Building Information Modeling – Cutting out Freelance Professionals

From my personal experience there are major restrictions on freelance professionals entering the world of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and I consider this a major problem because these types of professional are exactly who are needed in this exact area right now. The price tag attached to BIM is known to all in the industry, from the big companies right down to the little guys. But I don’t think these costs hit any one harder than a freelancer who tries to get involved. With an Autodesk Revit subscription costing over £2600 per year, a freelancer is going to be almost certainly forced to pay ‘on the monthly’ which incurs the absolute highest cost of the software at nearly £350 per month. If you want AutoCAD, Recap Pro & Navisworks on top of this you are looking at over £700, per month, on software alone. In my opinion this is ludicrous, especially at a time where many companies, particularly small to medium sized enterprises (SME’s) do not require or cannot commit to a full-time member of BIM staff. They need flexible freelance guys to come in and take the work ‘as and when’ it is needed.

Often the whole reason people use a Freelance basis to work is because they themselves need flexibility, perhaps they have young children or various other commitments or because they already work full time and need to make money on the side. The taking of the sporadic BIM work Widley available in our industry right now would be ideal to many highly professional and competent CAD/BIM technicians and like wise ‘just the ticket’ to many companies, large and small. It could be a match made in haven.

Being a Freelancer who has tried to get involved with BIM I have had to come up with all kinds of creative solutions to try and stay involved with the work I love doing. I have shared my client’s licenses for entire projects. This may sound like a decent solution, but I could only use the license when the owner was not using it, this was between the hours of 9pm & 8am. I would come home from my full-time job and had to hang around until about 9pm before I had access to their license to continue their work for them, meaning I’d be working into the early morning. Juggling this with a new born baby (hence the extra money needed) was an awful strain on our newly formed family.

We use 30-day trials as often as we can and try to avoid running a monthly licence into a new month which can be very difficult, and hard to price for. Straying into that next month could mean losing all profit on the job itself or even losing money considering you may be forking out £700 per month.

The message I’m hearing from the industry and software companies loud and clear is that BIM is no place for individual professionals and that if you can’t afford the ridiculous prices, then tough! I am not sure this is the kind of message we want to send to self employed individuals or small companies who I believe are some of the most useful people to take on the current BIM workload.

I have often pondered if there could be a ‘pay as you use’ scheme for single users of software such as Revit. Yes, I might be happy to pay £330 for a month’s use of Revit, but I mean the whole month, all 730 hours of it. Rather than a count down, ticking time bomb that fills me with anxiety and had led me to say, ‘I’m Out’.

Also, your much less likely to find people deleting software installations form their computer registry and using the 30 day trials on repeat or using ‘cracked’ copies of software and actually paying for such an agreement.

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Dead-Lines

Construction is an industry that is all based around deadlines. If these are not met then people loose money and this can be frustrating to say the least. There is no doubt that in the UK the standards of Health & Safety on site have saved countless lives, even though it massively increases the length and times of projects, we all agree its worth it! Now consider this fact:

“In the construction Industry you are more likely to die from suicide than an accident on site”

So I think as an industry we need to take a look at this statistic and have a re-think about the importance of mental health. If we appreciate the good that H&S does for our industry and work force then why are we not addressing the above statistic for the same reason?

BIM Is faster

Recently I was asked to collaborate on the production of some 2D As Built drawings. The client required no BIM, needless to say I was slightly disappointed. But just because BIM was not required, it was still a much faster option to produce the 2D as built plans and sections that we needed to hand over. We blitzed around the building with a 3D laser scanner and registered a full pointcloud survey in Autodesk ReCap Pro. Inserted this in to Autodesk Revit and used it to build a BIM model with low LOD. It didn’t take long at all and we had all the plans and sections we needed. What’s more when the client saw the BIM model we had used, they wanted to buy it and wanted much more BIM from us in the future. BIM saved us time and made us money. Result!!!!!

Can we talk about mental health?

As an employee, should you be worried to tell your employer that you are suffering with mental health issues? I honestly think, in some cases, you are being rational to be worried. Mental health issues are very tricky to understand and this is particularly true if some one has not had first hand, personal experience of such issues.

The government is creating legislation and companies are creating policies to protect people with mental health issues but this can not change the individual opinions of business owners and managers. More and more in this society we think we can ‘force respect’ by legislation, in my opinion, legislation etc. can only force people to say they respect some thing, not actually respect it.

I think some kind of real cultural shift is needed by our industry and that each person needs to be seen as a human being before they are seen as an employee.

I think that if a company has an employee suffering from mental health issues the first thing to do would be to have a decent chat with them. Some times an absence from work is totally needed but in my experience being absent from work can make things worse. It can leave the individual with out useful distraction and alone with the fear of the coming financial insecurity and thoughts of an inevitable departure from the company and end of their career.

I think it would be beneficial for companies to be more flexible with options of how people carry out their work, if they are struggling with mental health issues, and this doesn’t necessarily have to mean simply reducing responsibilities/hours. It might be a case of being more flexible with an employees working hours, for example some people suffering with depression find that its far more potent in the mornings and that towards midday it really mellows out, perhaps such a person could work 12-8 instead of 9-5.

I think it would be well worth discussing with an employee if the job could be changed in any way that would allow the sufferer to carry out their duties and manage their symptoms, at the same time. I think this could work well for everybody involved. The company keeps a productive employee and the employee keeps a routine, distraction, financial security and purpose during their recovery from illness.

