"Why isn't this universal yet," is the question that ran through the four BIM conferences I have attended in four years. Agreement is universal that BIM ought to be wonderful for all involved, but then is offset by the brow-furrowing over those who have not (or cannot) implement it fully -- or at all. When we consider that BIM arrived with ArchiCAD more than two decades ago, the impatience is understandable. Think of MCAD operating without CAM.
(BIM is short for "building information modeling," and describes that software that some architects are using to design buildings and incorporate information that can be reused in later stages, such as during construction and operation. Think 3D CAD + BOM. The drawback to incorporating all information is that then all details must be modeled, resulting in cumbersome -- even unwieldy -- models in large projects.)
CanBIM Vancouver 2017 conference underway
CanBIM Vancouver 2017
I was at last week's annual CanBIM conference in Vancouver, Canada. The organization promotes the use and certification of BIM in Canada, and coordinates with organizations in other countries. Of these, England is the most aggressive in implementing BIM. Canada, like the USA, has, however, a political problem that prevents it from implementing a nation-wide mandate to use BIM: construction is a provincial (state) concern. It is illegal for the federal government to impose a BIM agenda outside of its purview. (A BIM mandate may be enforced for buildings funded by the federal government.) But no province has done so, either; I suspect the reason is ignorance but not in a negative way: BIM is not something government ministers have on their radar, no more than, say, CAM.
We saw this in action at CanBIM, where the keynote speaker was a minister of technology. He was knowledgeable about his portfolio (a pleasant change from most government ministers), and spoke of his plans for high-speed Internet to every home, a $100 million development fund for technology firms, every student from kindergarten to Grade 12 being taught computer programming,...
Government Involvement, or Interference?
But when an attendee asked if the provincial government had plans to mandate BIM for construction projects, the minister talked around the question. I was surprised, given he was at a BIM conference, but also not surprised, as the topic is a niche.
So, BIM cannot be mandated across Canada and USA by government. The workaround is for smaller jurisdictions to mandate it, such as regional hospital systems, cities, and large design-build firms. Then, it might spread to the rest of the country. But it might not, either.
Throughout the conference day, several speakers called on governments to fund BIM, such as subsidizing the high cost of software for SMBs [small and medium businesses] or setting up agencies of some kind or another. That approach is problematic as it is a selective tax cut that favors some businesses over others. Government programs tend to ignore the very small firm of, say, under 50 employees.
Another speaker at CanBIM noted that BIM is used typically by certain disciplines, and in urban areas; other disciplines and firms in rural areas tend not to. Some disciplines lend themselves better to BIM than others. The tight-knitness of urban living allows quicker information sharing -- even a level of peer pressure -- than widely-spaced rural areas. What is crucial to some micro-cultures is inconsequential to others.
BIM As Its Own Enemy
There are, of course, drawbacks inherent in BIM that prevent it from dominating architecture the way parametric CAD did in mechanical design.
Formats are Proprietary. By integrating parametric design with data intensity, BIM software programs have turned themselves into islands. ArchiCAD does not read Vectorworks does not read AllPlan does not read Revit. (The first three are owned by the same software company.) As a result, designers in a geographic area must all use the same program, or else they do not get to work on projects together. Each BIM program is successful in pocketed areas.
When I mentioned this to the architect sitting next to me, he immediately protested, "We have Navisworks!" But not at the design level, to which his neighbor nodded.
BIM vendors love their proprietary formats, for it gives them an economic monopoly over entire regions; and hate it, for it locks them out of other areas. Vectorworks is, for instance, very strong in Japan, so when you do design work in Japan, you use Vectorworks. But among the Big Five Japanese design-construction firms, ArchiCAD is the standard.
(Open Design Alliance last year made Revit's file format non-proprietary by writing a public API that eventually will allow reading, viewing, editing, and writing of RVT and RFA files independently of Revit.)
Data are Complex. The solution to proprietary BIM file formats was invented accidentally by Autodesk to solve the same problem in a different sphere. I won't go into the history of IFCs, except to say that they were invented in 1994 and 15 releases later are still being updated as buildingSmart thinks of more data to add. IFC is bigger than BIM, which is silly.
(IFC is short for "industry foundation class," and is the primary method of exchanging data between BIM design systems and ancillary software, such as analysis and facilities management. buildingSmart is the organization responsible for IFC globally.)
Buildings are One-off. Unlike the mass production that CAM affords (repeated production of a single design under near-ideal conditions), nearly all buildings are unique and built on ground that might or might not be stable before, during, and after construction. Think of building 747s in muddy fields, one at a time, each in a different city, and with different fuselages.
