A day in the life of…
RUBBISH IN, RUBBISH OUT
We are often asked by our clients of the best way to manage 3D content produced for projects, and how they can become a centrally managed office wide resource. Content reuse has potential for extracting maximum value from BIM; if the content can be reused efficiently in the long term it is possible save vast amounts of time throughout the life cycle of a project.
However, the increased complexity of 3D BIM components must be reflected in the management time required to assess and check them prior to adopting them as an office standard. There appears to be an assumption that because something is used in a project, then it must be good to use elsewhere. Components are only as good as the source, be it online, out of the box, or created in house. No one wants to find themselves in the position of realising the door schedule is completely broken due to inconsistent components, but no one bothered to check until the day before it was due for issue! The phrase ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’ could be easily applied to projects where components have been thrown in without due diligence.
There must be consistent validation to ensure all content meets the company standards, otherwise mistakes will be propagated just as easily, and with potentially more damage, than the 2D blocks or cells of yesteryear. Conversely, at least if a BIM component is wrong, it is wrong everywhere (plans, sections, schedules) so it is less likely to slip through the checking process.
To develop and maintain a top-class content library, offices must ensure that there is a gatekeeper, who is charged with checking, validating and distribution of said content. Otherwise the library ends up filled with what could be at best classed as ‘let the buyer beware.’ Recreating content because you don’t trust the existing one (or that it would take more time to check) is a perfectly understandable reaction when working to a tight deadline.
Unfortunately, this type of component management time cannot be easily assigned to a project, and is hard to quantify, thus can easily drop down the list of priorities of overheads.
The most successful libraries amongst our clients are those that have a solid base of users trained in the content creation standards, such as parameter naming, whilst understanding how much to model. The focus should always be on what data needs to be produced, be it standard schedules or COBie, and not adding too much complex geometry. Disappearing down a rabbit hole of modelling individual ironmongery on doors and attaching Uniclass data to them in Stage 3 is not necessarily time well spent.
A market of software add-ons to help manage this process has inevitably developed to try to simplify and speed up the management, but it is the fundamental understanding of why it is an important that we can find hard to convey. All clients have cautionary tales of the bathroom layout that was too big, but no one had noticed, resulting in huge reworking, which with thorough content management should be avoided.
The virtuous cycle of lessons learnt must be implemented for 3D content within the office, and it is OK not to try to reinvent the wheel every time!
JOSEPH FRAME (CONSULTANT)
A PROBLEM SOLVER YOU WILL BE
I started my career in construction in 1998 as a trainee technician working for an Engineering Consultancy called Richard Jackson Partnership in central Cambridge. I had just finished my A-Levels and didn’t really fancy the idea of going to University, coming out with a large financial burden hanging over me. My trainee role meant I would be gaining practical experience in the office 4 days a week and attended college 1 day a week studying. I feel that approach to my learning made me a far better technician, as I was able to take the theory I had learned in the classroom and apply it to real life work when back in the office.
After 6 years at Richard Jackson’s I wanted to get involved in some bigger projects. So, I moved jobs and joined MLM Consulting Engineers (now MLM Group part of Sweco) as a CAD Technician. Through being exposed to larger projects across the residential, commercial and educational sectors my professional development progressed rapidly. I became CAD Manager responsible for managing the technician team, planning of resources and deliverables within the Cambridge office. MLM were looking to deliver these projects in the best way possible and allowed me to be at the forefront of that by trying out new technologies and workflows. That is where I got into 3D modelling and information management. It jumped out at me as the change in the way of working the Construction industry needed.
The more experience I gained in these areas I became a point of reference for support calls from colleagues across the group as well as being the unofficial ‘IT guy’ of the Cambridge office. Knowing my love of all things Star Wars my team in Cambridge dubbed me ‘Jedi Master’. I was also lucky enough to meet many fantastic like-minded people at BIM events such as BIM Show Live and Digital Construction Week. It was at DCW in 2016 where Andy Boutle invited me to become part of the BIM Regions East leadership team. This is something thoroughly enjoy doing and became Vice-Chair in 2017 and took over as Co-Chair alongside Grayham Roper earlier this year. To me the BIM Regions are the lifeblood of the UK BIM Alliance by trying to connect with industry at a local level and hold events to help each other change the way we work and move forwards.
