Read this BEFORE Transitioning to _________!

18 May , 2012  

I’ve gotten so many questions about how to learn Revit, what technology to buy, etc. lately and so I wanted to respond in what might initially sound like a surprising way…STOP!!!  Don’t stop asking, and don’t stop pursuing, but stop and think and ask yourself a question: Why?  Why am I learning Revit?  Why am I purchasing expensive technology?  Otherwise, you’re just throwing money at something that you’re hoping at some point you’ll understand.  Not to sound like Mr. Miyagi or anything, but, understand first, purchase after.  Revit Essentials or Advanced?  12 gigabytes of RAM or 24?  You certainly don’t need to understand all the ins and outs of your company’s transition to BIM, but strategize a bit.  What are you trying to accomplish?  Do you even know why you want to go from CAD to BIM (and your answer shouldn’t be because everyone else is).  And it also can’t just be because the project requires it.  Do you understand the difference between Revit and BIM?  You shouldn’t be transitioning from AutoCAD to Revit.  You should be transitioning from a CAD-based project process (which used AutoCAD) to a BIM-based project process (which uses Revit – among a lot of other applications).  You need to take two approaches: project process AND technology.  Your project process WILL change.  How and what pace is up to you.  Your technology will need to change also, but you should understand why before you purchase it.  And when buying more powerful technology for the new software and processes you’ll be going through, don’t buy cheap.  And I say that because “cheap” will WILL WILL cost you in the long run.  I promise you it will.  You can buy inexpensively, and you can find deals, and even negotiate, for what you need.  If you’re purchasing for commercial purposes, technology shouldn’t be free.  You will spend more time getting “free” things to work for you and your business and, again in the long run, it won’t be worth it.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “why is Scott ranting like this?”  For too long now technology has been an after thought.  It has been thought about and budgeted for way past when it should be and you end up backing yourself into a corner.  Then you either buy too much, or even too little, of what you need.  But Scott, you say, why is anything you’re saying new?  Hasn’t it been important to plan for technology all along?  Of course it has, but these days the change in technology is not simply an upgrade in software or a better graphics card.  With the introduction of the Cloud and new found abilities to move design and construction data between different analysis applications to improve outcomes, we are once again finding ourselves both having to adjust our processes AS WELL AS investigate new process that can make our work more efficient and more effective.

In the World of Software, or Really any Process, Migration, is Idealism Wrong?

5 Jun , 2011  

In recent weeks I’ve been told that I am idealistic and that I wear my ideals on my sleeve.  My answer was that in my job, I had to be.  But it made me start to think about how any big change happens.  Usually, it’s a small group of people who, not only have a unique vision of how things should be but, more importantly, know how to implement that change.  It reminds me of a quote from Margarey Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  If people who are trying to direct and implement change become intimidated, or doubltful, or waver on the belief that their ideals are right and worth achieving, then they have already lost.  So this post is for people who are in my role throughout the world: do not stop trying to achieve the ideals that you believe in.  While we all work as individuals trying to improve ourselves and our companies, each achievement that each of us makes in the service of a transition to a new and better way of working, helps all of us.

Shifting to Building Information Modeling: Don’t be Afraid to Make Big Changes

13 Apr , 2011  

On June 12th of 2009, the United States government mandated that television stations nation-wide must broadcast exclusively in digital format. Did some people have difficulty with this transition (i.e. rural communities, the elderly, etc.)? Yes. Did the government make an effort to help with the transition (i.e. vouchers to be used towards a low-cost converter box)? Yes. Was this transition necessary? Of course. Why? Because sometimes a society needs to be pushed a little bit in order to make it over a large hump. The transition to digital broadcasts was not the end of the story, it was the beginning. By requiring the use of digital broadcasts, other technologies developed by the marketplace could finally move forward, which benefited the entire country, because they relied on the digital signal. The point of this is that, like the digital broadcast mandate, the design and construction process of Building Information Modeling is just the beginning of a transition which will usher in a whole host of better designs and more efficiently constructed and performing buildings. We just need to draw a line in the sand and then hurl ourselves over it. To be clear, I am by no means saying that BIM is a panacea. It’s not. If for no other reason, there are new hardware and software technologies, as well as other new processes, which haven’t been developed yet. The point is, though, that those things can’t be developed until BIM, as a process, is implemented throughout more of the AEC industry.

