Friday, February 24, 2012

Omniclass Table 49 and the Sumex Parameter Manager

Over the past two years or so, I have been working on the development of a shared parameter file for the Omniclass "Properties" Table (Table 49). While I have finally come out with a useful version of the file that I am comfortable sharing with the world, I had also realized that in the process, impementation of the file was going to be cumbersome due to the method by which Revit sorts Parameters.
In a Revit Shared Parameter file, parameters can only be grouped once, with no further subgroupings available. In the real world, there is so much more that is needed in order to sort and organize the attributes within projects. All of the CSI Standards leverage 3, 4, 5 or more levels in their organization structures, but the parameter managment in Revit only allows for one level. The Table 49 Shared Parameter file is grouped by its highest level, and then numerically based upon the succeeding levels. Handy, but but still doesn't allow for proper management of the nearly 1000 properties. In order to combat this, rather than try to reinvent the way parameters are MANAGED, I decided to rethink how they are LOADED.
The Sumex Parameter Manager changes how we might think about the administration of project information. Instead of loading parameters one at a time, object by object, or into a project, this affords the ability to batch add parameters to hundreds of families at once, whether they are in a library on a hardrive or within an open Revit project.
The Sumex parameter manager can leverage the Table 49 Properties Shared Parameter file to build a Schema which will load various different parameters into various different families based on common attributes found whithin them. This is explained more in depth below.
The Omniclass Table 49 Shared Parameter file is available in two differnent configurations, based upon whether or not it is being used with Revit Architecture or Revit MEP. Some of the physical properties can be more accurately conveyed in Revit MEP than they can in Revit Architecture, simply based on the availability of the parameters within the software. MEP based parameters are left as simple text parameters in Architecture. Both Files, along with more information on the Sumex Parameter Manager can be found here:

What the SPM Does:
Parameter Management
The Sumex Parameter Manager allows a Revit user to Add, Remove and Replace parameters in Revit Families in bulk. This means no more opening, modifying, saving and closing every family one at a time to add the attributes. Not only does it allow for updating families in bulk, but leverages “Schemas” that can assign specific attributes based on specific criteria.
Whether you want to add parameters to your Revit project categories, the families loaded in a project, or your entire family library, the Sumex Parameter Manager has the ability to manipulate parameters in both projects and families.
Think of a “Schema” as an office master for your Revit Families. Schemas are data maps that
describe how you want information to be passed into Revit. They work alongside an existing shared parameter file, and allow you to assign or “Map” parameters to one or more
Revit Categories, MasterFormat™ Keynote designations, or Uniformat Assembly
Codes. This allows the software to work quickly and update an entire library based on information that is likely already available in the Revit families that you want to process. Schemas can be saved for future use and can be created and modified using the included Schema Builder interface or for advanced users, a text or spreadsheet editor may assist you in working more quickly.
How it Works: Let’s say that you want to add 7 parameters to all of your window families, and 5 parameters to all of your door families. Leveraging your existing shared parameter file, the Schema Builder” assigns parameters based on Revit Category, MasterFormat™ (5 or 6 Digit) Keynote, or Uniformat™ Assembly Code. You can even assign a Level of Development to each parameter to filter only those which are relevant to the amount of detail you want in your project.
Why Sumex Parameter Manager:
Since 2005, Sumex Design has been at the forefront of developing AEC content, from specifications, to CAD files, to Revit components; we have created 8000+ Revit Families for over 300 manufacturers and successfully implemented BIM into their AEC toolboxes. BIM is as much about data as it is about graphics.

Being specifiers as well as seasoned content developers, we understand that a critical part of implementing BIM is processing the information in the model. Without a painless strategy for data management, the widespread adoption of new BIM standards becomes an uphill battle. At Sumex Design, we’re sharing our expertise and techniques with the world, by creating data management tools.