After being at MLM for 15 years I felt I needed a new challenge and decided to move away from Engineering and demonstrate my knowledge as a Consultant with Evolve. At the time of writing this I am at the end of my first week in my new role. The first challenge for me has been simple things like computer set-up, filing systems, templates and workflows. I took all of these for granted after working for MLM for so long. It’s great to learn other people’s approach to things and bounce ideas off each other as part of a close team. I have had two days on site at different client offices shadowing colleagues to learn how we are helping them to upskill and provide training where necessary.
In many ways my new role is not too dissimilar to what I did in engineering. An engineer-in simplistic terms is a person tasked with solving the problem of making a structure stand up with the most cost-effective solution within the project brief. My new role in Evolve helps solve our client’s problems with software tutorials, templates, training and delivering information management. The great thing about my new role so far is two days are never the same. I am excited about the new challenges if front of me and think I have made a positive step in my career.
CRAIG HARDINGHAM (CONSULTANT)
BEWARE THE UPDATED STANDARDS!
We had an interesting question from a client recently, or rather they asked for advice on what they thought was perhaps an unreasonable request from their contractor. They needed our advice on how to deal with to the expectation that they would update and incorporate the project BIM Execution Plan to include updates to a PAS that had been published a year after the initial appointment was signed.
The expectation was that this would just be a formality, as the project was meant to be using all relevant BIM standards to be an exemplar project. There was no acknowledgement of how this may impact the work do date, let alone going forward. Our advice was that this would constitute a change of scope and would require amendment to fees depending on how much work this may entail.
In our experience, there can be a lack of understanding from clients about what they are asking their consultants to work towards with regards to BIM. They just “want BIM” (whatever that may be interpreted to be) and this lack of understanding in turns can means that if standards change, they do not feel it is unreasonable just to follow the new ones without appreciating how much work meeting these standards can entail!
But quite bluntly, it would be unreasonable to expect consultants to sign up to deliver unreleased standards, as there would be no way to plan for anything that could appear in hypothetical standards years hence. If a client wants to incorporate updates as the project progresses to keep at the cutting edge then great, but not at the expense of the consultant’s fees and timetable.
This lack of understanding crosses all parties in the construction industry (contractors, architects, clients) and we often find ourselves translating the jargon and opaque wording of standards (which is no mean feat) so that the consultants that we support know what they are agreeing to, and how long it should take. If the consultants don’t understand and the contractors don’t understand, then it is no wonder people can end up arguing at the end of workstages.
No one sets out on a collaborative project to argue at the end, so our constant aim to make sure the consultants that we support know what they are agreeing to, and where they need to push back against unreasonable demands or expectations. Often when people understand what they are asking, they understand the effect this will have on the project and not necessarily be resistant to discussing the fees; but if you do not ask, you do not get.
It is much better to get these things agreed at the beginning (or at least a strategy for dealing with them), because as we all know if it comes to an a disagreement further down the line, unfortunately the big contractors often have the big lawyers!
BEING AN EXPERT
Being part of an expert team has many positives, but being honest, if we are not careful, those positives can turn into drawbacks. A good example is the term “expert” itself. On face value, purporting to be an expert can only be a good thing right? You’re the “go to guy” (gender neutral form), the sounding board to prove, or disprove theories, to be the walking, talking Google replacement, to have the answers to everything and anything at the drop of a hat… you see where I’m going here? There’s an awful lot of unrealistic expectations on those tagged as an “expert”.
So what is an expert? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “A person who is very knowledgeable about or skilful in a particular area”. That would usually translate to someone with expertise and experience, quality experience, in their subject matter. What it doesn’t say is “someone who is infallible, knows everything, and is always available immediately when anyone calls on them.”
