Pieces of BIM

December 06, 2011

When it comes to BIM (building information modeling) the power lies in connectedness between the data and the virtual object. Good technology makes this happen. But while some of the larger software packages seem to get all the hype, it's actually other pieces that truly help complete the BIM puzzle--and extend the benefits of this powerful process from start to finish.
 
One company to watch could be Scenario Virtual Project Delivery, www.scenariovpd.com, Anaheim, Calif. The main function of the system is that it connects project teams, information, and leading industry software, and uses a visual workflow system that captures the established means and methods being used on a project. Project participants interact with a live central server in realtime to increase management and coordination efficiency.

The company cites its VPD technology as the core component of the system. This database embeds design specifications, construction processes, and data input together, linking them to different digital formats. This produces a centralized, electronic representation of a project where all team members can evaluate options at all stages.

Another interesting product is one that was considered by some in the industry to be among the hidden gems of BIM. But given some recent news, it has suddenly become a secret no more. Horizontal Systems, www.horizontalsystems.com, New York, N.Y., made headlines last week when Autodesk, www.autodesk.com, San Rafael, Calif., announced plans to acquire the company that had become known for providing the "glue" to BIM--actually, the Glue Platform, to be more specific. Financial details of the deal, expected to close by the end of the year, were not disclosed.

The product, which Autodesk believes will play an essential part of its newly launched Autodesk 360 initiative, has fit a nice need in the market for contractors that are frustrated with the collaboration challenges that exist when modeling across diverse project teams. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, the process of moving large files, software interoperability, and disconnected workflows.
 
Horizontal's product is a coordinated system that communicates directly with design and project management applications, allowing various project-team members to create and modify their own data models and then "glue" them to the cloud. It is in the cloud that the models become centralized and the true collaboration begins--e.g., clash detection.

Horizontal's Glue Server can help solve compatibility issues between disparate software platforms. It creates a level of transparency between BIM objects and project-management systems to allow for such things as model analysis. This is where the real collaboration on models begins, with the ability to encompass things like estimating and scheduling.

Speaking to the trend of moving BIM to the cloud in general, Sam Neider, cofounder and president,Proactive Controls Group, LLC, www.proactivecontrols.com. Cleveland, Ohio, says, "Although the clash resolution process has come a long way, it is pretty cumbersome and time consuming, and often leaves much to be desired. Horizontal saw an opportunity to take a new approach to clash resolution by bringing the whole process into the cloud. Although many may fear more of an open and uncontrolled environment, the time savings and additional collaboration benefits of cloud-based BIM processes will likely drive the industry in this direction."

Neider comments on BIM processes can be fairly complex, and as a result, "... the leaders in the industry have codified fairly rigid ways of doing things to keep processes from getting out of control."; He points to the BIM coordination process as an example. Such a process has evolved into a fairly structured workflow to track the resolution of clashes and today we have multiple clash-detection programs on the market, including Navisworks, which Autodesk acquired in 2007 and has become a standard for many project teams.

Neider poses the question of how Autodesk will handle the Navisworks product as Horizontal comes on to the scene.

Pat Keaney, director AEC collaboration and data management, Autodesk, stresses the fact Navisworks will remain a core product going forward. In fact, she believes that over time the Navisworks and Horizontal Systems products will align and integrate nicely as the construction industry embraces a hybrid approach (on premise and cloud) to working with BIM.

This hybrid approach to BIM is a major theme Autodesk has been developing recently. Products like Autodesk Vault promote the on-premise side, while a product like Horizontal fits nicely into the cloud-based strategy, for example. Overall, the company looks to promote this theme through its Autodesk 360 initiative and is building a product set with this in mind.

As BIM continues to develop, you will continue to see innovative new solutions come to market. Some become part of the bigger software packages on the market, while others remain independent. Choosing the right software for the job can be a difficult process, but one that could produce fruitful yields in navigating the BIM process for your construction company.