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What We Learned About Keeping BIM Data Light, Up to Date, and Standardized


Manage FF&E specification, procurement, and product data at scale. Take on bigger projects with confidence and grow your firm with  FohlioSchedule a demo or book a consultation with one of our account managers to explore these features today.

The following is an excerpt from the webinar “Managing Design Standards and Material Libraries: Best Practices.”

Gerald Lock is a project architect and BIM manager for one of the best-known architecture firms in Australia, but he’s not immune to some of the most common issues in the industry. “From what I’ve seen, most practices are still, dare I say it, back in the stone age as far as how they’re operating with the their schedules. It’s what we’ve noticed at FK (Fender Katsalidis).”

He’s specifically referring to how schedule management in most practices, including theirs, is still pretty outdated. In fact, all their schedules are currently housed in Microsoft Word.

Like most firms, they’ve improvised systems for keeping the chaos in control. “We have a large template, we’ve written (this document) ourselves from scratch,” Gerald says. “And we have a subtractive process. So we have a pre-written set of what you might call pre-approved items, whether it’s concrete finishes or toilets or tapware, or you know, louver systems, anything like that.”

Learn more: Create Effective Design Standards With These 5 Templates and Catalogues

Still, it takes a lot of work to keep everything together, much less running smoothly. According to Gerald, “It’s kept a whole army of people going just to make sure that it’s all correct. Our quality assurance manager and his minions literally go through every single schedule and every single project to check every last item and make sure, not just with spelling errors, but really critical stuff like how you’ve added components. It’s incredibly labor-intensive, it’s ridiculous.”

It got Gerald thinking: There has to be a better way. And so he started exploring Fohlio.

“One of my selling points to the to our quality assurance team as well as to the sustainability team was that, ‘Hey guys, each of these items could just be a single line in a database and we could have exactly what Monica (Ortiz) has got with her review status, research dates, assigning who’s done their research, and really having a lot more accountability which just literally does not exist in a Microsoft word document or even a spreadsheet.”

One way they’re hoping Fohlio can help is by reducing manual and repetitive tasks. Gerald explains, “When you say, ‘Hey guys, so have you got your schedule sorted out for this project yet? We’re going to tender in a month’s time.’

“And just the thought of having to edit a 30-page Word document with a whole bunch of stuff, 70% of it’s been done already in other projects. And it’s really just a matter of copying and pasting, hoping that the product is still available, that it’s still appropriate for the project.”

Learn more: 5 Ways to Create Design Standards That Work

And then there’s the question of using that data in BIM.

Using Spec Sheet Data in BIM: Avoiding Bloat

With all the work that goes into managing that specification data, does any of it go into BIM software?

Learn more: The Fohlio-Revit Plugin Lets You Add Product Images and Links Without Duplicating Work

“Currently, the only connection is the ‘tag code’,” Gerald says. “We’ve found that one data point connection is sufficient. And it’s probably a good idea to keep most of the schedule data out of the model, mainly to avoid model data bloat.”

Scott Barrington, architect and founder of Modlar, agrees. “Seven, eight years ago when we started computers were — just weren’t as good. So you just couldn’t include all that information in your ArchiCAD or Revit file, because the model would just get bogged down and, in a lot of cases, freeze.”

Scott also pointed out a few other issues that come up when working with BIM.

BIM Software are Desktop-Only, And That’s a Problem

Even if you’re downloading the latest version of Revit or ArchiCAD, Scott says, the database module is only ever going to be as good as your computer. This is because BIM software are desktop applications and rely on whatever machine they’re being used on. “That limits long-term what you can do.”

Another implication of using offline software like BIM is that data goes stale too quickly. “How do you even keep it up to date? If someone downloads a Revit family for a light fitting, it’s like downloading an app: Unless you keep it up to date, it just basically goes stale. And that becomes a real issue for managing data.”

It can also mean cost and time overruns for projects. “If I open an ArchiCAD file that’s six months old — because let’s face it, building projects take a long time — there’s a high chance you’ll find that if they’ve downloaded a BIM model from a manufacturer, some of them are going to be out of date.

“And by the time the project— Especially things like finishes, you know, if you go through and specify all your door hardware directly in the BIM model, and there’s no live connection, by the time the contractors on site are going to get that door hardware, it could have been two years or maybe longer. So there’s always been this issues with specifications going out of date or products change. The SKU code changes, the available finishes change.”

One solution Scott sees is keeping the specification database online. “It’s easier to keep it up to date that way. When it’s online, you can access AWS or Oracle, and these are big database products, which is the sort of thing Fohlio is built on top of.”

Gerald agrees. “All they need is one data point, (and that) can just be the drawing tag or some other master ID that then says, okay, when you’re looking at this element in the model, it has this tag, you can look for that code in your in your online database and know that it’s correct. And it hasn’t gone out of date. So the model could be two years old, but that specification database is fully up to date.”

Learn more: Manage Data and Keep Specs Up to Date More Easily With the Fohlio-Revit Sync

Another reason to use a cloud-based materials library? It helps unify standards and facilitates interoperability. “Even now, you have a lot of interoperability issues. Within numerous big firms in North America, design team uses SketchUp, their development team uses Revit, and then the documentation team uses AutoCAD. Different teams are using different software.

“So how do you take the information from Revit to AutoCAD efficiently?” Scott says.

Big firms also grapple with using materials and products from all around the world. “Your door hardware might be from Germany. Your flooring might be from Thailand, and things have different standards, and just getting the manufacturers on board is hard,” says Scott.

He explains further, “What happens is — and we see this with the manufacturers all the time — is if they even support a standard, they’ll support the one in their local country, and it becomes very difficult for them to support six different standards.

“When you’re actually storing as much data as you can in some kind of online system like Fohlio, that actually makes sense because long-term, if you do something in SketchUp, you push it up to the cloud, you can pull it down into your different systems,” Scott says.

It also makes it easier to standardize data from different manufacturers around the world. Similar to how a BIM model has always been intended to be “the one source of truth” for building projects, an online materials database can unify and connect all the different pieces of data that help specifically identify a piece of data.

Manage FF&E specification, procurement, and product data at scale. Take on bigger projects with confidence and grow your firm with  FohlioSchedule a demo or book a consultation with one of our account managers to explore these features today.

Special thanks to Monica Ortiz, Esteban Reichberg, Gerald Lock, and Scott Barrington for participating in this webinar.

Featured image by Guillaume Kurkdjian.

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Published Dec 28, 2020