Being “expert” in your role requires you to have strong inter-personal skills. Not just being able to explain concepts you inherently understand well to someone who hasn’t got the first clue as to what you’re talking about, but being able to manage their expectations, in terms of having the answers, having the time to dedicate to any given problem immediately or even being able to solve their issue at all. Just because you are “expert” doesn’t mean you are omnipotent. Just because you are “expert” doesn’t mean you can handle everything and anything thrown at you. There are only so many hours in the day, and I’ve seen many an excellent worker destroyed, literally destroyed, by the pressures they put themselves under. Don’t respond immediately and drop everything just because you’re asked to look at something “now”. Everything is more urgent than everything else, so plan your time, consider how best to approach your workload before rolling up your sleeves and getting on with it. Remember to breathe.
Being “expert” means knowing your best sources of support. You can’t be expected, nor can you expect yourself, to be able to know everything. Have a good support network, know which websites to refer to, and most importantly, have a good team behind you who you can bounce possible solutions off, to come up with the best. Not quite “Jack of all trades, master of none” but it is definitely better to have a wider network of experts in smaller fields behind you that a small network of experts in wider fields.
Being “expert” means keeping on top of your skills. Technology changes rapidly, and solutions you developed 12 months ago may be irrelevant this year. Always allow plenty of time for self-learning, reading up on developments, going on training courses, and probably the most valuable, extending your peer group to learn from other experts in the same field. And likewise offer your expertise to others, openly and honestly, good and bad. That’s how peer groups work. You won’t be giving away your trade secrets. Well, you might, but that doesn’t mean others will be “better” than you. Buying a Jamie Oliver cookbook doesn’t make you Jamie Oliver.
Being “expert” means being confident. No-one will want to rely on an “expert” who replies “Oh, I’m not sure… let me see if…”. You don’t have to have all the answers but be confident when you don’t. “You know what? I’ve absolutely no idea but let me look into it for you and we’ll work something out,” can be a much better response. Yet always remember there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance…
And so a final word to the wise, being “expert” doesn’t make you better than others. There’s nothing wrong with blowing your own trumpet every now and again, but always be considerate, polite, and humble. There’s always someone who is more of an expert than you are. Learn from them, don’t be too quick to correct them to prove yourself.
It’s a contradictory thing, being an “expert”. My advice is not to be one. Be yourself and the rest will fall into place.
BIM REGIONS SOUTH WEST CHRISTMAS CONFERENCE
Part of our role is to keep abreast of updates to UK processes and best practices. As a business, it’s also about forming relationships and getting to know the important people out there in the industry. That’s one of the reasons why the BIM Regions are so important. They provide a meeting point for like-minded individuals, all willing to share, absorb and exchange ideas. The BIM Regions South West event was held on Thursday 06 December, and was an excellent opportunity to meet new people, catch up with old friends and learn some important lessons about BIM around the whole of the UK.
First up was Paul Shillcock, who gave us an informative overview of the upcoming ISO19650-1 & -2 scheduled now for the end of January 2019 (fingers crossed). It’s important to remember that the UK is leading the way when it comes to information management processes, which is where ISO19650 falls. It is not a BIM standard. It is an internationalisation of BS1192-1 and PAS1192-2, mixing the best ingredients from both and adding an ample sprinkling of lessons learned. The process has been around 4 years so far, and while terminology has had to be changed out of necessity (e.g. appointing party as opposed to employer, Exchange Information Requirements, etc), those will be clarified in the UK Annexe and Guidance Notes due to be published around the same time.
Next was Steve Frost from Skanska with a short but educational presentation on how GIS and it’s application to building. GIS is one of those things everyone has heard of but few get to appreciate, so Steve’s practical examples helped everyone in the audience to understand how powerful a tool location-related data can be. Steve showed examples of every reported pothole in Hampshire, and how this data is always web-enabled to maintain connectivity in the field. Basically, as he said, GIS is comparative to an AIM only on a much larger scale. Data, as always, is key.
