2011-05-11

BIM 360 enabler - a primer

This post is a primer, all the info is UnderNDA, so excuse my lack of citations and images. I am sure we all will be using this procedures more and more in the near future, so there will be plenty of examples to illustrate this. For now, I am slowly unveiling a big "what if"... so big that I cannot wait to see it fully working...

Imagine for a second a world where the Design and Construction team hands over  a model (just like Phil said they would) to the Operations and Management team, that in turn share vital information with the Facility Management team and they all inform the need for a major update of the building, giving specific information of their requirements to the next go of the Design and Construction lads. Nice, isn't it? Are you doing it? Are you aware of someone doing it?... This 360 turn of the Information model is BIM 360.

So, BIM 360 is all about using data from different sources, and managing all sorts of information. The problem is that many times the people accessing that information is not fully Revit-enabled (and to be honest... who is?). Many times the data comes in all sorts of formats and shapes. So we don't want people accessing that information through Revit, or storing data in the Revit model.

In this project I was presented with a Revit model, an Excel spreadsheet with some 20-30 fields for each room (so far, nothing I had not seen before). The additional complication is that the info in the Excel spreadsheet is updated every month, and reviewed quarterly and annually. Automatically I decided that I was not going to push (even if I theoretically could) around 250 fields of data into each room, to then create 250 views and 250 filters to visualize that data...
Besides, the rooms are not visible in 3D!

The answer? Keeping the data in Excel, exporting the Revit model to Navisworks (worth another looong discussion) and hoping that the data will be pushed through. My thinking here is that it's better to get the graphical information "read only" in a (little bit) more user-friendly environment, and keeping the "juicy" data in its original format, one that can also be manipulated by the people that are interested in analyzing it.
The advantage? Spatial awareness of the information, permitting a deeper analysis of what-if scenarios.
Trust me, we are giving "flatland" people a 3rd dimension and they love it!

Now here's where my challenge begun. I exported the Revit data to Excel (including the element ID, that I used to tie data from different sources).
Navisworks Manage 2011 has this DataTools button, that has an "Excel" option to link a Spreadsheet through ODBC. I don't really know what "ODBC" stands for... but as far as I am concern it's an acronym interchangeable with "WTF"... considering how much I got out of it. It turns out 32-bit and 64-bit applications don't talk to each other, so I ended up needing IT to point to a specific workstation to have this working.
First hurdle out of the way, it needs quite a bit of juggling to get the Excel info into Navisworks. Thank God for this post on "Revit Today", that helped me understand the logic of the setup:
http://revittoday.blogspot.com/2009/03/how-to-link-excel-using-datatools.html

Last step was to juggle the Excel file, using some clever conditional formatting and IF statements, trying to dynamically change the colours of the objects in Navisworks. So far it's a bit clunky, but I am being able to choose one field from a drop-down menu in Excel, by selecting an object in Navisworks it will refresh the imported properties, and by running a "material to property" match I can change the colours in my view. I have high hopes on automating some of this, but it seems to be dong what I am asking it to do... which is a lot to say.

I look forward to get some feedback from the end user, hoping that they will like the 3D environment to work on their endless numbers.

Special thanks to Don, who is exploring the Navisworks API to get this working behind the scenes of a proper application, and David, who is supporting the effort and giving me endless advice. If you look for @UnderNDA on twitter you'll see the traffic on this very subject as it develops. Everything else is Under NDA...

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