Joseph G. Burns - P.E., S.E., AIA is Managing Principal of Thornton Tomasetti, a leading structural engineering firm known for creating innovative structural design on major facilities around the world. Burns specializes in designing complex structural systems, and is an avid member of several engineering and architecture associations. He is also quite candid when it comes to adopting technologies in an adapting industry.
“There is a revolution happening. Companies which do not get onboard with Building Information Modeling (BIM) will simply not be in business within ten years!” This quote from fellow architect, Thom Mayne, FAIA, sums up Burns’ own philosophy on the state of affairs in the structural design industry.
Structural BIM is a collaborative, model-based way to work, and is one of the key elements in the building process where the majority of structural information is created. The BIM open interface makes it possible for all design information to be produced and managed within a single 3D product model. Such open interfaces are crucial in order to tie all the different design disciplines together.
Personal beliefs put aside, a lot has transpired in the past five years in regards to structural BIM in North America. The situation has moved from just talk to full-on usage. Both the Association of General Contractors AGC and the American Institute of Architects AIA endorse BIM, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology NIST has recently released a study1 presenting tangible cost and/or time saving benefits of implementing interoperable BIM solutions.
Why Tekla Structures
Burns has been using Tekla Structures since 2000. And although his observations stem from a steel perspective, Burns says that the core benefits are universal for all cross-sections of the structural design segment. “Tekla Structures provides structural engineers the ability to produce a 3D model with fully associative analysis properties. The quality of documentation is reliable and of high grade. The downstream use of data eases up cost estimates and facilitates construction scheduling. Advanced 3D information management improves communication with the entire team. Tekla Structures speeds up the process of shop drawings, enhances clash checking and results in a more solid structure with fewer on-site problems. Our firm is expanding beyond structural engineering into steelwork and precast modeling and detailing. We insist on Tekla Structures for all arena and stadium projects.”
A Minor Snag
Burns states, “Although we live in a visual age, not everyone is using 3D. The industry is wrestling with several obstacles. One such issue is the investment to change over. Software is expensive as is the cost to retrain a workforce. And the education system is simply not generating high tech graduates. The vast majority of curriculum is still deeply rooted in the 2D world.”
A number of other concerns prevail as well. Both contractual and liability matters are key roadblocks to BIM adoption. A further potential conflict could arise with versioning. But all this can and will be resolved as all facets of the equation start to demand BIM. Like all change, it will be a slow process that will without doubt accelerate into an avalanche of BIM users!
The Fundamental Solution
Burns stresses that with interoperability, every user will have a favorite tool. “It is important that the industry creates a standard for all to benefit and share. If my firm was vertically integrated, then we could pick one software application and coordinate amongst ourselves. But this is not the case. We have to be flexible and use a product that can link to other systems - on the import/export side as well as on the analysis side. Tekla Structures is a sophisticated process and Tekla technology is at the height of development.
Adopting software is a bold move. As Burns recalls, “A client was not currently utilizing 3D technology. I found it not very user-friendly to revert back to 2D, so I asked Tekla to go on-site with us and demonstrate the 3D model. The client was able to use the 3D viewer and get a taste of Tekla Structures and BIM. Tekla makes it a top priority to help guide a customer through that all too important transitional period.”
Burns is a firm believer in looking at the long-term life cycle of a structure. After all, a building is an ultimate investment. The future lies in the triad of users – owners, designers, and contractors – making BIM part of the complete delivery package.
1 National Institute of Standards and Technology: Cost Analysis of Inadequate Inoperability in the Facilities Industry. Study showing whereby approximately $15 billion per year was exhausted due to the lack of using coordinated BIM solutions.