Lastly, but certainly not least, was the slightly irreverent but highly entertaining overview of successful coordination meetings from Augmentum. Turning the 8 Rules of Fight Club on their head, Chris Barker kept the theme up over his full 30 minutes, emphasising that for coordination to work, “everyone must desire to cooperate”. It’s not about pointing the finger but using the best tools in a productive environment to get the best results possible. Identifying key objective and critical issues is a much-overlooked aspect of effective coordination management. Chris commented that this part of the process is usually overlooked in EIRs and BEPs, which fail to highlight expected coordination issues and turn-around time. Wise words indeed.
I can say there was more valuable information in 2 hours than most BIM conferences purport to provide in 2 days. If you’re ever wondering which events to prioritise (no-one can go to every single BIM conference – or rather not if you ever want to actually implement the things you hear about) there’s few better half-days to warrant your time & effort than the BIM Regions. And we all got to share a free drink afterwards!
BIM is never ‘finished’
As trite as it may sound, the transition to BIM is not something that ever really finishes. By that I mean it is not something that can be gotten on with, finished, then left in a folder as a discrete body of work to appended to PQQs. It is an ongoing process that needs strategic goals and long-term maintenance to keep up with industry standards.
We often work with new clients who have taken the completely understandable approach of measured incremental investments in training and software (neither of which are cheap!) but not the continued investment in the management systems that must accompany it. Clearly every business owner wants to keep overheads to a minimum (and are naturally suspicions of consultants suggesting an ongoing retainer), but from some of our experience this can often be a bit of a false economy….
It may seem more cost-efficient to do some training and set off ‘doing BIM’ on new projects, but it is quite easy to end up setting off down the wrong path only to realise a couple of years down the line that there are some costly requirements to actually meet contractual obligations.
A big concern is the habit of entrusting anything with the word BIM attached to it to the young software savvy parts of the office, who may not be aware of all the complexities of running a construction project (or a financially sustainable office) Entrusting vital parts of the business to the young software whizzes in the office can be a big risk, partly as older practice members may have zero experience to pass down to them, or to spot potential BIM problems on the horizon.
I am in now way shape or form knocking these people, many of whom don’t get to make a conscious choice in taking on the BIM role. They are often the most overworked as they gradually end up being responsible for management level tasks (reading EIRs, BEPs etc) alongside doing their actual job of information production. And we know what will take priority over reading contract documents when there is a tender deadline approaching….
If you are lucky (and manage them well) you can end up with a BIM coordinator in the office who is happy with the role as an extension of their Architectural one but may not view it as a vocation. We love working with these people as it leads to a far more productive working relationship. However, there is always a benefit to having external consultants to inform key decisions from their varied industry experience. Unfortunately, this does come at a price, but just as it is worth the investment of having ongoing IT support for when the server explodes, having some BIM experts to hand can be life saver.[Joseph]
Have you ever been asked to produce a Responsibility Matrix? Have you ever received one as part of an EIR and had to implement it? If you’ve had any dealings with a BIM Level 2 project then, like us, it’ll be fairly commonplace. Personally, I’ve been working on 3 this week alone. And the problems with most of them…? They’re useless.
The first problem is that the term “responsibility matrix” doesn’t give you enough detail as to what is required. The CIC BIM protocol defines it as the “responsibility for model or information production in line with defined project stages”, which now (finally) aligns with PAS1192-2’s description of a document, as part of the Master Information Delivery Plan that “sets out the relationship between disciplines and production of information or models”. The title “Model Production and Delivery Table” made things a little clearer, but that is history. Both definitions though refer to “model” and “information”. Most RMs don’t. In fact all you get is a pointless list -usually not bearing all that much relationship to what each task team (Yuk, I hate that term. Think “discipline” instead.) would be responsible for of LOD2 at stage 2, LOD3 at stage 3, etc. Well duh. You may as well say “at stage 3 you will be responsible for delivering what you will deliver at stage 3”.
