A day in the life of...

13/06/2017

BIM is a lot like Communism, don’t you think? I don’t mean in the sense that it’s a revolutionary idea that undermines the authority of the aristocracy, but in the concept that all stakeholders are equal, it’s just that some stakeholders are more equal than others. Basically, a collaborative approach works if everyone collaborates. As soon as that concept breaks, BIM regresses into an old-school combative environment where everyone is out to blame everyone else.

And that’s pretty much my week last week. We’ve been looking at a number of projects which, frankly put have been good examples of how not to BIM. Yes, sure, learning from your mistakes is all well and good, but an even better way is preparation, preparation, preparation. A lot of the investigations have centred around the contractual expectations of BIM, and what is actually a requirement (“thou shall”) as opposed to a recommendation (“you should, but…”). Most of the BS1192 standards are written using “should” so unless there is an addendum to the contracts, are any of the Employers Information Requirements actually binding? Even if they are, doesn’t the BEP override those as the “response to an EIR”? Can the client reject a BEP after the work is delivered? Can the consultant reject an EIR? The answer to most of these questions is inconsequential – the projects didn’t have any record of an agreed BEP, nor did their contract actually include the EIR, which was issued post-appointment. All good questions that may well be raised at Thursday’s (15/06) BIM Regions London event on “The Legal Side”.

I guess the one thing everyone can learn from this is that BIM is a process – not just in terms of design, construction and handover, but that there is a process required to define the project’s information requirements and modelled deliverables. If you don’t ensure the boxes are ticked at the right time, and you’ve not even thought about clarifying your own execution. Don’t just accept those BEPs just because they’ve been issued to you, dear readers, the BEP should be communist collaborative. This is all defined in PAS1192-2 & 3 (two specifications I’ve referred to so much this week I can, unfortunately, quote back exact clause references) which are the two backbone documents of BIM Level 2, the exact intention all these projects had of adopting.

Collaboration is all well and good, but it doesn’t mean you don’t need to cover your backside. There’s more to BIM Level 2 than words specifying it as a requirement. 

07/04/2017

Jimi's second vlog entry sees him getting exited (well, midly) about the new CONNECT version of AECOsim Building Designer:

27/03/2017

Jimi finds time to give the Game of BIM book a read in his vlog entry:

28/02/2017

Custom content libraries can be a huge productivity booster for any design studio. Having a comprehensive, well-structured library will free up time for designers to do what they do best: design.

Maintaining those libraries though, is a much less glamourous and exciting job, and can easily get overlooked, put into the “we have more important things to do right now” category. Few people get thrilled at the prospect of renaming thousands of files to a specific naming convention or adding custom parameters to them so that IFC exports goes as per the BIM execution plan, or just fixing parameters so schedules don’t break, or upgrading them to the latest version of the software… The list goes on and on. But for some undiagnosed reason, I find peace and zen in them. Particularly when I can spot a way of automating the process to make it more efficient, a bit less repetitive and even enjoyable.

Not long ago I was going through a client’s library, with the task of updating about 3000 Revit families, changing their units from millimetres to metres, so they complied with their model production standards. To be honest, when I was assigned the task I wasn’t particularly thrilled. I thought: “There must be a way to automate this…”. Long story short, that was the catalyst that culminated in the Evolve Unit Converter tool for Revit: a simple yet effective bit of coding magic that allowed the task to be completed in a single afternoon. That’s almost 3000 times of “open family, modify family, save family, close family, repeat”.

Watching the screen as the tool went about its business felt just great. I find moments like this highly stimulating and satisfying. I allowed myself a pat in the back and moved on to the next task in my list.