I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: the transition to BIM is not as simple as uninstalling AutoCAD and installing Revit. BIM is an overhaul which requires huge changes including schedule, staffing and fee shifts, time for training and a learning curve (which will be a different lengths for each sector of the AEC industry) and the time to develop resources so we can reach our potential. These resources can include content, standards, data/information exchange and process development (i.e. how to we use BIM to determine environmental impact? How to we perform the test fitting task to understand which space is the right one for our client? How to input and then extract the right types of object data in order to perform highly accurate cost estimations?).

Understand what your work environment will look like when BIM is implemented, whichever sector of the AEC industry you work in, and then develop a plan to get to that place in the most efficient way possible.

How Does BIM Change Your Project Processes and Where Does Revit Fit In?

6 Apr , 2011  

As I’ve stated before, BIM is a paradigm shift from the way we’ve worked before.  That goes for whether you’re in the architecture, engineering or construction industry.  We’re not swapping out one software application for another.  I’m not even sure there’s a “one to one” swapping of 95% of the traditional (usually CAD) project process for the new (BIM) project process.  That being said, a destructive approach (i.e. wiping out the entire project process and starting from scratch) is neither realistic nor feasible.  So, if we can’t swap out 95% of our current project process, and we can’t wipe out our current project process all together, what do we do?  The answer is, targeted changes to specific parts of the current project process.  Here are some examples of areas that will change:

  • The project phases of a traditional project on the architecture side of things are schematic design, design development, construction documentation and construction administration.  Additionally, these phases generally last for the same lengths of time.  When a project uses BIM, phases can be consolidated into design, documentation and bid/build.  The design phase lasts longer while the documentation phase is shorter.  It’s worth mentioning, however, that the design phase does include conceptual design, schematic design and design development.  The point, though, is that design becomes more important to the project process than documentation.
  • In the construction industry, estimates tend to be manual.  Finishes, door hardware, and windows, for example, all tend to be manually counted, measured and quantified using a spreadsheet (i.e. Excel).  There is no link back to the design or the construction documents.  Changes made to the design need to be filtered through to the CDs to the estimates.  When costs are found to be too expensive in an estimate, that needs to be communicated back, considered in the design (which in turn gets updated in the CDs and on and on…).  With a project done in BIM, there is a conversation being continually had by all parties (technologically, or model to model, not verbally).  Therefore, estimates are derived directly from the model.  The oft used phrase is, a change anywhere is a change everywhere.  This is exactly what makes the BIM process more efficient.



As I write this, and think about it, we really are applying a destructive process, it’s just hard to see it because it takes a long time.  If there are 10 steps to your traditional project process, a year from now those steps might be unrecognizable.  The point is, an analysis of your current project process will allow you, and your BIM Advisor, to see what the most essential, immediate and easily changeable steps of your project process are.  After that, you can devise a plan on how to integrate them.

I’ve also been saying a lot that BIM is not Revit, and that Revit is just one piece of software under the BIM umbrella.  Your question to me, then, should be, How and where does Revit fit in? Revit starts and facilitates the project process.  Revit is where design and documentation initially happens.  It is where your building information model is born.  As the design and documentation phases proceed, it is where your building information model grows.  But, (ignoring home schooling) just like children, they cannot learn, adapt and mature only within your home.  They need to explore, and be explored, in other applications to see how it reacts to other models (i.e. MEP or structure), how it effects, and is effected by, the environment.  Once these lessons are learned, the information gathered, can be applied back to the model in Revit, in the form of design changes (I didn’t want to take the children metaphor further because it would be something like the child comes back and lives with his parents).  Eventually, the model can, although doesn’t have to, leave the Revit realm as it’s given to the builders who might want to run it through cost estimation and construction scheduling applications.  The point is, Revit acts as, more or less, the main software application within the BIM process.

