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October 27, 2011 / Brendan McFarlane

A BIM Tool For Construction?

Jodrell BankI’m indebted my fellow Middle East BIM blogger Zolna Murray (Debunk The BIM) for raising the issue of it being time we saw a modeller dedicated to construction, because it has been a concept that I have been thinking about for a while as well.  None of the current crop of BIM tools is particularly well suited to the task, being as they were conceived as design tools, and carry a lot of development baggage that makes it hard for them to adapt to a different set of requirements.

I should probably explain what I mean by development baggage, as those outside the software development arena will probably struggle a bit with the twisted analogy I’ve used. When you have a legacy software product, such as, for example, AutoCAD, there is an underlying architecture to the product, it’s DNA if you like, which cannot be altered to any great extent because of the millions of existing users, and billions of existing documents or drawings which rely on it.

This is why you end up with products such as AutoCAD MEP which is a hybrid, with the clever BIM MEP stuff layered as a completely separate system on top of the AutoCAD base program. AutoCAD itself could not be adapted to do the BIM modelling so Autodesk’s developers just use the base program to handle the basic drawing and the general housekeeping of printing and opening files etc.. while the MEP system manages the modelling. It is a bit like those old hybrid DVD/VCRs which you could still play your treasured tapes on while enjoying the full 5.1 DVD experience, and allow you copy the tape material onto disk.

Actually what Autodesk did, was to recognise early that there was never going to be an AutoCAD based future for BIM, so went out and spent $133 million in cash on a Massachusetts-based startup called the Revit Technology Corporation in 2002. But that’s another story…

Existing BIM tools, with their genesis in design are typically overwhelmed by the exponential growth in information required for what the construction world calls shop drawings. A shop drawing can be anything from a detailed isometric used in the fabrication shop for a pipe header, or a site layout with all the grading, cut and fill, road ways and kerbing, or it can be a digital input to an automated CNC machine which cuts and shapes components. You can’t put all this information into a single file based Revit or ArchiCAD BIM model, it would be totally unmanageable.

For most large Middle East based construction companies, where projects are typically hundreds of millions, or billions of dollars, shop drawing production is an offshore commodity, developed in the CAD farms of Bangalore and the Philippines. We are using BIM tools in this process, but we still need to produce 2D shop drawings in addition to the modelling, as the only contribution the model has to the process is coordination.

We are also currently struggling with a very complex shaped counter and seating feature on one high profile project, and none of our standard BIM tools can manage to accurately develop this element to the standards required for fabrication. We will probably end up using Rhino3D or Catia to model it but at the moment it’s bringing clearly into focus the limitations of BIM tools for construction.

So what sort of tool would we need for construction? When I was working in the petrochemical sector many years ago, pounding out drawings on Microstation and AutoCAD, I was introduced to a product which was amazing at the time, and is still one of the leading tools today. PDMS.

PDMS could do things we only dreamed of and we were massively jealous of the guys who got to work of the projects with PDMS. The product has the integration with fabrication and manufacturing already built in, and supports the engineering that goes with it. It also has partner products from the same company (Aveva, a UK company founded in Cambridge) which integrate supply chain management and enterprise solutions. Everything I could ever want from a construction tool would be based on the solutions that Aveva have developed for the shipbuilding, petrochemical and plant design industries.

Aveva are already interested in BIM for their power division, supporting power plant production, which is encouraging, but what they would probably need is one or two of us to work together with them in the same way Frank Gehry did with Dassault and Catia, and drive a new construction based solution onto the market.

Any takers?



Leave a Comment
  1. Anders Lagerås / Oct 27 2011 10:50 pm

    You could take a look at Tekla Structures, it is a BIM tool for construction.

    • Brendan McFarlane / Oct 28 2011 2:36 am

      Thanks Anders, we already use Tekla, but it only covers steel/concrete.

  2. Wahid / Nov 1 2011 9:48 pm

    What are the equivelent tools to PDMS?

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