We know you have options, and that you’re already spending enough for your software every year, so we’re keeping costs low. At $249.00 USD, the Sumex Parameter Manager will add invaluable new functionality to your current workflow and save you countless hours of time processing, updating and organizing your BIM library.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Interesting Article - Joshua Prince-Ramus on The Myth Of Architectural Genius

This is a great article, and smack in the middle of my wheelhouse, so I thought I would point it out. It made me see that there are many architects that are still somewhat shortsighted and nervous when it comes to BIM. While it is scary to get into new technology, CAD was not the demise of Architecture, nor will BIM be. Some excerpts from the article that I thought were worth mentioning:

The biggest change in our profession is what's called building information modeling, or BIM. It will either be the harbinger of death or the salvation of architecture. BIM creates a three-dimensional model of a building in which every piece is tagged in terms of price and time. It lets you discover ways of construction and sequencing and optimizing shapes for cost.

Many Architects are selling the technology short, and this is just one case of it. BIM can do far more than analyze Cost and Time, but more importantly manage the nouns, verbs and adjectives (What, How and Why) of every aspect of a building. If someone selects a specific window, the information includes a “Why” based on the properties of the window (Energy Efficiency or Light Transmittance/Refraction). A wall knows that it has certain sound characteristics, fire characteristics and structural capabilities. By leveraging this type of information a building can be looked at as a “Whole” rather than a sum of its parts to streamlie design and create more efficient buildings for the lowest cost.

The reason why it could be the harbinger of death is that the technology is incredibly complex and operating the software is a specialty in and of itself. That person makes a lot of assumptions and spits out the options to be picked (I call that design) by the architect (which I call "stylist"). That further marginalizes the architect from the center of the project, which is the realm of project management and structural engineering and acceptance of liability--the execution side of things.

I am in partial agreement with this statement, and I am that specialist that he talks of. I disagree of the marginalization of the architect though, as an architect’s strengths are in forging the Design Aesthetic of the building, and hire others to implement the design through hand drawings, CAD and now BIM. The technology is creating the need for that “Stylist” which I refer to as the “Knowledge Manager”, who is little more than another employee of the architect. It’s the Building Owners that will drive the demise. If they choose to go with more standardized designs, then the need for the “design aesthetic” is diminished. I just don’t foresee than happening, since Architecture is the convergence of Art and Engineering, with the emphasis on Art.

All of this is why I decided to write a second book (I Just got the contract from Wiley Press last Thursday) on the need for management of the information and processes within a BIM project. This eliminates the “assumptions” that he discussed here by having a seasoned professional (Architectural Construction Specifier), like myself as an administrator of the project (Stylist, Knowledge Manager) from the earliest design concepts all the way through to Facility Commissioning and ongoing lifecycle and maintenance. I’m looking for case studies in the Boston Area right now, and the book will be released at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) show in 2013. I am hoping that more professionals like this will identify the need for information and process management as time goes on.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Classification Systems for Building Products and Materials

In this day of BIM based design, the concept of cataloging materials has been turned on its ear. It’s no longer enough to just see what a material looks like in a 3”x3” sample chip and hope that it is what you want for a project. BIM affords design and construction teams the ability to not only thoroughly visualize, but quantify and qualify the material based on its merits and the design intent of the project. What I mean by this is the ability to embed computer readable information into a material that tells us not just what a material looks like, but what it “is” and how much of it is present on a project or in a given location. This is a tremendous benefit to both architects and contractors, giving them the ability to analyze product options and determine alternate solutions through cross referencing attributes.

Let’s suppose a solid wood material is specified on a project in order to provide the necessary density on a wall that is designed to reflect sound. Let’s also suppose that the wall has substantial curves, making the bending of the material very labor intensive, and potentially detrimental to the integrity of the wood. Rather than accepting the material at face value, researching materials in order to find an alternative product that achieves the required density, but is more flexible might lead the designer to a laminated material with a high density backer that meets the design intent, looks the same, and is less expensive. The difficulty in this type of operation is ensuring that the information about what the material is, how it performs, and what it looks like needs to be not only catalogued, but standardized.

