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Franco Piva
Franco Piva

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BIM and Timber: a perfect way of collaboration

Information management and procedures are undoubtedly the most important aspect of BIM, a well-known acronym that stands for “Building Information Modeling”. BIM is not just a 3d model! It involves information sharing processes throughout the building’s lifecycle.

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Buildings are by definition one-off products, made for a specific site, for a specific customer, and for specific needs; but they often have common construction and management processes and here is where BIM comes in.

In our experience, there are many common points between off-site construction and BIM and therefore with CLT design. CLT is not just a material, it is more a technology, a constructive system that perfectly fits BIM.

Information management in a BIM workflow enables the user to follow incoming data and grant access to each stakeholder to the right information at the right time, regardless of the software they’re using. This proactive approach supports the identification of potential issues before the construction stage and consequently prevents delays and problems, helping to keep the project within the planned timeline and budget.

Working frequently on international projects of different sizes and with different scopes of work, the starting point to step into a process is understanding the purpose of using BIM in that particular project. The most common Model Uses in our projects are design to manufacturing (DfMA), clash detection and quantity take-off.

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This background makes clear how important it is to create a multidisciplinary design team that uses this approach from the beginning, sharing and analyzing different options based on data. Creating a variety of design options, by using a digital simulation of the real building, supports us in foreseeing what could happen later in the design process and then on-site.

We both experienced this recently in a project for an office building we designed in South Africa (world wide virtual meetings); we needed to organize and supply materials from Europe to the building site. At the same time, we were dealing with a team split across two countries, so creating a collaboration protocol was a crucial point. The collaboration was supported by using a Common Data Environment where information was shared with everyone through agreed clear procedures. We had to make different software to talk to each other: Revit + Dynamo, Navisworks, HSB Cad (for timber elements), Archicad and Revit MEP.

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Clash detection has become part of the design workflow, playing an important role in the process of checking for potential penetrations between the structural model and the MEP model. This is to avoid losing time and money on-site due to interferences.

A crucial challenge is integrating the manufacturing process by preparing shop drawings for the CLT panels production. Challenges arise from different manufacturing standards, software-related communication difficulties and IFC file formats that do not work properly. In recent years, by analyzing instruments and actors in the process, we gained the experience and insight essential for a pro-active collaboration with the manufacturers.

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To create new holes/openings on-site is very expensive and time-consuming because many people have to stop, wait for the answer of the designers’ team, have the right equipment, and do it. To do this in the factory is almost inexpensive and highly precise, so we want to be 100% sure that no extra work will be needed on-site. The technology is already available on the market!

At the same time, being able to collect all the information in a common model is useful when we come down to the quantity take-off phase and the building site simulation which considers the expected construction timeline. For instance, we experienced that creating a 3d simulation of the assembly of the CLT panels helps a lot to foresee all the problems, to choose the right equipment to lift them and to avoid the risk of sudden (and expensive) stops.

We are always looking for the next challenge to solve; that’s because we are exploring how to use computational methods in our workflow to explore more design options and find the best solution for each project using different metrics.

You know what? We learned that a good BIM workflow reduces stress levels and therefore makes your life better!

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Editor’s note: This article is written by Eng. Franco Piva (director of Ergodomus) and Arch. Alessandro Zuanni (director of Bim-farm). They have been working together for many years on international projects, always aiming to get the most out of the technology and to find the best workflow each time.

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