You Want to Integrate BIM into your Business but You Don’t Know Where to Start

30 Mar , 2011  

“BIM!  BIM!  BIM!  I’ve heard about BIM, and I want to…  What is BIM?  I don’t want BIM, I want Revit.  I don’t want Revit, I want BIM.  OK, BIM, Revit, I get it now, how can I integrate into my…” I’ve heard this a lot and and what I have found, as someone who manages BIM at an architecture firm as well as someone who consultants on the use and integration of it within the Architecture/Engineering/Construction communities, is that the more information you can give me, the better I can tailor my presentation to you about how BIM can benefit you as well as how you can integrate it into your company.  The question is, why is that?  The reason is exactly the same as why people struggle to get over the initial hump/learning curve/paradigm shift of a transition to BIM in and of itself.  BIM involves a lotta stuff!!! Then, once you get into an actual software application (i.e. Revit, Navisworks, Ecotect, etc.), they do a lotta stuff too!! When I, and you, have a better understanding of what it is you and your organization do (and want to do), we can figure out which aspects of BIM, and its associated applications, will be most beneficial to you.  Otherwise you’ll hear phrases like:

 

  • You can make a change in one place and it makes that change everywhere!
  • Everything is in 3D!
  • You can create automatic schedules!
  • Need a section drawing?  Put in a section line!
  • Construction documents are done for you!
  • You never have to draw again!
  • There will be zero change orders!

 

It’s not to say that a lot of these points aren’t correct but (or almost correct), but odds are, you’ll respond to me in the same way, I swear, someone did recently, “Scott, I’m going to stop you right there because I don’t know what the f*#k you’re talking about.”  I actually was hysterically laughing after that was said, but it was a good point.  Since then, I’ve insisted to those I was advising that they tell me as much as possible about the way they work and what they’re looking to achieve.   So, the first question is, what kind of company are you?  Architecture firm?  Engineering firm?  Construction company?  The answer to this will determine the extent to which you actually need to use BIM.  It’s most important to get your current practices in a BIM environment and then, once they are comfortably integrated, explore what else you could be doing.  There are, however, some questions to consider that are independent of which of the three industries you’re in.  That being said, the answers could be quite different for each industry.  These questions include, but are not limited to, the following:

 

