Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What drives a successful BIM project...?

I've spent the past few weeks developing a project that Autodesk will be using for the 2012 release of Revit MEP. It's always an honor to be asked by Autodesk to contribute in various ways to help the cause, and have done so over the past several years. This year was different, since it was the first project since I'd left the reseller channel. And there were definitely some things that I learned - while most of what I used to advise people about in regards to implementing the software, take on a different perspective when it's your company doing the work.

The first thing I learned was how quickly you can get outside of how Revit works, to try to get work accomplished. The instant response to go with what you know, and what worked for you in the past. I should have know better, but I caught myself making mistakes I used to fuss at my clients about...and that was an eye opener.

It happened when we were working to layout one of those common things that Revit doesn't handle well - placing air terminals directly against a main duct. Automatic layouts work best when you have both a main duct and a branch - but don't work at all without instinct had us skip the step of defining the system before we added the duct - and it caused us a little havoc. Without getting into trouble with my NDA, I would say that Autodesk handles this better in the next release. But the point is that I didn't follow my own rules, and it bit us.

The other aspect of a BIM project that is absolutely critical is communication and coordination. Without this on any project, it's a disaster when it happens. The tendency is to blame the software when it's really our own bad habits that cause the problem. If you don't understand how something works, don't be afraid to ask - I'm having to do that every day as I re-learn design practices and techniques. I understand users being embarrassed if they can't do something, but not asking and doing something wrong is far worse. Swallow your pride - it's a lot cheaper that overrunning a budget. Believe me - I'm learning to put my hat in my hand...

The original design was a great example of how communication can also get boggled - the original design was done in an earlier release of Revit, and the engineering in AutoCAD MEP. We also had PDF's of the construction documents, and the biggest problem were differences between the architect's locations for MEP fixtures and the engineer's locations. We wound up going by the PDF's and not the CAD/BIM model...which demonstrates that no matter how good you may be at either of these programs, if you don't communicate and review your doc set, these errors can bite you on a project. It helped us develop some new methods of creating our models and sharing our work, even beyond the single model idea - and how important it is to assign a task such as a lighting layout to one person. That person owns that aspect - and it should not be split between an architect and person does the model and the work, and you don't have this type of error.

But the most important thing I've learned is that doing your homework is absolutely essential. When we had a friendly debate a piece of equipment that was part of the original design, but one of my team members didn't know it existed. At least I had the PDF's of the technical specs and dimensional data to make my case. There was time spent changing a design that didn't need to happen, all because of an unwillingness to accept that something might be different than what we know.

And in BIM, everything is. You have to be willing to get outside the box - do things differently - ask questions - be humble, but be learn, to change your ways. It doesn't matter if you're a newly graduated intern or a 40 year engineer. The day you stop learning is the day you need to retire, so don't be afraid to challenge yourself.

And the project? It turned out pretty cool - with a few exceptions (lights being different between the engineer and the architect, a few discrepancies in how the project was to look and feel, etc., the building is a great representation not only of a good BIM model, but a nice efficient design that works. I'm looking forward to getting some feedback once the dataset is released - just another way to learn!

Now get out there, talk to your co-workers and partners...and starting improving your BIM techniques and communication today!

Later - David B.


David Kingham said...

Hey David, could you elaborate on the light coordination? We've been trying to eliminate waste and this duplication of effort seems like a place to start but we have not been successful. We tried having the engineer only model the lights/diffusers but it is very challenging to get them to locate them exactly where we want them

David Butts said...

It gets back to the main idea, communication. If the architect insists on placing the lights (for example, to focus on task lighting), then try creating a detail component that represents where you want the light to go. Once the engineer places the lights based on that location, then remove the details.

The more obvious solution is to use the copy/monitor function for the MEP fixtures. We've resolved this by only having MEP light fixtures, plumbing, etc. available in our library. That way, when copy/monitor is used, the light fixtures already have the electrical data, and you can also already have the matched families loaded into the template. Single source + common content = better results...

thanks - David B.