Why BIM Content Creation is a ‘Team Sport’
Having project managed the creation of over 1,000 individual BIM models for Britex products, I am convinced that to achieve the best possible outcome, it must be a team effort. This post explains my thoughts on why input from manufacturers is critical to the BIM content creation process.
First things first. Let's accept that manufacturer-specific BIM content has an important part to play in contributing to BIM workflows and at some point in time it needs to be incorporated into the project model. Let's save the 'generic vs manufacturer-specific' discussion for another day... and another Blog post.
Assembling The Ideal Creation Team,
Whilst there might be the odd exception for extremely basic elements, I firmly believe that there needs to be input into the creation methodology from both a content creator and the manufacturer**. This is particularly the case for any product that incorporates some degree of parametric functionality within the model.The technical skills of the creator and their understanding of what content users require is essential to the quality and usability of the model(s). That’s obvious. But what I think is underestimated is it the importance of having an intimate understanding of the manufacturer's product. An understanding that is in most cases, only possessed by the manufacturer.
Why The 'Extra' Input from the Manufacturer Is So Important
Supplying a content creator with a product data sheet and a 2D/3D CAD detail that provides accurate geometry is one thing, but for many products that can be supplied in a number of possible configurations, this information only tells most of the story. Let me give you a scenario. Let’s take a product like a Britex Regency Stainless Steel Urinal. If I provide a CAD file to a BIM content creator that details a nominal length of 1800mm long in the drawing, accompanied by a data sheet that says “this product can be custom made in any length from 900mm up to 6000mm”, there are a number of ‘if’ statements that need to be considered when creating the functionality of this model... and they are not just aesthetic considerations that might be considered unimportant or irrelevant in the BIM space. They are critical design elements that will have direct impact on future applications within the project model for process functions like clash detection, costings and MEP services requirements... just to name a few.“So I can see what happens to X and Y values when the length of this product changes... but I’m not absolutely sure what happens to value/variable Z”. What to do? Does the creator call/email the client and ask? Or do they just guesstimate? That depends on a number of things, but I can assure you that (speaking from experience) in many cases, the creator will just guesstimate what happens to Z. It’s true. This scenario is particularly prevalent when content is being created by someone within a BIM content creation entity who has no direct dialogue with the client, other than through a 'sales person' who acts as the intermediary. Furthermore, the actual creator might even work for an entirely different (subcontracted) company and be in another country, in another time zone. Logically, the creator would then direct all their queries back through the sales person who can then forward them to the client and back again to the creator once a response is provided. That's easy enough, yeah? Hmmm.... perhaps not.
Who QA's the Creator's Work?
Cynically, I would suggest that some creators simply guess a solution to a query with the knowledge that the client won’t be able to QA the model anyway. They would also assume that their client’s customers (architects, engineers etc) won’t pick up the potential error because they also don’t have the technical understanding of the product to recognise it as a mistake either. The potential here is that the mistake is not recognised as an error until the product is supplied to site at a cost that was different to what had originally been allowed for, with services (plumbing/electrical) that are inadequate or in the wrong place and the size of the fixture is different to what is shown in the model, possibly impeding another building element - a clash detection 'fail'. So I ask, how many manufacturers do you know right now that have both the ability and the time to QA BIM content that is created for them? Or even less so, capable of creating high quality BIM content themselves? Probably some, but certainly not all. I think this needs to change and will change as manufacturers begin to recognise the importance of BIM and the role they need to play in the creation process, as long as they are properly educated on what it all means.
So what is the solution? Personally, I have engaged some extremely patient and understanding creators who also recognise the value of the manufacturer's input and have over time taught me how to utilise my intimate understanding of my products to QA the functionality of the content they provide. They also acknowledge that despite their comprehensive technical abilities, they too, like all of us, make mistakes. In a situation where there is a creator (sole creator or company) supplying content to a manufacturer, who is actually QA'ing the content? You can have all the BIM content creation checklists you like, but with so many potential customised variable functions for products that have never been created before, coupled with the sheer volume of products that a creator might produce, things are bound to fall through the cracks. We're all human. This is why I personally take on some of the responsibility for the task of QA'ing our BIM content.
Basic Content QA For Manufacturers
I am not an experienced Revit or ArchiCAD user. By all definition, I am a Marketing person with technical expertise in stainless steel fixtures and plumbing products. I can’t critique the finer technical elements of what Ben and Kristian are producing in Revit and ArchiCAD respectively and I don’t think I should need to. But I can tell if (amongst other things):
- The geometry accurately depicts what we supply at an appropriate level of detail
- The variable constraints operate within the bounds of our offering and manufacturing capabilities
- The data (the ‘I’ in BIM if you will) is all there and adjusts to reflect the selected parametric variables of the model
- All the ‘options’ for that particular product are incorporated into the model correctly
- The breakup of models is logical based on the way our products are selected/specified. This is especially important in Revit (... another Blog post coming on this)
Is it realistic to expect this from all suppliers? I think it is. You don't need to be an architect or a content creator to contribute to the content creation process. You just need to have a very basic understanding of the design platform, the right software (even just a 'FREE viewer' will do), an eye for detail and a uncompromising commitment to quality.In my opinion, manufacturers should apply the same quality principles to their BIM content that they apply to the physical products they sell.Invest time into it. Be responsible for it. Own it. Understand it. Your clients will appreciate it.
Why All The Fuss?
BIM is the way of the future and if manufacturers are serious about supplying products to the AEC (and FM) industry they need to start learning about BIM processes ASAP. If money is an issue, perhaps they need to look at diverting some of their funding away from other marketing channels like advertising, pretty catalogues, celebrity endorsements and promotions and investing money, time and resources (aka people) into something that provides a real service to their clients – accurate, useful BIM content.Case in point: If I can do it, anybody can. That is a fact. ** I use the term ‘manufacturer’ somewhat loosely. Whilst the AEC/BIM industry uses the term ‘manufacturer’ to signify the ‘supplier’ of the product/content, many ‘suppliers’ are just that. They are distributors of a product manufactured by an entirely different entity. In some cases the supplier may pay out of their own pockets to produce BIM content for the products they distribute and in other cases, utilise/modify content supplied by the actual manufacturer. Perhaps a topic for another day and another blog post...
BIM content for for Britex products can be downloaded from each individual product page on the Britex website. Alternatively, a USB pre-loaded with all Britex BIM content can be requested from the 'Request Literature' page.