Interviews

OpenBIM - Clarify, Connect and Simplify Building Information Modelling with HxGN SMART Build

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Kevin Holmes, the senior vice president for HxGN SMART Build, leads the global sales organisation for the overall HxGN SMART Build solution. Mr Holmes’s background is mostly in the oil, gas and AEC industry, with a lot of his time spent implementing new technologies and solutions to address issues such as safety, scheduling, profitability, and project excellence across multiple industries.

HxGN is a leading provider of information technologies that drives productivity and quality. The company philosophy focuses on smart change – how to create work flows, business models and better outcomes using actionable information. They are very much on the OpenBIM side of the debate.

He strongly believes that cloud technology and sharing information can effectively revolutionise the way in which people execute work today, particularly in the construction industry.

What limitations or challenges might you also see stemming from collaborative workflow, and can you see this means of working being one to stunt creativity and relationship development, or perhaps complement it in the alternative means of working, with clear controls over personal design data?

The construction industry is in the midst of a transition, moving from 2D design methods to more virtual 3D design solutions, which is where BIM was born. In the design of a building, many companies still believe sharing the model, by passing compatible versions of their design in the same format to each other is enough, which is not the case anymore.

Closed BIM means that only people well versed in these heavy design tools are able to make use of the information, and it doesn’t improve the construction process itself where the largest amounts of money are spent and risks exist. At Hexagon, we have recently released the HxGN SMART Build solution that looks to clarify, connect and simplify the way cost, schedule, and design information is provided to support the role you are performing.

To answer the second question shortly – yes, a more open, transparent and collaborative approach where information, not just models can be exchanged using a standard format has massive potential to improve the construction industry. Just look at the issue of tracking original budget and actual cost of a project – can anyone track where the cost overrun began? This is generally because we don’t have the ability to link information together effectively. With an open BIM standard in place we could estimate, model and track actual costs against RFI’s and changes, which would help identifying where issues occur and allow them to be addressed earlier before they become a major disaster.

How do you see openBIM altering the landscape with relevance to small and medium enterprises, the alteration or boundaries to entry, and potentially increased competition from smaller software vendors and the impacts of this on those already-established core brands?

I see the competition created by an open standard as positive. As you mention, if we all start using the same open language worldwide it becomes much easier for smaller software providers that provide niche applications to enter the market. It’s also critical to note that the internet plays a key role in OpenBIM – delivering systems via internet means that these smaller niche companies are no longer restricted by geographical boundaries and can enter the market easier, bringing a healthy competition to the field.

Looking at adoption, there are unfortunately some cases where companies are not sharing information or sharing information with a delay, so how do you actually see adoption actually taking hold and do you think organisations won’t want to adopt the system? How do you see that being overcome?

I believe that as a methodology and philosophy, OpenBIM is already being adopted, and certainly HxGN is committed to standards such as the IFC for sharing of model information. This is the fundamental basis of our visualisation to share model data from multiple sources.

Sharing information is indeed often an issue related to the current work processes. Real time collaboration requires increased sharing of information but also an ability to receive feedback from subcontractors and the field, hence having a feedback loop is critical within any OpenBIM implementation. In most industries, such as manufacturing, companies cooperate across the entire supply chain, which mandates a much earlier notification of actions. As an example, if you scan a construction site and can automatically link this to a model, construction errors can be identified much earlier, reducing rework and improving profit margins.

At which points of the project lifespan do you see the primary effects, be they negative or positive, of openBIM on any given project? This could include anything from initial concepts and plans all the way through to the asset management and planned renovation of structures in future years.

Adoption of OpenBIM and new ways of working is always painful and the benefits tend to be downstream. Areas that will be a pain are likely to be:

  • Conceptual design where the architect needs to design with increased focus on the construction phase.
  • Increased information being added to models to ensure relevant information is available for the downstream system.
  • Additional effort put into using standard objects from libraries that carry more information.

However, the benefits will outweigh the issues multiple times and I believe it will be impossible for companies not to move in this direction. In fact, many of the companies we are speaking to are already trying to optimize by using these processes both internally and with their suppliers. Areas that will likely produce benefits are around:

  • Lower projects costs with more accurate estimation and less over runs
  • Improved ability to meet project schedule
  • Reduced operational cost of running a building
  • Higher utilization of the building due to real time usage information being merged with the building design

The last point above is especially interesting: operation of a building. For example, by managing a building effectively, one of our customers reduced the square meter requirements dramatically whilst improving the building environment for their staff.

How can you see the openBIM approach, methodology and philosophy being adapted in the given years? In which ways might you support this development with any given reasoning and purpose?

Education is definitely key for the future development of OpenBIM. People know how to use the systems quite well but they don’t necessary see the bigger picture and the impact on the subcontractors, partners and other disciplines.

Another key development opportunity is related to cost – currently you can see schedules linked to the models (4D) quite well, but it’s harder to see models linked to budgets and cost (5D). This is where the earlier mentioned feedback loop comes in place – it helps to foresee how changes in the model will affect the schedule and budget on the work site.

What experience have you personally had with openBIM? If this is somewhat limited, could you instead entail experiences with traditional BIM and purvey opinion on how the openBIM approach could have changed, be that positively or negatively, project outcomes or experiences?

I believe that another key area for success is the ability to share information from the model to the machinery to automate work processes. This will increase productivity through sensing & automating systems, optimizing workflows and connecting the field to office, from site to site. This capability to remove manual errors and link the site more effectively with the office brings considerable schedule and cost benefits to the project.

What closing statements and, or, points might you wish to add to the openBIM debate?

I believe that open BIM standards are going to make a real difference to the way we execute projects today, and work processes and contractor strategies will change. Next-generation solutions will enable users to not just share models, but also provide a real-time feedback loop allowing timely decision-making and helping to avoid costly schedule and budget overruns.

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