The MEP industry drives us – and we drive it
The political decision to make BIM mandatory in future has ultimately left service providers in the construction industry with no other choice for the long term. Even non-government clients are increasingly demanding BIM-compliant project processes. The requirements vary greatly here - and no BIM process has been clearly defined. The process is instead defined at a project level. While some will only see this as an initial added expense to establish new work methods at their company, others have already realised the opportunities integrated design presents for the construction industry and their own company.
'So anyone who has already begun or is now starting their digital transformation will be able to grow with the challenges and create a new basis for the future. The transition from '3D plus data' to integrated design can also be done in small steps; the most important thing is to just make a start', says Javier Castell Codesal, member of the management board, and Dr. Christian Waluga, deputy head of product development, from liNear GmbH in an interview with the "Integrale Planung" editorial team.
Mr Castell Codesal, you have been the head of development at liNear for many years, and have been on its management board for nearly five. What major changes have you been able to bring about in the industry over the last half a decade?
In my opinion, the most important change has clearly been the digital transformation. It has only been in the last few years that people have truly realised that their own PC-based digital work methods are merely an initial pre-requisite. But many are now aware that the noble objectives pursued by the transformation can only be achieved if all construction processes are digitised. Digitisation enables us to communicate clearly. Without things getting misinterpreted or lost in translation. The current challenge is to utilise these opportunities correctly. But the industry is already onto it. For example, procedural questions such as "Who needs what when and how?" have come into focus and are now being addressed.
What key milestones has liNear accomplished here?
Process support has now become an integral part of our software. We already had tools such as those needed for collision checks, and for designing slots and openings, but the focus has now shifted. While we previously used to stop at the results and leave it up to the user to deal with them in the further process, we now also provide support with the relevant digital processes - seamlessly integrated into the tools. The advantages of digital transformation are obvious here, because communicating with all involved players can now be made with clear language and structure.
The digitization offers us the
possibility, to communicate clearly.
Without misinterpretation and
without transport losses. To use
these possibilities correctly,
is the current challenge,
says Javier Castell Codesal, who has been accompanying the liNear
software developement on the topic of MEP solutions in the building
industry since 1999.
For about two years now we're
recognizing a major transformation in
the form and quality of the questions
that are approaching us from the
outside. The importance of roles
and agreements in design processes
emphasizes Dr. Christian Waluga, who as managing director of the
recently founded liNear Building Labs GmbH, is among other things
involved in the policy work as well as international research projects.
Our Integrale Planung publication has now been going for five years, and, as a market observer, we can feel the vocabulary of integrated design, construction and operation slowly but surely creeping its way into the general vernacular and language use. How do you see it?
A lot of people have indeed now very clearly broadened their vocabulary to include these terms. But we are still constantly faced with situations in which the underlying concepts - and often also the terms - are still unheard of. This 'brings us back to earth' and reminds us that not everyone follows the developments as closely as we think, often simply due to a lack of time. We see it as the software's task to incorporate the concepts of integrated design 'organically' into everyday work operations - without the need to 'rote learn' jargon.
Mr Waluga, what do you think of how things are going at Germany's architectural, engineering and design companies in terms of integrated design with BIM? Is the catchphrase actually being put into practice?
While nearly everyone was seen to be showcasing 'BIM' in the past, behind the façade were often just appallingly conventional processes that had been elevated to three dimensions using additional data. For the last two years or so, however, we have been noticing a clear shift in the type and quality of questions being asked by outsiders. The importance of roles and agreements in the design process is becoming clearer, and you sometimes wonder whether free text fields are the best solution when it comes to digitisation of building data. It is becoming increasingly apparent that, as software developers, we need to be careful not to declare a workaround as a rule to control engineering. Good tools are developed through processes, not the other way around. You can't just stop thinking at the interface. While BIM is open and flexible, it works best when I don't have to 'plug tools together' from a myriad sources as part of my task.
What obstacles and hurdles still stand in the way of ensuring this attitude and approach become more widespread, and how can these be overcome?
