Thursday, December 13, 2012

December 2012

Attendees: Dave Bleiman, Luis Buenfil, Bruce Madsen, Dan Tsui, Marla Ushijima

Topics of discussion:

Bruce decried the inconsistency of Revit family naming and expressed a wish for an industry standard. He mentioned the standards for plumbing families developed by ATS.

Dan brought up the database he's creating in SQLite (for his girlfriend's recipe collection).

Python was mentioned as an "awesome, easy, fast" database alternative. Luis says that Python integrates into Revit, and provides integration between Revit and several other programs such as Rhino, Vasari, and 3D Studio. It's open source and offers a graphical interface. It can be used as a front-end for creating geometry from a project program; and multi-variable input facilitates analysis and design optimization.

Luis told us about the flying motorcycles and cage match at the AU keynote speech (!). The main talking points at AU, and the evident direction in which Autodesk is investing, is in cloud computing and mobile solutions, such as visualization in the field on a ipad.

Dave brought up Turkey. Ground displacement in the recent earthquake was 3-4 meters. He mentions that the banking system was isolated from the Lehman Bros. disaster and the economy is fairly healthy. There's a nation-wide push for hospital construction, seismic retrofit and base isolation. Mock-ups of O.R.'s are not economically viable; virtual simulation would be a good substitute.

Virtual simulation benefits from development in the gaming industry (since that's where the money is). Game engines can handle the geometry much better than Revit for smooth, fast walk-throughs. Dan describes a work flow of .rvt file > .3ds > Unity game engine (which is free!). Then that can be run on a desktop, laptop, or ipad to glasses with two screens that cover the eyes; and a helmet with a gyroscope that tracks head movement. Dan mentions that an iphone taped to a hat would alternately serve that function. The model moves as the person looks around and up/down. SmartBIM is apparently backing development of visualization using Unity.

Bruce likens Revit walk-throughs to "packing an elephant into a Volkswagon." There needs to be a converter to simplify the geometry and proximity triggers to select alternate levels of detail for quick walk-throughs. He thinks this needs to be done by a person, as it requires a judgement call. There's a lot of ambiguity that's not handled well by computers.

We ended with a discussion debating the value proposition of paying tuition at current rates to get an MBA.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

November Meeting

Attendees: Dave Bleiman, Nora Klebow, Nancy McClure, Guy Messick, Mabe Ng, Bruce Madsen, Raimi Tan, Karen Thomas, Dan Tsui, Marla Ushijima, Glen Walson, Les Young.

Bruce hosted us at HOK this month (thanks, Bruce!). He had a great presentation on "BOB - BIM Outside the Box" and has graciously shared slides from his powerpoint presentation with us. You can download it here.

Bruce was delayed in starting his presentation due to enthusiastic discussion as people were arriving.

Bruce and Glen compared notes on the current state of Revit MEP. HOK now mandates that MEP work be performed in Revit. Interface Engineering has about 120 projects on Revit MEP. They agree that implementation has been difficult, though improving. The software is now adequate for the task, but workflow remains a major issue.

Data remains an ongoing challenge in BIM. Nancy notes that over the life of a project/building, it's difficult to maintain the integrity of the data. While designers don't want to be data-driven, Nancy points out that heavily-programmed buildings can benefit greatly by using data in a BIM design workflow. Nora notes that hospitals are in the forefront of this strategy because while the diagnostic and testing (D+T) components are different every time in terms of various metrics and adjacencies, patient rooms remain similar from project to project. Dave and Glen agree that hospitals benefit the most from evidence-based design because the owners are deeply involved in the design process, which is critical for its success.

Bruce began his presentation by identifying various aspects of implementing BIM and comparing the cost implications of each. While  BIM software is not inexpensive, that direct cost is a small fraction of the overall costs, as shown in his pie chart above. Marla and Karen questioned the slice for coordination since coordination has always been the architect's responsibility, but Bruce and Dave agree that the effort for BIM coordination is significantly greater than what's traditionally been done by architects because it's handled in the earlier phases of the project rather than getting pushed off to the contractor.

The largest single cost of BIM is for the content. The elements of this are building the firm-specific content for templates, building the firm library, acquiring content as needed, and managing all that content. Bruce's presentation focused on acquisition of content: building, finding, and/or buying it.

Built content can be started from a template, or by modifying existing content. Intuition would assume that using existing content would be easier, but as Glen pointed out, between time spent searching, modifying, and reverse-engineering to fix defects, it's often faster and easier to build from scratch.

Free content can be found from a variety of sources:
  • BIM box: In addition to the default content provided, Autodesk offers 30 additional regional libraries.
  • Within the firm: project archives, firm library, local office library
  • Community exchanges: Balda Architect, Beck Group, CADforum, Revit City, Revit Database, Revit Forum, TurboSquid, Woodwork Institute
  • Commericial consolidators: ATS, Autodesk SEEK, ARCAT, ARCxl, Bimobject, BIM STOP, Bimstore, CADdetails, Design content, National BIM Library, POLANTIS, PRODUCTSPEC, SteelSelect, Sweets Network, Reed Construction, RevitFAMILIESonline, SMARTBIM
  • Manufacturers: Bruce has identified over 1100 manufacturers providing BIM content, with more coming on board every day. He feels that manufacturers are supporting BIM much better/faster than they had CAD.
Dave told us that manufacturers must pay to be listed with Autodesk SEEK, which limits the value of that resource. He also feels that using the National BIM Library is a route to guaranteed failure. Everyone agreed that while there's a lot of free content out there, there's a lot of time and effort required to find and adapt it—which is not free.

Buying content can be done from stores (Archvision, BD GROUP, Designconnected, ENGworks, FORMFONTS, Little Details Count, Revit Content, Revit Furniture, revitstore, RevitBay, revitcars, Symbol Machine, TurboSquid, Yellowbryk) or commissioned to be custom-built (andekan, LONDON INFOTECH, Pinnacle Infotech, REVIT FACTORY, Revit MEP Store, SumexDesign, Revit Content, TheModus).