The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) develops and manages standards and formats that surround the AECOO communities, including MasterFormat™, Uniformat™, and the series of Omniclass Tables. The rapid growth of BIM creates a need to organize materials using not only methods understandable by people, but also by computers. To simplify, BIM software is little more than a series of tables in a database. These tables have relationships with one another, and in order to ensure that the connections are not broken by the use different colloquialisms or a varying taxonomy, each entry in a table should have some sort of unique identifier (GUID), or “primary key”. This is where CSI comes in. Just as MasterFormat catalogs the resulting effort of a given task, and Uniformat classifies entire elements within a project, Omniclass Table 23 – Products, and Table 41 – Materials catalog specific building products and materials so that regardless of the actual naming, a computer can understand what the user is referring to. It is no different than a librarian using the Dewey Decimal System to Catalog an entire library of books.

In terms of a library, the 200 Class (Level 1) within the Dewey system refers to Religion, with subcategory 220 (Level 2) referring to Bibles. There are entries beneath 220 which refer to the Old Testament (221) and New Testament (225), as well as other books which fall into the same category of “Bibles”. The word “Bible” needs to be put into context though, as the term has also been associated with anthologies and books that are designed to be all-encompassing, such as the AutoCAD Bible from Sybex Publishing. Even though libraries and bookstores have become keyword searchable, the Dewey Decimal system is still used to actually find the book or periodical within the larger bookstore or library, and create a singular reference for a certain type of book or specific title. This allows a machine to make a unique reference to a book, and only that book.

Similarly, a building product or material has the same hierarchical structure using Omniclass. Table 23 organizes products using four grouped pairs of digits, where the first is always the table number, in this case 23. As information is added, additional pairs may be added to further elaborate on the product. At the top level, table 23 products would look like this: – Products, and at its most detailed fifth level it might look like this: – Mail Slot. In this example, (Level 1) refers to “Openings”; (Level 2) refers to “Doors”; (Level 3) refers to “Door Components”; (Level 4) refers to “Door Accessories”. While one person might refer to the component as a “mail slot”, another might refer to it as a “postal opening”. Either way, the classification system will allow the user to choose the taxonomy while still allowing a computer to understand the intent.

Omniclass Table 41 – Materials performs the same operation, but rather than considering Building Products, it considers actual physical materials, regardless of their origin. It organizes materials down to their elemental level, which may not seem relevant, until you consider that specific chemicals may be banned from a project, or certain types of materials may be favorable. Table 41 uses the standard Omniclass “grouped pairs” format with Level 1 organizing materials into Periodic Elements, Solids, Liquids, and Gases. Level 2 through 5 dive deeper into the categorization of a material where level five refers specifically to Cast Iron, which is different from Wrought Iron ( or Ductile Iron (

Within each of these material and products, there are a series of attributes or physical properties which define what it is, how it behaves, how it performs, what it looks like, and a host of other considerations. Omniclass Table 49 – Properties creates a taxonomy that allows attributes to be given specific names and identifiers, making them uniform and machine readable. There are many different names which can apply to the same attribute, and a single character, capitalized letter, or mark in the naming will throw a computer for a loop. For instance, in some circles, the term U-Value is used, where in others, the term U-Factor is used. Those who understand what is being discussed may know that the two terms are synonymous, but a computer does not. By leveraging Table 49 and creating an enumeration strategy, one can assign specific attributes to building products and materials, and ensure that all of the information will show up in database reports, exports, and schedules.

