Its hard to start writing about BIM without first posing (and answering) the question: What is BIM? Of course there are a few common interpretations of the BIM acronym; I have always preferred Building Information Modeling. Still many people move to focus on the Modelling part of it; while I have always felt that its the Information part that holds most value and better differentiates BIM from any other 3D CAD model.
My fellow contributor, John Russo, has already posted two very thoughtful musings on BIM and Laser Scanning (Building Surveying, Laser Scanning & BIM and BIM, Laser Scanning, & Level of Accuracy) so it is with some trepidation that I venture into his realm to share my own recent epiphany. That said, I think its an acceptable foray on the grounds that I am an Architect who did BIM back in the early 90s, and I intend to focus on Information as context for BIM models.
This past week I attended an Autodesk seminar day to witness a Revit (Autodesks own BIM offering) demo performed to a lightly occupied room of local practitioners. I could not work out whether the number of bums on seats was low because a majority is already using Revit, or because the days of in-person seminars which take people away from paying work for a whole day have become a thing of the past. Regardless, Revit performed admirably, making the most laborious drawing production tasks appear simple, almost fun. Which got me thinking; I wonder if BIM actually makes drawing production fun? I digress, that may be another subject for John to explore.
The demos took in architecture and showed just how easy it is to create walls, floors, doors, windows, etc., It showed structural tools for placing beams, columns, slabs, footings, and it showed MEP for streamlining ducting and electrical design works. Afterwards a lively Q&A debate followed where many of the 2Ders in the room (lets be honest, they were invited because Autodesk wanted to sell them Revit) asked questions about referencing 2D data, importing dumb models from other software (i.e. solid and surface models without additional attribute intelligence), and other general questions about the depth of detail required to build a valuable and usable BIM model in Revit.
Not one person asked about laser scanning or point clouds. At first I was amazed, while exhibiting at Autodesk University (AU 2010) last year; I was inundated with requests from Revit users to make Pointools work inside their favourite BIM software. But then I remembered the guys in the room with me this week have yet to really embrace 3D, never mind BIM. So 3D laser scans are a whole new world just waiting to astonish them. How lucky is that? As they start to embrace BIM, this late majority of adopters are going to hit the ground running.
They will make more money (from their BIM exploits) in less time than the pioneers who preceded them. Why? Because these new BIM adopters will be able to model less, while delivering more detail in a shorter timescale. All while charging the same, thus lowering costs and increasing profits. Sweet! But how? They will be able to selectively model only the parts of their project that they need to add to, subtract from, or modify, by visualizing the wider project context using point cloud models captured in photo-realistic detail by super-fast 3D laser scanners.
Still rubbing your head? Then contrast this new opportunity with the past, where the pioneers who first adopted BIM spent many a late night modeling everything but the parts of the BIM model they planned to build; just to create context for the new design. And this context model they created would never be paid for by their client as it was never a part of the project scope. Even though the context of the project is key to the design and scale of the new building as the architect sets out his case to justify his materials selection to complement or contrast with the current street or landscape.
Thankfully all of that is changing as more companies like Pointools enable project teams to reuse point cloud models inside their preferred BIM applications; to streamline scan-to-model workflows and eliminate time consuming translations and re-modeling activities. Bentley Systems, Inc. (the people behind Microstation) was the first BIM software provider to enable 3D point cloud reuse inside its BIM software suite; no doubt others will follow fast. Revit users continue to ping us, and ArchiCAD (from Graphisoft; now a subsidiary of Nemetschek) users have joined the choir they too want to streamline their BIM workflows by reusing 3D laser scan data as point clouds inside their BIM software.
For many practitioners, being first isnt always best. Perhaps thats why the pioneers in history died with arrows in their backs while the settlers that followed got rich. As BIM comes of age, and the 3D laser scanning adoption curve steepens, point cloud integration is the next major value-add for information modeling workflows which I am quite certain will help propel BIM adoption beyond its own tipping point.