I think part of the problem is that most of the involved participants have a very high workload because of the good order situation. Anyone wanting to adopt this new approach often has to do it of their own accord in addition to their full-time job. And people get deluged with information, making them likely to lose interest. The new vocabulary is endless, and it keeps getting redefined to boot. One popular example here is the abbreviation 'LoD', where 'Detail' suddenly became 'Development' overnight, and was then replaced with 'LoIN' (Level of information needed) as part of ISO standardisation. Now if you ask three randomly selected engineers what this all specifically means for them, you'll see the problem that still exist for a comprehensive rollout. The only way to eliminate these is by taking BIM consistently and logically from the flip chart into practice. The transition from '3D plus data' to real, integrated design can also be done in small steps; the important thing is to just make a start.
Speaking of 'solving practical issues', this is precisely where the newly established liNear Building Labs, where you are the director, wants to position itself. Can you please give our readers - that is to say, the actual design professionals - an overview of the startup's profile and strategy?
liNear has always drawn its ideas for new products or improvements from the feedback provided by its users and from its trustworthy co-operations with industrial partners. This continues to work very well, and gives us a technological edge. But it has also become apparent that these can't be our only sources of inspiration, particularly when it comes to developing integrated processes and tools. The case-by-case support, such as the outstanding offerings of our support team, doesn't usually help eliminate the real process bottlenecks. This is where liNear Building Labs comes in by, on the one hand, acting as an innovation laboratory and working closely with the research department to assess the marketability of new trends, and on the other, going out and offering customised software consulting. We are currently recruiting new staff for this second stage of development in order to just be able to meet demand.
Turning back to the software solutions, Mr Castell Codesal: The wide range of options when it comes to construction software has now almost become overwhelming for potential users. The catchphrase of 'Building Information Modelling' (BIM) has been somewhat of a catalyst for some time now, particularly on the software market for design, project planning, construction, and the management of residential and non-residential buildings. What arguments can liNear use in this context to stand out 'from the crowd'?
I can quote you our mission statement, which is 'workflow, instead of workaround'. Instead of providing isolated solutions for each specific task, as a full-service provider, we offer a comprehensive solution for MEP Design, which is the only way to facilitate smooth, integrated workflows. We have always distinguished ourselves by working with a great eye for detail, while still keeping track of the big picture. As such, we offer the 'golden thread' that accompanies our users from the initial concept to the ultimate goal.
Mr Waluga, very broadly speaking, what do you classify as being a successful BIM project?
Whether it involves BIM or not, a successful project is one that has achieved its goal with an appropriate and reasonable amount of effort and expense. When it comes to BIM in particular, it is important that the added value is what you want, because, at first glance, BIM-based integrated design does involve much more effort and expense. In general, however, this extra effort and expense result not from the methodology, but rather from poor co-ordination. Curiously, people unfortunately still very often start designing early on with great attention to detail, making subsequent changes costly and arduous. A successful BIM project can thus be viewed on various scales, is collaborative, and clarifies the key structural issues, such as the size and location of the control rooms and shafts, before any detailed designing has begun. One extremely positive example of this is the 'Viega World' project, which I consider to be an important reference point for establishing integrated design methods.
Finally, a question to both of you: If you could be granted one wish that would make design and construction work much 'simpler' and more effective, what would it be?
I would wish that more users would embrace and try out new approaches and technologies. As Christian Waluga has just mentioned, the resulting feedback is hugely important for both parties to make headway in this matter, fully following the motto of 'nothing ventured, nothing gained'. So we could make it happen together and take construction design to the long overdue next level.
The referrencing of architectural models from a MEP Designer continues to be a common point of friction. Buildings, including in terms of roles and rights throughout the process, should not have to be reproduced by the MEP designer based on a floor plans because either the architect doesn't provide three-dimensional architecture or because this is only suitable for visualisation purposes due to a lack of semantic information. Although we can of course still do a lot for our customers even if something is not delivered perfectly, I do wish there were simply fewer of these avoidable inefficiencies in future.
The german MEP journal Integrale Planung offers exciting technical articles, information and more. Topics include MEP, BIM, sustainability, comfort and building physics.