With a membership base of Building Product Manufacturers, Architects, Specifiers, Engineers, and Contractors, CSI has more knowledge and experience than any organization in categorizing, classifying, and cataloging building materials. As the keepers of MasterFormat, Uniformat, and Omniclass, the expertise of the membership is implementing standards and formats for use in BIM software. This allows BIM software and processes to grow from visual design tools to data rich analysis and digital prototyping models. Structuring models to be useful for downstream usage requires that information be clear, concise, complete, correct, and consistent. It is arguable that without standards and formats developed and maintained by CSI, none of this would be possible.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Organizing BIM Content by how it is used

Implementing the Component: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary

Components which are added to an architectural model can be categorized as primary, secondary, and tertiary. Exactly which category a specific component fits into depends largely on the individual or discipline. In addition to the architectural components, a series of structural, mechanical and specialty components are used to further detail the model for design and analysis through specialty consultants and contractors. For architectural purposes, it is not always necessary to add each structural element, mechanical equipment, or specialty components unrelated to the design intent. In many cases taking into consideration only basic dimensions and locations is acceptable to allow other contractors and consultants to design based on the spaces allotted. While this is a disjointed approach and in no way collaborative, it is not an uncommon practice, and as such should be taken into consideration when thinking about how to organize the various types of components used in modeling.

Primary components are made up of the core elements used to enclose and access spaces; floors, walls, ceilings, roofs, and openings. These elements of the project are the first to be added, often during schematic design. They divide spaces, create layouts, and enclose the overall building. Walls are added into a project and used to enclose and divide spaces. It is important to maintain a consistent reference point within the wall so that they align properly. Because walls have several materials within them, from structural, to surfaces, to finishes, and determining the reference point is often specific to the needs or type of project at hand. When creating exterior walls, using the exterior edge of the structural member as the reference plane may prove to be the most effective, where when creating interior walls, the center line of the wall may be most effective. Using a consistent strategy for aligning walls minimizes the risk of errors through design development. In many cases the number of layers and thickness of materials within the wall is unknown until well after the original walls have been placed. A great deal of time is spent manipulating these elements such that they may become permanent as design development progresses. Once the design begins to consider secondary components, it is common for errors to occur should the primary components need to be moved or changed. Developing a strategy for creating, maintaining, and organizing wall assemblies will allow walls to be swapped out at any time without the risk of moving walls due to differing reference points.

As Bim technology improves, the number of components which may be defined as secondary is increasing. Before they were made readily available, components like toilet partitions and fixed furnishings were not always graphically modeled. This is largely due to the amount of effort required to create a graphic representation of a component. As more manufacturers make their components available, the number of designers wanting to place them in their model increases.

Secondary components are essential to the design, but made remain largely unknown or undecided until later in design development. They rely on the dimensions and locations of the primary components for decision-making and product selection, and are generally non-structural in nature. The most common secondary components on projects are stairs and railings, fixtures and fittings, casework and cabinetry, specialty partitions, and certain types of fixed furnishings and storage. These types of components are essential to the understanding of spatial relationships, and the conceptualization of many aspects of the project. It gives the owner an understanding of what the space is used for. The walls may define the boundary of a kitchen, but the cabinets determine what it is.

If we think about different components in relationship to the overall size of the project, we can make the determination of how graphically accurate they need to be. Secondary components are those that are integral to the design, but not integral to the structure. In most cases these types of components are selected based on their appearance as much as they are based on their performance. When component is selected partially or entirely based on its aesthetic, how it is represented within the model becomes more important. The frequency at which these components are placed in the model is also a consideration when determining the graphic accuracy. If a component is placed in the project only once but is selected solely based on its aesthetic, it is reasonable to put more effort into its graphic accuracy, as maintaining its performance and file size is not as relevant as a component such as a door which may be placed hundreds of times throughout a single project.