10/02/2017

There are so many things going on this week I don’t even know where to start. This blog entry could turn into a very long essay if I’m not careful: I’ve been reviewing the new draft of PAS1192-2 for public consultation and wondering why it has now become so disjointed and contradictory (“So what’s new?” I hear some people say). I’ve been dealing with mapping Revit parameters to IFC properties and realising that most people simply don’t understand the basic format of an IFC file (again, “So what’s new?”) and discussing the relative merits of Uniclass 2015 as a layering system…

It’s this last topic I’m going to look at briefly. There’s a lot of unnecessary confusion over how to employ Uniclass 2015 that I thought it worthwhile to share my perspectives. It may help you in your daily tasks.

Firstly, Uniclass is not a layering system. Nor is it an object definition code. It is a classification system, a way of organising or arranging items by commonality. To say it’s suitable for objects but not layers is misunderstanding the purpose of that classification system. Uniclass 2015 is a hierarchically-based system which allows you to classify something generically or specifically. If you approach classification from that viewpoint, consistency of assigning a suitable code becomes less traumatic.

You can look at the NBS guidance on each table to start to identify what it is you are trying to classify (https://toolkit.thenbs.com/articles/classification), but also think of the relevant tables as hierarchical as well. The main tables you’ll need to work with would probably be:

EF Elements / Functions (top level)

Ss Systems (more detailed)

Pr Products (specific)

and

Zz CAD

Any combination of those can be used, depending on your need. But start with EF. EF is generic and would be suitable for many layering scenarios, especially at the early stages of a project. If you can’t describe what you need in table EF, move down to Ss. If you stall can’t find it in Ss, it will be in Pr.

Take an example of “walls”:

If you start in EF, you’ll find EF_25_10 “Walls”.

So your layer, presuming an architectural discipline would be “A-EF_25_10-M-Walls”. That doesn’t stop you adding additional classifications directly to an element or object, but it classifies your layer perfectly well.

If you wanted to go to the next stage and classify types of walls, you’ll need to look in Ss. You won’t find “Concrete walls” in EF as that is generic, but Ss contains it: Ss_25_11_16 “Concrete wall systems” (layer “A-Ss_25_11_16-M-ConcreteWall”). (Don’t forget to remove the “systems” bit at the end, it’s not really necessary for layer naming.)

Need to differentiate between precast and RC? That would be Ss_25_11_16_65 and Ss_25_11_16_70 respectively (layer “A-Ss_25_11_16_70-M-ReinforcedConcreteWallStructure”).

If you can’t find it in Ss, move down the hierarchy to Pr…

The other thing to remember is BS1192’s container naming conventions allows for a description too. That can be used to add clarity to a generic classification that isn’t specifically covered in other tables.

Uniclass 2015… use it sensibly and don’t be blinkered by the technology you are using.

24/01/2017

What do they say? The early bird catches the... taxi at 03:20 to go to an empty Paddington station to catch the train to Heathrow to fly to Glasgow to attend a 2h meeting. The highlife of the consultant! Never knew you could find a place this quiet in London:

The morning meeting I headed to was organised for the benefit of the Project Manager and the wider design team to gain understanding and insight in to the aspects of BIM Level 2 that the project had struggled with adapting to. Points that were raised and advised on were:

  • CDE process and Service provision
  • Information Managers (IM) role
  • Profession specific BIM Coordinators role including that of the technical coordination in the IM office.
  • Cross platform collaboration between AECOsim, AutoCAD and Revit
  • Specifying a validation protocol for all parties
  • Agree on file formats for issue that work in the 2D and 3D environments.
  • Highlight the aspect and issues of Coordinating with a 2D office.
  • Hold a live demo of the management of Coordinates and use of an IFC template in Revit. For an effective cross platform collaboration and coordination

As a consultant you have to manage the direction the discussion is taking by stepping in to give a nudge if the discussion is going off topic, the group shows signs of losing the thread (or the will to live!) or if it’s purely wasting time. We need to take charge when required and let the teams come to conclusions by themselves if required.

Just another Wednesday for us in the fast lane! Back to the Airport … and with views like this, commuting to work is just another perk:

12/01/2017

Don’t you agree that the best type of support issue is the one where someone has tried tirelessly for days to resolve, then you come in and find the problem in minutes, earning you a tonne of kudos?

