August 02, 2010
Six Degrees of Model Detail
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News
Six Degrees of Model Detail
By Susan Smith

The AIA National Convention 2010 held in Miami this year in June highlighted how far Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) and Building Information Modeling (BIM) have come in the past year.

Sean Flaherty, CEO, Nemetschek North America, said their company focused on BIM workflows and promoted what they call “Open BIM,” which is BIM workflows based on open standards. Nemetschek showcased a number of different products used in conjunction with their Vectorworks on design projects.

Scia Engineer, the structural analysis package offered by sister company Nemetschek Scia, was used in a demo of an office project of an all steel multi-story building where users were interchanging the files using AIA IPD workflow between Vectorworks and Scia.

“We showed the “Level of Detail” (LOD) 200 kind of exchange for structural information and the LOD 300 and that's been building on a story that we've been pushing all year,” said Flaherty. “I think BIM tools are finally getting to the point that they're working fairly well and their interoperability is getting pretty strong. I think the burden is shifting back to the customers to actually find a way to put this into their practice.”

DC Riverside office building project featured in Nemetschek's Open BIM presentation at AIA. The project was a collaboration between Nemetschek North America (using Vectorworks Architect 2010 software), Nemetschek Scia (using Scia Engineer), and DDS-CAD (using MEP 6.5).

This has resulted in a lot of training done by Nemetschek this year and the production of many demo materials. “So we can say now you're doing more modeling, here's how you can use that information with other applications. Scia is a sister product of Vectorworks and DDS-CAD, our MEP design program, can be integrated around a Vectorworks design.”

BIM Files for Submission

Flaherty commends the AIA with doing a really good job of defining a practical structure for doing BIM and sharing BIM among the different parties.

“We've been building workflows based on their recommendations,” said Flaherty. “They're one of the only ones in the world that deals with the issue of model detail. You've seen it a lot where people say they've delivered this BIM project or this new contracting agency requires BIM files for submission, but nobody actually says what that means. So what level of detail do you actually need to put into that model? The AIA has rigorously gone through and defined five levels of model detail and in your contract you can just refer to these -- this contract requires an LOD 400 model delivery and here's what that means. That means you have to have not just the structural elements but you have to have the structural connectors, the doors specified with hardware.” This deals with the big issue with BIM -- how are you going to handle the exchange legally?

Flaherty explained that LOD 100 is really volumetric space, almost like bubble diagram level, but a bit more detailed. LOD 400 is a fully manufacturable model that you can take to full fabrication for steel and other elements. Most architectural deliveries are going to happen at 200 and 300 levels.

This level of specificity has come about because more government agencies are starting to have BIM requirements in their RFPs. “Customers are coming to us and asking what does this mean -- the contract says you have to deliver BIM?” said Flaherty. “So we call the contracting officer and get a copy of the RFP and it doesn't really tell you what they want, it just says 'file shall be delivered as BIM file.' So to me, that's people pushing technology without understanding what it is. There's not going to be any value added from that.

“I think the agencies like the GSA and their requirements are brilliant,” Flaherty pointed out, “They have the advantage of being a really large agency. They go to all the vendors and say here's what we're going to start requiring in a year, and here are the specifications in detail and here's the test to make sure you're compatible. You have a year to make it work for your customers. I think they're going to see a lot of advantage from BIM in the GSA built buildings because they're really specifying the parts of BIM that are most productive for them.”

Nemetschek's website includes a webinar on the IPD process, BIM delivery, and AIA certified CEU. In the U.S. there is a specification now that includes the technology side but also the legal framework. A big part of IPD is some contracts you can use to structure the entity, so if there's a mistake in the model, the architect doesn't take a disproportional hit from the liability.

“And that's the big missing piece,” said Flaherty. “As we go around introducing Scia to customers, the first thing everyone asks, they like the idea of shifting from the model from Vectorworks to Scia, that's what they want but they're afraid to do it.” They are of problems in case there is a mistake, and worried about who will pay for the mistake.

The AIA new contract documents now cover that.

The AIA obviously works closely with the vendors to publish their specifications. The LOD 300 should show these elements. Flaherty said they explain how to get the LOD in Vectorworks. “We're taking the IPD program and interpreting it in terms of Vectorworks workflows for the customer. Someone has t o say check this box and preferences to make sure you have all of this additional 3D detail that the model is going to require.”

In the past, customers have been daunted by huge BIM models. “In the entire building we can show full lock set hardware detail in the rendered view, but a doorknob has far more geometry than the door itself so you can make your model gigantic if you do things like that. So why turn things on you don't need?” said Flaherty. “We're interpreting the AIA standards into the Vectorworks workflow.”

Economic Response

Flaherty said that the industries that are primarily government funded have weathered the economic storm much better. Nemetschek has seen a shift in their landscaping side of the business away from garden designers and garden planners to land planners because a lot of counties and municipalities are on regular ten year master planning cycles.

“By law, a state requires all its counties every ten years to update all their master plans, so that money kept coming in, so the firms on our side became more interested in GIS and maybe a little less interested in landscaping, because you can put off landscaping for a couple of years to save money,” Flaherty explained. “The same thing happened on the pure architectural design side -- schools are long term planned so if you're in an institutional market those people have done better than multifamily residential which really got devastated. I think we've seen that buying pattern change, it makes a lot of sense that we're seeing larger institutional repeat customers and the residential guys are coming back a little better over last 3-4 months.”

“We've seen about eight months steady recovery now across the board for the first time, buildings still seem relatively flat but there are more inquiries, which is making architectural base customers more optimistic.”

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