  • What types of projects do you do?
    • This is especially important because, initially, we need to figure out which software applications you need. Additionally, it’ll allow us to begin to determine which aspects of those applications we need to focus on developing processes for. For example, Revit might not, by default, have a single button that will simultaneously create quantity takeoffs and apply costs to them.  That being said, if it’s a process that you consistently go through, an automated set of tasks can be set up to do just that.
  • How many people in your office will be working in Revit?
    • This will tell us how many licenses of Revit you need to purchase and, if there will be many people, whether you need to buy standalone copies or a network license.  Additionally, and this will come up in the next question, how many people do you need to purchase computer hardware for?
  • Do you have the computer hardware capable of handling Revit?
    • Revit is a fairly intensive program that requires somewhat powerful hardware.  Additionally, the latest version of Revit, 2011 (soon to be 2012) requires Windows 7 (preferably the 64-bit version).  Do your computers have it?  Do the have enough RAM and are their processors and graphics cards powerful enough.  You don’t want to spend a lot of money on copies of Revit and find that your hardware can’t handle it.
  • Do you have a person, internally or externally, who can act as technical support?
    • Depending on the skill level of project team members that you either have or are planning on hiring, it is usually a good idea to have a go-to-person who you can rely on for installation and upgrade issues, quick teaching tasks, technical support and any other advice that will help you make more informed decisions about how best to proceed with BIM.
  • Will people need to be trained?
    • If people will need to be trained, which is likely, you’ll need to decide how you would like this training to be done.  Do you want to bring someone into your office?  If so, you’ll need to have space and both the software and hardware set up and working.  Do you want to rent a space?  If so, you’ll pretty much need the same things.  Do you want to hire a service?  If so, you’ll need to locate one and arrange a time for everyone to attend.  Additionally, no mater which way you choose to go, you’ll have to be prepared for these people to be out of service, and therefore non-billable, for the entire time.  I’ve often seen people step out of training for phone calls or emails and they tend to miss valuable lessons.
  • Do you have an existing set of graphical (and/or more specifically CAD) standards?
    • Just as with CAD, a set of standards is important to be able to create a template in Revit which will ensure that all of your deliverables (ie. drawing sheets) look as you expect them to look both architecturally as well as graphically.  The creation of template can be an extensive process depending on the extent with which you will be using Revit.
  • What types of deliverables do you create at the various submittal milestones?
    • The types of products that you produce for various recipients will help to assess which best practices need to be determined.  For example, if you tend to issue drawing sheets, you’ll need to consider, for example, sheet size and title blocks.  If you issue schedules (or spreadsheets), you’ll need to have them set up to extract the type of data you want, quantify and calculate it based on your normal processes, and then display it as you normally would.
  • What are the typical objects that you use (or draw) in your drawings from project to project (i.e. curtain walls, furniture, structural beams, HVAC ducts, etc.)?
    • Computers in general increase the speed in which we doing things by giving us a library of predefined options to choose from.  For example, which type in a word processing program, the list of available fonts is a library of choices.  With Revit, it is very helpful to have a library, or kit of parts, that you can use over and over for the typical work you do.  If you use a specific manufacturers furniture, having a library of all of their furniture, modeled in three dimensions for Revit, make it very easy to drag and drop them into your space and then schedule their properties based on data that has been built into them.
  • What are the typical calculations you perform while producing drawing and/or estimations on projects?
    • As previously mentioned, to keep you from having to set up schedules which will perform your commonly used calculations and estimations, we can set them up to automatically extract the necessary information and quantify them as you normally would.  That being said, it is helpful to both know and understand how and why those calculations are done.
  • What three-dimensional work are you currently doing for both production as well as design purposes?
    • This question can have two possible outcomes depending on your answers.  If you’re doing 3D work currently, we can recreate and enhance the way that you’re doing it by using the model that you’re already building.  If you’re not doing any 3D work, it is important to learn how you can use the tool for both production as well as design purposes.  Most likely, you’re familiar with the fact that you can create 3D, wireframe models, renderings, etc. for printing and presenting to people.  It’s important to understand that by designing and modeling in both two dimensions and three dimensions simultaneously, you can ensure that your drawings, calculations, cost estimations and analyses are more accurate.

 

These questions, and their answers, should get you to a point where your firm is producing similar products that you were with your old, most likely CAD, system, and you are beginning to see increased productivity and reduced costs.  As time goes on, personnel will become more facile with the software, they’ll strategize better and work will get done even faster.  At that point, you can begin asking the next set of questions which will allow you to start doing what you didn’t, or couldn’t, do before.  The following questions are the second half of the sentence, “Can the work your firm does benefit from…”:

 

  • …advanced three-dimensional coordination of building information models from various consultants (i.e. structural, MEP, lighting, etc.)?
  • …three-dimensional detailing?
  • …automated cost estimating and quantity take-offs?
  • …energy modeling?
  • …sustainability analysis?
  • …life safety simulation?
  • …facilities management?

 

Needless to say, there are many other things that BIM can do, but these questions, and their answers, will allow you to make better decisions when a project starts.  This early strategizing informs the BIM process helping you to create what is know as a purpose-built model.  That is to say, a model built for the purpose of…(see the previous list).   Understand what integrating BIM into your office really means.  Understand that it’s more than installing Revit.  Furthermore, understand that the use of BIM, and or Revit, is not simply a technology issue.  If anything, it is important that everyone understand (each up to an appropriate point) what you’re getting yourself into and how it will change everything from the software you’re using, the submittals you’re generating, the way you staff projects, assemble fees and create project schedules.  Most importantly, get someone to help you.  Revit is not the 2025 version of AutoCAD, and having someone who has been through it before can help you prepare for it, avoid pitfalls and help you deal with the inevitable issues that will arise.

