released a Users Guide – http://www.fiatech.org/images/stories/techprojects/project_deliverables/iso-intro-ver1.pdf

        with scenarios of increasing complexity about information exchange. Fluor, Bentley, Shell and other industry experts worked on this project. You may find this free guide complements parts of Ray’s book.

  5. Hi Ray,

    I’m trying to pull a few “strategic vision” ideas out of your website and book to mobilize interest around your ideas in Chap 9 for the NIBS 3.0 Topics. At yesterday’s Level of Model Development – Detail – Phase discussion we notice the gaps between BIM manager needs and Architects and Contractors. Your Fig. 6.5 on page 104 (RIBA Plan of Work stage) helps move the discussion along but the strategic vision process is missing. Have you considered Cloud platforms such as Lonnie Cumpton/s BIM9 Private Cloud or other similar platforms as a way to better express how Standards and Owner Vision conversation can be developed?

  6. Hi Ty,
    Again, sorry about the delay in replying.
    The whole thing about the relationship between architectural design and building / component manufacturing is beginning to heat up quite nicely. Another couple of interesting books: “Architecture’s New Media” by Yehuda Kalay, and “Architecture in the Digital Age: Design and Manufacturing” by Branko Kolarevic are well worth reading. Kalay is particularly interesting on theories of design. A lot of the Kolarevic is pretty toe-curling psuedo-intellectual pretentiousness, but it’s worth reading, if only for Jim Glymph’s great chapter describing the work he did to enable Frank Gehry’s practice to master this stuff. (Someone needs to publish that chapter as a stand-alone piece – maybe get Jim to build it out a bit.)
    Glymph is a great hero of mine. Fifteen years ago he was carving out ways of doing CAD/CAM buildings that no-one else gets near, even today. A key point about their approach is that they realised that, if they were ever to build the stuff Gehry was imagining, they really did have to do proper CAD/CAM, give up on drafting packages and embrace real building modelling, using CATIA. Big brave move!

    • Hello Ray,

      The best literature about prefabrication of electrical sub-assemblies I have found so far is titled “Best Practices: Prefabrication for Electrical Contractors”. It is currently available from the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). It does a excellent job describing off-site prefabrication but it is missing the use of BIM (Revit MEP) to detail out the assemblies and communicate installation insturctions for field personnel. An update could also include the use of RFID tags on each assembly…
      Your thoughts?

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