Saturday 24 November 2012

BIM for Free - The Inside BIM event

Earlier in the year when some of the bigger BIM conferences were being announced Graham Stewart (Ramboll) and Nigel Davies (Evolve) set about putting on a BIM conference of their own – for free. Nothing too flashy - just a bunch of folk in a room sharing thoughts and learning from each other.

Two months latest and Ramboll UK’s London office was hosting nearly 100 people at the first “BIM for Free” event.
Ramboll UK
1. Ramboll - Kiruna Sweden
First up were the Ramboll guys from Sweden. They demonstrated an $8bn hospital development that a team of 500 consultants were working on being run by Skanska. It is split into many models, Revit and Tekla are the consultants tool of choice and IFC is the common language that is used to support the native platforms. The other main tool used is Solibri and all data is referencing the Swedish national classification and national specification items.

The message on IFC from Sweden is that it works well – but they do have to write bespoke code in places to sort out some data mapping (level information between Tekla and Revit). “Why don’t the big vendors not just get together and sort this out – just like Apple, Microsoft and Google have had to do with HTML5 have done with the Internet”. I think many people would echo those sentiments.
BIM - Ramboll-Sweden style
The second part of this presentation was about a proposed development in the north of Sweden. How visualisations were being used to show a town occupiers how the landscape would change if a huge building was to be built there. Four options could be visualised interactively on a larger touch screen.

2. NBS-openBIM Network COBie Research
Phillippe Sauvageot from Mace Group then presented his take on the recent NBS-OpenBIM Network COBie trial. It was fun sitting in the audience with my fingers crossed hoping he’d say lots of positive things, and he did.

It was explained how an HOK design model was rebuilt using National BIM Library components (thanks again David and Cara :)). This then went from (deep breath) Revit to IFC to ArchiCAD and Vectorworks – then IFC static objects swapped for native objects – and then back to IFC again – so there were three native models and three IFC files. From these data sources – the contractors were set some tasks around data checking and COBie generation.

Most interestingly was the fact that he felt that of the fact that none of the tier-one contractors who took part in the trial thought they could robustly produce a COBie data-drop without the use of the preview-version of the COBie plug-in for Solibri Model Viewer. This allows a number of models to be brought together in IFC format to produce a combined model – and then for this to populate a COBie dataset (note – not MS Excel) that is linked to the 3D geometry view.
When the fundamentals of your software are integrated IFC and info take off - COBie is a small next step
Right, what info is important to me - and where is it in the model?
“If you have the COBie data interacting with the 3D geometry it is hugely beneficial” is what Philippe concluded.

And some questions from the floor…

Q - “If you didn’t have Solibri, then what?”
A – “We’d have been banging our heads off the wall”

Q – “Is it true that IFC was fine for export, but is still not good enough for import?”
A – “We only used it for export as part of the trial”

Q - “Would you agree that if you cannot trust something 100% then you cannot trust it at all? [joke] the bridge is 90% long enough!”
A – “Model checking tools can verify in a few minutes the quality of a model – ‘all rooms must have ceilings’ etc…”

So a complete surprise that presentations one and two would be so IFC-centric – I wonder if people are warming to middle ground opinion that both native formats and open standard formats can work together to give a more rounded BIM process? Not “one over another”? I blogged about this a few weeks ago. Leave your answers below in the comment section to this post.

3. David Light - Case
Dave Light from Case Inc then took to the stage. In Dave’s view Buildings = Data. Full stop. End of story. Look at a wall in a model – can you get all of the information you need from that wall? Also do you put all of this data in the model? Do you have linked data? If so how do you access this and how do you extract it for analysis.
How are you learning from the data being... complete the sentence? "Structured?"
Dave then showed some of Case’s tools for analysing the data from buildings outside of the model environment. What was nice about this is when the data is extended to analyse many buildings.
The two absolutely key things I took from this are:
  • Level of detail (forget geometry – let’s talk property sets)
  • Classification (and for me, Uniclass 2 will be perfect for this once rolled out – an object based classification system for the UK market – UK amongst the world leaders again)
One thing I’d like to analyse is how different items bloat the model. Extra polygons that are needed are clearly bad – Dave’s example here was a bike shed with eight highly detailed bikes inside that killed one of the models at his previous practice. But the topic of number of properties is the more interesting one for me. With the National BIM Library we have tried to make a judgement as to the properties that a user may schedule, may need for performance analysis or key visuals. This object is then linked at a “type level” to the NBS Create specification clause and associated products, execution, linked standards and manuals can all be managed.