How to Talk about BIM/Revit without Knowing that Much about BIM/Revit

18 Mar , 2011  

I decided to write this post for a certain family member of mine in the construction industry who needs to be able to talk about BIM/Revit, but doesn’t really need to know all the little in’s and out’s of it. So here’s my list:

  • Understand the differences between BIM and Revit – What is BIM?  What is Revit?  I tried to explain this by saying BIM is to CAD as Revit is to AutoCAD.  I really thought that would have cleared it up but, alas, it didn’t.  So, first I’ll say that BIM, or Building Information Modeling, is the overall process of creating a three dimensional database, in the form of a model of information that pertains to the design of a building.  Notice a few things in that definition: first, I used the words that make up the BIM acronym.  Here’s the sentence again: BIM is the overall process of creating a three dimensional database, in the form of a model of information that pertains to the design of a building.  Second, notice that I never used the word Revit.  Under this BIM umbrella, there are many software applications that lead to an efficient design of space.  While Revit just so happens to be one of them, it is just that, one of them.  Revit can certainly be considered the main application under the BIM umbrella, but other applications are designed to perform certain functions which Revit either has minimal functionality to do, or, cannot do at all.  For example, other BIM applications include Ecotect and Green Building Studio which are designed to test the efficiency of a design with regards to the environments impact on it and it’s impact on the environment.  Navisworks, another BIM application, brings building information models from various disciplines together in a single environment to see how the physically interact allowing designers to make necessary adjustments before construction begins.  And there are more but, for the moment, see the image below to understand it a bit better.

  • Be aware that there’s more than one discipline version of Revit – If you have a keen eye, you’ll notice in the image above that I list Revit three times with different disciplines.  This isn’t wishful thinking, there are three different discipline versions of Revit.  Each one has tools geared to that particular discipline.  Fortunately, however, all three have been designed to speak the same language and therefore a model created in one can be inserted into the modeling space of the others.  The typical process of multiple disciplines working together in Revit is as follows:
    • The Architect will begin building the design model in Revit Architecture.
    • At an agreed upon time, the Architect will send his model to the Structural and MEP Engineers.
    • Each discipline will link the architecture model into their own work space within the discipline version of Revit of their choice (i.e. Revit MEP or Revit Structure).  When I say link, I mean that they are telling their own discipline versions of Revit to connect to the model that the architect sent and show it graphically within the same space.
    • Once linked in, each discipline will begin their own work inserting, for the Structural Engineers, beams, trusses and columns and, for MEP Engineers, ducts, pipes and electrical connections.
    • Next the engineers will send their individual models back to the Architect (without the model that the Architect originally sent to them).
    • The Architect will link each model into his architecture model, and they will show up in their correct locations.  Additionally, all objects that the engineers created will contain all original information inserted within them.

 

This process will continue on a regular schedule allowing each discipline to continually have up-to-date information.

 

  • Be aware that there’s more than one year and number version of Revit – Each year, Autodesk (the makers of Revit) come out with an updated version of Revit.  For example, the current version of Revit is 2011.  As the year goes on, Autodesk will release small updates that fix little problems that have come up over time (and were reported to them by users) as well as new features they have been developing.  Every time these updates are released, what is called a build number is added to the end of the version of Revit.  For example, the current build of Revit is 20100903_2115.  All interested parties (i.e. people who will need to either view or work in the model) will need to have the same year and build version of Revit.  These numbers are consistent from Revit Architecture to Structure to MEP.  The other reason this is important is because once saved in the current version, the model CANNOT be saved down to an earlier version.
  •  

  • Understand that there are no such things a Revit drawings – When a project is AutoCAD-based, each individual file is a drawing file.  Therefore you can ask someone,can you send me the drawings in AutoCAD format?”  With Revit, if you require all information about the project, you’re more likely to ask for the Revit model.  If you need individual drawing sheets, you can still ask for AutoCAD drawings.  You could also simply ask for PDFs of the drawing sheets.  If you are working in Revit and someone asks you for drawing files, you can extract from the model individual, or a complete set, of drawing sheets in AutoCAD or PDF format.
  •  

