Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Data: The "I" in BIM

Manufacturers that are looking to develop BIM programs need to develop around what the user wants and needs, NOT what the “BIM Expert” tells them that they should do. The area of BIM data is where this becomes most critical. What (if any) data do you want to see in your BIM objects and systems? Do you only use BIM for conceptual modeling and graphics? Are you taking advantage of the product and performance data that can be added into the model?

No architect in their right mind would WANT to add the performance information into their product models themselves. Libraries like ARCAT.com are creating generic BIM product and system models with performance, lifecycle and usage data associated with the product that can be downloaded for free. While this is not the perfect substitute for manufacturer specific (proprietary) content, the manufacturers are catching wind of BIM and starting to not only offer BIM models, but put data into their models that designers can use. This is where the problem arises…

What Info Do You Put In A BIM Model????

BIM platforms are basically giant databases of infinite size which can handle as much data as one could offer, so why not add EVERYTHING into the model? The answer is “Organization”. If you have 500 parameters inside a family, you’ll have a hard time finding them when you need to actually use them. Yes, there are ways around this, like hidden shared parameters, but then you don’t even know the data is there unless you schedule it out or run a database dump. If BIM users let the manufacturers know what they need (and the manufacturers are listening) we may be able to come up with the level of information that they everyone can be comfortable with.

Three main things to consider when thinking about DATA…
- Who is using it?
- What is it being used for?
- How is it being looked at?
- Should data be in the model or linked to the model?

Who is using it?
Now the data that a specifier needs is different from that of the Designer and that is also different than that of the Contractor, Facility Manager, Owner… You get the idea. Development of data sets that are well organized, dynamic and most importantly, standardized, is crucial.

What is it being used for?
Data that is necessary for HVAC components differs from lighting fixtures, which differ from structural components which differ from architectural components. Knowing what is important about each product category can help determine what data should be held in the model.

How is it being looked at?
Is the data being exported to a database? Will the data be on a spreadsheet? Most projects have some sort of schedule associated with it, so what data will benefit that schedule? Setting up the data so it can work with export functions as well as be easily manipulated in the model and added to drawing sheets and schedules must be considered.

Should data be in the model or linked to the model?
Where the data resides is a factor of the last three questions… Data can be held in the model in the form of text, numbers, units, or other values, OR it can be linked back to a website, where it can be viewed. There are pros and cons to both methods.

Data in the model: Data that is in the model can be placed in schedules, tagged, exported, and modified. If, for instance, you need to have performance data about your windows on the window schedule, it makes sense to have it in the model.

Linked Data: If there is a substantial amount of information involved, you can bloat a BIM model very quickly. Properties windows can quickly get so large that it becomes very difficult to find anything. This is where linking back to a website can be very handy. Links to Product Data, MSDS, Specs, and other resources can prove invaluable to various parties involved with the BIM model.

I’m calling this a summary, because I haven’t yet reached a conclusion as to how to organize data yet. The BIM technology just isn’t there for how I’d LIKE to do it, so I think throwing ideas out for comment might move us at least 1 step in the right direction…
Data is the heart of BIM. Without it, BIM is little more than 3D CAD with a few bells and whistles. If one party could insert a component into the model that contains links to data that apply to everyone else in the Integrated Project, no further research about products would need to be done. Think about what a single location where design considerations, installation instructions, maintenance information, handling guidelines, and lifecycle and warranty information were available. This could potentially turn a BIM model into a “Digital Owners Manual”.

The Specifier's Role in BIM

Since BIM is very much in its infancy, most architects are only scratching the surface of BIM. From what I have seen, it is primarily being used as a 3D modeling tool which speeds up the design process, but the data that can be captured and manipulated is not being used. Much of this is due to a disconnection between BIM and the specifier. Currently, the specifier holds no role in the development of a BIM model, and is “Left Out” of any Integrated Project Coordination which may occur. My goal is to bring that specifier into the BIM model, allow them to specify systems and products for the project and allow that data that is missed within the project to be harnessed BY the specifier FOR the designers, contractors, and owners. Essentially, the specifier has the opportunity to take on an additional role which will benefit not just the design professionals, but the Contractors, Facility Managers and Owners.

Currently, during the design process, most BIM projects are developed with generic products and systems rather than manufacturer specific components which carry data about a individual product’s performance, lifecycle, impact and efficiency. It is too cost and time prohibitive to require a Design Professional to update an entire project with manufacturer specific components after the design has been completed. If the specifier has the opportunity to specify through the BIM model in real time, Products and systems can be specified earlier in the design phase and could potentially streamline the bidding process by setting available and visible performance standards that bidders can access in real time.

First and foremost, the specifier needs to understand what BIM means to the built environment and the benefits BIM brings to their business and current workflow. Without understanding these basic concepts, there is no real reason to embrace this change and make the leap, especially for those who are later in their careers.