Next-Gen BIM Tools - Autorouting with Fabrication Content

How BuildingSP uses Data to Power Next-Gen BIM Tools

We recently posted a video that demonstrated interactive clash detection and coordination on the Unity 3D gaming platform. Our video showed important new capabilities for building information modeling (BIM). And… It also included an animated shark, which was important only to point out that we used a non-traditional BIM software platform. We wanted to follow-up and give you more info on what we’re doing, why it’s important, and how you can leverage our work.

The architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry has been actively practicing BIM for longer than a decade. Over the course of many projects, people and companies have developed, refined, and standardized BIM workflows. These workflows vary between firms, often use common platforms, and fold in new software packages that supplement current workflows. But in current practice, BIM today doesn’t feel much different from 2010. There have been few radical advancements with anything other than incremental change.

We want to describe why we think our video, with the laser shark, represents a major course change for how we practice BIM.

BIM coordination of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems has always involved multiple software platforms because designers and contractors all plan their work using different modeling packages – Revit, AutoCAD, CAD-Duct/ CAD-MEP (now Fabrication), Tekla and many others. Autodesk Navisworks has long been the much-loved platform to bring all these different modeling program files together in one place for coordination. In recent years, cloud tools have been developed to replace Navisworks but these tools fall short compared to Navisworks’ usability. (This is both our opinion and what we believe is the generally accepted consensus.)

The drawback to Navisworks, however, is it is a coordination analysis and markup tool. Navisworks cannot make changes to modeled elements, other than transforming individual elements or entire sets of elements. This causes the following workflow steps:

  1. Documentation and markup of clash and coordination issues.
  2. Correction of routing in modeling platforms after coordination sessions.
  3. Re-coordination in Navisworks with updated files.
  4. Status tracking of clash and coordination issues.
  5. BuildingSP is using data to fundamentally change this workflow. Earlier this year, we announced an effort to “unlock” BIM and CAD data from the past projects of contractors, called Project Virga. CAD and BIM files are the DNA of a company – they show everything a contractor has built – and Project Virga originated because we made tech to unify and aggregate all of a MEP contractor’s past project data. Once extracted, we can organize, categorize, analyze, and reference the data to enable innovation in BIM. Our latest video is a demonstration of that leverage.

    In the video, you see an environment much like a typical coordination environment – multiple file types, combined to provide a complete picture of the coordination area. The coordination team can “fly” through the model and look for clashes – shown in red - and other coordination problems. But here’s where our work diverges from current practice. By selecting a MEP element on a route, we can make changes to immediately correct a clash while maintaining system integrity of the MEP route. Let’s say that a different way. You can correct clashes without returning to the original modeling platform!

    Considering the complete workflow, the next step would be to update the original model. As models are coordinated in Unity, we’re tracking all changes to the elements – location changes, re-sizing, and rotations. Using this data, we create a digital log of changes and use automation to make the necessary changes, with prompts from the modeler, if necessary. (If you’ve followed our other work, like ClashMEP and A2P, you know we’re BIM API experts.) This makes a bi-directional coordination workflow. We’re currently focused on Autodesk Fabrication support but will integrate Revit updates very soon.

    This workflow has very clear, immediate advantages. But we consider this work to be a next-generation BIM solution. Why is this a next generation BIM solution?

    The technical answer is the use of abstraction. We often use the word parametric to describe BIM but MEP systems have a curious attribute – they’re almost always connected to related parts in a network. MEP system parameters are shared between connected elements, which means parameters are less important because they can be described at a higher functional level. The connection between elements is more important and REALLY describes a system. We can use a computer science term – abstraction – to describe how we separate parameters into layers, which enables new capabilities. For example, Project Virga separates geometry – the shape of the part – from position data, allowing us to control position by adjusting the connection between elements. This may be a bit technical but here’s the result: when an element is selected and a move requested, we can examine the network of parts to determine how the system moves. In effect, we’re creating parametric systems, powered by data.

    Not convinced this is a next-gen solution? There’s more.

    The key feature we’re demonstrating is usability – the ability to interpret an input in order to make a functionally correct MEP system change. But if we can use a mouse to gather this input, we can certainly use an algorithm and computation - usability applies to both people and machines. Therefore, our clients will soon be using sophisticated MEP auto-routing tools, system configurators, and automatic coordination solution tools. (Remember GenMEP, our work in auto-routing in Revit?) In fact, the Unity 3D environment already has built-in software libraries for Machine Learning.

    Of course, the Unity 3D environment also benefits from many standard gaming engine features – VR / AR support, multi-user environments, mobile and phone interfaces, game controllers, and outstanding performance with complete control of customization. There are many other opportunities.

    In summary, we’re excited and currently starting projects with our clients. We’d love your feedback in the comments and look forward to your questions. In our next post, we'll describe the HUGE benefit of modeling automation for contractors and how generative design tools for construction teams will change the industry.

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