July 2008

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Willem KymmellEMAIL INTERVIEW  Willem Kymmell & Ken Sinclair

Willem Kymmell, Architect
Assoc. Prof. in Construction Management at Cal. State Univ. Chico
author of Building Information Modeling published by McGraw Hill (ISBN – 978-0-07-149453-3).

Building Information Modeling

All the concepts boil down to ‘better understanding through better visualization’,
and ‘better understanding allows better communication’.

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Sinclair:  Willem, how did you first develop an interest in BIM?

Kymmell:  My background is in architecture and I have been creating my construction documents from 3D models since the early nineties. It only makes sense to work from a single 3D model rather than have all these various drawings existing independently from each other. The work of an architect becomes so much more efficient and not to mention enjoyable, through a tool that integrates so many of its previously independent sources of project information.

Why this type of project simulation makes so much sense for the design and construction industry is explained in the book I just published with McGraw Hill entitled “Building Information Modeling”. All the concepts boil down to ‘better understanding through better visualization’, and ‘better understanding allows better communication’. Most of us can experience in almost all of our interactions throughout our lives that better communication is a MUST. The design and construction of our built environment is one of the most complex tasks that human beings engage in on an incredibly large scale, and an amazing amount of team work and communication is required to bring it off successfully.

Sinclair:  As you see it, what is the connection between BIM and automated building?

Kymmell:  Automating construction can be taken on different scales. The hot areas of interest today focus on automating the prefabrication of various components of larger construction projects. The MEP systems are a primary target for this effort. It is clearly a huge advantage to be able to simulate a system within the context of the entire project so that all coordination with surrounding components can be addressed prior to fabrication. It is also a huge advantage to be able to simulate a particular system during its own design phase so that it can be optimized and detailed in relation to its ultimate location within a project, and its performance can be maximized. A sophisticated system model does not only function for design and coordination purposes, but can also be used directly for fabrication, thus potentially eliminating the requirement for drawings; and thus simplifying the communication process for the project.

Sinclair:  What does all this mean for automated building industry?

Kymmell:  The automated building industry is in many ways more similar to the aircraft or automobile industries than it is to on site building construction. These industries have been benefiting from computer simulations for decades now and could not survive without it. All industry is clearly going in this direction.

Sinclair:  Why is there currently such an explosive interest in BIM?

Kymmell:  Because more and more persons are realizing its benefits. It really does not make sense to stay with old methods when the new ones are so much better. Owners of projects see themselves spending less money on better buildings, and designers and builders see increased efficiencies and better managed workloads.

Sinclair:  Is BIM difficult to master?

Kymmell:  It is not really so difficult to get started with, it is much more challenging to master it. You just have to begin, the more you learn and prepare beforehand the more successful you will be; but there is no substitute for simply getting started. It is not an accident that the construction industry is one of the last frontiers in this field, construction is not near as predictable and controllable as most manufacturing industries. It is often difficult to plan under these circumstances, so just get started, each next step will generally be apparent, and if it doesn’t work ask for help! It is like learning to walk tightrope just a few feet above the ground, it is unlikely you will get hurt too bad if you fall; and if you do, just get back up and try again – but do get some help from those who have done it before.

Sinclair:  Is BIM for big projects only?

Kymmell:  Of course not, just like CAD drawings are not for big projects only. The same advantages will be available for projects of any size. It is just easier to find owners of big projects who are interested in saving big dollars and therefore demand the use of BIM on their projects.

Sinclair:  How much technology does an individual who wants to use BIM really need to know?

Kymmell:  Actually remarkably little. The tools that are available just out of the box are pretty good and a little training will make it possible for almost anyone to use them effectively in the design and construction processes. The hardest part for the industry will be to learn to collaborate effectively. The primary challenge for any project team is communication, and the BIM processes heavily rely on it.

Sinclair:  How do the software tools that are available for BIM compare with each other?

Kymmell:  The answer to that question is constantly changing. The best approach is to do the preliminary research and choose a couple of applications that seem to be the most worthwhile for your specific needs, then invite the software sales teams to demonstrate EXACTLY how they would approach your challenges with their tools. The importance of the demonstration cannot be overstated, the sales brochures can make various claims, but if the demonstration cannot produce the desired results you can be sure that your project team will at best have an intense struggle with the same issues (if they can accomplish it at all).

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Sinclair:  How much is BIM currently used in the industry?

Kymmell:  It is pretty sporadic at this moment, some companies have modeled a lot but very few have made an in-depth use of these models. Numerous companies have very specific things they do with BIM, but generally limit it to those things and miss a whole host of possibilities that are actually very near at hand. The design and construction industry has numerous different approaches and each project is unique, very little is ever repeated, so it is difficult to implement a rigorous protocol for most of its processes. The closer it comes to manufacturing, the better the chances of taking advantage of repeated processes. So pre-fabrication is good candidate for spearheading BIM in many projects. By this I mean that this use of BIM can begin to set the pace for the migration of the use of the model into other areas, and be the beginning of the creation of other models to generate more utility for the overall project design or management.

Sinclair:  How long do you think BIM will be around?

Kymmell:   I don’t know of course, but it is safe to say that BIM is still in its infancy and that its development still has a long way to go. It may also not be easy to come up with something better to replace it with. I have not yet seen any project utilize BIM from beginning to end and for all its various design and construction processes. Some come close, imagine trying to design and build a Frank Gehry project (such as the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles) in any other way, but most only utilize BIM for a few isolated processes. It will likely take some years to evolve to a more complete implementation of what is currently possible in the field, and the technology is still rapidly advancing in numerous areas.

Sinclair:  What will be next?

Kymmell:  Better and more complete use of the tools and processes that are already available to us. More companies will be using more BIM for more projects.

Sinclair:  What, if any, is your advice for the design and construction industry?

Kymmell:  Learn, learn, learn! In order to utilize and manage these changing technologies properly, they need to be well understood. It is not casual knowledge, and it is highly unlikely that a lot of benefit will be achieved by muddling our way through it. The danger is that you can get some useful results without a lot of preparation; so many will stop there and think that this is all there is to it, and be satisfied.


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