Here’s a few examples. Hopefully they’re not yours.
They all give you absolutely no more information than a standard appointment would. In fact the only thing you can do with these is to go through them to make sure you’re not expected to deliver something you’re not prepared for. Many times I’ve seen structural engineers expected to deliver 3D rebar models at stage 3 or architects expected to be responsible for landscaping, and all the landscape architects responsibilities lying with the civil engineer.
All RMs need a definition of what LOD1-6 actually means. It’s there for you in your existing documentation. What are you responsible for delivering? But more importantly, what data – or LOI – is expected in the model? At least the final example shows this, but what does LOI2 mean? If it’s not defined, how do you know? And even then, thinking about the guy at the coal face, which parameters does that mean they need to fill out? With a few small changes, the RM can go from one of the most useless tick box exercises, to one of the most valuable for model production and delivery.
COBie’s schema and BS1192-4 specify what data is expected at certain stages. Yes, you’ve got to look for it, but it’s there. We’ve produced a COBie template colour coded against the RIBA stages of work to make it easy to check whether project data is complete:
Yellow = Should be completed at stage 3
Purple = Should be completed at stage 5
What that helps us do is to develop the RM into a usable document, so all parties know what data they need to include and what they are going to receive. Our RMs have a full breakdown of all properties needed and how they map to both IFC and the final COBie deliverable. You know what you’re doing, and where to look for it at all times.
Another consultant’s day done.[Nigel]
WHAT DOES THE CLIENT ACTUALLY WANT FROM BIM?
The other day I attended another BIM kick off meeting with an institutional client and many of their key stakeholders. Having been to a fair number of these (but not often been actually leading one) there is often a slight feeling of people not understanding why they are there and itching to be off and tackling more pressing issues.
It is easy to forget for us AEC professionals that these stakeholders have actual jobs to be getting on with (be it facilities management, catering services, site traffic management and the like) and will have very busy schedules. Even getting them all in the same room at the same time can be achievement, and it behoves us to make sure they arrive in the best possible frame of mind to inform the BIM process.
Understandably they want to be told ‘how to BIM’, and as they may not be familiar a lot of the acronyms and standards tossed into the air at these meetings (it can be hard enough for us anyway) and how they relate to their day-to-day job within the institution. it can easily seem that the design team has organised a meeting that they do not need to be at and this could generate a bit of ill -will if the process is not carefully managed.
So, it can be a bit of a catch-22, with clients looking to consultants to show them the way, but consultants not having the detailed knowledge of an organisation to know which way would be best. The problem with ‘doing BIM’ is that the full bells-and whistles service can suddenly make a project look fanatically expensive in the traditional model of Capex and Opex being considered separately.
Despite the cost savings on-site, the long-term benefits of a great BIM process hinges on that transition form construction to the operation of the building (do I hear someone say COBie?) Operations of the building should be far more efficient and cost effective as all the information required is built into the model and easily accessible. But what is that required information I hear you ask? It is a common refrain and really the best person to ask is the Facility Manager.
The average Facilities Manager may be far more used to going to the odd meeting about a new construction project, but really only rolling up their sleeves when the O&M manuals are handed over and the commissioning begins. My feeling is consultants need to really explain how the operation of a building via the BIM process starts right at the beginning, and encourage clients give their team the time to engage productively. Even if this can mean the odd ‘what is BIM’ training session for client stakeholders (where appropriate) it will all be worthwhile further down the line.
BIM is collapsing and overlapping a lot of the traditional sequences of construction, and people need direction when such a shift happens. For whilst the RIBA plan of works shows a virtuous circle, for many it is still a linear process of design, construction and management. If we want to pull management up the chain you need to explain why, otherwise you may be in for unproductive meetings with valuable people who would much rather be out their managing their assets that already exist![Joseph]
UK BIM Alliance Roadshow Conference
This week I had an opportunity to attend the UK BIM Alliance Roadshow in Cardiff, which is currently touring the UK and spreading the message of BIM whilst focusing on the subject of ‘Facilitating the Digital Transformation of the UK Built Environment’.