BIM is Non-intuitive. To use BIM properly, designers need to load it with data upfront, working in 3D. This is non-intuitive. Humans sketch some ideas in text or 2D, develop them further, adding details and data later as the path to completion become clear. BIM does not work the way we work.
The other barrier is cost. BIM software is expensive to buy and even expensive to operate, compared to traditional CAD, such as the many under-$1000 AutoCAD knock-offs available today. Don't even bring up the dreadfully expensive solutions to sharing massive data-heavy BIM models with global clients!
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When I think back to the first BIM conference I attended four years ago in Australia, a closing slide seems apropos of what I heard at this year's event:
BIM culture needs to be led from the top
The top needs to know what they're talking about
Presentation at BIM conference in Australia
The problem that the most successful revolutions emerge from below. This is because those below have deep knowledge of their narrow areas, and so are the best suited to finding change that increases efficiency (think introduction of the PC); those at the top have limited knowledge of borad areas, being human, and so are unsuitable to lead wholesale change. (Think Autodesk and Optis insisting on being subscription-only and cloud-only, and so not comprehending the need of significant segments of their user base.)
Yet, BIM is not an isolated agent of change, as were personal computers (or even CAD was) in the early days; BIM requires buy-in from all actors or it's not a buy-in. It requires executive decision-making by executives who don't necessarily realize a decision needs making. This, and the near-anarchistic complexity of construction work sites, is why BIM is doomed to lag in the way that CAM never did.
Nevertheless, as one frustrated CanBIM attendee exclaimed in the line-up for lunch: "BIM has to succeed eventually by us going forward; I can't see us ever going back." http://www.canbim.com
Some of my tweets from the conference: upFront.eZine @upFronteZine Feb 2: Hearing CFO of Mountain Equipment Co-op, high-end outdoor clothing company, on how they reduced energy consumption of new bldgs. #vanbim17
upFront.eZine @upFronteZine Feb 2: Hearing from a firm that designed an office tower that towers on tripod stilts to retain old building that sits underneath. #vanbim17
upFront.eZine @upFronteZine Feb 2: Speaker from UBC says architects spending only 1.5% on R&D, but I think CAD vendors do that mostly. #vanbim17
upFront.eZine @upFronteZine Feb 2: 3D is not necessarily the best way to view a project. Sometimes it makes more sense to search and filter data. #vanbim17
And One More Thing...
Abvent releases Artlantis 6.5 3D visualization software for architects and designers as a free upgrade to Artlantis 6.0 users.
Image in Artlantis from 3D model made in ArchiCAD
The new Render Manager optimizes rendering calculations of images, panoramas and animations on an unlimited number of networked computers -- distributed rendering at no extra charge. Previews are available in draft mode, including ones at high definition. Photo-real renderings add realistic clouds and God rays.
The new release exports to the TMA format read by Abvent's Twinmotion 2016 3D immersion tool. Download the 30-day trial version of Artlantis 6.5 from https://artlantis.com/downloads/
Even More News
There is more at our WorldCAD Accessblog about the CAD industry, tips on using hardware and software, and our popular travelogues. You can keep up with the blog through its RSS feed and email alert service. These are some of the articles that appeared on WorldCAD Access during the last week:
We're on Twitter at @upfrontezine with late-breaking CAD news and wry commentary throughout the day, such as....
upFront.eZine (@upFronteZine) Jan 17: Any comment on the future is opinion, not fact: "$11.6 billion by 2025, according to Goldman Sachs." The .6 faux accuracy is a nice touch.
Letters to the Editor
Re: Betting on DWG for the Ecosystem
My current understanding (and I’m open to correction) is that Quantum is a platform for all things BIM and AEC. I understand that it can and will coexist with the Fusion platform and both are built on common backbone. - Allan Behrens taxal Consulting
The editor replies: "Me, too, but I speculate that Quantum will (have to) extend to other verticals to solve Autodesk's interoperability problem."
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As I read more and more complaints about issues with cloud storage and processing, I keep coming back to a comment I have made several times before: "Most computer users today aren't old enough to remember that the 'P' in PC stands for 'personal', and the tag line of the day was that a PC would free you from the tyranny of being connected to a mainframe computer.
Substitute "cloud" for "mainframe" and we're back where we started. - Bill Fane
The editor replies: It is indeed sad that the elite in Sillycon Valley wish to re-enslave us. When we can't afford their rent, they won't let us farm.
Re: We Talk with Optis about Light
Thanx for another good issue. Very interesting optics stuff. Watched the space probe video: excellent! - Chris
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I am a big fan of upFront.eZine and your insight into the industry. - Chantale
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