Level of detail within a family is critical—it has to have enough information to be worthwhile, but too much detail blows up the size of the model and slows down the work. Bruce promoted three levels of detail within a family: simple cubes with schedules can serve for preliminary design; 2D symbols are usually sufficient for orthographic views; while more detailed 3D geometry can be reserved for where it's really necessary. Dan also suggests swapping out objects as necessary when rendering.

Bruce proposed that it's up to us to address the difficulties we face with content. Currently our efforts are redundant—all firms are addressing these topics independently. Instead we must ask for what we want, provide feedback, and contribute to an industry-wide solution. As a starting point, he solicited input from us on our greatest frustrations related to BIM content. Among those things most mentioned were time lost due to searching for content, content that's not appropriate for a model's needs, poorly-built content, and interruption to work flow.

Bruce identified the things we want:
  • A massive library: all the content we need, including system objects, generic objects, and manufacturer-specific objects.
  • Consistency: file names, type names, parameters, and parameter names. These standards should be established and maintained by industry groups, professional organizations, national and international standards groups, some kind of AECO Wiki, and all of us in the industry.
  • High quality: adherence to standards and quality control, making sure all parameters flex properly.
  • Findable: A searchable database or some other resource is necessary to make accessing the content from so many sources feasible. Search parameters need to include discipline, Revit category and library folder names, object name, author, LOD, standard followed, generic vs. specific, and a rating of the quality.
  • Accessible: cloud-based, mobile, download-able, and insert-able
  • Free or low-cost: all stakeholders should sponsor improvement: manufacturers to fund specific content; consolidators to fund generic content; stores to develop generic and non-component content; professional and trade organizations to develop standards for names and units; and content users to develop standards  for display and function, and to provide input and feedback. Large AEC firms could also be drawn upon to build content.
On the subject of standards, Dave noted that there are existing systems that can be drawn upon. ISO9000, the National CAD Standards, and Omniclass have already sorted some of these things out.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

October Meeting

Attendees: Dave Bleiman, Mario Guttman, Bruce Madsen, Marla Ushijima

The group was really stoked after the presentation last month from Doug Childs on Lean Design, so we continued the topic in our informal discussion this month.

We all agreed that Lean faces resistance from the design community, which generally views it as a manufacturing-focused methodology. Marla proposes that the specialized terminology of Lean can be off-putting to those adverse to Lean Design, but that the specific words aren't critical to following Lean principles. Those principles are in line with generally-accepted best business practices—listen to what the client wants, don't waste time on activities that don't advance those goals, and learn from past experience—so if project managers jettison the terminology they can still advance Lean principles and tools on a project basis. Mario feels that the ritual derived from more overt implementation is important for organizational implementation.

We discussed dangers of ritual as well, and the difference between theoretical and actual benefits. We likened it to LEED certification, which can sometimes lead to an emphasis on getting points rather than effective sustainability. Dave questioned the appropriateness of the new Google headquarters' LEED Platinum rating, Mario questioned the slavish reliance on photometrics and Ecotect analysis vs. innovative approaches to getting effective lighting. Dave pointed out the irony of daylighting when shades are positioned to prevent glare but left in that position indefinitely by occupants who then turn on the lights.

How does Lean benefit an organization? Design professions are all about getting the work, doing the work, and getting paid for the work. Lean is mostly about doing the work. Its value in getting the work—marketing—is debatable. Bruce questions whether clients care whether or not you're using Lean; Mario questions whether a firm should try to sell Lean to a client or just let attitudes and performance speak for itself. He suggests that using Lean Design shows a serious commitment to QA, which could be of value in marketing. Added client value and potential marketing opportunities could be a selling point for management buy-in, which Bruce feels is critical for follow-through on whole-office implementation. Dave says that competitive advantage speaks volumes, and compares it to the implementation of BIM. As a demonstration, Mario suggested choosing the most disliked process in the office—such as doing dishes or processing reimbursables—and use a Lean process to improve it.

If internal opposition to Lean is expected, Marla suggests stealth implementation by a committed project manager on an individual project—to start small and demonstrate the value of Lean processes. Bruce and Dave agree that any change represents risk to an organization, so a pilot project must be used for evaluation before spreading it to the broader organization.

Dave is hopeful that Lean would reduce the need  for staff to stay late for a crush at deadline time, through more effective project planning. As an aside, Mario praised sheet lists as remaining of value in the BIM process to identify, plan, and track the work effort. We all agreed that knowing when to NOT do something is the right thing to do—such as when there's insufficient information to proceed effectively. Dave points out that the creative instinct sometimes fights against such efficiency.

Marla asked Dave about PopIcon for Architecture, which is apparently in its beta 3 version. Dave says they're facing a conundrum because they've made the library folder structure rigid to prevent mistakes, but the lack of flexibility creates a problem for architects. Dave is concerned that if they provide more flexibility, PopIcon would become a scapegoat for the resulting user errors. He asked for additional feedback from the beta users.

Mario brought up library management issues with BIM. Perkins+Will has a well-defined nomenclature for family file names, but the folder structure is more difficult to police. Mario thinks it's important for family creators to take ownership of their families and is promoting a structure in which folder names indicate the author, software version, and the unit type (imperial vs. metric). Bruce commented that the person at HOK who was responsible for creating their library of custom content was laid off as an expendable overhead cost. The result is a well-crafted collection of families being overtaken by content created ad-hoc by various designers. Bruce is concerned that the legacy standards—which are really good—will degrade over time.

We discussed the idea of using Omniclass vs. folder structure to classify families and tie them into e-spec. Mario notes that currently specs are typically based on prototypes; Omniclass tends to be either too obvious or too obscure and the middle ground is too small for value. Marla suggested polling our Linked In group to see who's using e-specs.

Bruce asked whether Lean is anathema to design? Architects are typically not interested in "process." Marla points out that certain tasks in the design professions are amenable to process improvement, others not so much. Bruce mentioned "optioneering," a methodology to systematically explore a large number of design options using parametric design tools. Mario pointed out that staffing realities can mess with a balanced work flow. Bruce wonders if Lean can shorten the timeline of a project; Mario wonders whether it can improve accuracy.

