How a Structural Engineer Makes BIM Work
Erin Green posted on December 02, 2016 |

As a concept, building information modeling (BIM) has several goals. Ultimately, the aim is to achieve full interoperability and collaboration for architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) teams and to make every stage of the process easier for all teams involved.

While these goals look great on paper, they take a little more work than might be expected. After all, BIM has been around since the ‘80s and is still a work in progress. Improvements such as connections made between software using APIs and more global efforts such as IFC make it easier for teams to work between different types of software. However, there are many places where these links are still missing.

What can teams do to make a BIM workflow effective for everyone, both in-house and downstream?

In many cases, including that of Canadian structural engineering firm Entuitive, the answer is still to develop a custom approach.

 

Small Fish in a Big Pond: Finding the Need for a Custom Workflow

A scale model of Ripley's Aquarium of Canada in Toronto illustrates the complexity of the facility's design. (Image courtesy of Ripley Entertainment Inc.)

A scale model of Ripley's Aquarium of Canada in Toronto illustrates the complexity of the facility's design. (Image courtesy of Ripley Entertainment Inc.)

Entuitive, which was founded in 2011, is a very young engineering firm. However, that didn’t stop the small fish from jumping right into the big pond. One of the company’s first projects as a structural engineering consultant was Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada in Toronto—which, if you’ve ever been, is just about as crazy as everything else with the Ripley’s label.

The real showstopper in the aquarium is the Dangerous Lagoon exhibit, which features a 750,000-gallon tank with a tunnel so visitors can walk through shark-infested waters.

“Technology was a huge piece in that [project],” explained Ian Trudeau, an associate at Entuitive. “That project was interesting because we combined multiple pieces of software and worked with the contractor and steel fabricator in particular.”

The structural design for the aquarium was produced using a combination of software. (Image courtesy of Entuitive.)

The structural design for the aquarium was produced using a combination of software. (Image courtesy of Entuitive.)

As Trudeau explained, the team at Entuitive chose to use Tekla, which is usually used for steel fabrication, as a design tool. This allowed the team to link to its steel analysis software and share the aquarium’s model with the fabricator. The team also linked the model with Revit, which was used to produce the model and appropriate documentation for the concrete portion of the project.

The project served to create a goal for the folks at Entuitive: combining the various aspects of the different types of software involved in a BIM project to create an easier workflow for everyone involved.

“It was a shining example of what we wanted to do in the future and we have employed that concept on many of our major projects,” Trudeau explained.

 

Making It Work: Creating the Necessary Tools

It’s one thing to believe that BIM models should be useful for everyone downstream in the process; it’s quite another to make this happen.

The first problem to tackle was that of software. While there are plenty of existing links to move data between software, there are also plenty of cases in which those links don’t exist. In these cases, the team at Entuitive started to create custom connectors or plugins to transfer the data without inducing manual input.

“We took a really in-depth look at our design process and all of the different software tools we use,” Trudeau said. “The primary two materials that we work with are steel and concrete, so we looked at the steel design process and the concrete design process in isolation.”

“We identified all the software that we use to get us from start to finish and then we identified where we could potentially reuse data between two applications,” Trudeau continued. “Where those links didn’t exist, we focused on those areas.”

“It’s time-consuming and at our expense to develop these links initially,” said Trudeau. “The thought is that eventually the effort pays for itself in time saved.”

 

The Benefits of a Custom Workflow

By introducing these links and various other ideas for improving workflows that were crowd-sourced from employees, the team at Entuitive built efficiency—which could then be turned into time spent on other efforts.

These efforts often come from discussions with contractors as to how they will use models and what would be useful information for them to have. While this doesn’t happen for every project, the team at Entuitive will assess the needs based on different projects and the team members involved.

One of these efforts, for example, was finding a way to ensure that the materials in a project were accurate. By introducing a reinforcement parameter into the software the team used, it was possible to estimate the rough tonnage required for given densities of concrete on a commercial high-rise.

This in turn enabled the team to create and analyze iterations of a design very quickly.

 

Evolution of the Workflow: A Modern High-Rise

The design of Brookfield Place inspired a new level of material modeling. (Image courtesy of Brookfield Properties.)

The design of Brookfield Place inspired a new level of material modeling. (Image courtesy of Brookfield Properties.)

One of the company’s most recent projects is Brookfield Place in Calgary, Canada. The dual-tower high-rise is a good example of a project in which the team at Entuitive knew who would be involved in a project and had the opportunity to find out what would be required of a workflow.

The building’s design uses reinforced concrete cores with structural steel floor framing and exterior columns to stretch 56 stories into the sky for the East Tower and 42 stories for the West Tower.

In this particular project, the team received the feedback that it would be beneficial to have the ability to estimate accurate amounts of concrete for the design. As Trudeau explained, this opened the door for the team to use its improved workflow to take material modeling to a different level.

“We modeled all of the different concrete strengths as designed, as well as the cast-in elements—steel elements cast in concrete, such as the base plates and the cast-in-plates in the wall for the steel framing to connect to,” Trudeau explained. “That represents a significant amount of different material and we thought it’d be beneficial to have it all captured in a database. This isn’t typically done in design models, but we went ahead and did it anyway.”

An example of the material estimations performed for the Brookfield Place project. (Image courtesy of Entuitive.)
An example of the material estimations performed for the Brookfield Place project. (Image courtesy of Entuitive.)

By introducing an improved workflow, the team could provide a greater clarity of information. After all, as Trudeau pointed out, the more you can put into a model and drawing, the fewer RFIs you get. “It makes the job of understanding intent easier. You get out what you put in.”

For more information, check out the Entuitive website.

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