Technology Trends Enabling BIM in 2017

By David Molnar, VDC/Special Projects Manager, Construction Piping Services at Victaulic

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is not a new concept in the fire protection industry. Over the past five years, BIM has become a key term in the preconstruction process, driving trends toward 3D modeling, structured coordination and increased information sharing. Throughout 2017, technologies to enable visualization and enhanced collaboration were adopted, assisting in making the BIM process more efficient than ever before.

1. Enhanced Content & Modeling

Content and software integration for fire protection has always been an area of contention. It has been difficult to work calculations and stock listings into 3D models, causing bottlenecks in the BIM process. In 2017, manufacturers and software providers have been working hand in hand to begin to alleviate these issues. By working collectively, we can integrate these calculations and stock listings into the 3D models, allowing contractors to begin migrating toward 3D modeling platforms like Autodesk Revit.

Manufacturers also are beginning to develop advanced content for the fire protection industry, making it easier to model an entire system and eliminating the need to create content in-house.

2. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)

Both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are making jobsites smarter, safer and more efficient.

VR is allowing pre-construction teams to visualize project models in new ways. By using VR technologies, engineers and contractors can virtually walk through 3D environments that previously would have lived on a flat computer model. From their offices or a mobile unit at the job, users can view the model as if it were already built. They can see sprinklers, armovers and distribution piping, and – more importantly –can inspect areas prone to clashes ahead of time. By catching errors or clashes in the preconstruction stage, contractors can avoid making costly mistakes in the field when everything is already piped in. This approach can improve efficiencies and reduce project costs.

An important development in 2017 has been that VR has become more commercially viable for the fire protection industry. Competition and technological advancements, driven mostly by the gaming industry, have turned what traditionally was expensive hardware and software programs into affordable project components. Because the hardware associated with VR, including HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, has dropped in price, it has become much more accessible to firms of all sizes.

Apps such as vCAD have also been developed, allowing firms to upload their Revit models onto an app and transform those models into a 3D environment, viewable through any mobile device with a set of cardboard VR glasses.

Finally, AR – or what some are classifying as mixed technology – is like looking through a window at the world – only that window superimposes objects in your line of sight, so a project manager can look at a ceiling using Microsoft’s HoloLens headset or an Apple iPad to see where an HVAC system will be or should be installed. Models and projects built in BIM or CAD systems can be viewed where they eventually will be installed, making the planning and implementation phases more effective. Now, owners can see almost exactly how a particular system will look once it is installed.

AR use has been limited by computing power and the ability for users to access data from the field. More recently, because of advancements in cloud computing, smartphone cameras and data processors, AR is becoming more common on the jobsite.

It is exciting to know that VR and AR technologies are only in their infancy in the construction sector. As more owners, engineers and contractors embrace AR and VR technology, new advancements, applications and innovations will come to fruition for the fire protection industry.

3. Cloud-based Technology and SaaS (Software as a Service)

Information – the “I” in BIM – is a pivotal tool for ensuring that the preconstruction process works efficiently. Yet how can information be properly shared if users are always on the road, working from mobile devices?

Cloud technology and SaaS have begun to solve this problem. In 2017, the fire protection industry increasingly adopted these tools and technologies.

SaaS takes software that had previously been housed on local servers into the cloud, making them accessible from any location, on both mobile devices and computers. Programs like the Revit Design Suite, Webex and Microsoft Office are all migrating away from local servers in favor of the cloud. Mobile conferencing, including Webex and Skype, provide the virtual meeting space, while tools like Collaboration for Revit (C4R) and Autodesk A360 provide the necessary file-sharing and collaboration. C4R and A360 allow project teams to work from a shared, cloud-based model to make real-time edits and communicate via chat functionality within the apps.

Gone are the days of printed models, and the concern that a member of the preconstruction team is working from outdated files. Using these cloud-based collaborative tools gives teams the peace of mind that their project documents are up to date, and makes the model itself accessible at the tap of a finger from anywhere in the world.

Projects of all sizes are beginning to require BIM workflows in their specifications, making the migration toward 3D software and global collaboration increasingly more important. These trends make it easy to see how the industry is adopting new software and working collaboratively to respond to current needs. Technology being developed daily to streamline BIM workflows makes it exciting to see what is next for the fire protection industry. 

David Molnar is with Construction Piping Services at Victaulic