technical note: websites

Structural building information modelling
Clive Robinson (AM), Building & Construction Products Manager, Tekla (UK) Ltd, explains how Building Information Modelling is transforming the construction industry

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he reason for the wide adoption of 3D modelling systems, especially in the structural steelwork industry over the last 15 years, can be defined as the simple desire to create prototypes. The construction industry is one of the very few industries where actual prototypes are never created, and trial erections are also rarely completed. With 3D modelling the structural prototype is constructed within the computers memory, with clash algorithms provided by a number of software providers. However, the construction industry is on the verge of of a new technological breakthrough involving Building Information Modelling (BIM), a new, collaborative, model-based way of working in the construction industry. Design information covering the entire lifecycle of the building process can now be produced and managed within a 3D product model. BIM is about much more than creating and transferring electronic versions of paper documents and 3D building geometry. It is what the building industry had expected Computer Aided Design (CAD) to be from the very beginning, where all building processes have been integrated to create one intelligent 3D product model, resulting in improved productivity, greater speed, higher quality and lower costs.

tural layouts as reference layers for their own drawings. This drawing level collaboration provided a means of detecting the changes on individual drawings. The downstream design team members then modified their own drawings accordingly. However, this collaboration and visual co-ordination was purely a manual process and information was still distributed by numerous other partial drawings and sketches.

‘BIM means that all building processes have been integrated to create one intelligent 3D product model, resulting in improved productivity, greater speed, higher quality and lower costs’
The Internet revolution opened up possibilities for effective information management. The next steps towards BIM were taken with trials to automate drawing-based information management. Project data banks were established to solve delays in information sharing and the initial results were encouraging. Some hurdles were overcome; however the basic problem of fragmented information management remained unsolved. Drawings were only reflections of actual and assumed information no matter how well they were managed. Information was still scattered among many drawings with countless duplicated and conflicting information items. Change management was cumbersome and error prone.

The Highway to BIM
In the beginning of the1980s, CAD revolutionised the drafting practice by providing digital tools for creating 2D drawings. Since then, the construction industry has been searching for a solution that provides more than just automation of manual working practices. The development of drawingbased collaboration had started. Technical advances resulted from several useful discoveries. Design teams in the building process started to communicate information by sharing drawings in electronic formats. Layer technology was presented and taken into everyday practice. For example, engineers or HVAC designers used the architec20|The Structural Engineer – 6 July 2004

Product modelling
The only solution for managing building information efficiently is with product modelling. The forerunners of this type of modelling have been in the mechanical and plant design sectors. Since the early 1990s, structural steelwork detailing has made a remarkable shift from 2D drafting to 3D product

modelling. Tekla Xsteel and a few other solutions have played a pivotal role in facilitating that change. The available solutions of modelling technology can be divided into two different categories – 'bottom-up' and ‘top-down' systems. Originally driven by mechanical and plant design, parametric 'bottom-up' modelling technology was designed to create parametric models of individual pieces. Building models created utilising this technology are based upon independent 'models' of individual objects tightly integrated together. This technology effectively manages the shape of individual objects as well as the output generated from them. However, complications can arise when thousands of building objects are used with complicated linked relationships. In the product model all elements should be defined as objects. As with real-world objects they share two characteristics as they all have state and behaviour constraints. For example, a car state would be colour, make, model, equipment; and its behaviour would be acceleration, braking and control. Software objects are modelled in accordance with real-world objects with similar state and behaviour characteristics. The state in this respect would be a series of user defined variables (an item of data named by an identifier). The behaviour would be hard coded as methods as to how the multi-material elements should react to change and to each other. So in very simple terms an object could be defined as a container of variables and related methods. Modification management becomes more practical with the use of parametric ‘top-down’ modelling technology. This technology was created specifically for modelling buildings, which consist of thousands of objects. According to the ‘top-down’ method, the basic objects are first modelled without detail, which also perfectly supports the normal requirements of conceptual design. The logical relationships between building objects are created when applying the members’ physical connections and enhanced information. In the construction industry change is a natural progression of the information refining in the design process, as more precise information is created. When changes do occur, the related building objects automatically adapt to the new situation. This concept keeps the building object libraries compact and makes management of the entire building remarkably easy and effective. The power and benefits of ‘top-down’ technology have been already proven in the structural steelwork industry with Tekla products. Today, we are in the situation that