The event was kicked off with a presentation by John Eynon, who began by asking a question centred around industry change and taking accountability: Do we want to take responsibility, what kind of industry do we want to work in, what kind of built environment do we want to leave as a legacy to society and to subsequent generations? The message of John’s presentation was that despite what you might think, one individual can make a difference and that there is likely no better time to make a difference in our industry with all the new software, tools, standards and the UK Government mandate on BIM.
Karl Henderson delivered a presentation on ‘BIM in Infrastructure’ discussing some of the constraints that needed to be addressed so that the full benefits of BIM could be realised for Infrastructure projects. The key issues that Karl raised were:
- Clients require educating on ‘what data they require’
- There is no real COBie available for infrastructure yet
- Available infrastructure software has interoperability issues, Autodesk Civil 3D and Open Roads Connect Edition do not communicate very well
- IFC for Infrastructure is not yet fully compatible although there are some exclusions to this!
- The Infrastructure sector is still trying to catch up
The presentation was rounded off with a slide: What do we need to do better for BIM to work, with the following points raised:
- We need to create and set standards early on
- We need to educate the client, small medium enterprises (SME) and site workers
- We need to begin asset management earlier on
- We need better collaboration between the client / contractors / sub-contractors / designers and the workers on site
- We need to have a better awareness of how much data an infrastructure project will likely create (e.g. existing data, point cloud data, survey data etc)
- Plan what software to use early on and ensure that it is interoperable
Next up was the University West of England’s Mike Ford who delivered a presentation on the delivering the ‘Digital Campus’. Mikes presentation highlighted the benefits that BIM had provided and the shared a slide titled ‘New Thinking’ which was divided into the following:
- UWE required the contractor to supply an asset list with the University’s coding system
The outcome of this would often mean the data delivered was of a poor quality
- Contractors now deliver asset information using standard COBie and Uniclass coding
The outcome of this ensures that all components have data associated to them and not just components that are maintained.
Mike ended on a few slides one of which presented suggestions for ‘Doing things differently with Data’ which made recommendations to designers, Contractors and Facilities managers on what they can do now with data. These were:
- 1. Encourage the client to produce an OIR
2. Think about your standard document workflow and ascertain if its digital
3. Avoid repeating information and present the single source of truth
- 1. Think about your own data needs and generate a CIR
- Use digitally available data for cost, quantities and programme
- Don’t create standalone data silo’s
- Generate an OIR, seek help and guidance to form an AIR and an EIR
- Understand the value of a CAFM system
- Don’t create standalone data silo’s
The final presentation was delivered by Joe Bates of Atkins which focused on infrastructure projects particularly the M25 and a presentation on pre BIM ‘Where we were’ and Post BIM ‘Where we are now’ and ended with a slide titled ‘Whats next on the list’ which included the following:
- Data Data Data – Better information not more information
- Generative Design – procuring many design options from a single idea
- Drawingless Delivery – using models and associated data in place of 2d drawings
- 4D construction sequencing and 5D cost simulations
Design coordination vs clash detection
Recently I have been reviewing BEPs for clients and realising that for many of our clients, clash detection is hard to imagine improving their workflow and project outcomes. This maybe because clash detection can seem a bit separate to the classic design process. It can also be a bit of a black box, where the information manager takes all consultant models and runs them through the rules (who wrote the rules?) that will then spit out a long list of ‘issues’ that will not be top priority for your average runner:
“Who cares if the flooring is modelled running through the wall, no one will build it like that!”
And potentially, no one will care about that clash, it all depends on the project and getting the right people together to agree what are critical issues (the BEP). It definitely does not need the entire consultant team to sit round and discuss issues that could be solved by one person doing a session of tidying up the model, not least as it could be a very long meeting. The minutiae of clash detection is a blog for another day, but suffice to say it is not the most engaging aspect of BIM.
