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The Future of the Building Information Model
5D – Integrating Pricing and Supply Chain
June 2006

H. Edward Goldberg AIA, NCARB
h.e.goldberg@verizon.net

The Building Information Model (BIM) is drastically changing the way the contracting and construction business is conducted. New, BIM capable CAD technology does an excellent job of creating construction documents and schedules, but the new productivity frontier is the integration of the Supply Chain, or, as it is known, “5D”.

Typically, the role of the architect has been that of designer and documenter. The contractor or builder interprets the documents created by the architect, and purchases the specified components—provided they are counted correctly. In creating the construction documents for a project, the architect would manually generate component schedules, make the elevation match the plan view, and after typical endless changes, supply all subs with the same revisions. This process was so convoluted that often the contractor would miscalculate components and then blame the architect for mistakes. Implementation of the BIM has streamlined this process. Utilizing these new software solutions, the architect is able to coordinate documents, and quickly disseminate them to contractors.

Whether for the residential market or for the commercial market, there are four discrete technologies needed to fully implement the concept commonly known as the BIM. These are the CAD software itself, the Supply Chain, the Enabling Technology, and the Internet Portal. Although the architects and designers are implementing the BIM CAD software for design and coordination, currently little attention is being paid to other three segments.

 u CAD Software

“Intelligent Objects”, “Smart Symbols”, “Parametric Objects”, or other similar nomenclature, form the foundation of the BIM model. These are dynamic objects with precise attributes attached to them by the architect or designer. Failure to get this foundation right compromises the entire process.

Unfortunately, the CAD companies have failed to keep current with new components, e.g. doors, windows, etc., although they provide some generic objects (or symbols). Having said that, recent accomplishments represent a vast improvement over previous capabilities. Still lacking is a complete real world library of symbols for available manufactured components. Because architects often specify branded components, they are required to create their own non-standardized symbols. Lack of standardization can create confusion and lead contractors to order custom made products, thereby increasing costs. Today, many of the BIM software solutions generate a material list, but the level of information is insufficient to be used in the Supply Chain process.

CAD companies would do well to provide brand-neutral, locked down symbol libraries that deal with real-life products and describe them in common industry terminology. Providing such an object library with commercially available products will permit seamless supply chain integration, enhance productivity for the designer and help control costs for the contractor and owner.

 u Supply Chain

Imagine ordering exactly what the architect specified in the plans without ever having anyone misinterpret the intent of the architect. Imagine collecting all this information and exploiting the data to its fullest extent, optimizing the building process. The first stage is to get real-time pricing – not estimates-- from local distributors. Even better-- get prices for multiple brands that meet the specifications. At the same time, populate a shopping cart for online fulfillment when the product decisions are made, let the homeowner and contractor see what is available and for what price, anytime on a website or Internet Portal. Once selected, orders can be pushed through to the product manufacturers’ shop floor, delivered directly to the distributor and even stacked on a truck for jobsite delivery according to instructions for maximum efficiency.

Realizing this potential would require distributors and manufacturers to upgrade their systems, allowing for communications from outside sources through EDI (electronic data interchange) or, even better, through XML (extensible markup language).

 u Enabling Technology

In order for the CAD platforms to communicate with the supply chain system, an enabling technology must be implemented which accepts different formats from different platforms and is centralized through Internet technology to maintain accurate data. At this level, all product details are maintained and all distributor pricing is kept current. The enabling technology houses the libraries of object parameters that link to the design objects. The symbols within the CAD platforms are simply mapped to the technology where they are matched with product pricing. In order for this technology to operate correctly, it will need to have advanced databases with artificial intelligence.

 u Internet Portal

Finally, the process must be linked to an Internet Portal. The Portal must utilize an easy, integrated, organic process where the data already available from the plans is priced out and materials are ordered. The Internet Portal must also make the data available to contractors, homeowners, sub-contractors and other interested parties; sharing information should be as easy as sending an email. Utilizing these new technologies, the architect/designer, contractor, building owner, and everyone involved can get up to speed more quickly.

Fantasy?

Is this a fantasy? Is this years away? No, not at all – as a matter of fact, it is available right now.

The Future of BIM

1ST Pricing (www.1stPricing.com), a technology company founded by a general contractor and based in Signal Hill, California, has incorporated all of these components into their technology. Today, their scope is limited to residential fenestration products but they will be incorporating all building materials into their pricing engine. While their current focus is primarily in California, they will be offering national coverage with name brand partners.

As part of their technology, 1ST Pricing either creates or links to parametric objects contained in a library of smart symbols. This library contains real world products to offer architects real world solutions. This extensive library has all of the options available for these products as well as options which limit the choices to commercially available products. Once the choices are made, the architect simply instructs the program to price the schedule. At this time the CAD program queries the online databases maintained by 1ST Pricing and returns a material schedule with multiple brands and prices that meet the precise specifications of the architect. This helps by offering a good-better-best solution for the decision makers. At the same time, an online shopping cart is created at their portal, www.1stWindows.com. At this juncture, components are matched with products from local distributors, including delivered-to-the-jobsite competitive pricing. When 1ST Pricing’s product offerings are completed, one will have a “whole-house” material quote in seconds.

1ST Pricing‘s viewpoint is that plans should be a declaration of intent rather than a guide requiring interpretation by downstream interests. 1ST Pricing is taking the BIM process to its ultimate conclusion – pricing and fulfillment – all generated directly from the architect/designer’s BIM software program.

Conclusion

Much of BIM today is a manual, or partially automated, process that, at best, provides a material or component list with estimated prices. 1ST Pricing believes their system represents a quantum leap forward, streamlining and optimizing the building process while saving time and reducing errors.

TurboCAD from IMSI has deployed this technology for fenestration products for over 3 years. The components are currently limited to windows, doors, skylights and acrylic glass block but more products are coming soon.

The 1ST Pricing technology is also available as a download for AutoCAD, Architectural Desktop & Autodesk 3D Map. An ArchiCAD download will be available Summer 2006 and more platforms are being developed.

H. Edward Goldberg, AIA is a practicing licensed architect and Industrial Designer with over 30 years cumulative experience as a designer, project architect, construction project manager, owner of a design/build practice, technical writer, author and educator. He served as Coordinator of CAD and Multi-Media at Carroll Community College, from 1994-1999, and as Coordinator of the Industrial Design Program at Towson University, from 2000-2003. Ed's lecture & workshop credits include lecturing at the AIA Convention and Autodesk University, AEC Systems Expos, AEC/ST and AIA Chapter forums.

Ed writes extensively on the subject of technology for architects and designers. He is a Contributing Editor for "CADALYST" and Technology Editor for "Architecture Business & Economics", A Business Magazine with Solutions for Practicing Architects", and author for "Inside AutoCAD" newsletter. A published author, he has written 4 books on Architectural Desktop, versions 3, 2004, 2005, and 2006 respectively. His most recent effort, "Autodesk Architectural Desktop, 2006: A Comprehensive Tutorial" (Prentice Hall) is available in book stores and on http://www.amazon.com


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