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AECbytes Viewpoint #35 (February 12, 2008)

Managing BIM Technology in the Building Industry

Chuck Eastman, Paul Teicholz, Rafael Sacks and Kathleen Liston

Many organizations are now hiring employees with BIM-specific job titles such as BIM Specialist, BIM Champion, BIM Administrator, 4D Specialist, and Manager of Virtual Design and Construction. Owners may hire employees with these titles or find service providers that bear similar ones. The market is open with strong salaries for people with the needed backgrounds. However, the responsibilities that go with these titles are not yet well defined. Regardless of title, there is a strong need for more people with training and experience with creation and use of building models.

These positions are meant to help AEC firms make the transition from current practice to one that will be BIM savvy and integrate this technology into their organization. In this article we offer a perspective on these important positions and suggest their roles and responsibilities at the corporate and project levels within owner organizations and the AEC firms that serve them. It builds upon our reflections as co-authors of the BIM Handbook: A Guide to Building Information Modeling for Owners, Managers, Designers, Engineers and Contractors, published by Wiley and available in the middle of February, 2008.

BIM is a Disruptive Technology

BIM is considered by many as an important incremental improvement to the way architects-contractors and fabricators have been working. It allows clash-free design, inherently consistent drawing sets and excellent visualization of the building design, during design, fabrication and erection. These are indeed grand improvements, and resolve some of the recurring problems and wasteful practices that architects and contractors have been putting up with in current practice.

However, we consider that BIM has larger impacts than these attractive but evolutionary ones. We believe that BIM is a disruptive technology that will transform many aspects of the AEC industry.  As a result, BIM invites strategic re-thinking of processes and production to achieve the three-part goal of better, faster and cheaper buildings.  

  • Better: more knowledge about the building earlier in the life cycle regarding cost, energy use, organizational performance, 3D visualization by all members of the project team (including the owner)

  • Faster: ability to use construction and fabrication knowledge during design, ability for greater use of off-site fabrication, ability to use product information earlier in design and in procurement planning

  • Cheaper: much better coordination of project team using the model as source of decision-making and planning, faster procurement, greater use of fabricated components from global sources, fewer owner changes because of better understanding of the building and how it will function for its users, fewer errors, omissions and claims, use of “as built” model for facility management 

For many firms, this will mean closer forms of collaboration. The architectural firm has a two-way link in the collaboration. On one side are the design consultants—structural, mechanical, building type, materials that contribute to better performing designs. On the other side are the general and many types of subcontractor construction firms and fabricators providing early input of constructability, so that there is a smooth transition from design intent into realization. Using the building model to facilitate this integrated team will allow earlier and more concurrent use of their knowledge in less linear and more concurrent settings, thus addressing multiple factors beyond those of constructability.

Supporting BIM in Owner Organizations

The owner organization can have a profound impact on the ways that BIM is used on a project and the skills and experience required of various team members to ensure successful use.

A good example is the requirement for the use of BIM in GSA projects which include specific contract agreements for the various applications of BIM that are worked out with the project team. These may involve:  space program validation, construction-level spatial coordination, structural coordination, energy analysis coordination, blast analysis and other areas of specific BIM application to produce a better, faster or cheaper product for the owner and occupants.

The Chief BIM officer for an owner organization needs to have the following knowledge requirements and responsibilities.

  • Knowledge of BIM technology
  • How it can support the needs of the owner organization
  • Knowledge of contracts that will involve project team in an integrated practice
  • Knowledge of how to use model for facility management
  • Responsibility for setting standards for BIM knowledge and use by project team

Supporting BIM in Design Firms

As design firms adopt BIM, they will need to assign responsibility for the two much expanded roles that will be crucial to their success. These roles will evolve over time, as the adoption and integration of BIM grows within the firm.

Chief BIM-Officer: The corporate director of BIM, replacing or expanding the responsibilities of the Chief Information Officer. This role will be responsible for overseeing the general functional BIM capabilities for all projects, possibly connecting multiple office sites within the design organization. In large organizations, there will be a need for BIM Managers at each regional office who will work under the general guidance of the Corporate BIM Manager.

