Finding a Single Source of Truth for BIM Data
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on October 10, 2019 |

It’s well known, even outside of the industry itself, that the field of construction can be slow, disorganized and, in some cases, even antiquated. For that reason, building information modeling (BIM), along with other technologies, has swooped in to push the industry into the 21st century.

Trimble Connect is meant to make collaboration between project stakeholders more streamlined by tying together various aspects of a project in a single location and using additional tools. (Image courtesy of Trimble.)
Trimble Connect is meant to make collaboration between project stakeholders more streamlined by tying together various aspects of a project in a single location and using additional tools. (Image courtesy of Trimble.)

Constructible 3D modeling is now used to make construction plans more closely resemble construction reality, with BIM adding in the necessary data related to actual building elements, such as the dimensions and materials of final components. However, those digitizing the world of construction today, are tasked with making that data more manageable.

In this article, we explore the issue of disparate architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) information and how one company is attempting to address it with the Constructible Process.

Construction Inefficiency

The modern construction industry is inundated with data. The amount of this information is only increasing as more applications are developed to create data relevant to a project.

Currently, the way that many AEC firms manage data is through ad-hoc, or best case, standardized folder structures that, in some instances, can go as far as ten levels deep. Within these folders, information might be organized by discipline or construction phase. Using this approach to support dissemination of data means that project team members have to navigate through extensive folder structures.

Within that labyrinth of folders, there may be hundreds and hundreds of files, each with their own versions. Team members have to open those files individually in order to find the one bit of information needed for a specific aspect of a project. 

This process is further exacerbated by the fact that data-driven processes tend to be disconnected. One piece of data, such as an estimate, doesn’t automatically flow into the project’s budget. Likewise, a design doesn’t automatically flow into an estimate. Instead, every task is performed manually at the file level, often by creating intermediate deliverables, such as spreadsheets.

In the end, each of the project stakeholders—from engineers and estimators to superintendents and project managers—is left to make sense of an array of file versions across a variety of locations. The risk of the current folder and file -based approach is that everyone interprets available project data differently and then executes or communicates based on that interpretation. While it’s natural for construction phases to remain insular, it’s important to break down communication barriers and encourage enhanced project collaboration. Being connected is the greatest defense against the prevailing inefficiencies that stem from data silos.

The Constructible Process helps to unify phases by making 3D models more universal and collaborative. In a connected workflow, each project team member has access to the same model, so they are able to see exactly what other team members see, or only what they need to see. This eliminates the misinterpretation or overload of information and facilitates connectivity by establishing a crucial common ground on which all stakeholders can collaborate more effectively.

A Single Source of Truth

The solution currently being worked out by firms in the AEC space is the creation of a “single source of truth” or “common data environment,” in which all models and files are maintained in a single, preferably cloud-based, location where all team members can access them at any time.

To some, the most obvious way to accomplish this might be through the use of a general cloud storage service like Google Docs or Dropbox, as stakeholders might be able to simply access, modify or replace a single version of a file from anywhere, even when they are in the field. However, such a tool really just transfers the elaborate file system discussed earlier from a physical server to the cloud.

An example of ToDos in Trimble Connect. (Image courtesy of Trimble.)
An example of ToDos in Trimble Connect. (Image courtesy of Trimble.)
For this reason, companies like Trimble are developing more helpful and dynamic methods for organizing, connecting and utilizing disparate AEC data in the cloud. In the case of Trimble, the result is Trimble Connect, a project collaboration platform for the construction industry.

At its most basic level, the platform does work as a cloud-based repository where all project data is shared; however, it goes beyond that function through a suite of applications that enable users to manage and use that data in the context of a specific project and its design information, creating a spatially organized set of data.

For instance, the suite of tools for browser, mobile (iOS and Android) and Windows makes it possible to create an unlimited variety of views of a project, including markups, notes and other information. These views can then be shared between team members, using any of the Trimble Connect applications, to communicate aspects of a project.

If follow-up action is needed, a user can create “To-Dos,” action items assigned to specific team members, through Trimble Connect. The To-Do has a due date and can be classified depending on the type of action required, such as a clarification or an issue that needs to be resolved.

