There was a time when architects, designers and engineers delivered reams of blueprint documentation throughout the design and construction of a building project.
From the first pen stroke, multiple revisions of the design needed to be created, ultimately resulting in the final as-built drawings of the completed building. At the handover of the completed building project to the owner/facilities manager, the architects, designers and engineers would supply a mountain of blueprint plans and technical manuals for later reference.
Then CAD became the key design tool and a digital record was kept in conjunction with plans that were printed from the digital record but, again, at the end of the job the files would be archived and rarely referred to.
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Now, with building information modelling (BIM), there is a wealth of information stored within the 3D building models that also generate the construction and, ultimately, as-built drawings. Every component that makes up a building (from lights, bricks and furniture to carpet, air conditioners and paint finishes) is represented in 3D like their real-world counterparts. These ‘digital building blocks’ also contain direct access to technical, installation and maintenance information. This can provide a massive impact on the cost of maintaining the building in the real-world. Estimates are that BIM can reduce facilities management costs over the life of the building by 30% through higher speed of accessing accurate information on building components and better managed maintenance regimes.
The discussion now is about the digital asset being delivered with the physical asset. That digital asset is the BIM model containing all of the relevant information on the elements that make up the building at a level of detail that most of us would find excruciating to manage.
The simplicity, however, lies in the fact that information is conveyed in the form of clickable 3D elements embedded in a 3D model of the entire building and classifiable data embedded within these elements that can be exported, reported and analysed in a seemingly endless number of ways. Perhaps best of all, this information becomes accessible to all forms of trades people requiring the information via computers and mobile devices.
What is happening right now is that building product manufacturers (BPM) are creating digital BIM catalogues of their products so that designers can simply download and place these objects into their building project 3D models. The beauty for the BPM is that all of their technical information is conveyed directly into the designer’s drawings and schedules. For the BPMs who have already created BIM product catalogues – such as Dulux and Britex – that are freely available for download from their websites, there are obvious rewards on offer as time-poor designers are likely to use these products over equivalent products on the market that don’t have digital BIM catalogues. Hence, by contrast, they cannot simply be placed in their design/BIM model.
Of course as the larger property developers, facility owners and governments become more BIM savvy the demand/mandate for all future buildings to be handed over with an accompanying digital BIM asset will continue to increase. Gone are the days of the drawing board and blueprints.
This is causing technology problems and opportunities as these large files need to be close at hand and stay that way for the building’s lifetime, not just of the build phase, but also for the product lifecycle. IT is evolving to allow different ways to store and access these tools but not fast enough for most of the design and maintenance industry. Companies are struggling with file access permissions, storage capacity, potential changes in BIM software authoring format(s), security concerns, archival and backup issues and cost blowouts in maintaining the access over extended periods. In the tight margin building game, people are not used to allowing for thousands of dollars a year to keep servers spinning to maintain access to their BIM records.
Cloud is beginning to offer solutions with centralised storage tools, but the costs of storage and high speed access is still an issue in Australia. It is definitely a technology arena at the forefront of innovation that is making it hard for the industry to keep up.
It is not a time for any in this market place to be complacent or trust in old technology or old technologists, from the software developers to the 3D design houses, engineers, architects through to the maintenance shops and facilities managers. The opportunity to get the jump on competitors by being up to date with technology has not been this strong since the implementation of CAD CAM systems were introduced.
David Markus is the founder of Combo – the IT services company that is known for solving business problems with IT. How can we help?