Bruce asked us how many manufacturers we think are providing Revit-specific content. Mario guessed twenty are making good content, plus about 500 others. Bruce said there are over a thousand.

Mario says he's developed a batch processor for in-house use at Perkins+Will to create 3D and plan previews, drawn from defined views within the BIM file. Marla asked whether parameters are included in the preview information; Mario doesn't see that as a high priority, and thinks a notes field would be of more value. He wonders whether he could mine the parameters in a family to populate a notes field.

There are several industry events coming up: Arcadia and Greenbuild will both be held in San Francisco, as will AIA|CC's Now • Next • Future conference. Autodesk will be in Las Vegas; both HOK and P+W will be sending speakers only.

Dave proposes a future meeting focusing on the Lean A3 document; he thinks it's really valuable. Marla would like to further examine the ties between Lean, BIM, and IPD. Bruce has a great interest in all the things required for successful BIM use that aren't part of the software package. He believes those things are a hundred times as expensive as the software itself. He has offered to host next month's meeting at HOK on the subject of BOB—BIM Outside the Box.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

September Meeting

We had a great presentation on Lean Design from Douglas Childs of TAYLOR this morning. He has been kind enough to allow us to post the slides from his presentation; you may find them here.

James McKenzie and Eric Davis of Swinerton generously hosted the presentation in their well-equipped conference room with stunning views!

And here are a summary and the supplemental notes I promised:

Attendees: Dave Bleiman, Annalise Chikhale, Doug Childs, Eric Davis, Mario Guttman, Will Henderson, Damon Hernandez, Bruce Madsen, Nancy McClure, Karen Thomas, Dan Tsui, Marla Ushijima, Andrew Wolfram

Step 1 - Identify value
Doug started his presentation with demonstrating the first step of Lean processes, by asking the goals of his customers (each person present), and identifying the value they hoped to derive from attending the meeting.

He then explained the premise of What Lean Is and Isn't. Lean originated in Japan by Toyota as an approach to manufacturing excellence, but can be advantageously applied to any kind of process. It is commonly equated with miscellaneous tools such as Last Planner, A3, Six Sigma, Value Stream Mapping and the construction industry specific of IPD. None of these define Lean, but rather can be used to facilitate Lean processes.

Lean is a way of thinking and management targeted at maximizing value to a customer through continually improving processes.

2. Map the Value Stream
After identifying the value as defined by the customer (whosever needs are being addressed by a process, whether a client, building department, boss, etc,), the second step is to map the value stream, which is that set of all actions required to bring a product or process from concept to finished product. The purpose is to analyze the value of each step in the process, and to eliminate all steps which don't add value as defined by the customer. In Lean terminology, this step addresses the concept of the Japanese word muda, or superfluousness, a waste of time and effort.

3. Create Flow
In order to demonstrate the concept of flow, Doug had us do an exercise using the example of inventorying a bag of miscellaneous items.
We split into smaller groups with the purpose of each group individually taking inventory, and seeing how long it took for all groups to complete their separate inventories. The first method was for each group to execute a large chunk of work - to inventory all the objects - and then pass on the objects to the next group, who then did all of their work, and so forth. This resulted in each group having a short period of activity, and long periods of waiting for other groups to execute their tasks. We then tried a process of the first group inventorying a small number of objects and then passing them on to the next group so they could get started while the first group proceeded with successive small sets of objects, passing them on in small chunks. This method resulted in a much more efficient ratio of waiting time to active time, and a much shorter overall time.

4. Establish Pull
The first method was an example of traditional "push" scheduling, wherein a start date is established and each step is executed consecutively one after another. The second method emulated the Lean approach of "pull" scheduling, in which the overall scheduling goal is identified and then the schedule is developed backward to determine what smaller chunks of information are needed when to meet that goal, keeping all team members working concurrently as efficiently as possible. Doug described a common method of pull planning in which a team gathers in one room and collaboratively develops the schedule using color-coded post-its on the wall for each task in a process, identifying its duration, what's needed from upstream actors to perform the task, and constraints.

5. Seek Perfection
The last principle of Lean is the endeavor to continually improve the process, to strive for perfection - meaning the complete elimination of all activities that don't provide value for the customer. It's an ongoing cycle described as PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) which requires transparency and feedback from all, especially customers of the process. One tool to accomplish this is a "plus-delta" check after completion of a process, to revisit the original goals and evaluate what was done well (plus) vs. what could be done better (delta), and to use that input to improve the process next time. Post-occupancy evaluation, anyone?

Doug then addressed some of the objections that are expressed in regard to Lean: that it's just a fad, it's not necessary, there's no time for it, effort should be directed at producing results rather than improving the process, and there's no return on the effort—in large part a lack of understanding and fear of the unknown. Doug addressed those concerns by identifying some of the key differences of Traditional vs. Lean Production and Management—a focus on results vs. customer value, an individual vs. team approach, free-form vs. defined methods, and carrot and stick vs. managed expectations, building consensus and trust—and the resulting benefits:
  • for the customer: greater value—faster, lower cost, better quality
  • for the designer: happier clients, fewer fire drills and happier staff, and greater profit
  • for staff: less stress, greater job satisfaction, happier work environment
    Dave Bleiman raised some issues that hinder implementation of Lean. Often outside entities disrupt the process, such as OSHPD or Building Department review; or the entire hierarchy of a team is not on board with the concept; or time-engrained habits resurface at crunch time. He postulates that Lean is easier to implement on a firm basis rather than a project basis. For successful implementation, buy-in and motivation must occur from both the top down and the bottom up.

    Doug next reviewed one of the trademark tools of Lean processes, the A3. It's so-called because it uses a single page of paper of Japanese size A3, roughly equivalent to 11x17. It's used to track an issue and the Lean process approach to it. It's composed of a statement and explanation of the issue, analysis—ask why 5 times!—and decision on how to resolve the issue, the specific steps necessary to achieve that resolution, and an evaluation of whether the issue is resolved and how well.