What may be most important to understand about the Trimble Connect platform is the fact that all of these actions occur within the design context of the project. For example, using a Building Information Model for the project, 3D markups, ToDo’s and project information stored as files can all be accessed from within the constructible model, allowing team members to access information such as the brand, cost, quantity or any issues associated with elements, instead of searching for folders and files that contain this information. The same is can be done in drawings, where a user might click on the data associated with a drawing to view Requests for Information (RFIs) and other information.

Other actions that can be performed via Connect apps include modifying the color and visibility of models, running clash detection, creating and managing releases, measuring distances and performing model object filtering, among other capabilities. 

Interoperability

For all of this to work, Connect integrates with Trimble software, such as Tekla Structures and SketchUp. Sharing data through Connect enables constructible workflows: seamless data integrations in the construction continuum. For example, customers share an engineering model from Tekla through Connect to drive and keep track of fabrication and installation. Connect’s Status Sharing tool tells them exactly what’s been fabricated, installed and delivered.

A SketchUp model being published to a specific location in Trimble Connect. (Image courtesy of Trimble.)
A SketchUp model being published to a specific location in Trimble Connect. (Image courtesy of Trimble.)
Trimble Connect also works with AutoCAD, Autodesk Revit and SketchUp. It can handle architectural, structural as well as mechanical, electrical and plumbing files to a “constructible” level of detail. This enables constructible workflows during the design and engineering phase. For example, engineers can create an electrical model based on the architectural model and share it via the cloud for review and use by other disciplines. Structural engineers, in the meantime, can also share their outputs via Trimble Connect to provide a combined set of design and engineering data, and assess constructability.

Design models and drawings can be opened, accessed and utilized in the field from Connect using Trimble Field Link, which allows users to define layout points that can direct robotic total stations to precisely position key points, such as hangers and embeds. Pushing constructible models one step further, Trimble Connect for HoloLens enables field crews to utilize building models via mixed reality for QA/QC work, measurements and collaboration with the office.

Case Study: VolkerWessels

In 2017 Dutch construction company VolkerWessels launched a startup called DigiBase in 2017 intended to focus specifically on the digital transformation occurring in AEC. DigiBase was tasked with aiding VolkerWessels in addressing the issue of sharing project information efficiently across stakeholders. In part, this problem resulted from the sheer amount of data spread throughout the company.

VolkerWessels team members collaborating through the use of Trimble Connect. (Image courtesy of Trimble.)
VolkerWessels team members collaborating through the use of Trimble Connect. (Image courtesy of Trimble.)
VolkerWessels was hoping to improve its project management and data visualization, and wanted to go beyond simple data tracking to enable team members to collaborate with shared designs, schedules, fabrication and more. The answer was the creation of a common data environment, a single source of truth.

Trimble was brought in to help the company standardize its projects using Trimble tools, with Trimble Connect used to provide a big picture and tie together the various components of each project. For instance, VolkerWessels used Trimble ProjectSight as a real-time communication system, including as a means of managing and accessing project documents and drawings. This allowed team members to add comments pertaining to RFIs, submittals, or aspects of a project related to building models themselves.

Vico Office provided 5D BIM capabilities, such as constructability analysis, 4D location-based scheduling, cost estimation and production control. As a result, budgets, estimates and costs were all based on the same set of up-to-date documentation.   

All of this key project data is accessible via the web, desktop and mobile devices and tied together with Trimble Connect. Today, VolkerWessels has more than 6,000 users working on over 600 projects with Connect.

Bottom Line

Marcel Broekmaat, director of Product Management for Connect Applications at Trimble, described the current labor and material costs of AEC saying, “Labor costs represent approximately 60 percent of construction. Materials and equipment represent the remainder. Labor is expensive. Efficient use of labor could have a significant impact on productivity and profitability across the industry. Unfortunately, labor efficiency remains between 40 and 50 percent.”

According to Broekmaat, streamlining the managing and sharing of data could have a positive impact on that labor efficiency. “Where does that [efficiency] go? Of course, there are wait times because materials might not be delivered on time. We know that some of those inefficiencies are related to waiting for the right set of inputs, as well. That means a worker may have to wait until the right answer is provided, which creates cascading delays that decrease labor efficiency,” Broekmaat said. “With Trimble Connect, we provide data in the design context to deliver much better inputs for that decision-making.”

To learn more about Trimble Connect, visit the product website.


Trimble has sponsored this post.  All opinions are mine.  --Michael Molith-Hou

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