Sometimes it’s just being a step away from the issue, other times it’s just understanding how to approach a problem. As consultants there is a daily ritual of receiving support queries and coming up with solutions. Because of this continual flow of support calls from our clients, we become experts in identifying the actual problem. I can’t tell you how many times we get support calls that say nothing more than “Please help, my *insert software title* isn’t working”.

The pressure to sort problems out is always going to be there, but if you can spare 10 mins, grab a coffee and step away from the problem. When you come back with renewed vigour, systematically look at the issue. Is everything setup how it should be? Is it all setup the way you have done it before? Is there anything different this time to last time? In the end, if all else fails and you can’t find the answer no matter what, blame it on the guy that just left the company.

31/10/2016

So the other day I was having a coffee with a BIM coordinator friend of mine. She was telling me about her frustrations with Revit, and how the limitations of the software were making it very difficult to make the case to her directors on the use of Revit for a certain project. The project involved a particularly fancy curved curtain wall, with curved mullions. She had tried several approaches, but nothing close to what the directors expected. Mullions had to be curved, but also measurable, schedulable. And Revit was having none of it. She had lost the faith…

Now, every time anyone says “you can’t do X in Revit”, I feel challenged and my head instantly proceeds to devise a way to accomplish whatever it is that the person is struggling with. So my immediate reply was my usual “Of course you can do that in Revit!”, even though at the time I still didn’t know how…

That same day I went home and managed to create some funky curved curtain walls and mullions, but it was just geometry with no usable data. It was not enough. So after a few long and playful nights, I came out with a crafty Dynamo script which could extract all the information in my wavy curtain walls and write it all neatly in a spreadsheet, resulting in a decent mullion schedule, suitable to issue for fabrication.

My friend’s faith was restored.

18/07/2016

Training, training and more training… Whether it’s new software tools, company standards, processes and procedures or keeping up to date with industry standards development, there is always something new to learn. It’s always great to provide training to a group of individuals and see them grasping new tools or understanding new concepts. The AEC industry is constantly evolving and as professionals within it, we are constantly adapting to meet the ever-changing requirements. 

Revit training was recently the name of the game with a group of architects stepping up to learn the software. It’s really interesting to see how people process change; when they are learning a new software platform they constantly asses what they are learning and compare it to what they know. If a new tool is demonstrated that is superior to what they have used in another platform for the same function, their faces light up with a smile and they are usually quick to acknowledge the benefits of the new tool. This is then usually followed by an explanation of what the previous tool used lacked. The opposite is also the case, when something new is demonstrated and the tool is not as good as one used before, users are only too happy to convey their disapproval and explain how the tool could be better.

It’s funny how many times people confuse BIM consultants providing training with software vendors. We don’t create the tools, we just teach and use them, yet we like to hear users' thoughts on the software. If time allows please always let us know.

It was Eric Hoffer the American philosopher who once said, “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists”.

01/07/2016

This week has been heavily focused on the rest of the team. One thing that is really important to us as consultants is development of the team and ensuring that we all deliver to a consistent high standard. Getting into clients' offices when one of the others is delivering training, to give feedback on delivery, is critical. What we have found from these kinds of sessions is that everyone is more nervous delivering training in front of their co-workers when they know they are being critiqued, but everyone comes away with recommendations to improve their delivery and a renewed motivation to give the best training sessions they possibly can.

360 degree feedback also means we look to our clients to review the training they received and rate our performance. We never see these reviews as negatives but positive changes we can make to ensure the next session is better than the last. Sometimes, what makes it all worthwhile, is when you get a phone call out of the blue from a conference organiser to say “You’re consistently the highest rated speaker, can you come back again this year and do another presentation”

07/06/2016

It's been so busy here, the "day in the life of" seems to have turned into the "month in the life of". Pressure, pressure...

