When it comes to ensuring a streamlined and coordinated flow of data throughout the construction workflow, software interoperability is at the heart of the matter.
Here, Marcus Mitchell, Customer Success Manager - Structures Division at Trimble, explores the need for integration and connectivity between design analysis and detailing software, helping to protect your data.
by Construction Computing Magazine
The overarching focus within the construction industry is always how we can deliver projects better than we did before; whether that’s in terms of resources used, time spent, money saved, or carbon emissions reduced. At the heart of an efficient, productive and coordinated construction workflow is a streamlined flow of data, stretching from Preparation & Briefing (RIBA Stage 1) to Handover and Use (RIBA Stages 6 and 7). Disrupting this flow of data can lead to the loss of information, corruption of data, wasted time and data silos – to name just a few.
To avoid this, it’s important to focus on interoperability and look for 3D modelling and analysis software that invests in an open BIM approach. At the beginning and end of each stage in the RIBA Plan of Works (PoW), there is a requirement for data to pass from one party to another, and vice versa. One example of this is at the Concept Design stage, when the architect is liaising with the early-stage structural engineers.
Generally speaking, the scheme will have been modelled by the architect (often in AutoDesk Revit, or similar) and it is then the structural engineer’s responsibility to review this within a design and analysis software package. Here, the engineer will apply loads and critical data, carry out a structural analysis of the proposed design, make any updates or suggestions, and then send the revised model back to the architect for further review.
With direct integration and communication between the architectural modelling software and the structural analysis software, the 3D BIM models can easily be shared from one to the other and vice versa, as many times as is needed, all while maintaining the data and integrity of the model itself.
In comparison, consider how this process would look without this direct link – an obstacle that many architects and engineers are faced with every day. Rather than being able to benefit from the automated capabilities and instantly import the model and its data into your chosen software package, the structural engineer would instead have to make all changes manually, cross-referencing the electronic drawings received from the architect and marking those up in their own structural design model.
Such a manual process understandably leaves it wide open to human error, being very easy to simply miss a change or mark something incorrectly – especially on the more complex models. These small errors could then lead to major issues and project delays, further down the line. In an age of digitisation and automation, surely it makes sense for this digital approach to also include the safe transfer of data?
It’s a similar situation when you consider the coordination between the Spatial Coordination (Stage 3) and Technical Design (Stage 4) phases, with communication required between the structural engineer and the detailer in the drawing office. These are two significant stages of a project and cannot be considered in isolation; you cannot have the constructible model without the engineered design model. So, why should the data contained within each model be isolated and segregated?
Consider the time and resources spent by structural engineers in developing the completed engineered model. Why should this time then be put to waste by an inefficient transfer of information, with teams essentially having to build the model twice? Without full software coordination and integration, project teams can be faced with having to manually migrate the data across from one model and one software to another. As well as being a clearly inefficient use of time, essentially doing the same job twice, this can also result in the loss of information or corruption of data, with a project able to easily fall foul of data silos.
With inoperability and software connectivity, this process looks very different: streamlined, simple and efficient. Facilitating true coordination, everyone can work from the same model and the same set of data, with teams able to spend more time adding value to a model and structure – adding the constructible data, down to the individual bolts – rather than replicating it. Teams can also better track changes made to a model, contributing to improved traceability levels. For example, Tekla software makes all model changes readily accessible and visible, either in the form of downloadable, written documentation or in-program screenshots.
All of this said, there is still more to be done within the industry when it comes to interoperability. It isn’t enough to just have integration between software suites and packages; there also has to be a level of trust in the data thread. Even if the software does talk to one another, without trust teams will still often spend time making sure that everything has been transferred properly, such as section sizes, and that all data connections remain live. Depending on the model size and complexity, this verification process has the potential to take just as long as it would be to build the model from scratch.
One company that has been well-versed in the language of BIM and digital technology, with both Tekla Structural Designer and Tekla Structures, is Clancy Consulting, a multi-discipline engineering firm. Talking about how digital technology has revolutionised the way they work, James Gendall, Divisional Director at Clancy Consulting, commented:
The streamlined processes and integration of workflows made possible by BIM are invaluable. In fact, I would say that software integration is perhaps one of the greatest industry advancements in recent years. In order to ensure the continuous exchange and smooth transfer of accurate data from department to department and discipline to discipline, effective integration and migration of data is essential. Without this connection, any time savings and other efficiencies achieved at one stage of a project are all but lost as you progress.
For us as structural engineers, the integration within Tekla enables us to achieve a more streamlined process overall. Rather than drawing or modelling the building in one software and then having to effectively start from scratch with the structural analysis in another, you are provided with one, cohesive process – thanks to the efficient transfer of data. Considering these two vital stages of any structural engineering project are so intrinsically linked, why should they be treated in isolation?
Through the intelligent link between Tekla Structural Designer and Revit, we are able to turn around design changes at a far quicker pace. To put it into real-life terms, whereas a design change may have previously taken us a couple of days to resolve, we are now able to model and analyse it in a matter of hours – a significant time saving.
A lot is talked about the importance of connected construction, where both people and software talk to one another and data is shared effectively. If this is to be achieved and put into practice, we need to look closer at interoperability, with more investment in an open BIM approach. Only then can we truly look to a future of project partners, working together as one to deliver the structures of the future.