Delivering BIM for FM isn’t without cost

Don Rudder, our CTO and I presented at RTC recently on our recent work implementing BIM for FM solutions. The presentation focused on what we’ve learned over the past year or so implementing custom workflows and tools within two hospital systems, the Porter Replacement Hospital in Porter, Indiana, and Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. Both of these projects were done with the Contractor as a client, not the owner. In both cases, the contractor was acting as a proxy to the owner in helping them get the most out of what BIM they had developed to date, for downstream use during operations. I also want to point out that both projects are the brain child(ren?) of Aaron Wright, Hoar Construction’s BIM Director. It’s been his dedication to figure out the real application of a construction model during FM that brought us on board on both of those jobs.

Although very different, both projects faced similar issues: purpose built models not quite meeting necessary requirements for FM use; model craft required for coordination is different than that required for FM; information requirements for one is not the same as the other, etc. The list goes on… In any case, we knew there was value in there, we just needed to figure out how to squeeze it out, or better yet, how to repackage it to make it useful downstream.

Probably the more interesting development in all of this was that many of the more common issues weren’t issues at all, but instead general misconceptions about BIM and its utility over the lifecycle of a building project. One of these misconceptions was:

The only cost associated with BIM is its creation

This statement supposes that once you have a model, you’re done. This is a huge industry problem right now and is causing a lot of unnecessary friction. First, it falls into the usual trap of thinking BIM is a product and not a process. Off the bat, you’re thinking that the cost of BIM is finite and that once you’ve paid for a model, you can move on to the next item on your list. This is very much incorrect, and misses the point on a lot of the potential value to be derived. Yes, there is a cost associated with modeling, but the model is only a part of the process, not the end in itself.

The big misconception, then, is in thinking that there is no cost to maintain a model.  Again, if BIM is a process, then the process itself has a cost. If the product of a Construction BIM process is to be used during an FM BIM process, then one needs to budget for two things: first the translation of the construction BIM to something useful in FM, and second, the process of maintaining that BIM over the lifecycle of the facility.

BIM during FM should be dynamic and constantly learning about day to day facility operations.  If it is not, then you will quickly find its value degraded to no more than a ‘snapshot of the facility at the end of construction’. Over time, there will be enough difference between the physical facility and the virtual one that BIM will be set aside and lose its privileged position within day to day operations.  That moment marks the death of a model in most cases.

If you want to learn more about cost, effort and value of BIM, I recommend you read Mario Guttman‘s The Information Content of BIM

Review: Building (in) the Future: Recasting Labor in Architecture

This book review was written for the Yale Architecture Magazine.  Original links here and here

Review: Building (in) the Future: Recasting Labor in Architecture
Peggy Deamer and Phillip G. Bernestein, editors

The book is a collection of essays, broken into two main parts.  The first, dealing with the relationship between maker and the object, and the second, between the makers themselves (defined as: architects, builders, subcontractors and fabricators).

Section 1: Working and Making

Intention, Craft and Rationality
by: Kenneth Frampton

Imagining Risk
by: Scott Marble

Parametric Profligacy, Radical Economy
by: Mark Goulthorpe

Valuing Material Comprehension
by: James Carpenter

Between Conception and Production
by: Branko Kolarevic

Exclusive Dexterity
by: Kevin Rotheroe

Detail Deliberations
by: Peggy Deamer

Technology and Labor
by: Coren D. Sharples

Open-Source Living
by: Kent Larson

Section 2: Collaboration

On the Cultural Separation of Design Labor
by: Paolo Tombesi

Innovation Rates and Network Organization
by: John E. Taylor

Furthering Collaboration
by: Howard Ashcraft

Overcoming Embedded Inefficiencies
by: Rodd W. Merchant

Controlling Intellectual Property
by: Christopher Noble

Marketing and Positioning Design
by: Phillip G. Bernstein

Models for Practice: Past, Present, Future
by: Phillip G. Bernstein

In Building (in) the Future, editors Peggy Deamer and Phillip G. Bernstein take an important step in grounding the conversation on the use of technology across the building design and construction process.  The book is a collection of essays by industry leaders, theorists and academics organized into two main sections titled “Working and Making” and “Collaboration” respectively. Its main contribution, and what sets this book apart, is that it is not a traditional show and tell of successful technology stories, but instead a close look at technology’s role as a catalyst for change on the “larger issue of how the profession and all the players in it want and need to reposition themselves for the future.”  The book, as a collection, becomes a telling cross section of the diversity of viewpoints across the different roles in the profession, and highlights a single core theme: technology (in its many forms) is forcing a restructuring of traditional labor barriers and relationships, whether we’re ready for it or not.  From Kenneth Frampton’s warning on the continued focus of the application of technology on cladding both in academia and the profession (an element, he states, only counts for 20% of a building’s cost), to Phil Bernstein’s reminder that an estimated 90% of building projects in the U.S. are finished without the use of an architect, this book (especially the second section) becomes a timely resource in a conversation that must be broadened to include all aspects of the building process.