When under pressure, it’s often easier to “get it out the door” as quickly as possible to hit the deadline someone else has set for you rather than make sure the job is done properly. You can always check it later, right? Only later never seems to arrive…

One of our principles is that everything we produce is checked and approved prior to being issued. It’s not a hierarchical check, but a “peer review” intended to make sure what we’ve produced is both technically correct and makes sense. Sometimes, as was the case today, that checking can be a time-consuming and uninspiring task. But when you’re delivering a complete set of digital production standards, matching resource libraries and a corresponding certified BIM training scheme, attention to detail is everything. As I was working through the deliverables, it crossed my mind that the duty of care, proper checking, has all but died out of our industry. It used to be that, back in the “analogue” days, everything produced was deemed incorrect due to the nature of it being produced by a human. Now it seems that computer-aided design is deemed correct, despite being created by the very same human input.

It’s a good job that some of us still realise that human error is human error no matter how the deliverables are produced. To say you don’t make mistakes would be lying, but finding those mistakes and correcting them is what turn “quality” into “top quality”. Take the time; rather than just getting it done, get it correct.

14/04/2016

The BuildingSmart Standards Summit is a notable exception to the usual BIM conferences we attend, and to be brutally honest, we weren’t sure what to expect. It could have gone one of two ways: an informative update on their progress and future directions, or an overly intellectual academic meeting. I’m glad to say, on the whole, it ended up being the former.

The location and venue was ideal, and aside from the initial plenary sessions the rooms were the correct size to avoid the small, focussed groups from rattling around. The food was excellent, and the social side of the event faultless. In fact we were welcomed in as if we’d known people for years (OK, we have known a fair few of them for years, but still…).

Most of our time was spent in the Building room, looking in detail at outcomes from the last meeting in Singapore, the intended plans for IFC, IDM, MVD, mvdXML and COBie. And this highlights one of the major problems BuildingSmart faces: it’s very heavy on the acronyms, and it often isn’t clear to even those who understand the sometimes subtle differences how everything fits together. Along with the seemingly ambiguously titled sessions and adhoc presentation format, BuildingSmart needs to work on its public-facing image to really make these events truly worthwhile and increase attendance and membership. Don’t get me wrong, the attendees were all extremely sociable and the event provided a lot of content and learning, but 20 minute digressions into whether COBie is an MVD or an output, and whether an IFC GUID relates to the virtual or physical objects are probably too much for the average outsider!

We came away with a great deal of new information concerning both the technical issues surrounding IFC development and its implementation in the workplace. The event seemed to hit its stride after a day or so, and Wednesday’s sessions in particular were very informative. IFC is already a critical part of BIM projects and these events need to be central to BuildingSmart’s communication strategy and the industry’s OpenBIM adoption planning over the coming years. This isn’t just for professors and product developers!

04/04/2016

Sometimes a task has to be evaluated against how long it will take to do versus starting over. I was at a client’s the other day and had just finished up some training for some of their new starters when one of the other team members came up to me with a CAD question. They were trying to convert MicroStation DGNs to AutoCAD DWGs to send out to a consultant but every time they tried, the conversion process crashed.

Now this is a fairly typical query we get so I sat down and started looking at the usual causes when I realised the file size was unusually large. The file was a drawing file so should contain nothing more than references and a bit of annotation. It turned out they had copied every floor plan for the 30 storey building into the model space of the file which was then not used and, on sheet space, they had referenced another file which contained the individual floor they wanted to show.

For this particular issue, the quickest and easiest solution was... delete and start again. 

22/02/2016

A new exiting task landed on my doorstep recently. It is to provide a training session in 3D solids modelling for some pretty awesome product design: top-quality guitar parts for manufacturing. For a change, it’s not BIM, but the focus on design technology is always client- and output-centric. I couldn’t wait to get down to the workshop. If a normal day at the office is a double Jack Daniels Single Barrel what I have prepared for today would be a glass of Old No. 7 1904!