    To complete Doug's presentation and demonstration of Lean principals, he solicited plus/delta feedback from everyone in the room on his presentation. Everyone's goals seem to have been met, and we all agreed that Doug did a very nice job of presenting the material. We also agreed that more discussion—which was curtailed during the presentation due to time constraints—would have been helpful.

    Those of us who could afford the time stayed on to continue the conversation. Nancy pondered the question of how to implement Lean. Marla pointed out that Lean prescribes a way of thinking that's not dependent upon specific tools or even language, and that a leader could overcome potential resistance to the "Lean" brand by avoiding the catch phrases.

    Nancy and Dave think that stress breaks down the Lean process, which Marla points out is ironic as the process is intended to relieve stress. Firmly-ingrained dysfunctional behaviors burden implementation of any kind; the iterative cycle of continuous improvement should eventually overcome that burden.

    Dave stated that a critical aspect of Lean is learning how to make proper requests and realistic promises. We all agreed that communication is the most important thing, not the formal tools and terminology of Lean. As Karen noted, it's the job of a project manager to set the tone and create a Lean environment starting at the project kick-off meeting. Dave thinks that it's the project managers who are most resistant to process change. Upper management hears all the benefits and gets on-board with the program but don't directly implement it; and junior staff have no established processes to conflict with the change. Dan thinks one difficulty is the difference between cash flow and profit vs. value creation. It's necessary to figure out how to spread risk across the entire firm rather than burdening a particular project. Damon states there's often interest initially, but when the rubber hits the road, it's pushed off to down the road, on to the next project.

    There was a little discussion at the end on some other topics. Eric says that gaming will change our industry, because they're solving the problem of processing huge amounts of data. Our industry just doesn't have an income stream sufficient to tackle it. Dan says game designers reduce polygons to a bare minimum, which is not feasible for AEC. When he can't load an entire model, Damon loads just what's necessary. Dan notes that elements to be loaded can be selected based on location within the building or distance from the viewer.

    Damon championed Twitter; he's discovered that using it to post complaints is an extremely effective method for getting a response from a company—they really don't want problems out there, searchable, in cyberspace.

    Dave has sworn off multi-tasking, he thinks it just doesn't work. He likes using his iPad because then he can do only one thing at a time.

    Thursday, August 9, 2012

    August Meeting

    Attendees: Dave Bleiman, Mario Guttman, James McKenzie, Karen Thomas, Dan Tsui, Marla Ushijima

    Dan updated us all on his status - he's left Modulus Consulting to go back to school and get his MBA. Dave questioned whether a cost-benefit analysis of an MBA would pencil out in terms of finances and increased earning potential. Dan seems to have sufficient academic curiosity to make it worthwhile for him.

    Mario told us about an exciting project he's working on with Tim Meador called Hummingbird, which uses the Model Builder in Mario's WhiteFeet Tools to translate Rhino/Grasshopper geometry into Revit models. Mario referenced a couple of blogs that provide more information: and

    We discussed the plethora of software for BIM coordination, cloud computing, and project management. Autodesk is especially redundant within their own organization as they're busily buying up all their possible competitors. Horizontal Glue (which they bought last year) has been folded into BIM 360 Glue, which is like "Navisworks in the cloud". It handles various file formats within a shared environment, somewhat analogous to Google docs. It has a model viewer and redmark editor, and integrates with CMIC for construction and capital management. Autodesk also recently bought Vela, for field management and BIM viewing. Hopefully Autodesk will leverage their hegemony to improve workflow and communication among all the various tools.

    Talking about cloud security brought up some anecdotes regarding hacking. Dave relayed the case of the Wired reporter whose life was hacked - multiple accounts (Apple, Twitter, Google, Amazon) taken over with passwords reset via telephone, and all his personal data and devices wiped clean. As a result the various companies are no longer changing passwords over the phone. Linked In was also hacked, and now they "salt" passwords by adding something to them prior to encryption, as there are a limited number of encryption algorithms available. Marla passed on a warning about unsolicited text messages: thieves can set up accounts to receive donations (such as were used to raise funds for victims of Katrina and the Japanese tsunami). They then go on a massive spam campaign, sending out messages with the option to prevent further messages by sending a reply of "stop", but as soon as you do that you're hit with a $5 or $10 "donation" charged to your phone bill. Dave also mentioned that Bank of America was hacked by hijacked phone systems being used to authorize wire transfers.

    Karen brought up Deltek Vision accounting software, saying it was the worst business decision that Hilliard Architects ever made - it's just overkill for small firms. Dave doesn't trust it to evaluate efficiency, as Deltek tracks cost by multiplier and thus paints a deceptive picture. Dave uses raw costs only. Axium was mentioned as an alternative to Deltek.

    Marla canvassed people on how they're using Newforma. Rutherford & Chekene uses it only as an email aggregator for project-oriented communication. Hilliard Architects hasn't bought it. Karen questions its value as an ftp site, though recognized the potential value for proactively tracking downloads by consultants. She remained unconvinced about the ultimate value of that, as she thought that regular communications should reveal questions.

    James described the process of the VDC team at Swinerton. They do a minimum of work on high-level direction. They push most things down to the project level. Not only is it billable that way, but it's also more efficient, as value is evaluated more rigorously by a project manager.

    There was some discussion on the purpose and value of a firm's cyber presence on social media such as Twitter and Linked In. We questioned the effectiveness as a marketing strategy - which seems how it's typically used - but came to the conclusion that it's now pretty much de rigueur and that just showing the link logos on the firm website lends a certain air of tech cred.