Component size and location also come into play when considering the graphic accuracy of an object. A good rule of thumb is if you can't see it from 10 to 15 feet away in its installed position, don't spend a lot of time on it. This is a typical distance which is used for up-close rendering. Since the primary reason for making close representations of products is to improve the rendering aspect of the model, if it's not being rendered, it might as well be a cube. There are many components in a project that are actually very small. Whether it is a light switch, a drawer pull, or a window crank, deciding how accurate these components must be is important undertaking. While every manufacturer wants to think that their components are the most important, we have to look at the model in terms of scale. Ask yourself how important a window crank is to a 1,000,000 ft.² building, and what purpose it serves if it is not visible in rendered views. The answer lies in its ability to be quantified and qualified. If a component needs to be quantified or qualified, it can add value to the model. Let's go back to window hardware as an example and look at three possible scenarios: 1.) If a manufacturer offers several hardware options, and it will likely be visible in many rendered views, it should be added to the model graphically and have the ability to select options. 2.) If a manufacturer offers several options for the type of hardware used but it will not be seen in a rendered view, it is more effective to list the hardware as an attribute of the window without graphically modeling it. 3.) If only one type of hardware is available from the manufacturer, is perfectly acceptable to omit from both the graphics and the information contained in the project. If there are no choices which may be made, and the component is not commonly used for selection or specification purposes, then adding it to the model offers little value to the architect, specifier, or contractor.

Bob's BIM Tip: If you can't see a component from 10 to 15 feet away in its installed position, don't spend a lot of time on it.

Tertiary components are those which are added during detailing, or not at all. While it is my belief that every component that is used on a project should be brought into the model in some way, shape, or form, that does not necessarily mean it should be done graphically. There are ways to embed information regarding components without actually placing them in the project, and there are ways to simplify how a tertiary component is placed in a model as well. Hopefully this will minimize the number of tertiary components within a project, and increase the number of secondary components. Over time this could translate into more accurate models, and a greater demand for as-built models as a final deliverable to the owner.

A component like door hardware is an essential element within a project, is found in hundreds of locations, and even has its own special schedule, yet it is arguably a tertiary component which is often overlooked or omitted. Most architects choose not to deal with door hardware for the amount of effort necessary versus the benefit received from placing it in the model. Components like this are often better represented in context. Door hardware is a function of a door, and as such should be placed and controlled from within that door. Rather than attempting to place door hardware components at each location within the project, making door hardware a function of the door itself can allow it to be a graphic aspect of the model, and carry the important information to its respective schedules.

Accessories, movable furnishings, and equipment are tertiary components. Because they may be relocated at any time, and are more commonly used for conceptualization and space planning, these types of components are typically not modeled. As a general rule, when the placement of a component is not integral to the structure or the design of a project, the component can be considered "tertiary". Another way to look at it is if there is no specification section for the component within the project, it is probably a tertiary component.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

High Performance Annotations

The method I use to annotate with BIM is to add a material AND its Specification Section Number to the annotation for vendor neutral materials that are not specifically called out. (06 11 00_2x4 Dimensional Lumber – Species as Noted in the Contract Documents) or (07 54 00_TPO Membrane – Thickness as Noted in the Contract Documents). I use the term "Contract Documents" here as there are changes happening in the industry, and while the contract document now would be the Project Manual, in the future, it may not be. One may reference a tabular specification, or formatted data sheet of some kind. The descriptions are very fluid and allow for modification based on the amount of information known…

A knowledge manager may handle the annotations for the Roof Membrane Layer in a section view of a roof like this:

  • PP - (07 00 00_Roof as Noted in the Contract Documents)
  • SD - (07 50 00_Roof Membrane – As Noted in the Contract Documents)
  • DD - (07 54 00_Roof Membrane - Thermoplastic – As Noted in the Contract Documents)
  • CD - (07 54 23_Roof Membrane –.060 TPO – Tan)
  • Post Bid - (GAF EverGuard .060 TPO Membrane – Tan)

The idea is to give an appropriate description based on the amount of information known at a given time, and reference the Contract documents for the next pieces of information which may be necessary. This allows the annotation to always be correct, regardless of how much effort is put into the annotations, or if they never get updated past Schematic. I use phases as an example above, but I see phases as we know them disappearing to some degree with the growth of BIM. Because effort is recyclable in BIM, we can actually have detail views in Schematic Design that have merit. Standardized views can be moved from place to place within a template project, and only the annotations need be moved in order to create "Progress Drawings" at various phases of the project.