The Chief BIM Officer will be responsible for providing general network and interoperability capabilities with collaborating organizations, both inside and outside the firm. These will support both the design consultant and the fabricator consultant collaborations. They may include general intranet services, server services and general software platforms adopted by the firm, including the hardware and platform-level IT and BIM services relied on. This role will also be responsible for the setup and maintenance of company-wide libraries supporting a large range of design information: for commercial products, for firm-wide assemblies, for spaces and other assemblies incorporating the firm’s best practice and intellectual property. Some of these libraries will evolve into the domain-knowledge ‘crown jewels’ of the organization, especially those specializing in a particular building type or fabrication type.  The BIM applications supported by the organization may be limited to a single set that are used in every project, or alternatively a variable set that is selected according to the type and needs of a project and the consultants involved. This individual will also assist marketing efforts with potential clients and provide guidance to corporate legal services regarding the contracts with the client and team members that will best serve the needs of a collaborative integrated practice.

Project Model Manager: Each project will have its own process workflow, defined by the client, consultants and contracting partners. The Project Model Manager will be responsible for negotiating and planning the workflow exchange mechanisms and maintaining them and the evolving project data throughout the project life cycle. These will rely on the infrastructure put in place by the Chief BIM Officer, but may require project-dependent adaptations because of the specific project delivery method and client and project needs.

While the protocols for version control and managing releases are well developed and understood within the drawing document-based world (whether paper or electronic), options are different and more open-ended with BIM. These must be managed by all participants, using conventions organized by the Chief BIM Officer, and overseen by the Project Model Manager. There may be a single master model or a set of federated ones. Since models are accessible 24/7, releases can potentially be made multiple times a day. As a result, the potential for model corruption exists. Because a project model is a high-value corporate product, maintaining its data integrity requires explicit management and oversight. The model manager determines the policies to be followed for establishing read-and-update privileges, for merging consultants’ work and other data into a master or federated model(s).

Supporting BIM in General Construction and Subcontractor Firms

BIM Construction Officer: At the corporate level, the main responsibilities include establishing standards for BIM technology and work processes that provide for efficient and effective planning, coordination, clash detection and correction and procurement. For fabricators, this position establishes technology and workflows that provide effective links between design models and the more detailed models needed for fabrication as well as the technology needed to support equipment used for manufacture of fabricated components.

BIM Project Manager: At the project level, the main responsibilities entail managing the workflows of the subs and fabricators to ensure an efficient project team. This requires support of a merged project model for clash detection, cost estimation, procurement, fabrication and planning.  On those projects where an accurate “as built” model is desired by the client, the BIM Project manager is responsible for seeing that updates of all relevant project models are made as changes occur or out-of-tolerance conditions emerge. This position is also responsible for turning over the as-built model information to the client and possibly for commissioning and operating practice handover.

Some examples of Disruptive BIM use

These various roles outlined above will be leading the evolution of BIM use within the organization. Below, we identify some of those transitions, indicating the types of expanded capabilities the different BIM roles in design and construction firms are likely to deal with.

Design-Fabrication Integration: If there is to be a smooth flow between the architect’s design model and the actual construction model used for assembly, then the practice of re-drawing and re-modeling of the building by the steel, concrete, curtainwall and other subs will disappear. However, this only is practical if critical aspects of the fabricators production knowledge is embedded in the design early, so they do not need major revision. This early collaboration is being recognized as a fundamental part of integrated practice and effects contracts and working relations. These relations are corporate but depend on the Project Model Manager in design and the BIM Construction Manager for support and realization.

Performance-based Design: Architects will be increasingly asked to perform analyses and simulations of owner operations within the planned facility, so that the owner knows operating costs, not only of the facility itself but for its primary functions, e.g., an airport design’s implication for airport landing-turnaround-take-off schedules, or for emergency operations in hospitals. That is, facilities that enclose means of service or production will be expected to be assessed whether they realize those levels of service or production. These particular analyses will involve multiple iterations with the client organizations, or their consultants, to integrate these assessments with the on-going design. These will involve design phase workflows and data exchange capabilities of the firm, configured by the Project Model manager.

Of a similar nature, the design team will be expected to carry out cost estimates, energy and embedded carbon dioxide counts on the design as it proceeds. Such requirements have been required in current practice for each stage of design development (when required at all). BIM allows such reviews to be undertaken on a weekly or even daily basis. How will the consultant collaboration be organized to support this?

