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BIM aka Construction Industry 4.0

How about getting Space-X technology for your investment at a 10% premium?

Which would immediately eliminate the lion’s share of your problems, pay for itself within a year, and then recoup the entire investment over the next 16 years?

I can almost hear your thoughts, but please, stay with me.

The world’s most successful business leaders, investors, and innovators – including Elon Musk – are using a new digital ecosystem to design, build and operate their facilities. This is how office buildings, Tesla Gigafactories, and other hi-tech projects are built.

And not because they have nothing better to do or want to promote themselves. The reason is much simpler.

These people understand digitalization perfectly.

Investments of large size and complexity
can no longer be managed
economically by traditional means.

Just as the development of the hadron accelerator gave birth to the internet, these projects gave birth to the technology that will rewrite the world’s construction industry, including Hungary’s, in the next few years. First for large investments, then for smaller ones.

I have good news:

The technology is already available

Let’s see where we stand in Hungary today.

It is similar to the situation when Steve Jobs launched the first smartphone in the mobile phone market. At the time, almost everyone was a Nokia user, and most people just smiled at the announcement. However, some of them recognized and understood the true power of change from the very beginning, and many of them became winners of the transformation. Over the next few years, the entire industry was transformed, and a few years later, so was the communication of all humanity.

The same pattern has been followed in transport (Waze, Uber), retail (eBay, Alibaba), and now construction.

Let’s get to the point

In this article, I’ve summarised for you what it took me 15 years to do. If you follow me, by the end you’ll know exactly

  • what BIM is (and what it isn’t),
  • the benefits of a digital ecosystem
  • and why ignoring it is life-threatening.

Why me?

Before starting this article, I spent a total of 30 semesters in Hungarian higher education. It could just be a freckle on my career, but it’s more than that:

  • I became a mechanical and then a civil engineer,
  • I later graduated with a BSC + master’s degree in architecture.

I did my postgraduate studies in parallel and worked continuously in the construction industry.

I wasn’t bored. First I became a structural steel designer, then a production designer, then I continued as a construction manager for a while, and then I worked as a designer. I’ve built a power plant in Port Louis and designed a skyscraper in Vietnam, and in my home country, I’ve been mainly involved in the general design of bank branches, petrol stations, shops, apartment blocks, office buildings, and factories, laboratories, and data centers.

I have had the privilege of designing hundreds of projects and a total of about 50 000 m2 of different buildings, officially as a co-designer. Ironically, by the time I had obtained my unrestricted architectural and interior design license, I had stopped designing.

Today, my life is filled with
organizational development and
the digital transformation of the construction industry.

The BuildEXT story

2009. At the beginning of 2009 (yes, right in the middle of the crisis), I founded a general design agency. In the beginning, it was a one-man show, then after a few years, we learned the trade together with some colleagues and built the foundations of the current business. The crisis teaches very quickly and even more harshly, so after initial setbacks and blood sacrifices, the agency soon went into start-up mode. We must have been doing something right because our clients were happy to work with us and the projects were getting bigger and more complex.

In mid-2017, we reached the frontier of design technology commonly used today. After a painstakingly completed project, I decided we couldn’t do it anymore. We have sought out the most modern technology available and replaced almost all systems and software, everything that used to make everyday life secure.

Colombus must have felt this way as he set off for the new world, not knowing for a second that he would ever reach his destination. In this situation, we took on the biggest job of our lives with incredibly tight deadlines and 3 months later we landed in a new world with new horizons. How we became the

Innovators’ Designer

The company transformed at the end of 2019 and now develops and delivers services across the full spectrum of the extended construction industry. Things that have never existed before. Our growth is marked by the fact that we have doubled our turnover and our headcount every year for the last 5 years, and our customer base has grown with very strong partners.

Today, my team of nearly 50 staff, mainly architects and interior designers, manages the daily work of around 200 engineers, consultants, and staff from more than 60 strategic partners across the entire design spectrum. These partners are some of the CEU region’s most skilled independent construction industry players, whose knowledge and experience we have organized around a common technology platform to deliver generic design for 150 projects per year with high service security.

The ideas and examples I share are not excerpts from foreign newspaper articles. Our own experience in concrete projects on the Hungarian market, gained in the course of our work in traditional and new generation workflow, often at the risk to the company’s future.

Why am I sharing this with you?

Because I’m looking for quality partners.