Moving more specifically into the Autodesk Revit platform (Case’s speciality) Dave was adamant about reviewing “warnings” as they happen. “They will not go away or sort themselves out by magic. Good modelling skills are essential.

So – my kind of a presentation – no pictures of sky scrapers, no fancy renders, not much prettiness, a #bimbingo score of 0 – because it is “all about the data”.

4. BIM KSS Style
Casey (Arup) and Rebecca (KSS Group) then did a very polished double-act presentation.

Casey’s audience interaction at the start worked really well. Instead of asking a question and people to raise their hands. He asked everyone to raise their hands, and drop them as he asked the question. The conclusions were clearly that not many construction professionals in the room were being asked for BIM by their clients. And even fewer were passing BIM data that is useful for FM through to their clients at the end.
There was a slightly different message in this presentation which was understandable from an Architect point of view. Great data can be used to deliver great designs. I think this is something many people still doubt but one that Casey and Rebecca firmly believed in. BIM gets rid of the boring/repetitive/risky tasks allowing the designer to focus on great designs.

The coordination of models between design disciplines is a challenge. This challenge is multiplied further when a client does not know what they want and appoint a design team that find it hard to match modelling skills. The importance of being honest at the start, agreeing the rules and agreeing the BIM execution plan were drilled home.

Rebecca finished by talking about the BIM2050 group which will champion BIM and great design and look to the future. And the final slide “Just do it”.
Lawyers for Nike - drop me an email and I'll kindly remove this picture from the blog
5. AEC (UK) BIM Protocols
Organiser Nigel Davies was next. He did a whirlwind tour of the AEC (UK) BIM protocols and explained their journey. Starting by asking the delegates how many in the room used these – it could be seen that around half of the room did. It was explained that the protocols have been developed for reasons of (1) efficiency, (2) information structure and (3) collaboration.

The journey had started in 2005 when the industry really needed some rules whilst waiting for the publication of BS 1192. Over the years the protocols developed until a Revit specific version came out in 2010. It can be thought of a guide, “What does BS 1192 mean for Revit users?”.

Now there is a core document that is platform neutral – and associated documents based on whether your main design package is Revit or Bentley. Work is ongoing for ArchiCAD and Vectorworks.
AEC protocols around the world
The most important part of collaboration is when you take your information and pass it on. This is the stage where protocols must be followed.

In a similar message to Dave Light, Nigel discussed the American Institute of Architects “LODs” – LOD100, LOD200 etc… Nigel quite rightly pointed out that this is misleading as it is split into two “Level of detail” and “level of information”. You can have very advanced detail (the 3d bike in the bike shed) and no information. Or no detail at all (a 2D place holder) and a huge amount of information.  (In an NBS Create specification maybe I may add :)).

BS 8541(1, 2, 3 and 4] and PAS 1192 and Uniclass 2 were all briefly discussed. The position is clear, as they are published – they are/will be reviewed and then incorporated into the protocols once the AEC (UK) team are happy.

The AEC (UK) group are all volunteers with huge experience, they don’t do the work for profit and they have put a lot of effort in. Nigel went through a list of things to do if people wanted to modify or add anything – “talk to us” was the clear message.

6. Ramboll and Pascall Watson - Gatwick Airport
The afternoon was coming to a close by now for me, I had a Computer Construction Awards ceremony to attend. But I did catch a little of the Pascall Watson- Ramboll Gatwick Airport presentation. Graham Stewart was speaking as was Lewis Wenman.

On a project as big as Gatwick collaboration and an agreement of working methods was essential. Graham talked about how they had taken advantage of the AEC (UK) BIM protocols. Sharing information every two weeks into combined models was the aim.

One of the main challenges is communicating revisions and changes to the design as it progressed. Also knowing what bits of each other’s models are relied on.
Lewis and Graham
The challenge – a “fully coordinated model”. This tends to normally mean that geometrically all of the designs come together perfectly giving certainty over integrated components. I wonder if the term “fully coordinated model” will stretch in time to cover all of the information sets on a particular project – zero clashes of geometry – but also zero coordination issues between model and specification?

And then I was off. Well done Nigel and Graham for organising. I must say that there is a real buzz around the UK BIM community at the moment – something special is happening that people will look back on in years to come. And as always good community, banter and a hunger to share knowledge and learn from people.


  1. "The message on IFC from Sweden is that it works well – but they do have to write bespoke code in places to sort out some data mapping (level information between Tekla and Revit). “Why don’t the big vendors not just get together and sort this out – just like Apple, Microsoft and Google have had to do with HTML5 have done with the Internet”. I think many people would echo those sentiments."

    Well, this IS being done, right now:

    Right now, we are anticipating the first Export certifications to be completed Spring 2013.