BIM and the cloud: a powerful combination

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    When cloud computing meets the other new kid on the A/E block, Building Information Modeling or "BIM," the combination is a force to be reckoned with!

    Technology is becoming both a "cost of entry" and competitive advantage for many firms.

    "Our clients expect us to use certain types of technology to ensure efficiency and accuracy of our work, and an increasing number of RFPs require specific software or expertise. But while certain types of technology are becoming more standard, custom technology solutions still provide a very important way to differentiate ourselves from our competitors," says David Reinhart, senior technology developer at SWCA Environmental Consultants in Phoenix, Ariz.

    The screenshots in this article are from Autodesk’s BIM 360 Field software and exemplify the interaction between BIM and the cloud.
    A single platform for quality, safety, commissioning, and field access to documents. Executive dashboards help you manage your project to reduce risk.
    Issues can be logged directly in the field and aggregated in one online database.
    Mark-up and annotate directly on photos and plans.
    Use push pins to quickly communicate where project issues are, their status, and description.
    Ensure the team has the latest versions of project documents.
    The Commissioning solution captures all system and equipment information electronically, right in the field, which saves time and reduces errors.

    It’s no secret that BIM use, software that enables 3D modeling, is becoming increasingly necessary (and often contractually obligated). But a combination of BIM with the cloud, which connects a large number of computers or devices through a real-time communication, is something that can give firms a serious competitive edge, and push the limits of the 3D technology.

    While the cloud impacts data storage, sharing and networking, BIM touches model design and viewing. When BIM is coupled with the virtual and mobile features of the cloud, models can be worked on simultaneously by various professions, clashes can be identified quickly, and the project (in its current state) can be accessed by anyone in any location (even at the building site) at any time.

    "BIM enables information from all disciplines to overlap and be compared in 3D and project teams to work together to come up with an integrated solution. The end result is a higher quality project with fewer requests for information and construction change orders as issues and conflicts are resolved in a digital environment, rather than in the field. Production processes for construction documentation are considerably faster, resulting in shortened delivery time, better coordination among disciplines and better product for the client," said one respondent to ZweigWhite’s 2013 Information Technology Survey.

    Instant access and mobile viewing of models is something that engineering firms have seen lead to success and profitability.

    "Our increased ability to allow mobile access from any device has improved our employee access to critical functions while in the field or working from home. The use of mobile technology, cloud computing, and custom databases have allowed us to improve many of our processes," Reinhart says. "We have built mobile apps for use on Android tablets that improve the accuracy and efficiency of field data collection. Data collected in the field imports directly into resource-specific databases, which automate analysis and reporting tasks. Cloud-based project web sites and web apps have helped us improve communication and collaboration between project teams, and have also been a powerful tool for public outreach."

    According to Autodesk, a BIM technology provider, "BIM in the cloud helps multidiscipline design and construction teams improve project outcomes by moving computation-intensive tasks to the cloud, enabling more rapid visualization and simulation and optimized collaboration with access to intelligent, data-rich models."

    Though adoption may be slow, ZweigWhite’s 2013 Information Technology Survey found that A/E/P and environmental firms are continuing to increase their investment in virtual data storage, the cloud and BIM. Firms report using BIM for an average of 26 percent of work, with about one fifth of employees using this technology. A little more than half (53 percent) of firms report they plan on increasing their use of BIM this year.

    A clear shift in the use of this technology has occurred over the past few years, and one survey respondent remarked that a main disadvantage/difficulty of using BIM is that "some consultants and firms we work with don’t use BIM or are not as advanced in their use of BIM as we need."

    A little more than one-third (37 percent) of firms expect spending on cloud computing to increase in 2013, the survey found.

    Is remote network accesss available to all employees?
    Source: 2013 Information Technology Survey, ZweigWhite.

    From ZweigWhite’s IT survey
    What are the advantages of using BIM?
    Survey respondents said the advantages of BIM are numerous, including, "BIM enables information from all disciplines to overlap and be compared in 3D and project teams work together to come up with an integrated solution. The end result is a higher quality project with fewer requests for information and construction change orders as issues and conflicts are resolved in a digital environment rather than in the field. Production processes for construction documentation are considerably faster resulting in shortened delivery time, better coordination among disciplines and better product for client."

    Connect equipment with object model information, for managing BIM in the field.

    Reduced time, resolution of conflicts, and an easier time collaborating with professionals from other disciplines were other big advantages – all things that can be accentuated with BIM’s partnership with cloud technology.

    What are the disadvantages?
    The complexity and costs associated with IT upgrades such as these may seem daunting to an average engineering or architecture firm. Training time and expense are the main factors impeding the use of cloud and BIM technologies. Long lists of new technology requirements go hand-in-hand with the use of BIM and the cloud.

    One survey respondent described some of the challenges: "Hardware and networking upgrades, more robust computers with more memory, RAM, high end graphics cards and multiple CPU’s. WAN devices and bandwidth usage increases due to very large file sizes generated by BIM applications and the volume of information sharing arising from the collaborative nature of BIM projects. Storage costs for data also increase due to the large 3D models and emphasis on digital rather than paper project documents and files."

    Training can be a substantial endeavor (and expense). According to the survey, 42 percent of firms are providing "on the job" training relating to BIM, and an equal percentage provide in-house training. One quarter of firms even provide offsite training. It’s no surprise the survey found that the number one IT training need for firms involves CADD/BIM/technical applications.

    "The industry is constantly improving from advancements in technology. Some improvements come in the form of newer, cheaper, or more accurate sensors, scanners, cameras, robots, and satellites. Other advancements are made by automating processes, improving data visualization, and enabling real-time collaboration," Reinhart says.

    New BIM and cloud technologies

    Autodesk BIM 360 Glue
    BIM 360 Glue is an online collaboration software. This cloud-based service simplifies multidiscipline model coordination and clash detection. Architects, engineers, builders, and stakeholders collaborate and coordinate in real time in the office or through mobile devices.

    Autodesk BIM 360 Field
    BIM 360 Field is a construction field management software that combines mobile technologies at the point of construction with cloud-based collaboration and reporting. Turn your field data into powerful information that improves quality, safety, and profitability for construction and capital projects. BIM 360 Field (formerly Vela Systems) is a cloud-based service.

    BIM9 Private BIM Cloud
    www.BIM9.com
    A BIM9 private BIM cloud is a solution that utilizes mainstream computer hardware technologies along with custom configurations to allow design teams to work on large BIM projects simultaneously from different physical locations. Located in your office, a BIM9 private BIM cloud provides secure access to all of your software applications and design data. Mobile users from around the world can access this data at any time from virtually any device, including an iPad. A BIM9 private BIM cloud gives you all the benefits of cloud computing while keeping your data fully under your control.

    CSG BIM Cloud
    http://cs-grp.net/products/index.htm
    CSG BIM Cloud is a set of rapidly deployable and scalable solutions that allows all project team members access to models and data from your server, regardless of physical location at production capable speeds

    CaddForce
    www.caddforce.com
    CaddForce is a multidisciplinary BIM cloud computing solutions provider that designs and implements private cloud solutions for the architecture, engineering, and construction industry. The company partners with a wide range of organizations to meet their critical technology needs. Companies today are searching for ways to not only save money, but also to improve efficiency and reduce errors within their processes. CaddForce achieves these goals with scalable solutions to meet the needs of industry specific applications.

    Christina M. Zweig is a contributing editor. She can be contacted at christinaz@zweigwhite.com.