I am fed up with polite business meetings where, after I have presented what we have achieved and how we are working, we suddenly start talking without any transition about where this accelerated world is going and how it doesn’t make sense.

Today, this reaction is not unexpected anymore to me. Cognitive dissonance usually provokes involuntary resistance in my conversation partners, because the unknown is always scary. But frankly, progress does not care whether we accept it or not.

As the stream in the forest bypasses the stone, so does development. It will find those who are not preoccupied with qualifying the world but accepting change and turning it into a competitive advantage.

I’m looking for you.

The innovators

People who know the benefits of digitalization and invest in their projects and their future.

People who understand that we are not just solving a simple design problem, but developing tools and solutions that are changing a complete industry. It is a journey in which, in many cases, there are no patterns before us. We have to develop and implement new solutions – but if we do it right, the results can easily turn a company into a market leader.

And I have one more reason

It’s more personal. The development will have its downsides.

My mission is to warn my colleagues in my profession to prepare for change. Fail to do so and they become like the Titanic saloon band. They’ll be playing music on a sinking ship when they should be working on a lifeboat.

A year ago, I found a software that could single-handedly replace a month’s work for 30 designers and still get a better result. It’s scary, but it also holds opportunities, and more than a few. There will be both unemployment and labor shortages.

That’s why I’m writing this article, that’s why I’ve put all my energy into developing it over the last 10 years and that’s why I started our attitude-shaping blog.

To understand what we are facing and how it will shape our world.

But let’s start from the basics:

What is BIM?

Basically, it’s short for Building Information Model – but that’s not the point.

Think of BIM as the skeleton of an animal.

It is not worth much on its own. Unable to work and create value in itself. We can only make it work if we build up “muscles” and a “nervous system”.

In the construction industry, the skeleton is the geometry of the building elements, on which we can hang data. For example, on a door it says:

  • what size,
  • what material it is made of,
  • from whom it was bought,
  • how many years you have a guarantee.

If we build the skeleton together with the muscles and the nervous system, the information it contains becomes shared knowledge.

But how does it become shared knowledge?

Data stored in BIM becomes information and value when it is integrated into a digital ecosystem.

In practice, it’s a system of smart devices connected to the internet, comprising phones, tablets, and futuristic space sensing and visualization systems that use apps and software to speed up processes in the construction industry.

To do this, we need a good information model (the skeleton), which we synchronize into a cloud-based common data environment (CDE), which we turn into shared knowledge (the nervous system) using the internet and smart devices.

The BIM workflow is based on all actors working and sharing information in a common data environment (CDE).

The information needed for design, construction or operation is provided by this software and hardware environment, which makes it easy:

  • the design,
  • the prefabrication,
  • the construction coordination,
  • the site inspection,
  • the quality control,
  • the digital handover,
  • the operation and maintenance
  • and many other areas.

The whole digital lifecycle of a building is quite complex and it’s amazing how much potential it holds, anyone I’ve told about it has kicked the chair out from under them.

Let’s see the costs

Let’s take a rough numerical example, just to get a sense of the orders of magnitude.

The design fee for a HUF 10 billion project – be it an office building, factory, laboratory, or data center – using the traditional design method is approx. HUF 500 million.

The digital ecosystem is at least 2x this amount, i.e. at least 1 billion HUF. So you may well ask,

Why is it worth it?

Well, because it comes back quickly and pays for itself many times over. How?

A house designed using the BIM methodology is on average 10% cheaper to build than a traditionally designed house. Thus, the additional cost of BIM design in a digital ecosystem project is recouped twice over during construction, i.e. within about one year, and is practically equal to the total design fee.

But this is where the real benefits begin!

From then on, a house designed using BIM methodology can be 20-30% cheaper to run. This means that our extra investment in design will pay for itself 16-20 times over the lifetime of the building – in fact, the entire construction cost is recouped in the unspent fee during operation!

A HUF 10 billion building designed and operated in a BIM ecosystem costs HUF 500 million more to design than a traditional building. However, in just one year it will return double that amount, which is effectively the full design cost, and then the full construction cost over the next 20-30 years.

In simple terms:

+0.5 billion HUF designer fee
– HUF 1 billion construction cost
– HUF 8-10 billion operating costs
= HUF 8-10 billion savings

And it’s not over yet.

  • The office building can be present in the market with more competitive rents, higher profits, and, thanks to IoT solutions, a much higher digital comfort,
  • If we are talking about a factory, BIM will result in cheaper overheads, more reliable production, faster and simpler operation, and less energy consumption.