All in all, It's my belief that the concept of keynoting really only pertains to the drawings, which are ultimately viewed by the Contractor. With my background in General Contracting, I truly think that requiring them to reference information in a specification in order to get the BASIC information that they need to do their job to me is just plain LAZY! Drawings should follow the same CSI principles as Specifications (Clear, Concise, Complete, Correct) and the fifth C; Consistent. Keynoting makes incomplete drawings, as there is no single unified keynote structure, and there is no practical way to take into consideration EVERY possible component within a given specification section. It took over 1200 different BIM materials for a metal framing manufacturer to represent their Metal Stud offerings which consider dimension, yield strength, web depth and spacing.

Drawings are created before specifications, and BIM is the root of both. As information goes into the Model, it becomes a function of the drawing FIRST, and the attributed information becomes a tabular specification which can be used to develop a text based document. It is actually very simple (and very beneficial) to add the attributed information into the individual materials and components, as BIM provides not only the ability to TOGGLE between keynote, and annotation globally, but to actually concatenate attributes to create an accurate Callout.

The syntax for annotating a material goes something like this:

  • Keynote Only: [MF Number]
  • Keynote Only: [07 54 23]

  • PP: [MF Number]_[Component] [Type]
  • PP: [07 00 00]_[Roof] [as Noted in the Contract Documents]
  • PP: [07 00 00_Roof as Noted in the Contract Documents]

  • SD: [MF Number]_[Component] [Type] – [Material]
  • SD: [07 50 00]_[Roof] [Membrane] – [As Noted in the Contract Documents]
  • SD: [07 50 00_Roof Membrane – As Noted in the Contract Documents]

  • DD: [MF Number]_ [Component] [Type] – [Material]
  • DD: [07 54 00]_[Roof] [Membrane] – [Thermoplastic]
  • DD: [07 54 00_Roof Membrane - Thermoplastic – As Noted in the Contract Documents]

  • CD: [MF Number]_ [Component] [Type] – [Thickness] [Material] – [Color]
  • CD: [07 54 23]_[Roof] [Membrane] – [.060] [TPO] – [Tan]
  • CD: [07 54 23_Roof Membrane –.060 TPO – Tan]

  • Post Bid: [Manufacturer]_ [Trade Name] – [Thickness] [Material][Type] – [Color]
  • Post Bid: [GAF] [EverGuard] [.060] [TPO] [Membrane] – [Tan]
  • Post Bid: [GAF EverGuard .060 TPO Membrane – Tan]

Because of this structure, I use ONLY the 6 digits of MasterFormat, with no following enumeration that corresponds to a construction or specific material. A keynote is great if a machine needs to read it, but we are not machines. We are humans who want to see the information that we need, not have to follow a path in order to reference a different document. The BIM database already does this for us, and by mapping the information in such a way that it is no additional effort to create the more detailed information, there is no reason NOT to use full text callouts. We are all collaborating on a project, and should consider the needs of the individuals who are actually using our deliverables.

I do understand that you can only put so much information on an E sized plot, however, with the on screen digital world right in front of us, changing scale, and creating additional sheets which apply to specific trades at a more detailed scale is a simple Duplicate w/ Detailing Command.

All of this information is searchable within the model, and allows for analysis, so by adding a few attributes to each material, an annotation is automatically created, and can be globally updated based on the status of the project, or who needs the information. Whether or not keynoting is relevant and useful is no longer an issue in my estimation; That ship has sailed already. I think the idea is how detailed the annotations need to be in order to suit the needs of EVERY member of the project. If BIM can automate the annotation and keynoting process by leveraging attributes from within the material, assembly or component, the bigger issue is the accepted taxonomy and structure for the information which needs to be managed.