The first section studies the relationship between the maker and the object, and more specifically, between design and craft.  Here, designers discuss craft as the most directly impacted area of practice in their application of technology.  In “Valuing Material Comprehension”, author James Carpenter underscores the importance in the link between material and craft, stating “…the realm of the nonstandard comes with the possibility of greater risk during construction, but a full understanding of a material’s potential removes risk from the equation.”  This follows architects’ Peggy Deamer’s and Scott Marble’s assertion that for architects, the term craft is intrinsically tied to the idea of detail.  Mr. Marble states “Architectural detail [is] an architect’s means of introducing craft into buildings.”  Author Branko Kolarevic takes this idea further, emphasizing the importance of detail and craft in the digital process itself.  Mr. Kolarevic invokes David Pye’s definition of craftsmanship, downplaying the tool employed by the craftsman, while emphasizing the expertise of the craftsman’s application of that very tool: “The essential idea is that the quality of the result is continually at risk during the process of making.”

All of these essays then, focus on the idea that craft must be re-linked into our process as a means to an end founded in the need for further control and a more established professional identity.  Digital fabrication, is stated, provides this link…Yet, Peggy Deamer points out, “A much more interesting path is to employ technology to dispense with fixed identities altogether.”

The second half of this book takes a more analytical look at the definition of labor and technology’s potential impact on it.  In this section, the focus is no longer the designer’s yearn for control, but the very infrastructures that allow a design team to work together toward a common goal.  In what Paolo Tombesi, a professor at the University of Melbourne, calls “Design Fragmentation”, “Design Contributing Enterprises” create a “system of design production, independent of the profession”.  Mr. Tombesi takes the time to explain the influence of market forces in the definition of work structures.  He explains the rise of specialized contributors as a response to market pressures.  “In situations where market prospects cannot be certain, either because of natural fluctuations in demand or particular technological conditions, and where investments are needed to increase the efficiency of the production process, an economic subject may decide to specialize its mission, decompose the total demands of the product into stable and unstable components, and anchor its structure to the former.”  In this scenario, the task of designing is parsed out amongst several parties in a team, each responsible for their own interdependent scope.  Lawyers Howard Ashcraft Jr. and Chris Noble go into detail on the legal changes necessary for that scenario to be implemented, describing how it differs from the fragmented situation we have today.  Could this model provide non-traditional opportunities for future architects? Is there a role for an architect in the structural engineer’s team? Or the fabricator’s team?

In the end, Phil Bernstein elegantly closes with: “But if architects define those benefits [the application of technology] only in terms of formal or aesthetic ends, they will miss the fundamental and unique opportunity offered by the transition.”  He continues, “Closing the intention-execution gap, bridging the acts of “thinking” and “making”, will also be driven as much by clients’ desire to increase productivity and achieve more predictable outcomes, so business models that rely more closely on collaboration between thinkers and makers, designers and constructors, architects and engineers, can be tied to results.”  Architects, then, are challenged to take a leading role in the changing landscape of the building industries, not through formal exploration, but in answering the call to reposition the profession as a leader in the push for a more sustainable building delivery process, and more sustainable building overall.

Federico Negro

Asking for LOD alone is not enough

LOD, or Level of Development, is the system for classifying the amount of geometric detail within a model as set forth by the AIA’s E202 documents. James Vandezande has a great post on it from (believe it or not) 2008. The post does a great job at describing the different levels included, 100 to 500, and gives good reference to their intended meaning. Having used this systems on several projects now, I wanted to offer some feedback.

A few years back, when beginning to work on the Louisiana Museum and Sports Hall of Fame, I was inundated with emails and calls from just about every trade trying to figure out what constituted an acceptable deliverable. As the BIM Manager for the project, we were in charge of defining the requirements for a model deliverable that would be efficient, but also meeting the spec requirement for an ‘algorithmic coordination process’.

That project had another requirement that had a big impact on this conversation. The more than 1,000 unique cast stone panels had a surface integrity performance criteria that could only be achieved through CNC manufacturing. The fabricator, then, would be forced to model the panels and then use these models for mold making. This created a precedent. One of the more difficult elements in the design didn’t even have a choice but to create fabrication-level models. Did this requirement extend to the rest of the trades?

What if a trade wasn’t going to use the model for fabrication? What if they didn’t have the capacity to do so in their shops?

What became instantly obvious was that there was an ocean of space for interpretation in the LOD system. The specs called for an LOD400 model to be developed in the service of coordination. An LOD400 model is one that contains ‘shop drawing’ or ‘fabrication’ level of information. There was one big problem with this definition on this project, however. The lack of an explicit requirement on the model’s intended use left a gaping hole in the spec for a participant to interpret as they saw fit.  One company’s view of what makes a good shop drawing versus another can be very different.

The lesson then was to not just ask for a deliverable, but to also ask for that deliverable to meet a certain level of performance. A model used for fabrication will inevitably make for a model that is accurate for coordination purposes. The opposite, however, is not always the case.

In this project, the hook was to also ask that all information presented in shops (the legal document) also be present in the model. This way, the architect could use the model as a real reference in their shop drawing review process. The importance of this requirement was that it ties their legal deliverable with the BIM process. This made BIM central to their every day project management knowing the architect could reject a submittal by virtue of their model quality or completeness.

This move though would not work on many projects and is hard to enforce.  A better way to define model performance is to actually tie the deliverable to a good performance specification. That performance specification would include a reference to LOD. It would also include a responsibility matrix (the MET in the E202), and an intended use matrix. These three elements together make for a much better definition for model deliverables.

A good BIM execution plan (BEP) should include all these documents and a framework for their implementation.