Are you really in control of communications around your 3D models?

Many different means of communication exist today to help all the stakeholders deliver construction projects. Haven’t you ever heard « there is nothing better than a phone call to solve a problem »? It’s true, but people tend to forget to share the end results of the call and evolution of the discussion between individuals with other colleagues, so when the problem comes again, the same discussions happen over and over again.

Emails are an effective way to communicate, but a mailbox is not a management tool. We get so many emails a day, that it can takes an hour or two every day to read all our emails, answer and classify them. Plus, you must take notes on the side to remember what you need “to do”. Also, mailboxes are not shared with any of your colleagues so if someone goes on vacation with valuable information in its mailbox, waiting for an answer, the rest of the team may have to grin and bear it till he’s back.  As for the other communication methods, letters are for lawyers and faxes from the 20th century.

Theses communications methods have two things in common, they have poor management capacities and they are not linked to 3d models. In a project involving 3D modeling and coordination, whether it’s during the design or during the pre-construction phase, a lot of communications must take place and time is limited.

First off, what makes a successful project? Apart from good technical skills, we have identified 4 pillars to a successful project:

  • Communications are very important. Most people take things for granted because of the experience they have, and because they imagine that other people will act in a certain way. This results in lots of waiting or re-work.
  • Same thing for data accessibility, if the information is not available, people will wait for an answer, or even put their work aside until they get the answer. Delaying tasks is very inefficient and may impact others schedule.
  • When you don’t put in place a system to track problems or questions, people get overwhelm by the magnitude of the things to solve. Doubt and confusion kicks-in and a lot of energy is wasted.
  • Understanding the background behind an issue is essential to learn from our mistakes, adapt our methods and improve our project execution performance.

Here are some things that must be tracked during the design and construction process, and in between:

  • During the design phase, there is a cycle that brings together the client, architect, engineers, maybe a construction manager and other consultants. At this stage, the team must communicate clashes, requests, missing information, code non-compliance, unmet scope requirements, and other model related issues.
  • Then, during the construction phase, the General Contractor or the Construction manager begin the coordination to build what was intended during the design phase.  They also have a lot of model related issues to share and track such as clashes, propositions, requirements validation, they must flag missing information in the design documentation, request and much more.
  • The most crucial elements to track, because of contractual implications, are the communications between the design team and construction team such as request for information, replacements submittals, constructability issues, conformity issues, etc.

Users now understand that detecting issues with clash detection software, is not the same thing as issue management in an issue tracking platform. Most tools are designed to detect issues but have poor management features to have those issues solved in time. Even if a model had no clash, it does not mean nothing needs to be discussed around the model, for instance during a design review meetings or during value engineering sessions.

The typical, and not optimal, model coordination workflow first start when the BIM modellers are creating the models in their favorite authoring software. Then they share the models with the BIM managers and coordinators. The BIM managers or coordinators are merging the models, they inspect the models for quality insurance, run a clash analysis and inspect clashes. They compile the issues and comments in a report and share the report with other stakeholders. Those stakeholders read, annotate and share the reports back to the BIM modellers to correct the models using their authoring BIM software. Finally, the modellers are returning the revised models to the data sharing environment with solved and unsolved issues. They must annotate the report if they want to report back the elements they fixed.

Because different versions of the same information can coexist in different mailboxes and locations, it is obvious that information might be lost or produced twice in this process and lead to late schedule or cost overrun. The problems with typical model coordination workflows are:

  • There is No link with the models;
  • Reports contains only textual description of the issues;
  • Valuable time is wasted searching for the issues in the authoring software;
  • There are multiple channels and formats to share information;
  • It’s hard to follow and control the history and evolution of communications around the issues;
  • You end-up working in silos;
  • There is a substantial risk of losing the control over the process and failing to solve issue on time.

We hear you say: « we use save viewpoints in the model to share issues, isn’t it enough? »

  • The viewpoints method is a file based process which requires file management for model version exchange;
  • This results in delayed communications and it can be very harmful in a fast track project;
  • File based means status of viewpoints don’t change instantly and you and your colleague might both be working on solving the same issues;
  • It also means no or poor reporting capabilities;
  • It can require the use of expensive software just to see the issues;
  • Interoperability between different platforms is not possible;
  • It doesn’t provide a web based universal access so software installation may be required.

BIM Track improves this workflow by managing the issues. The BIM modelers create the models and share with the BIM managers and coordinators. They, in turn merge the models, inspect it for quality insurance, run clash analysis, verify information and so on.  They both publish issues directly to BIM Track and both have instant access to it. Now that issues are centralized with BIM Track, the rest of the project team can access the issue list through the web browsers using mobile device or computer without the need to download and install any software.

The best comes with in with the add-ins developed for Revit, Navisworks, Tekla and other upcoming connections under development. It allows the users to stay “In-context” for optimal focus and efficiency so that they are not distracted by switching between different software. You might wonder how we connect the different platforms through the cloud. Well, we use the BIM Collaboration Format (BCF) and our issues are structured around this BCF format which is open format and developed by buildingSMART to provide interoperability with software from different vendors. In a few words, a BCF contains:

  • Georeferenced coordinates and orientation (viewpoints);
  • Images “screenshots” taken at issue creation;
  • Attributes such as identification, title, description, assignation, etc.

BIM Track’s improved Open BIM coordination workflow goes like this:

  • First, Modeling can be done with software that may not be from the same vendors because users have diverse needs. Once they are ready to share their models, they export it as IFC file format, upload the IFC to BIM Track, where they can also be downloaded for reference in other software.
  • Once the model review is done, the problems/issues can be published to BIM Track for management and then retrieved back in the modeling software where the issue needs to be fixed.

BIM Track allows interoperability and provide a central repository between a variety of software such as Revit, Vectorworks, DDS-CAD, Archicad, Solibri, Tekla Structure, Tekla BIMsight, Aconex who have BCF file based communications. In addition to the BIM Track add-ins, that are directly integrated in various software package, BIM Track can be integrated to other solution using its open API.

An issue can be created in the different platform and accessed instantly in the others. Here are some popular workflows:

  • A project manager raises an issue in BIM Track web issue dashboard and the modeler access it in Revit to fix it;
  • The GC raise an issue in Navisworks and the project manager accessed in issue dashboard to provide solution;
  • A steel detailer raises an issue in Tekla and another steel detailer access it in another Tekla model because they are collaborating in the same zone;
  • An architect raise an issue in his Revit model and the engineer access it his own structural Revit model;
  • Etc.

Overall, there are many benefits of using an issue tracking software over opting for status quo. For example, an Issue management platform with meta-data will improve research time, a cross-platform solution linking different AEC software using OpenBIM creates direct communication channels, « In Context » issue identification and solving keeps you focused in your day-to-day tool, a web and cloud access with no software installation required engages more people in the BIM coordination process (removing parallel processes) , a simple and intuitive issue-centric interface where discussions take place around visuals, instant update of the issues regardless of what tool you are working with. Why not make the communication easier and more interesting so that people do not have to sweat?  BIM Track’s purpose is not to create results by working hard. It is a platform that says people don’t have to work hard to manage communications and they chose BIM Track because it gives them more time to think and focus on what really matters, the project.

“The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize.”–Shigeo Shingo