    Thursday, July 12, 2012

    July Meeting

    Attendees: Dave Bleiman, Todd Henderson, Bruce Madsen, James McKenzie, Dan Tsui, Marla Ushijima

    We started off with a discussion of Lean Design and it's relationship to BIM. Currently there are cases of remodeling due to the use of multiple software and difficulties with interoperability. Structural engineers prefer Tekla, architects typically use Revit, but there are problems with the IFC interface between them, such as beams that get flipped when they're translated into Revit. In response, Todd notes that Boulder Associates has learned how to model in Tekla, but this is prohibitive for most architects. Dave made a presentation at Autodesk University on the two programs, the interface between them, and the shortcomings of Revit for fabrication. Tekla has provided a "crazy amount" of support on the issue, but not so much from Autodesk. Fabricators use Tekla because it identifies every piece of rebar on a project - necessary for shop-fabrication - but that doesn't work in Revit. That problem was resolved in Revit 2013, but by that point fabricators had already committed to Tekla. James postulated that issues might arise from the fact that Autodesk hasn't developed a product in-house since AutoCAD 20+ years ago, with the exception of Inventor. They've bought all their signature software in recent years.

    Next up was the topic of construction accuracy. James referenced GPS control of earth-moving equipment, facilitated by topo models with all underground utilities located. Todd noted that at Kaiser Oakland Hospital, McCarthy Construction developed an in-house scanning team that creates topo maps of floor slabs to measure their levelness to 1/10 of an inch, and to check locations of rebar and stub-ups. They overlay the laser scan onto the Revit model for QA/QC. Can construction methods really meet the new expectations for construction tolerances? Swinerton uses Get the Point software with Total Station to identify hole locations in slabs, and also uses laser scanning for QA/QC. James notes that they receive no additional compensation, and they're not taking advantage of it for marketing purposes.

    Dave brought up the issue of cloud computing. At the recent Revit Technology Conference there was a demonstration of BIM9, which provides private BIM clouds with a separate server behind a firewall that firms locate in their own server room. It provides BIM authoring software via remote desktop access for either local or remote use by any device connected to the internet. Cheap computers can be used for modeling as long as they have a good graphics card. Even ipads can be a viable modeling tool if they've got a mouse. Todd mentioned experience with Log Me In for remote access, which was slow and doesn't give server access to consultant engineers in China. Bruce noted that HOK is using Citrix successfully for cloud computing.

    For cloud storage, James mentioned Pogo, which is a cheap device that acts as a private server. It's not secure but it is easily deployed. Todd said that security concerns led Sutter Health to negotiate a special contract for Buzzsaw that guarantees that none of their data would be stored outside the country. We questioned the need for this, as info gets out anyway via bid documents. Todd likes Buzzsaw, Dave notes that Dropbox is popular but not as robust.

    There are several solutions that marry team-sharing of information and project management. Constructware is designed to work with Buzzsaw. Horizontal Glue has been bought by AutoDesk; it facilitates the RFI process and works with CMIC for job-cost accounting, similar to Deltek but more robust. Dan's experience with Horizontal Glue is that it's navigation is slow, with cloud-based streaming. James noted the need for untethered access to information when an internet connection is unavailable. Vela Systems caches information for off-line access. Dan and Bruce are both familiar with 360 Glue, which is another Autodesk product similar to Horizontal Glue. They thought it worked well. Dan used it at Modulus Consulting for cloud rendering, which was fast, impressive, and freed up their in-house servers. His client loved it, asking for more and more renderings - include it in the contract as an add service so both the client and you benefit.

    Thursday, June 21, 2012

    June Meeting

    Attendees: Dave Bleiman, Victor Chu, Naveen Govind, Bruce Madsen, Nancy McClure, Mabe Ng, Shaun Peppers, Dan Tsui, Marla Ushijima, Brett Young.

    Dave hosted June's meeting at his office to preview an architectural version of Rutherford & Chekene's PopIcon plug-in for Revit, and to solicit feedback on its value.

    R&C have identified the interface between Revit and Autocad as problematic and made the decision to produce all their details in Revit, but they've also recognized some challenges with that workflow. It can be difficult and/or time-consuming to locate detailing components within a project file or across a firm's servers; and redundant families can accumulate - causing project file bloat, graphic inconsistencies, and confusion.

    AutoDesk has not been very successful at improving the situation, but when they released the API in 2010 it became possible for third parties to develop solutions. R&C took up the challenge in order to improve their in-house process, and developed a system of pull-down menus to ease the family loading process. They subsequently put that solution on the market as a plug-in called PopIcon for Revit Structure 2011. When Dave presented it at Autodesk University, he got requests for versions in metric and versions for other design disciplines.

    The difficulty for architects is the need for a MUCH greater variety of objects (even MEP requires a surprising amount of content). Dave showed us what they came up with for Revit 2013 (which has also been back-engineered for Revit 2012). The group recognized a great deal of potential, and came up with a lot of suggestions for improvement.

    PopIcon adds tabs and tools for modeling, detailing, and annotation. Content is drawn from the standard Autodesk library, a Pop-Icon library (included), and user-defined custom libraries. Multiple outside folders can be linked, and family catalogs are automatically created.

    Nancy really liked the preview icon in the selection window, which is generated from the actual object - making it a lot easier to identify the desired family. She requested that the type selection include a preview of parameters. Nancy also asked for the inclusion of generic models.

    Shaun asked about using .rvt files as sources of PopIcon content. At Forell Elsesser, they have library projects with walls, detailing components, hatch patterns, etc., which they insert as groups into a project file. He theorizes that PopIcon could be much easier. Dave responded that currently PopIcon uses only .rfa files but he'll look into adding that capability.

    Dave demonstrated the fireproofing feature that HOK developed and made available for inclusion in PopIcon (thanks, Bruce!). It approximates the required fireproofing layer; the exact thickness is not guaranteed but it can be used for clash detection purposes.

    The consensus of the group was that the real solution to the workflow is to provide one-stop shopping for content from all sources. For example, in any one category pull-down list (such as for windows), there should be access to families and groups within all of these:
    1. Content already loaded in the project
    2. Project libraries
    3. Office library
    4. Content within other project files (provide links to other projects which then populate a category-specific list)
    5. Autodesk library
    6. PopIcon library
    PopIcon does not require hard-coding of folder hierarchy, so additional file locations are easily incorporated; but R&C will have to do some engineering for content within .rvt files.

