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BIM: Time to Keep Up or Fall Behind

I recently downloaded a presentation by Dennis Neeley, AIA, with Reed Construction Data, on building information modeling, or BIM 123 (think Lotus 123). When I was done, I had a renewed appreciation for the trouble AV professionals are soon going to face if we don't quickly board the BIM train.


I recently downloaded a presentation by Dennis Neeley, AIA, with Reed Construction Data, on building information modeling, or BIM 123 (think Lotus 123). When I was done, I had a renewed appreciation for the trouble AV professionals are soon going to face if we don't quickly board the BIM train. Neeley identified three levels of BIM implementation. BIM 1.0 defines the past–what we've been using BIM for so far, in its various implementations. This includes visualization and the creation of 2D drawing sets.

BIM 1.0 has proved beneficial in reducing errors and omissions, construction costs, and design time. What Neeley refers to as BIM 2.0 and 3.0, however, will provide us with tools that allow for detailed modeling and analysis of design choices. And that's when my knees start shaking.

But I don't want to get ahead of myself. I first need to talk about the ramifications of BIM 1.0 and explain what the rest of the architecture/engineering industry has been doing while we've slept. We'll examine next-generation BIM in a future Consultant's Connection. Because contemplating BIM 1.0 can actually be scarier than looking into the future, mostly because we as an AV industry still aren't ready for the present.

Missing the Train?

For a while now we've talked about BIM software, and the changes under way in adapting to new methods of design, installation, and operation. But reading Neeley's presentation, I was struck by a comparison he made between the acceptance rates of CAD and BIM software. His chart showed that it took 22 years for CAD to replace hand drawing completely. And by his projections, which are on track, BIM will replace CAD in less than half that time.

More than half the architects my firm works with have either switched to BIM software or are in the midst of that change. Architects are picking their subconsultants not on the basis of prior relationships and the quality of their work, but based on whether they can deliver BIM documents. New relationships will be built based on BIM and the level of knowledge a potential team member brings to the table.

It's not a case of technology for technology's sake. BIM will, in practice, enhance productivity and design coordination among an architect and the rest of the design team. We've all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. With BIM, the picture contains a thousand words, in the form of an object, the basic component of a BIM model. A BIM object defines the physical parameters of a device–height, width, length, and weight, for starters. This information allows us to see how a device fits into space.

Attachment points, center of gravity, electrical current draw, heat dissipation, and connector panel locations could also be included as part of an object. This level of detail is useful to the architect and the structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers, as well as the owner. It could be tagged in objects that define projectors, displays, projection screens, control panels, cameras, mixing consoles, loudspeakers, etc. You get the picture.

Unfortunately, AV manufacturers are slow to adjust. Over the years, I've had trouble getting good CAD files, or at least useful 2D CAD files that won't crash my computer. It doesn't take more than 10 fingers to tally the number of AV manufacturers that provide true 3D CAD blocks, and even fewer have begun to provide BIM information. And how many manufacturers are there? How many individual SKUs does each have? I can't count the number of times I've asked, "How are you preparing for BIM?" and been met with a blank stare.

That said, we as an AV industry also need to determine what information is useful in the design process and how much detail would be required in a BIM object. Although overall dimensions and the location of air intake and exhaust would be useful, an object that shows ventilation holes probably would contain too much information.

Standardization on things such as which way is up would also be useful. Two loudspeaker manufacturers come to mind. One defines the Z axis as extending out the front of the loudspeaker; the other defines that axis as coming out of the top. Manufacturers need to come up with standards for how their devices are physically represented in a modeled space. And what they come up with must be consistent with how buildings are being rendered in BIM software.

What I'm talking about is no small task. To illustrate, let's look at something more complex. Assume we have a useful object model of an amplifier. It's easy to treat that object as a standalone device. But what happens when we mount more than one of those objects in an equipment rack or we combine them with other devices such as DSPs, video switchers, or controllers? What's more important now, the devices or how they interact as a system in a rack? And how do we deal with equipment centers that have rows of multiple racks? Modeling such solutions will require coordination between manufacturers and designers in order to make the information meaningful to the entire design team.

All this becomes vitally important when we think of how BIM will be married to LEED and sustainable design practices. Whether we as an industry are able to get the attention of the U.S. Green Building Council and show them what we're capable of, or whether we have to go it alone and create our own standards, our systems will be more closely scrutinized.

We're taking our first steps, but we have a lot of work to do. Fortunately, a BIM special interest group has launched within InfoComm to address these issues and provide a forum. Members can find it in the Community section of InfoComm's website.

What about BIM 2.0 and 3.0? The latest technology takes what we can do to a whole other level. But can we really take advantage of them without a better foundation in BIM 1.0? We'll explore that next time.

Thom Mullins is senior consultant with BRC Acoustics & Technology Consulting in Seattle.

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