Design coordination on the other hand is a much more enjoyable way to use the models, and a great way to get them integrated into the project workflow for people who may not be modelling on a day to day basis (project leads, Project Mangers, QS) Design coordination has always been a key part of the design and construction process, and the use of models can make it even better.
The ideal in my mind is to get a federated model up on a big screen at the beginning of a Design Team Meeting, in addition to the other materials (drawings, schedules, etc), and use it as the focus of the meeting. You will be amazed at things that could have been missed in traditional 2D coordination that a basic model walkthrough will reveal to the team. Depending on the team set up these issues (not necessarily clashes!) can be minuted, screen grabbed, or whatever is the most efficient way to deal with them. Viewing these issues in 3D can also make the solution much more obvious (or the reason why it may not work). The time spent doing this will be made up for in less stress as the construction team do not encounter the same problems on site!
At the early stages it is possible that clients not experienced in construction may get fixated that the model is not ‘finished’, but as projects near completion client walkthroughs are a great way to make sure users also know what they will be getting. For example, the number of plug sockets modelled in a room may be far less than the user expects, and it is easier to sort out this problem before the construction ends than afterwards.
So I always implore project teams to get the models into their design team meetings, as it really can help the design!
Following last month’s blog, this week I thought I would put together an example of a typical week (if there is such a thing):
The start of the week begins with a 9am meeting with the whole team to discuss the plan for the week. This is imperative, not just so each consultant knows what they’ll be working on but also for the rest of the team to know what is going on in other offices they may not get to visit very often. Then the afternoon is put down to preparing for the week‘s tasks or personal development. As BIM consultants we have to stay up-to-date on the latest goings-on in the industry. This week we have a peer development day. Each person has an hour to teach everyone something. I chose model checking in Solibri and in return learnt in detail about COBie and Enscape.
The plan for today was development of a client’s CAD and BIM standards manual or, as we call it, the Digital Production Standards Manual. As often happens, the plan we outlined for the day doesn’t always happen and instead the morning is spent sorting out support issues related to Revit and the afternoon is updating some of the resources on the network.
It’s a day of coding for me. As the biggest fan of writing code in the office I often get tasked with creating apps and tools for our clients to help them be more efficient. I have two things to look at today: the first is demonstrating a Dynamo script I prepared for a client that automatically applies a Uniclass classification code to all objects based on the object’s type. The second task (and main task for the day) is to develop a tool that can batch edit MicroStation titleblocks.
The day starts with delivering a training course in the latest functionality of AECOsim Building Designer CONNECT Edition. This is followed by a lunchtime CPD titled “Making Excel work for you”, explaining some simple Excel wizardry such as VLOOKUPS, conditional formatting and pivot tables. The afternoon is spent putting together a document explaining the organisation of files in AECOsim Building Designer from 3D model to drawing.
The week is not over yet. for me, Friday is reserved for business management tasks and this week is in audit of our support calls. Not only do we look after our clients when on-site but also when off-site through our support e-mail address.. My job today is to ensure we’re meeting our expected levels of service, monitoring durations from first response to closure of the call. Once done, I just need to prepare the agenda for next month’s resources and planning meeting.
I called it a typical week but next week looks nothing like this one…[Nigel]
This week I have finding out how hard in can be to get the correct people in the room to talk about how to manage BIM office wide. We have all been there, the groan that can go up in a meeting when you want to discuss BIM, and a common refrain from the senior practice leaders can be “do I have to come to the BIM meeting……?” To which my answer is always that you don’t have to do anything, but I would strongly recommend it!
Clearly BIM is a massive change in the way that projects (and even offices) are run, so it is understandable that some people feel fed with talking about it, they just want to get on with the job, particularly at the start when everyone is excited, and the client wants some drawings done yesterday.
Many people can see BIM as an extra that can be dealt with by a younger team member, picking up computer software on the fly (or if they have timed it well they could get some training). Whilst this may be true if you have employed the right person, the ‘BIM stuff’ is fundamental to how the project is run so it should not just rest on a junior team members shoulders.