Bullshit? At first, it seemed like it to me. But the more I look at it, the more I see and experience that it is not.

We scanned and modeled ZenGarden office building in Budapest

What makes it cheaper?

First and foremost, by using the computational capacity for designing.

We start by building the house in the virtual space. This means a lot more work, but errors are detected and the sooner an error is detected, the cheaper it is to fix.

The advantage of BIM workflow is that design errors can be detected in the virtual space

If a mistake is made in the design, only the work of two people for a few hours is wasted.

If the same is found out at the construction site?

Imagine the (incorrectly) manufactured duct is delivered, then they spend half a day trying to put it in place, then 6 people stand around to see why it won’t fit in the take-off string, and only then can the remanufacturing, carving, dismantling begin… 10x-100x the energy, money and time.

Another important element to reduce costs is to simulate the operation of the systems and the building in the model. A classic example: the sun doesn’t shine through all the windows at the same time, so there are cooler and more wetted parts of the house. If we scale the heat gain at 12 noon on the hottest summer day and perhaps check that the house next door is not shaded, we get the exact cooling demand for each room. If the air duct for the house is then sized by an algorithm, there will be no unnecessarily large cross-sectional pipe and the system will operate at the same speed everywhere.

ZenGarden office building solar analysis by BuildEXT

It’s the same optimization process that has enabled manufacturers to halve car fuel consumption over the past 20 years – the difference is that we can even make the liquid cooler smaller, saving 10 million euros in zero time.

To sum up: if there is no design flaw, there is no need to pay for extra work, and if we have optimized the systems, we can save on materials and later on consumption.

Moreover:

  • there are no surprises, no delays, no penalties, no claims, no hassle,
  • the digital model also increases the speed of execution coordination and change management by around 10-100x, and a range of new solutions help to ensure safe execution.

Finally, the biggest advantage is that during construction, data on systems and building elements are continuously uploaded to the building model in the cloud, creating a digital twin of the house. We can integrate the digital copy into operational software, making it safer, simpler, and cheaper to run.

But this is still just the tip of the iceberg – a common information model across the entire BIM lifecycle will deliver significant efficiency gains for hundreds of sites.

Key benefits of BIM

  • The design is 2x faster and much better quality,
  • Change tracking is 10x faster and significantly easier,
  • The amount of extra work is drastically reduced, no stress,
  • Implementation will be speeded up and significantly simplified,
  • The quality and safety of construction will be improved,
  • Reduced investment costs for the same quality,
  • Operation and maintenance will be cheaper and an order of magnitude faster.

Who can put it together?

A good integrator company that is at home in the digital construction industry, because it is no longer enough for designers to remain just designers.

In the classic workflow, the designer’s work ended with the delivery of the design, or as our much-experienced colleague Uncle Sanyi used to say, “When we pulled the carcass over the fence”.

But this is where the real value creation starts today. Two new shells have been built in recent years:

  • One is “Virtual Construction” (VC), where we build our buildings in virtual space.
  • The other is the “ICT”, the infocommunication technology layer.

At this point, it is no longer enough for an architect to just design a house, but as a big data analyst he has to define, among other things, the information structure of the model, and as a software developer he has to operate and deliver a digital environment of hundreds of software tools to build this nervous system.

But when it all comes together, it changes the way we have thought about our buildings for the last 2000 years.

And now let’s put this into practice.

How not to do a BIM project?

Colloquially incorrectly referred to as BIM, these are robust 3D models created and assembled in different software. This is not BIM, only BM (Building Model). The “I” (Information) is missing.

Historically, this evolved from the designer drawing houses in ink, then modeling them in CAD and later in 3D, which made it easier to generate design documentation.

We wanted to improve this over the last five years by involving the engineering disciplines and trying to merge the models generated by their designs into a detailed 3D model based on “IFC” (Industry Foundation Classes).

In practice, however, this has made planning and change management so slow and cumbersome that it has coded an average of 20% extra time into even the simplest projects.

What does change management has to do with it?

In the sense that the construction of a good design is like sunshine to a snowman.

Nothing is wrong until the contractor comes. But it comes, and during the tender, it replaces a number of materials and tools in the price list.

And this should be changed in the plan immediately.

