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...

2011-05-08

On Energy

It's been some time since I started to think on this post.
Basically, every time I hear people talk about forms of energy, or saving energy, or Green Energy or the like, I wonder if those people have the same understanding of Energy I have. Also, when I read how many calories a chocolate bar has, again I think about a proper definition of Energy and its implications.

Without further introduction, here is my question: What is Energy?

From a pure physics definition, Energy is the ability of a physical system to perform work. Work in turn is intended as a force acting along a distance. All this was described by Sir Newton 324 years ago, in his Principia.


An object is capable of storing Energy because its particles are taken to a position (requiring Energy to do so) and will be able to release that Energy later. Imagine you raise an object, then let it go. That's your Force x Distance on the way up stored in the "Potential Energy" and transformed to kinematic Energy when the object gets in motion. Electricity  in particular (maybe what most people think of when talking about Energy) is a more complicated form of energy, because it's about electrons (particles floating around each atom) moving along conductors. The Voltage relates to the force of the electrons, and the Current is somehow related to the Distance. Heat as a form of energy is associated to the vibration of particles, and other forms of energy can be described in similar simplistic way.

The energy is embedded and associated to the mass of the system (as expressed 106 years ago in the famous E= m * c^2, where c is constant - of course).



Only making changes to the atomic composition of the matter (ie atomic fission or fusion) the consequent loss of mass is transformed in energy. In all other transformations the mass remains constant, therefore the energy cannot be created or destroyed, but transferred from a system to another. We are shifting energy from here to there all the time or from one form to another, but we never create or destroy energy.

Potentially all forms of energy can be transformed into one another, although some of them are more difficult to obtain - being heat a common form of "leaking" as a low-entropy form of energy. This means (and all physicist out there are laughing at my simplistic explanation by now) that when transforming electricity into light we loose some energy in the form of heat - so using electricity to produce heat purposely is actually very efficient but it means wasting a lot of energy that was lost when transforming something else in electricity.

Also, heat is also always "positive", so cooling down means actually extracting energy (remember it cannot be destroyed, so you have to find another way of pushing it out!). As this is not as easy as it sounds, we end up using even more energy to dissipate heat (in other words, Air Conditioning is probably the biggest waste of energy). The key to green architecture is to lower the heat production, by reducing the amount of transformations of energy that will create heat as a by-product, and find ways to assimilate heat and convert it to some other useful form of energy.

The implications of this are quite important, because if our facade is "greener" because it bounces off the solar radiation, you are just adding solar gainance to the building next door or contributing to the heat island around your building... but if you are adding a tree before your building or a green wall, you are transforming that energy into wood/mass instead, and getting rid of CO2 in the process. Even more, in winter that tree will let the heat through!



Lastly, about a month ago I went to a ski trip, and recorded my tracks using a GPS (showing off my android phone, of course). It gave me an interesting calorie count, and I started to think how was I spending my energy on the slopes. My conclusion is that when I was sliding down it was gravity and not breakfast calories that was pushing me, so all I was doing was dissipating the potential energy my body had stored getting higher up in the mountain on the chair-lift. My body heat, my muscles aching, were moving my body up and down as the instructor kept repeating, and my energy was moving the snow to turn or stop. At least in theory, the faster you go the less energy you use, but I doubt that's what Cardio Trainer was recording...
In any case, here's a link to one of the tracks... which is really cool!


Cardio Trainer Ski Track