Designing for collaborative BIM
The seminal 1994 “Latham Report,” otherwise known as “Constructing the Team,” reinforced by the 1998 “Egan Report,” otherwise known as “Rethinking Construction,” and more recent 2011 “Government Construction Strategy” investigated the perceived problems in the wider UK construction industry. These reports portrayed the UK industry, including its design teams as adversarial, ineffective, fragmented and unable to deliver for their clients, particularly in the public sector. To counter this, they called for partnering and greater teamwork, in others words – collaboration between disciplines and project stakeholders: not only between architects and engineers but with the client and contracting teams too.
This problematic scenario (and the potential solution) was replicated elsewhere in the world.
In his 1996 report “Constructing the team: A US Perspective” King said that there are interesting parallels as well as differences between the problems identified and solutions recommended in Latham’s Report and the state of the US construction industry during the mid-1990s. He also said that the problems faced by the construction industry worldwide are universal and any differences are explained by differing approaches to project structural organizations and underlying social, political, and legal factors in each country.
Today, the universal failure to establish clear and efficient project-wide collaborative practices, BIM-related failures are included and suggested as needed in these earlier reports.
Where there is a lack of collaboration, productivity is still negatively affected within the sector worldwide. Despite this, there are proliferating innovative solutions, methods, and techniques for design teams, coupled with increased demand, to enable positive change through collaborative practice. These methods explored further here.
The importance, challenges, and benefits of collaborative practice
Establishing collaborative practices is critical to construction projects and not without challenges. Such methods often involve people from many disciplines that may not have prior experience of working together and:
- Include the coordination and integration of a large amount of complex information, procedures, and systems
- Are centered upon projectframeworks that have evolved from being straight-forward client-consultant-contractor relationships to become more integrated
- Have complicated finance arrangements
- Require significant upfront investment (concerning skilled people and digital tools)
- Allow for early supply chain engagement
- Incorporate subcontractor and supplier design
- Include terminological and methodological differences that require understanding and are subject to interpretation – particularly clarity needed on what BIM is (the proportion of geometric to non-geometric data) for each stage of the lifecycle of a project.
- Require strategic design and management foresight
The move to collaborative BIM
Effective collaboration means considering the behaviors needed to use to achieve collaboration from the outset. It means committing to the wider team goals and being interdependent.
The move to a more collaborative approach has the far-reaching benefit for project teams throughout the world, including those with international teams and during all project phases.
The productivity efficiencies gained from industry standardization and information-sharing through collaboration and supply chains can only pave the way for greater, and easier, understanding, comparison, harmonization and alignment of national approaches, standards and behaviors globally.
With regards to the Inception-Concept Design phase, alongside significant initiatives by leading professional industry organizations across the world to harmonize BIM standards globally. This outlined in the whitepaper: “1.0 BIM during Inception – Concept Design”, collaborative BIM practice allows for multiple stakeholder contributions to be considered earlier in the design management process to enable enhanced design management solutions to be produced – whether across a single site, multiple sites, in one country or more.
Given the predominance of geometric data issues arising during the Inception-Concept Design phase, various solutions have developed for those involved during this period that allows for coordination between design teams, subcontractors and supplier trades involved in it, through clash detection techniques provided by a variety of BIM software solutions.
There are further efficiencies to be gained by aligning collaborative BIM methodology and techniques with efforts to harness the benefits of existing and new technologies related to the construction manufacturing sector which itself is scaling to meet the increased demand for Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA), offsite construction and prefabrication around the world.
Taking collaborative BIM practice to the next level
There are three exciting areas of innovation of particular interest to those practicing collaborative BIM. These are the increased use and potential of digital prototyping, inter-model dependencies, and cloud working. Each is considered in turn here:
1) Digital Prototyping
Digital prototyping is a technique derived from the product manufacturing sector and gives collaborating designers and others the ability to virtually explore a construction product or product assembly before it’s developed. Its real-world performance can be simulated or validated digitally early on to test the real-world performance of design. Today this can even be entirely prefabricated building elements.
Many use digital prototyping to replace or complement physical prototyping.
Benefits to collaborative BIM practice varied as it:
- Allows offsite construction manufacturers and designers to efficiently design, iterate, optimize, validate and visualize components digitally throughout the prefabricated design development process.
- Allows innovative, accurate digital prototypes to be created through original and near-optimal iterations, to meet multiple designs, performance, and cost & time objectives and identify similar solutions and more.
- It goes beyond 3D visualization to allow design teams a way to assess the operation of any moving parts, determine the risk of structural failure, and establish how components interact with subsystems and so on.
- It can reduce the number of physical prototypes needed before manufacture, reducing the cost and time required for physical prototyping.
- Changes the traditional development cycle and process design > build > test > fix to design > analyze > test > build and so reduces the risk of changes, involving costly repair or even rebuild.
- Allows for digitally testing a broader range of construction product performances.
2) Inter-model dependencies
This is well-understood that successful management of design changes is paramount for efﬁcient project delivery.
Collaborative BIM practice plays a significant role in integrating AECO processes and stakeholder activity. This method includes coordinating changes across different views in a single model, and detecting clashes between the various discipline-speciﬁc digital models, be they architectural, structural or building services related, throughout a project life cycle. However, today only few BIM tools enable changes to be managed across such discipline-speciﬁc digital models.
To this end, some studies have been carried out to investigate the dependencies between component attributes and have graphically revealed a way of automatically tracking dependencies in BIM. These studies have revealed the complex issue of change-tracking as a digital model evolves throughout design phases, focusing on the change in the quantity and quality of the dependencies throughout the evolution of BIM and investigating how it affects change-tracking.
Cloud working in whatever form can enable design teams, collaborate more easily and more productively.
Using software design management tools, such as mobile construction management apps and collaborative BIM environments, such as BIM caves, available from cloud-based software products, collaborative project teams can update their digital models from the outset in real time. Discuss design options, merge Structural, Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing (MEP), and architectural models and eliminate clashes from the inception-concept design stage onwards as well.
The not only sheer quantity of information in construction projects can be overwhelming, but the exchange of information can be unproductive too. To ease this use of multi-user construction management software allows all users to be “on the same page,” anytime and anywhere, from the inception stage onwards and to access and collaborate on shared project data via shared cloud-enabled platforms.
Some larger firms can now coordinate their project designs with their entire team in a BIM Cave automatic virtual environment (CAVE) “virtual theaters” or collaborative spaces with computer workstations and a projection screen. Projects designed in this way can be run by some with over 40 project team members, including subcontractors, who collaborate in a fluid design process. By performing building services design, structural, and architectural façade clash detection in this space, architects, engineers and contractors can solve problems together in the same space, albeit virtual, while still in the office and not in the field. The aim of this is to reduce real clashes on site and cost and safety issues these can present.