    If new content duplicates content already loaded into the project, it should be indicated somehow (grayed-out?) as a safeguard against overwriting customized content (in addition to the standard Revit warning).

    We also discussed an option to open a family to check on naming conventions. Discipline is necessary; there's a difference between good practice and what people actually do. Management tools to handle this - locking families? confirmation messages? electric shock?

    Some other particulars that Dave mentioned: PopIcon installs at individual machines, not the server (there are no network licenses). The standard price is $400/copy for individual licenses, with enterprise pricing negotiable. R&C provides tech support as long as it's not abused. More info and beta-testing options are available at

    Thursday, May 17, 2012

    May SFDD Meeting

    Attendees: David Bleiman, Victor Chu, Naveen Govind, Mario Guttman, John LeBlanc, Eric Peabody, Karen Thomas, Mark Tiscornia, Lillian Trac, Marla Ushijima

    Eric Peabody presented a fantastic case study of three nearly identical projects delivered by three different processes, as the nearest thing possible to a real-world controlled experiment in BIM use. The Design Partnership (TDP) designed remodels of three operating rooms at Stanford's Cath Labs used for procedures delivered through catheterization methods. All three labs are in the same building, on the same floor.

    Lab #7 was a Design Bid Build project executed in 2006 with a traditional CAD-only workflow. It started with existing 2D CAD drawings, which were verified in the field. TDP then created new 2D CAD documents for the remodeling work.

    Lab #9 was a Design Assist project executed in 2009 using an "industry standard" BIM workflow which included modeling down to 2", with select smaller elements modeled as necessary. It started with a 3D scan used to create a model of the existing conditions, and then a design BIM for the remodeling work. Eric showed a very impressive image from the point cloud which many of us initially mistook for a photograph. It was black and white, but captured light reflectance of the materials. He mentioned that color scanning is also now available.

    Lab #10 was also Design Assist, executed in 2010, also using 3D scanning to capture existing conditions and create an existing BIM but modeling everything for the design BIM, including studs and junction boxes.

    Eric developed an extensive analysis of the three projects on the basis of schedule, change orders, and costs - design, construction, and margin (based on lost revenue from the operating rooms due to the construction). He adjusted all costs to 2010 dollars based on inflation of the economy at large (not strictly inflation of the construction economy). He deducted all medical equipment costs to level the playing field.

    The design fee proposal to use BIM for Lab #9 was significantly higher than for #7 CAD - knocking the client out of their seat - but TDP lobbied successfully for it. Eric admitted that they benefited from the BIM as well, as it's in the architect's best interest to create the most coordinated set possible; but the subsequent cost savings to the client caused them to demand BIM for Lab #10. The design fees for #10 were back to the CAD level despite the increased BIM effort, because the contractor took on the modeling. That turned out to be costlier to the client due to union wages paid by the contractor. (Hmmm, perhaps architects should form a union?)

    The client was also concerned about the $30,000 cost per room for the 3D scanning, but Mario points out that it is probably more than balanced by the revenue gained in getting the operating rooms back into action quicker. Some contractors such as DPR use extreme scanning procedures, repeatedly scanning as the building rises to confirm accuracy. Dave notes that vertical coordination of floor penetrations is critical for Total Station Control methodologies. He also notes that DPR's emphasis on precision offers marketing opportunities.

    Post-construction, Lab #7 drawings had to be revised to match as-built conditions. Lab #9 BIM was close enough that the client didn't require revisions. Lab #10 BIM was virtually identical to the as-built conditions.

    TDP's conclusion after these three projects is that BIM definitely beats CAD, the 2" standard of Lab #9 is a little coarse, but the "model everything" approach of Lab #10 yields diminishing returns. TDP determined the sweet spot as modeling to 1-1/2", which is sufficient to capture all the necessary medical gas lines and struts.

    Mark feels that contractors are getting to the point that they want no change orders to the virtual model. He proposes that if designers model the same way as contractors, there's more likelihood that the design model doesn't need to be thrown away. If the contractor can start with the design model then he should be able to reduce his fees.

    Dave notes that everything is Design Assist now, there's very little Design-Bid-Build. In Europe structural designers do the shop drawings and provide a book of quantities. This process is facilitated by the Parts tool introduced in Revit 2012.

    On the issue of code review and BIM submittal for permits, Singapore was mentioned but Mario and Dave repeated their belief that it remains largely apocryphal. As long as paper drawings remain necessary for permitting, especially for OSHPD, they must remain the basis of contract documents. This is, of course, at odds with contractors who derive much greater value out of the BIM. As models increasingly become the professional standard of care, it becomes more difficult legally to rely on disclaimers regarding their accuracy. A more appropriate approach to accuracy issues might be to establish clearly-defined Levels of Development. Designers are also wise to hyper-link the specs to elements in the model to keep critical information on the contractor's radar. This also adds potential value to the model post-construction for use by facility managers and building management systems.

    Dave suggests that to stay in the game designers must create greater value for ourselves. We need to be prepared to rely on the BIM as contract documents. An in-house QA process for models becomes critical.

    Eric notes that in Europe a new category of professional is emerging who's responsible for BIM modeling and analysis (energy, lifecycle costs, etc.).

    In the U.S., we noted the trend toward acquisitions. As firms such as AECOM are merging diverse professionals of varying core competencies, authoring and ownership of a BIM - plus the associated liability issues - become moot as it's increasingly all done in-house. Pankow and Herrero have also purchased some of their own sub-contractors. We questioned whether mid-size firms are dying out as partnering becomes necessary for success or even survival.

    Thursday, March 8, 2012

    March SFDD Meeting

     Attendees: Bruce Madsen, Dave Bleiman, Jackson Ng, Mario Guttman, Marla Ushijima, Nora Klebow, Thomas Whisker, Victor Chu

    Our discussion started with the ipad, which continues to be a big hit with our group, though Mario suggests that the Apple Air is a better platform for some kinds of mobile work, as a laptop beats out a fingertip on a tablet for precision.

