illustration by NET Engineering SpA - original images taken from freepik.com
Once upon a time there was BIMThe 7 things we learnt about our way of designing
Last July, Simone Eandi, Technical Director of NET Engineering, gave a well-received talk at the seminar ‘Esperienze BIM per il futuro delle infrastrutture: la tecnologia al servizio della sicurezza’ (BIM experiences for the future of infrastructures – technology at the service of security), organised by Nord_Ing in co-operation with One Team with the aim of reflecting on Italian infrastructure development through analysis of the policies and most interesting projects in progress with BIM methodology. The first part of the talk, in which Eandi analyses the main points that engineering has learnt in the years of increasingly widespread use of BIM, is given below. A second article will follow centred on the developments and opportunities that new software and new technologies offer to engineering design
Some time ago, I said that I would never take part in another conference on BIM because I thought that talking about BIM in 2019 would be superfluous. Yet, here I am again to talk about this software and its applications. This time, however, I want to do it from a particular standpoint that enables us to look at BIM and the world that orbits around it from a different point of view – changing perspective helps us to seize new opportunities for growth, development and innovation.
Before concentrating on the possible evolutions rotating around BIM, I believe it’s essential to look back and analyse what we’ve learnt in the last few years, when we’ve used this tool more and more often and with increasing intensity and professionalism.
1. Beware marketing!
First of all, we need to distinguish between what BIM is and what is passed off as the essence of BIM. BIM is not just Revit, Tekla and Navigator but also Google Earth or Google Maps. BIM is fantastic, universal software that accepts all types of data and it’s very easy to automate. Even our dental technologist has used something similar to BIM since the 1990s. He or she used (and still uses) a laser scanner to take a dental impression and view its product, i.e. our dental arch, in a 3D model that includes data within it.
2. Situations that are bad for BIM
As the second point, we’ve learnt that there are some situations that are really harmful to BIM and, from my point of view, they can be grouped in two figures. The first is what I call a ‘bimmizzator’, i.e. someone who goes to the market saying, “You do the project how you want, use CAD, develop it in traditional 2D then I’ll bimmizz it”. I think this is perverse because it distorts the concept behind BIM, or modelling as you design. The second element is what I call ‘BIM machismo’, i.e. the tendency to include elements on elements, that generate increasingly complex models, difficult to handle and more or less useless because some data could be represented in another form, for example with numerical data, a string of text or a card attached.
3. Ability to move across the softwares
Then we’ve also learnt that there’s a need for a great ability to move transversally to the software and know how to use more than one sort. It’s essential to understand when it’s appropriate to use one tool and when a completely different one should be used. Sometimes a fast tool is needed; at other times, we need to go into detail and so require a software that enables us to have a more detailed representation, more slowly.
4. Computational design is the key to go further
The fourth point I’d like to stress is the potential of computational design. Technologies like CAD or even some BIM software have changed our way of designing and made the process more efficient but they haven’t been a true change of paradigm. More evolved tools, like those that come from computational design, could, however, lead to a revolution in the very process of design.
5. Data sharing: the cloud and its enemies
The fifth thing that we’ve learnt is related to the data and sharing it. The most efficient, fastest and probably cheapest way of sharing data is the cloud. Yet today the cloud is still having difficulty spreading because, for example, of problems linked to security, availability and the ownership of data, flaunted as imminent threats by the IT departments of companies. The attitude is certainly justified but it hinders the development of the cloud and truly integrated design.
6. The dynamics change
Further, BIM affects not only the way of designing but also the internal dynamics of the work group. In a BIM co-ordination meeting, the roles are not necessarily as clear as they are in front of a paper table, where the project director or technical director directed the contents of the meeting. When BIM comes into play, it’s the BIM specialists who, by manoeuvring the model, guide the meeting, even though they aren’t necessarily the people with the greatest technical and design skill.
7. Power is nothing without control
As the advert for a well-known brand of tyres said, and this is the last aspect that I want to highlight, “power is nothing without control”. Having a mountain of data doesn’t relieve the designer of the need to understand the context, to tread the ground. This is an essential element; seeing for yourself the items at the centre of the design activity and their positioning in the real environment, observing the context you have to design in, understanding how an existing infrastructure is made. These are all aspects that it’s not easy to grasp through a simple survey or a point cloud. In addition, by visiting the environment where the work will be created, you can take note of everything that the laser scanner doesn’t see, like the social dynamics or the complexity of the area.
The 7 points I’ve just summarised help us to reflect on the mistakes to avoid in the future and can guide us in the difficult task of seizing new opportunities and the subsequent developments that technological evolution will make available to our profession, with the awareness that the ability to look ‘beyond BIM’ will be increasingly necessary…