imageThis year I had several discussions with persons working for construction companies. They shared their BIM dreams and tried to explain them the PLM benefits and basics as they are much alike. The challenge in these discussions was that each of us comes from a complete different background. The word PLM does not resonate well outside product-centric companies. In project-centric companies, people tend to focus more on the tools they are using, instead of the overall business process. Construction companies and EPC companies in Oil & Gas always had a project-centric approach, and for them every project is unique.

Ten years ago

AECbytes.com published in 2004 the chart below, demonstrating the construction industry is lagging behind in productivity compared to other industries.

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You find a link to the full article here.

Now it is BIM

It is an old graph, and I haven’t seen a more recent one. However, I guess the trend has not changed significantly. What has changed is that construction companies are now talking about BIM. BIM meaning Building Information Model, a term which has a history with Autodesk. Read the wiki news about BIM. There are many interpretations of BIM. One of the formal definitions is:

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. A BIM is a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition.

This is a high-level definition, and BIM is characterized as a shared knowledge resource. Is it a 3D Digital model ? Is it a kind of DMU (Digital Mock-Up) ? Is it a Building Lifecycle environment ? There is the word “life-cycle” in the definition.

Why BIM?

I noticed many vendors and consultants in this industry talk about what is BIM. It is rare to find quantified values for implementing BIM. You find exactly the same values as PLM brings to manufacturing companies. Better decisions, managing complex constructions and projects, early decisions that save costs later, etc.

Governments have been pushing BIM to the construction industry (both for the civil and building industry) as they believe this is a way to improve quality and better manage time and costs. And as they are usually the big spenders, the leading construction firms have to adapt to these standards to get these contracts.

Would any construction company begin with BIM without being pushed?

In product-centric companies, the global competition and the consumer are driving the need for PLM. Margins are under pressure, and they need to be competitive to stay in business. The construction industry is not (yet) that much driven by global influence and the choice of consumers.

The chart below illustrates the BIM ambition in the UK. At this time, companies are entering level 2, and they struggle to understand what is the impact for them to be at BIM Level 2. I am sure other countries have their own and similar roadmap.

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The diagram illustrates the same path which other industries have been going through in the past twenty years.

BIM Levels and PDM / PLM

BIM level 0 is focused on managing CAD, in the other industries this was the time that single disciplines managed their own CAD data. There was no sharing at that time.

Level 1 is focusing on managing 2D and 3D CAD together much similar to what in other industries is done with a PDM system. The PDM system manages in one environment the 2D and 3D data. This is still as a departmental solution but could provide in one environment information from different disciplines. Here, you find all suppliers from 3D CAD systems having their PDM solution, not focusing on a core 3D Model

Level 2 is about sharing 3D BIM models for different disciplines to support 4D (construction planning based on 3D) and 5D (construction planning based on 3D planning and costing integrated). This is what in other industries, primarily automotive and aerospace, was considered as the early days of DMU (Digital Mock Up) and PLM. Dassault Systemes and Siemens are leading here and historically CATIA has been the base for the 3D Model.

alm_1BIM Level 3 is what can be found currently in the asset centric industries (Energy, Nuclear, Oil & Gas) where working from a virtual plant model all disciplines are connected through the whole lifecycle. This is the domain that I have been advocating in previous posts, promoting PLM concepts and capabilities.
For example read: PLM for Asset Lifecycle Management.

Apparently the construction industry is still in the early phases of BIM Level 3. I would compare it to teenage sex; they all talk about it, but nobody does it. Or Hollywood BIM as Antonio Ruivo Meireles calls it in his AECbytes article: “Say “NO!” to Hollywood BIM”.

Antonio talks about the BIM implementation at Mota-Engill. Briefly touching a common topic for PLM implementations: “People and Cultural Change”. However, most of the implementation report was focused on tools, where even Excel and Visual Basic play a role.

Tools or Platform ?

And this is the point where construction companies could learn from other industries. They have discovered (or are still discovering) that Excel and Visual Basic are like soft drugs. They take away the pain, but they do not provide the solution in the long term. Instead of that, legacy Excels start piling up in directories, and the Visual Basic code becomes the domain of an enthusiastic expert (till this expert moves to another company or retires). The risk is ending up with a legacy environment so hard to change that a costly revolution is needed at a certain moment.

imageConstruction companies are still investing in selecting a set of tools/applications, each with their own proprietary data and format. And they use customizations or standardized information carriers, like the COBie spreadsheets, to exchange information between partners and disciplines. This is already a giant step forward, as COBie forces companies to focus on mandatory and standard content, required at specific stages of the lifecycle instead of searching for it when it is actually needed.

Somehow the COBie approach is similar to the early days of PLM, where companies forced their disciplines to save information in the PLM system (as it became imperative). In these departments and disciplines the work and interaction did not change so much as before they had the PLM system. The cultural change here was that designers and engineers had to enter more data upfront for higher quality downstream.

An intermediate conclusion might be that construction companies follow the same direction as early PLM. Standardizing the data (model) to have a common understanding between stakeholders. Construction companies might not want to implement a PLM system as ownership of data is unclear as compared to manufacturing companies every discipline or department in PLM might be another company in the construction industry.

Now let’s look into the future

The movie below from Airbus describes the current way of working in a multidisciplinary, multi-partner, multi-location online system. Airbus calls it their DMU. Please before continuing reading look at this movie as the concept is crucial

Airbus DMU – Digital Mock Up

I want to highlight two statements in this movie.

Russ Brigham @ 5:39 talking about suppliers not participating to the DMU:

“They will be making decisions on out of date data or even incorrect data”

And @ 7:11

“DMU is a mind-set …….”

I am aware that the aerospace industry is not directly comparable to the construction industry, there are commonalities from which the construction industry can learn:

  • Working on a single, shared repository of on-line data (the DMU)
    A common data model – not only 3D
  • It is a mind-set.
    People need to share instead of own data
  • Early validation and verification based on a virtual model
    Working in the full context
  • Planning and anticipation for service and maintenance during the design phase
    Design with the whole lifecycle in mind (and being able to verify the design)

Data ownership ?

For the construction industry, the current difficulty might be that none of the parties involved wants to invest in owning the data. For Airbus, it is clear. As the manufacturer of the airplane, they remain responsible for the information throughout the whole lifecycle.

For a construction, this might be different. The owner might be totally disconnected from the construction and the operations, therefore, not willing to promote or invest in the DMU approach.

imageHowever, the owner should realize that it is not about ownership but about facilitating on-line collaboration around a construction from the initial concept phase till maintenance and even decommissioning, connecting all the stakeholders. The benefits better decisions at each stage of the lifecycle leading to lower failure costs and waste in materials, resources and time. The construction industry still accepts too high failure rates compared to the manufacturing industry. And as at the end the owner/operator spends most of these costs, they should be interested in this approach.

Major construction companies responsible for the project execution and control might want to invest in a PLM platform, allowing them to execute projects better, learn from other connected projects and create a solid base for maintenance contracts

My dream and wish for 2014 for the construction industry: Focus on the next step of integrating data on a PLM backbone instead of standardizing interfaces between applications. It is the future mind-set proven in other industries.

I wish you all a happy, healthy and successful 2014 full of change for the best
May BIM, BAM, BOOM become true
The Future of the Building Industry (5/5): BIM, BAM, BOOM!
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