Whilst some of the lingo may be need explaining (Strange you should mention that, but this should do the trick – Ed), it is vital that the those responsible for running the job are part of these discussions. It can touch on every aspect of a job (resourcing, fees, deadlines). Above and beyond that it also good practice for getting the different teams talking about how they are going to collaborate right from day 1.
A good example of how the word BIM may lead to a visceral reaction is the BIM Execution Plan. For despite its name, BIM execution plans are merely an evolution of Project Success Plans (or whatever they may be termed in your office). This is where all the simple stuff is written down so that when your team expands everyone can get up to speed with the basic like:
- Who is the client?
- What is going on in the building?
- Where is the OS grid intersection?
- Who is the contact at the engineers?
- What is the contract
- What is the procurement route?
You would be amazed how infrequently this does not get written down, and suddenly it is 2 years later an no one can remember why anything was decided. If you are obliged to use a BEP for a project, at least you should make sure it is a worthwhile document that works for you and the wider team.
So, whilst you may think you can saves some time by not going to the BIM meeting (you know who you are), the understanding you will gain should win back the time many times over. You don’t even need to open a bit of software to be part of ‘BIM’, you just need to understand what happens at the BIM meetings….
Welcome back to our “A Day In The Life Of…” blog, the ongoing series of the experiences we go through from day to day.
At the moment a lot of our spare time is being spent trying to recruit new staff. You’d think it would be easy: put out an advert, get CVs, find the right person, offer them a job. The problem is, we’re a specialist business, and while there are plenty of people who can do what we do, the Life Of A [fill in your preferred job title here] isn’t, it turns out, for everyone.
Getting CVs isn’t a problem as everyone who deals with recruitment knows, a large proportion of those are totally irrelevant. Who knows whether some applicants think “throw enough s***, some is bound to stick”, but for us they end up in the “Can’t Respond To A Simple Job Spec, How Are They Going To Manage With A BEP” rejection pile. Then there are many who just don’t have the right, or enough, experience. Our reputation is based on strong expertise, and while that’s a big selling point for our services, it’s a pain when you need enough experience to argue (literally sometimes) and convince people what’s they need to do when they don’t want to do it! I know, it’s not always quantity, but quality that counts, and that’s what the interview is all about…
We typically don’t work out of a single office, we work at clients’ offices, so arranging a time for meeting candidates can be tricky. But that’s OK, we much prefer the “informal” (pub) interview anyway. All our best staff have been found over a wine glass (or in the case of Daniel, over way too many and a roulette table). It’s at this point we really depart from the norm: who hasn’t been to a lengthy interview, discussed in detail the benefits the company’s approach to HR and maybe even been tested on software there and then? None of that is important to us. We know in the first 15 minutes whether a candidate is suitable. You can teach skills; you can’t teach personality. How they come across and whether we’ll get on with them (and them with us) is paramount.
The final problem to overcome is not working out of a single office. We’ve got regular clients, sure, but it’s rare to be in the same office two days on the trot. That can be difficult for people to adjust to, but the way I look at it, conversation never gets staid, instead of one conversation about the weekend by the kettle, I get two or three (OK, by the time Thursday comes around it would probably be a bit weird). Planning & managing priorities is a key skill to have.
But all of these things aren’t viewed by our best staff as a problem. To me, they are a benefit, an opportunity to work with many great companies and the people that make those companies so successful. Every day offers the chance to learn something new, to help people excel at their responsibilities, to make a difference. We’ve already got a great team here; everyone is out to help and support each other. And when you find the right personality, with the right experience, you’ve got a killer addition to that team. That’s what makes a Day In The Life Of A Consultancy Director worthwhile.
Now, where did I save that latest pile of CVs?
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.
Jimi finds time to give the Game of BIM book a read in his vlog entry:
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.
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)
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.
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:
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.
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.
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”.
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”
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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…
…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.