    Screen size is a big factor for mobile success. The general consensus is that a laptop should have a 15"-17" screen for productive work. Marla posed the idea of an auxiliary screen for an ipad (analogous to an auxiliary keypad). No one was aware of one on the market, but Jackson uses a projector run off an ipad. (Dave has also mentioned Keynote Remote in previous meetings.) Jackson also mentioned that Samsung has just come out with a phone with a built-in projector (Samsung Galaxy Beam).

    We discussed some less-utilized possibilities of BIM. The permit process remains analog; the oft-cited example of Singapore's automated code checking is believed to be more myth than fact. OSHPD is unable to pursue the possibilities due to lack of the necessary hardware and software. We theorized that for a large project, providing them with the technology might well be a more cost-effective method than printing out the multiple (thick!) sets of drawings currently required.

    Nora reports that Kaiser is restructuring and outsourcing their facilities department. Facilities management remains a challenge for BIM. Enhanced information in a BIM accessible in the field via tablet is a powerful tool. The format for the data can be the BIM itself, but would more likely be a Navisworks model, XML, or a smart pdf. The minimal cost of RFID tags paired with GPS offers a world of possibilities for managing furnishings and equipment. Building systems can boost the accuracy of standard GPS, and RFID tags on a door frame can link an item to its location. The challenge lies in the reliable maintenance of information - which is critical for success but difficult to achieve.

    Bruce is interested in the topic of best practices for Revit families. He recommends keeping parameters out of families, and instead keeping them at the project level. Marla notes that Autodesk doesn't follow their own guidelines for family creation, and Dave has discovered significant errors in Autodesk's structural models. Thomas offers suggested best practices for families and Revit in general at

    BIM plans remain a topic of great interest. Mario called attention to NATSPEC, which provides an Australian national standard BIM Management Plan template.
    Owners' interest in getting useful information out of a BIM remains more aspirational than practical. The information requested during contract negotiations might or might not be realistic or useful, but designers are unlikely to turn down such requests - especially when those contract negotiations are undertaken by principals or project managers unfamiliar with details of the BIM process.

    Specifications remain the unwanted stepchild of the design process, serving to address issues of legal liability (or to save our bacon, as Mario says). They often contain unrealistic demands which are unachievable and/or unenforceable in the field. Assembly codes can tie a BIM to specs, but the correct entering of that information in the BIM is currently haphazard at best. Assembly codes offer classification per Uniformat at the type level, and Omniclass at the object level, but aren't currently part of a realistic workflow. Specwriters generally don't like espec, and none of the attendees currently use it. Bruce theorized that a list of the assembly codes in a project could provide a cross-check for the spec writer to make sure all the necessary sections are covered.

    There is ongoing concern over the consumption of data in the BIM, and how it's used downstream. Contractors are increasingly preferring to rely on the model instead of consulting the drawings; designers are concerned that critical information is getting overlooked as a result. Mario also referenced language difficulties, both in our domestic workforce and as a result of global outsourcing of fabrication. Possible remedies could include easing access to information from within the model, through use of tools such as assembly codes, keynotes, and links to related details or spec sections.

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012

    February SFDD Meeting

    Attendees: Dave Bleiman, Mario Guttman, Marla Ushijima, Craig Goings, Eric Peabody

    Dave hosted the meeting at Rutherford & Chekene with some lovely breakfast treats and lots of stimulating ideas. We started by watching Did You Know 3.0/Shift Happens by Karl Fisch, Scott McLeod, and XPLANE, which identifies trends that many Americans might find surprising.

    Dave posits that innovation is no longer the purview of a lone genius sitting in a garage working by himself. Innovation is triggered by connectivity, and as connectivity increases, the rate of innovation increases. Innovation tends to happen more quickly in large cities because there are more opportunities for making connections. Eric notes that likewise, good lab design optimizes random social interactions to foster cross-fertilization.

    Dave showed us a beta presentation that he's preparing for an upcoming AEC conference.

    5 Waves of Disruption: Impacts and Opportunities

    1.0 - Shift from Ownership to Access and Experience:
    ·         Zip car, Salesforce, Google apps

    2.0 - Business Unusual - Business as a pickup game
    ·         Cloud sourcing services match need with independent contractors world-wide:
    ·         Elance - all kinds of services
    ·         99 Designs - graphic design
    ·         Arcbazar - architectural/interiors design
    ·         Li & Fung - manufacturing. They don't own anything, but orchestrate the process through highly-specialized factories
    ·         KickStart - micro loans
    ·         Kickstarter - market for funding of creative ventures, contingent upon reaching total funding goals

     3.0 - Digital Manufacturing
    ·         Scanning analog to digital >  Manipulating the digital content > 3D Printing 
    ·         3D printers now available for less than $1000 that can print 95% of its own parts when it's first set up
    ·         ConXtech pre-fab high-precision steel framing system

     4.0 - Ambient Intelligence
    ·         Secure RFID tags - for people?
    ·         Fitbit - tracks movement to evaluate exercise; insurance offers premium pricing to people willing to wear it (and showing sufficient levels of exercise)
    ·         Cost of RFID tags for supermarkets drops to 1¢ - will replace barcodes
    ·         Objects embedded with technology to be part of network intelligence

    5.0 - Infinite Computing
    ·         Computational power becoming cheaper than water
    ·         exaFLOP is one quintillion computer operations per second (10 to the 30th power)
    ·         3D arrays of processors
    ·         Moore's Law (number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years) will apply for 75 more years (only)
    ·         Intel - "last year there were more processors manufactured than grains of rice harvested, and a lower unit cost" (there are a million processors on a chip)
    ·         Once you define 20 parameters than can affect design, evaluating options is basically free

    How does innovation happen?
    ·         from connectivity
    ·         Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson (You Tube)
    ·         Stages of innovation: Impossible > Improbable > Possible > Likely > Expected (Where's my latte?)
    How does Innovation Impact Organizations?
    ·         Impossible > Impractical > Possible > Expected > Required
    ·         Break-Thru Technology is replaced by Sustaining Technology
    ·         Value pricing gets replaced by commodity pricing
    ·         CADD was originally a value-added proposition justifying higher compensation, then it became the norm. Same for BIM. What's next? Fabrication, cloud-based parametric performance design?