The training day:

Man cave paradise. I could leave it at that! Every single tool I could want at arm’s length and being used by masters of guitar production.

Getting a tour of the production process and the needs of the luthiers set the compass for what direction the training session should take. We focussed on the free-form design of components for greater accuracy and efficiency and producing digital templates that can be exported directly to the metalwork fabricators. The training session was a non-stop 8 hour session apart from 15 min to buy a sandwich and coffee. We produced the required components and only signed off once I was confident that this could be repeated once I had left. 

I don’t know about you, but I quite like music when I am working. This was provided by the other designer/builder who assembled and tested the guitars he was working on during the day, the very same guitars you are most likely to hear played back at you on the radio or festivals this year. So yeah… can’t really complain too much about today!

05/02/2016

The life of a consultant isn't all limos & adoring groupies, you know. I had about 2 hours sleep last night as some tropical disease started to take hold. Maybe it was just a mandemic but either way the prospect of a full day, intense technical meeting to address a problem or three with a clients delivery of IFC wasn't filing me with the usual excitement. Drugs weren't helping (when do they ever, eh kids?!) and I certainly didn't feel on my A-game. 

Sometimes you've just got to suck it in and get on with it. There's an old adage which seems to have been lost in these crazy HR-driven days of "leave your personal problems at the door". Personal problems don't help to solve missing psets or how to fix modelling errors without remodelling. Sometimes we have to reach in and bring out our "stage persona"; stop being the David Robert Jones and become the David Bowie. No, wait, that's probably not the best example...

Did I end the day feeling any better? In myself, no, but did it affect the end result? Hell no! We got results, and that's all that matters to the paying audience.

25/01/2016

Today I sat in a client’s office and did something that seemed really familiar, like a clear déjà vu. I was doing the yearly report of the work carried out over the last 12 months. As dry as it may sound, it is something you get in to with gusto. Sipping your coffee, working out the percentage of hours that was spent updating and configuring MicroStation and Revit, looking towards 2016 and the critical tasks that need to be prioritised based on the current status. It was exactly a year ago to the day I did the same for 2015’s planning. Déjà vu indeed!

What’s different is how far we’ve managed to progress this client in just one year. Last year it was all new. Uniclass 1.4, Revit 2015 development and implementation of new tools etc. Now it’s about business as usual, and looking where more time can be saved, how projects can improve on the successes of 2015.

Now, all we need to do is stick to the plan. . . again! I think I’ll need another coffee…

19/01/2016

…It’s an early start again, as always. The first challenge is navigating the traffic joining the M4 while the sat nav “time of arrival” slowly creeps up past the meeting start time. Thankfully it’s a free run past the M4/M5 interchange and, average speed check areas aside, the rest of the journey is pretty easy going.

Today’s mission is to lead a meeting of department directors of a national house building company who are investigating whether BIM is something they need to adopt. The team are not sceptical about the benefits of BIM, but they simply do not see that those benefits apply directly to them. I’m not there to “sell” BIM, I’m there to explain what BIM is, to give them honest and impartial advice. The hour I have with them is focussed on the importance of consistency in processes, procedures and data authoring and exchange, explaining BS1192’s common data environment and the team responsibilities from PAS1192-2. It prompts a discussion on information management, where the term BIM is thankfully put to the side, and instead the teams concentrate on their design needs. The point is raised that their design management is already efficient and adding BIM could over-complicate the matter, a common enough argument and, in a world of tight deadlines and restricted fees, an extremely important concern to overcome. Change management is an often overlooked aspect of BIM adoption, where the live implementation has to be managed carefully to avoid overrun, and mitigate any risk.

And… we’re out of time – this could easily have been a half day or full day session – but at least the mission is accomplished. The teams walk away with a more complete understanding of BIM and where to potentially make some low-impact first steps, and I drive away with another couple of hours of speed restrictions and telephone calls.