Are We Compatible? Find out as early as possible!!!

dwg, rvt, rfa, nwd, nwc, nwf, ipt, iam, idw, rcp, skp, 3ds, slddrw, sldprt, sldasm, dgn, obj, mod, tpl, 2dl

These are just some of the file formats we use for BIM. Needless to say it can become a real mess when it comes to trying to open files that have a different software brand to your own. Even if you are successful in opening a drawing or model in such a situation, there is often loss of information or other complications. Even if you are using the exact same software as another, you can still find your selves incompatible if you’re using different versions of that same software. You could find yourself (as I have) designing an entire model in Revit 2017 only to find the person you send it off to uses Revit 2016 and cannot open your model. So what to do? Re-create the entire model in 2016? Who is paying for this extra work? Upgrade your software to 2017? Who is paying for that? It seems like we should have been much clearer on this before any work began. A simple conversation would have highlighted this situation before the many problems became reality. We ended up exporting my 2017 model to IFC, this is the industry solution to softwares that are not compatible. Unfortunately the problems remain the same, there is a loss of information during the export from RVT to IFC.

The best thing to do to prepare for these situation is to have conversations early on about what software people are using and finding out if they are compatible or not? BIM, is not a software and not all BIM software are compatible. Talk to everybody and agree on what packages you use, don’t take on work before being clear what file format you are expected to hand over in. Research what software is being used the most in your discipline. And remember to even check which version of software the project is working in and be compatible in that respect too!

Size Does Matter – It’s all in the detail (level of)

If you have made the venture in to the world of BIM with your company, you have probably encountered the problem of file sizes. The size of files can cause problems in terms of storage for projects as well as affecting the performance of your hardware. BIM models can contain huge amounts of information and this can make their files size large. You might find your personal allocated space on the company NAS drive, as well as your PC hard drive fills up quickly. You may find it frustrating to have to keep circulating files too and from external hard drives. If you have started to include 3D laser scans (pointclouds) in to your works then the file sizes are often getting silly, making storage difficult and slowing down even the expensive computers. You may opt for a cloud storage solution where a third party company stores your data for you and so as long as you have internet connection, you can access your files from any location. This can be beneficial for storage and collaboration purposes but also poses the risks of cyber security. With all your valuable information floating around in the cloud, just how safe is it?

This is where the Level of Detail or LOD can play a part in keeping project file sizes down. BIM models can be created to almost exact life like graphical detail as well as having a wealth of non graphical detail attached to them. The more detail and information their is in a model or part of a model the bigger the file size is going to be. If we take a lighting fixture for example, the file size might seem small for the single family device rfa file but if there are going to be 3000 of these lights in a model then the size of the single rfa file will make a difference. This is why it is important for the client to understand this information and specify the levels of detail needed for all parts of the model in their Employer Information Requirements (EIR). The client needs to work out how much detail is NEEDED to fulfil the purpose of the model. If the purpose of a model is to provide high quality lifelike scenarios in the form of walk throughs, simulations and/or renders, then there is a need for high levels of detail. If the model is there to provide a spatial representation of objects for the purpose of clash detection and giving basic information such as dimensions and quantities, then lower levels of detail may be sufficient. As someone who regularly builds different companies Revit device libraries, it’s clear that clients want higher levels of detail than is often necessary. I think companies will see their models as representation of the quality of their company and so will not want to share low quality looking models of their devices.

I think it might be useful if we promote a discussion about the purpose of BIM models and that often low quality graphics with accurate dimensions will often be beneficial for the over all usage of the model.

Image result for bim level of detail

BIM for the Little Guys

The changes that BIM has brought about has been tricky for the industry, but in particular its been rough on the smaller companies. Purchasing a software subscription can cost many thousands of pounds per workstation. This is more than enough money to many companies but when you realise you need to upgrade the hardware too, getting BIM ready can be as much as £10,000 per workstation. On top of that, you need to make sure your guys (or girls, or other?) can use all this fancy new software. This is where i’d like to offer some advice. Spending money on training can be expensive and often ineffective. If you’re picking up a new software package, chances are you’re not going to learn how to use it in a day or even a week. People are cashing in on offering intensive courses for BIM software like Autodesk Revit but in my opinion an intensive course is not the way forward. I know companies are desperate to make the transition quick and painless, but you have to give it time. If you want your staff to gain a certificate then look for a CAD evening class that extends over a few months. These tend to be flexible and run a few evenings a week. This will give the learner time to take things in and learn the basics of the interface and tools of the software. You can often take work home with you from such courses to work on in your spare time. Autodesk allow students to download student licenses for all their software absolutely free!! For me this is where the real learning takes place. Get your staff to play around with the program themselves. There are thousands of YouTube tutorials in many different languages that can show you how to use these softwares, free of charge. Perhaps set a couple of hours a week aside for your staff to watch tutorials and play around with the software, set some creative tasks to keep them motivated. I would advise doing all this before sending staff on a paid course. Especially if you don’t know how much BIM work you have coming up in the near future. Many companies have sent staff on a 3 day course, only for Revit to never be mentioned again for 6 months. Suddenly a project springs up that requires Revit and the learners are expected to be able to remember the stuff they learnt on that 3 day intensive course from 6 months ago? It’s not going to work and will be frustrating and disappointing for all involved.

Set time aside, download free software and start playing around. Little and often is much better than all in one go!

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