     How do we create competitive separation?
    ·         Speed of innovation won't allow people to stand there waiting for the bus
    ·         Shift from hand drafting to pin-registered drafting to CADD to BIM
    ·         Someone from medieval times plopped into the current world would see it as insurmountable but we're able to deal with it
    ·         Rutherford & Chekene offers free membership to Techshop to employees
    ·         P2SL lean organization
    ·         MIT putting all their classes online for anyone in the world to audit

    Technology waves of disruption create opportunities
    ·         Innovation is happening outside of the U.S. New societies trying to build themselves from the ground up aren't bogged down in current technologies and infrastructure; they're interested in ideas only.
    ·         ipad sweatshops in China persist because manual labor there is cheaper than machines.
    ·         Don't compare doing the same things and compensation in other countries. Each country should do what they do best for universal optimization.

    There's a battle doing on for scope in our industry. Designers are losing ground to contractors.
    ·         A really big design firm in France is 20 people; they only go up to DD, then pass it off to contractors
    ·         Conceptualization is needed separately from delivery; society needs both
    ·         We need to collaborate more closely on the manufacturing side
    ·         Architects can't market value in the same way as contractors can.
    ·         Designer's interests are more aligned with a client's interests than contractors are
    o    if designers improve efficiency, owners realize the benefit
    o    if contractors improve efficiency, contractors realize the benefit
    ·         foster relationships with contractor

    Apple does the design - 70-80% of profits remain in U.S.
    Apple controls the data (iTunes)
    China manufactures the hardware - 3% of profit

    Manage the value stream
    Don't give away the data

    Dave would be willing to make this presentation at architectural offices if invited.

    Thursday, January 12, 2012

    January SFDD Meeting

    Attendees: Dan Tsui, Jen Dameron, Victor Chu, Jackson Ng, Craig Goings, Mario Guttman, Nancy McClure, Bruce Madsen, Marla Ushijima

    The topic of the day was mobile apps, mostly for the ipad. Dave Bleiman reports that Rutherford & Chekene has recently supplied all their principals and officers with ipads + accessories. He started off the discussion, listing the hardware and apps they're using.

    A keyboard is essential for extended use. Dave uses a model by Zagg that doubles as a case and stand. For sketching and taking notes, he is very happy with a stylus by Nataal that plugs into the earbud port to help prevent loss. Nevertheless, he recommends stocking spares.

    We discussed the following apps for business and/or pleasure:
    1. Penultimate: for writing notes by hand and sketching. Supports Dropbox and Evernote.
    2. Notability: best app for note-taking - handwriting, keyboard and/or audio with sync between sound and written notes. Can annotate PDFs. Boxnet or Dropbox are required.
    3. Dragon Dictation: speech recognition / transcription.
    4. IAnnotate: best app for accessing and mark-up of pdfs. This substitutes for Bluebeam, which R&C uses in the office but isn't available as a mobile app.
    5. Docs to Go: for editing docs, excel spreadsheets, and powerpoint. Supports multiple cloud services.
    6. Keynote Remote: Apple presentation app that can also run powerpoint presentations. Connects to an Apple TV box on the same wifi network, allowing mirroring of ipad screen to any monitor or display device. (Make sure you turn in off if you're outside the conference room or doing something private.)
    7. AutoDesk Review (ADR): improved, but still doesn't slice a model very well.
    8. Navisworks: app was scheduled to come out in December but hasn't yet. It will run the model off the server.
    9. Newforma: allows access to project database on the go. Mobile app needs server to be on version 8. Perkins+Will uses it, but Mario isn't familiar with it; he hasn't played with it much yet.
    10. iRdesktop: uses Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) natively to view and control a Windows desktop. It's free and works pretty well.
    11. Splashtop Remote: Jackson's preferred remote desktop app.
    12. Citrix Receiver : another remote desktop app, used by Modulus Consulting.
    13. Skype: video conferencing works pretty well on iPad.
    14. Flipboard: beautiful presentation of a variety of free and self-provided content: magazines, any website, RSS feeds, photos. Can handle pdfs, but doesn't run embedded content very well.
    15. NYTimes: for keeping up with news. Free with print subscription.
    16. Zipcar: easy access to wheels when you need them.
    17. Yelp: helpful for finding things while traveling.
    18. OpenTable: for making restaurant reservations.
    19. Netflix: watch movies on the go with subscription
    20. Outfit 7: fun talking friends app, for keeping small children (or bored engineers) entertained.
      In the course of writing up these meeting notes, I also came across a couple of blog posts on AECbytes (by the always articulate Lachmi Khemlani) that would be of interest. iPad Apps for AEC: Design and Visualization and iPad Apps for AEC: Project Information and Construction.

      R&C uses Anyconnect Secure Mobility Client to connect with their server remotely. Dave reports they spent about $2,000 on apps and the associated server software for 15 people. The principals are on 3G 150 MB, $15/mo plans. Data plans for officers are not offered; they use wifi. R&C considers the ipads a worthwhile investment as 80% of principals' time is spent on communications of some form; the ipad serves this function well and allows them to be productive while out of the office.

      The general consensus is that the ipad is not a device for originating documents, but is fantastic for email, viewing photos, and accessing the web.

      Dan has used Revit on an Android pad off of citrix. He uses an Android bluetooth mouse; a mouse is not an option for the ipad. Dan also is very happy with his Asus Zenbook, which is as light as the Mac Airbook.

      Dan and Mario discussed the app development software on the Mac OS. It's possible to develop an app on Mac and translate it over it to a mobile device, but Dan is not enthusiastic about that approach.

      Dave notes that staff over the age of 40 are often reluctant and question the need to learn new technologies, which we all agree is an unfortunate attitude which limits their ability to stay relevant in the current industry (and social) environment.