How can BIM benefit facilities management?

Monday, November 6, 2006

BIM is certainly changing the way buildings are designed and constructed, but is it changing how they're operated and maintained? There is a lot of interest in the industry around using building information for FM (facilities management), but how does this really work? Do the benefits of BIM extend to FM?
Yes they do. This month's article focuses on methods for facility managers and FM applications to take advantage of the consistent, coordinated building information that comes from a BIM.

Interoperability, FM and BIM
In 2004, NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) undertook a study to estimate the efficiency losses in the U.S. capital facilities industry (commercial, institutional buildings and industrial facilities). The study reported that the annual cost (in 2002) associated with inadequate interoperability among computer-aided design, engineering and software systems was $15.8 billion.

The study reported that owners and operators shoulder almost two-thirds of that cost as a result of ongoing facility operation and maintenance. These statistics are borne out in the day-to-day activities of facility managers, including manually updating occupancy reports, calculating area for space charge-backs by counting ceiling tiles, digging through stacks of building documentation to find the maintenance manual for water heater and searching in vain for an as-built floor plan, only to find they never received it in the first place.

But the lack of interoperability highlighted in the NIST study is only part of the problem. Is the data trapped in those computer systems studied worth sharing? We tend to overlook the issue of data quality, glossing over the unfortunate truth that the data produced by conventional design software is often unreliable and thus not worth the effort required to share it. In contrast, the hallmark of BIM is coordinated, consistent, computable information about a building project -- information that's worth sharing and reusing.

Facility managers use DWF technology to move the coordinated, consistent, reliable space and room data being delivered from the Autodesk Revit building information model into Autodesk FMDesktop.

Therefore, owners and operators can mitigate their portion of the cost associated with the lack of interoperability cited above by using the high-quality building information from a BIM design process during the longer, more expensive maintenance and operation phase of the building's lifecycle. To that end, Autodesk has used DWF technology to link Autodesk Revit and Autodesk FMDesktop, Autodesk's suite of applications for organizing and reporting facility-related information. For more on DWF and BIM, see last month's column.

DWF-Based Space Management
DWF is a technology platform developed by Autodesk to distribute and communicate design information, without losing critical data and without the recipient needing to know -- or even have -- the native design software. In that framework, Autodesk FMDesktop reads DWFs published from Revit and automatically interprets space and room data, without the FMDesktop user needing Revit software.

Contrast this approach with the typical CAFM (computer-aided facilities management) process. The facility manager scans paper floor plans (or sometimes imports electronic CAD files) for use within the CAFM application. The electronic floor plans are then used as backdrops to create polylines (closed loops composed of line and arc segments) that define an area and identify room numbers to name that area. The time it takes to manually "polyline" a typical commercial building can stretch from days to weeks -- a typical 75,000 sq. ft., three-story office building might take four to five days to "polyline". This chore has spawned an entire cottage industry of "polylining" services. By using DWFs to move building data from Revit to FMDesktop, Autodesk has made this reliance on labor-intensive, manual creation of polylines obsolete.

Traditionally, architects have had difficult choices to make when their clients asked for help getting design data into their CAFM systems. They could say "No," use high rates to dissuade the client, or agree to do tedious manual entry or complicated database transfers at low margin for the sake of a client relationship. But now, architects using Revit Building can simply publish their BIM to DWF and e-mail the file to their clients who use FMDesktop. The client imports the DWF file into FMDesktop, which reads the room boundaries, room areas, room numbers and descriptions from the DWF; compares them to the existing database; warns the client about new and removed rooms; and then updates the CAFM model. There's no need for polyline services or database transfers.

In addition, DWF files can be generated from a variety of design systems using Autodesk's free DWF Writer. For non-Revit applications, there may be some manual data cleansing required by the facility manager, depending on the quality of the data coming from the design tool and the fidelity of its data transfer to DWF. But the end result is that owners and operators who use FMDesktop can consolidate data from multiple sources -- taking advantage of data coming from different architects and contractors who've worked on different properties, or renovated spaces using different authoring tools.

Facility managers can then use the simple tools in FMDesktop to generate their own color-diagram room reports and their own floor plans with room numbers, areas, occupant names and the like without calling the architect -- unless it's time to move a wall. And, if that time comes, DWF also facilitates the return of updated information back to the architect's Revit BIM. For example, the facility manager can redline the DWF to highlight modified room numbers or room types, and e-mail the DWF back to the architect.

Autodesk FMDesktop reads DWFs published by Autodesk Revit and automatically interprets space and room data -- eliminating the need for manual creation of polylines.

Acceptance of BIM for FM
With the increasing use of BIM for design, the owner and operator's use of that building information for facilities management is becoming more commonplace and more anticipated. Consider these examples:

Government agencies such as the U.S. GSA now require the delivery of spatial program information from BIMs for major projects that are receiving design funding in Fiscal Year 2007 and beyond.
To facilitate lifecycle building process integration and sharing digital datasets, the National Institute of Building Sciences formed a committee in early 2006 to create a National Building Information Model Standard to provide a common model for describing facility information.
The AIA is considering how to modify their contract documents to codify the transfer of a BIM, putting in place an agreement structure whereby the BIM and the intellectual property it represents can flow naturally from the architect to the owner and operator. The facilities manager can then get better data to manage a building from the most appropriate source of that data -- the architect who designed the building.
Benefits of BIM for FM
The benefits of using BIM during building design have been well publicized and are fueling its adoption rate amongst architects worldwide -- transforming their drawing-based processes to model-based processes. The benefits of using information from a building model for facilities management are likewise compelling and continue to fuel the discussion surrounding building lifecycle management and nudging facilities management towards model-based processes.

Last month's article was all about the advantages of digitally sharing the right building information with the right target audience. In the context of a building's total lifecycle, facility managers make up the bulk of that target audience, and they're now beginning to take advantage of the reliable building information being created by BIM solutions.

By linking Autodesk Revit and Autodesk FMDesktop, facility managers can immediately realize several significant benefits. Using room data from the Revit design model eliminates costs associated with the manual creation of polylines. DWF technology minimizes the frustration of cobbling together disparate building data from multiple design sources. But most importantly, facility managers can rest easy -- confident in their use of the coordinated, consistent, reliable data being delivered from the BIM.

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How can BIM benefit facilities management?

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