Which, even if you only did it once, would cause a lot of extra work, but what’s more annoying is that you keep changing it during the implementation – and there’s never enough time and energy to keep track of it. The problems then arise in the implementation:

  • here come the clashes,
  • the design flaw,
  • the pointing at each other,
  • the replacement works,
  • the delay in the deadline,
  • the penalty payments,
  • the circular debt,
  • and ultimately, the billions of overruns that characterize major investments. (And not only in the public sector but also in the large corporate segment.)

But even if the construction goes well, the information structure of a model stitched together from 6 different IFCs in different software is usually like each page of a complicated machine’s manual is written in a different language. Even if it contains information, it cannot be extracted from it.

At the end of the day, you’ll feel like you’ve bought a dummy iPhone on sale – it may look good in the marketing material, but it’s not usable, that’s for sure.

These projects are called Hollywood BIM. They are expensive and labor-intensive, but they never live long enough to become efficient construction support or cost-effective building management system.

What a good BIM project looks like?

In a good BIM project, 40 to 50 different designers work together to build a single model in a virtual space at the same time. This is on the order of 2-5x faster workflow than traditional design.

Because the designers see each other’s work at almost the same time, there is no need to look for collisions – if the architect models a beam, the co-designer can immediately see that something is already there and does not, for example, pull a pipe through it (this is a natural error in traditional design, and is something that architects and contractors expect).

The model automatically generates the drawings and conventions from the data, and the WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) principle applies to almost all the interaction interfaces. If I rewrite the height of a door type on a schedule sheet, it will change in 1 minute on all drawings, including node and section drawings.

This can be easily synchronized with an application in the cloud (CDE) and in 10 minutes all contractors and the technical inspector can see the good, up-to-date plans.

In this world, there is no real point in having a printed plan.

The app makes it easy to access the model
and all the drawings, which are always
up-to-date and can be cut as you like.

Minor design flaws and inaccuracies can be dealt with within a couple of hours with error tickets. There’s no need to imagine the intricacies of pipe snakes from drawings, as they can be viewed through the camera of a standard smartphone or tablet, using AR (augmented reality).

The process is really simple and brutally evolving – we’re currently a month away from the launch of Microsoft Hololens, which could put site inspection on a new footing in the future.

BIM case study

In the last three years, we have had the opportunity to test the two working methods on two consecutive buildings of similar complexity, worth approximately HUF 10 billion.

The traditional method took 4 months to design the house. In the first IFC-based clsah detection, 10.2 million collisions were found, which 30 engineers spent 4 weeks fixing. Then came the tender, and the contractor’s modifications were carried over to the revised design for a further 3 months. In the end, so much site modification was needed that the contractor hired an outside design firm instead, which tried to track the changes to the construction as they happened.

The delivery of the house was delayed by 1.5 years and became about 30% more expensive than originally estimated.

That’s when I vowed to stop doing this and we changed technology.

Our subsequent work was a building of similar scale and complexity. As for the order of magnitude, we had to design and model about 3600 kW of cooling energy and about 400 km of pipelines (distance between München and Frankfurt). The detailed plan was completed in 3 months, the first clash detection found 150 clashes, which were taken out of the plan in a single day. I took the complete design of the 600-tonne steel structure to the prefabricator on a pendrive, from which the automatic machines produced the structure without any questions or problems.

The contractor’s comments were solved within 1-2 weeks and the construction was completed without any problems, on time, and within budget!

What is worth designing in BIM?

We design almost everything in the office in it because it is simply a mistake not to work in this system. Experience shows, however, that it is still difficult to take advantage of the benefits in simpler or smaller buildings (there are exceptions).

For a relatively simple warehouse, workhouse, or detached house, where there is no stake in whether a wall is built 10 cm higher or lower, or where that single gas pipe goes, there is no point in using BIM. We also do not recommend BIM when the contractor is unlikely to understand the plans or the client has no expectation of easier or cheaper operation. Where the purchaser is looking for a designer by electronic bidding, we won’t have any chance, and these buildings can be designed by any designer.

synlab laboratórium BIM modell

BIM becomes exciting when the task
starts to get big or complicated.

When you have to plan systems that it does matter to be implemented perfectly right the first time. When it’s important for the client to get the facility up and running quickly and smoothly, when the building’s reliability is essential, or when digital comfort and building running costs are crucial to the company’s competitiveness.

These are the situations where the digital ecosystem starts to become incredibly efficient.

Csaba Livjak

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CEO, Founder

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