Fabrication Coordination: If each sub-contractor is able to check his/her layouts with those of other systems at any time, in order to have clash-free layouts, then communication patterns must change.  If layouts are prepared offsite, then related subs, such as mechanical, fire and electrical should be constructing and assembling MEP modules in each other’s workshops, for single operation installation of the modules at the construction site. The fabrication coordination will require consideration by the general contractor, to facilitate the model coordination, then the fabrication and logistical coordination to assemble configuration for later installation

Project repositories: As the size and complexity of model information grows, as the global dispersion of design and production expertise grows, we can expect that model repositories will become more common for managing project workflows and the data exchanges that support them. The server technology is expected to provide a rather smooth transition from a firm-based server capability to an off-site web-based capability. Initiating these capabilities will be the responsibility of the design firm’s Chief BIM Officer and the contractor’s and fabricator’s BIM Construction Officer.

Overlapping Design and Procurement: On super-fast track projects involving long lead time materials and complicated off-site fabrication, it will be very attractive to concurrently begin fabricating parts of the project (some precast pieces) while design is still underway. In these cases, parts of the project are incrementally ‘locked’ as they go into production. This requires close coordination of the Project Model Manager in design and the BIM Construction Manager.

It is worthwhile to note that all these changes are not going to drop on practitioners tomorrow. While most are available to be implemented today, they require new modes of collaboration with other parts of the building industry. Architects, contractors and fabricators all need to think how they will respond to these new modes of practice. Many of the changes above are ready to be implemented now, others in a few years.

The Corporate BIM Officers, together with their Project BIM Managers, will lead their team in assessing the current interoperability standards and capabilities as they are developed and stabilized, for example by the National BIM Standards process. These capabilities will be used to negotiate and plan the workflows for a project, usually up front, during contract negotiations.

Summary

As the use of BIM grows in the building industry, there will be an enormous need for educated owner organizations and the large number of design, construction and fabrication firms that service this industry. In addition, building product manufacturers will need to provide computer usable models of their products that can be incorporated into the building models used by the project team. This conversion from a drawing-based linear practice to a model-based virtual design and construction process will require significant effort and time, but will result in a much improved building industry.

About the Authors

Chuck Eastman is a Professor in the Colleges of Architecture and Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, and Director of the College of Architecture PhD Program where he leads research in the area of Building Product Models and IT in building construction. His career has been spent making building models a practical reality, starting in the 1970s. He has held positions at UCLA and Carnegie-Mellon University, and been funded to advise industry associations on their development and deployment of BIM, including AISC, PCSC, NIBS and FIATECH. He has authored 5 books and over 70 journal papers. He can be reached at: chuck.eastman@arch.gatech.edu.

Paul Teicholz founded the Center for Integrated Facility Engineering at Stanford University and directed that program for 10 years. He is currently a Professor emeritus at Stanford University and consultant in the AEC industry. He received the 2006 Henry C. Turner Prize for Innovation in Construction Technology awarded by the National Building Museum. He was recognized as among the most significant Innovators to "Technology and Materials" In the Construction Industry over the past 125 years, by Engineering News Record magazine in August 30, 1999. He was also the given the Peurifoy Construction Research Award by the Construction Research Council of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), in 1999. Finally, he was awarded the Construction Management "Man of the Year" by the ASCE in 1985. Paul has a Civil Engineering degree from Cornell University, a Masters in Construction Engineering and Management from Stanford University and a PhD in Civil Engineering from Stanford University and is a registered engineer in California. He spent 25 years in industry developing innovative information technologies before returning to Stanford. He has authored over 60 journal papers. He can be reached at: pteicholz@msn.com.

Rafael Sacks is an Associate Professor in Construction Management at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. Rafael has researched information technologies for structural engineering and for construction since graduating from MIT in 1985. During that period, he also spent five years in industry developing rebar detailing and other software plug-ins for CAD systems. He recently spent four years together with Prof. Eastman on the Precast Concrete Software Consortium project, two of which were spent in residence as a research scientist at Georgia Tech. Rafael leads the BIM Laboratory at the Israel National Building Research Institute and is involved in industry consortiums specifying next-generation BIM tools. He has also pursued numerous research projects in Lean Construction and is the author of some 30 journal papers. He can be reached at: cvsacks@techunix.technion.ac.il.

Kathleen Liston is an entrepreneur and consultant to the building and technology industry.  As a consultant, Kathleen has worked on over a hundred projects developing and implementing 3D/4D/BIM since 1995. She held positions at Autodesk as the Construction Solutions Product Manager in their Building Solutions Division and as CTO/President and founder of Common Point technologies, a construction simulation software company. Kathleen has a Bachelors of Architecture from the University of Notre Dame, a Masters in Structural Engineering from Stanford University, and is a PhD candidate in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University. She can be reached at: kathleen@listons.net.

 

Note: The views expressed in Viewpoint articles are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect those of AECbytes.

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