texture and shapes. Several successful demonstrations and test projects have been made. Existing CAD platform-based solutions are far from the best-ofbreed solutions available on the market and the effort needed to bring CAD-based solutions to the same level is unrealistic. In this way. This will inevitably lead to a change in the organisation of the building industry. website: www. Complete implementation of Structural BIM requires certain adjustments to the traditional way of working. Architect’s models are not included in the scope of structural BIM. work co-dependently on individual islands using different tools. However. the tools do not speak a common language. it is more than that as it should also include the engineering and the value engineering of the project. we can easily detect that there are groups of islands that are closer together.uk. Structural BIM. They do not recreate the geometry of building objects. However. which provide the opportunity to supplement the functionality of the structural BIM system with plug-in software modules. Real-time integration is extremely crucial at this stage as changes must be communicated to all detailers. the integration of BIM into CAD software requires considerable effort from the software vendors and is not the apparent way to a versatile BIM solution. nowadays it is easy to use open interfaces. The load-bearing structures are designed and integrated into the model. . The complexity of information management increases with the fact that projects in the real world proceed in phases. When changes occur. Open interfaces are fundamental for a Structural BIM solution. Structural BIM A&D is not a primary phase in the process. who enhance the information with the same product model. this straightforward approach does not seem to be the most practical approach to a BIM solution. Morley. or share a platform or conventions. segmented and the construction process consists of many small islands of automation. regardless of whether structural BIM is implemented within the entire value chain or only for a se part of it. However.co. just another output that could be generated and maintained through the physical model. the next design team members are the structural detailers. as these are not based on the same concept as this model. However. use and change the information. but as information flow is based on manual handoffs. covers the entire structural design process from conceptual design to detailing. The most natural approach towards BIM integration is to provide deeply integrated solutions to the island groups. Structural BIM Structural BIM is the part of the BIM process where the majority of structural information is created. with all A&D results and other output updated accordingly. To be able to manage the constant changes. where conceptual decisions of the structural forms are made. This has been more or less the target for various international and national standardisation ventures such as IFC. a subset of the BIM concept. It sometime is thought that the design portion of analysis and design (A&D) is just the pure physical sizing of the structural elements. etc. The straightforward solution is to integrate all the existing tools. Using modern product modelling technology on some linked islands does not improve the overall situation if the complete value-chain is not ready to exploit the results. email: clive. which is much more intense and incoherent compared to the traffic between island groups. The current process of sharing the responsibilities and tasks is obviously no longer the best working practice. fax: +44 (0) 113 307 1201. the connection between the architect’s models and structural BIM is a very obvious way to help in the future development of intelligent integration. the integrated system should be able to store all information from each of the integrated solutions. however not in the classic sense of using separate independent tools.tekla. ending up in some software functionality to help with routine tasks. The model starts to evolve during the engineering stage. However. This leads to duplication of work and inconsistencies in information. development is still at an early stage. which then connect to other BIM subsets as well as to the outside world with open interfaces. After completing the engineering stage. back to the architect. Cliffe Park Way.robinson@tekla.technical note: websites main prerequisites for comprehensive productive BIM applications are fulfilled. engineers and in some cases. Parametric product modelling has a successful track record in the building industry. including all materials. with various results. Telecommunication infrastructure and information technology systems have developed to the level that satisfies the requirements of BIM and international standardisation processes have also produced practical interoperability tools for the building industry. Sub-optimisation naturally improves the performance of the specific unit.com). they just refine and supplement the existing information already created by the engineers. UK (tel: +44 (0) 113 307 1200. so information flow between parties is ineffective which is clearly a costly obstacle. A general CAD platform is an obvious solution from 22|The Structural Engineer – 6 July 2004 an interoperability point of view. When examining the pseudo islands of automation in the BIM archipelago. some information is lost whilst passing it to the next value-chain partner. and are heavily overlapping. regardless of the significant effort put into the standardisations. Collaboration will become easier between organisations and known alliances rather than between the sometimes unknown partners within the current total supply chain. CIS/2. Tekla House. they do not work with building objects in the same way as the structural BIM. however the depth of information suffers. • Further information: Clive Robinson Building & Construction Products Manager. Therefore. and in supporting the information roundtrip. The complex network of dependency between the tasks and responsibilities of the different players handling the same building objects definitely requires a solution with the capability to share the same real-time model. but also from that of customisation and localisation. the multitude of information management requirements within structural design can be managed and the efforts put into the best-of-breed solutions can then be exploited through BIM. Leeds. STEP. LS27 0RY. All solutions within the industry should speak a common language utilising the same terminology. Tekla (UK) Limited. The Structural BIM model consists of all information that forms the actual structure. The biggest problems are in fragmented information management. Applying BIM The current organisation of the building industry is localised. fabrication and erection of all multi-material elements. not only from an interoperability point of view. The creator of the information owns that information and has the authority to give permission to view. The early adopters who have recognised this new business opportunity have the best chance to gain enhanced market share. mass. A&D plays a significant role at this stage. Eventually all the benefits will show up as overall building cost savings for all adopters. mobile: +44 (0) 7801 750 658. they are made directly into the Structural BIM model. This can be physically visualised as the traffic flow between closely located islands. Architects work with space. All parties involved. Likewise. This would require a huge development effort from the solution providers as well as from the standards bodies. their relationships and the reference to the architectural objects.

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