  • Understand that an AutoCAD-based project uses many files while a Revit-based project uses, in most cases, a single file – AutoCAD-based projects are typically set up by having individual files representing individual drawing-types (i.e. plans, sections and elevations) inserted into individual files representing individual drawing sheets.  If you extrapolate that out for a large project, you can imagine the possibility of having many, many files.  Revit-based projects, on the other hand, tend to be a single model file within which specific-drawing types are set up as views of that model.  Additionally, within that same file, sheets are set up with those views placed on them.  Since all of these views and sheets come from the single model, you can make changes to that model in an view (or sheet), and that change will show up everywhere else (thus the phrase, “a change anywhere is a change everywhere”).  With all information in a single Revit model, Revit project files tend to be fairly large which is why to work with Revit efficiently, more powerful computers are required.
  •  

  • Understand that while working in Revit, you’re working in both two dimensions and three dimensions at the same time – When you click the wall tool, for example, in Revit, you indicate it’s length, width and height simultaneously.  Even if you’ve created the wall in a plan view, if you switch to a three dimensional, section or elevation view, you will see that the height is also represented.  This is the case for all types of objects in Revit.  I mention this because often times you might hear someone say (or even be the person to say it), “we don’t need to use Revit because we’re not doing any work in 3D.”  This is really a misnomer because, “working in 3D” doesn’t just mean creating renderings and animations.  If you are creating plans, sections and elevations, you’re working in three dimensions.  Period.
  •  

  • Understand what BIM Standards are and that they’re contained within template filesWhen an office decides to use Revit as their standard platform, they choose various graphical settings, known as standards, which dictate how, in most cases, drawings look when they go out the door.  Some examples of these settings could be line thicknesses (or line weights), text fonts and font sizes, title blocks and scales (i.e. 1/8″ = 1′-0″ for plans and 3″ = 1′-0″ for details).  When a new project is started in Revit, the person in charge of BIM efforts for that project will use a file (typically set up by an offices’ BIM Manager) which contains all of these settings.  This file is known as a template file.  Often times, you will be asked for your offices’ BIM Standards.  If you do not have them documented, you can send your template file instead as 99% of your BIM Standards are contained within it.

 

Now that you have some knowledge of what is important to know about BIM/Revit, you need to be able to go and find out how the different aspects of BIM will affect you whether you’re the architect, a consultant, a contractor or a sub-contractor.  Therefore, what questions should you ask when a Revit-based project is either proposed or about to start?

 

  • What year and build version of Revit is this project using?
    • Remember, all parties need to be using the same year and build version of Revit so that everyone’s data can be exchanged easily.
  • Is there a specific template file, and therefore BIM Standards, being used that all parties should be conforming to?
    • If you are not coordinating the efforts of all interested parties, and therefore don’t have a template file containing BIM Standards you’d like everyone to use, it is likely that whomever is filling this role does have one.  It is helpful to get and use this template as a starting point for your Revit model to ensure an easy transfer of data from you to whomever you might be sending your data to.
  • Has a Revit model been started and can we use it as a basis for our work?
    • An existing model will give you a head start on your own work because you can bring it into Revit and use it as a host for what you need to put into it, be it additional design work (i.e. a curtain wall), an HVAC system or a structural system.
  • If there isn’t a Revit model built, do you have AutoCAD drawings you can send?
    • Even if a Revit model has not be built for the project, AutoCAD plan drawings can be inserted into your Revit model to be used as a background for you to model off of.
  • What is the schedule for uploading and downloading BIM data?
    • Establishing a schedule for the exchange of data will allow you to establish more realistic deadlines.
  • How often will BIM Coordination meetings be scheduled?
    • Regularly scheduled BIM Coordination meetings, possibly even weekly, will allow all interested parties to continually ensure that their part of the design works well physically with the rest of the design.
  • Will Navisworks be used for 3D Coordination?
    • As previously stated, Autodesk Navisworks is a software application that can bring together 3D models from multiple applications and analyze how they physically interact looking specifically for unintended clashes.

 

The above seven points of knowledge and seven questions should give you a basic understanding of the important points of BIM and Revit as well as an idea of what important questions you should ask to begin your work.  This is just the beginning of the process and Revit Essentials or Project Manager training can only increase your ability to make good decisions when it comes to staffing, budgeting and scheduling of a Revit-based project.