Even technical colleges are not immune to garden-variety thinking. After all, each one wants to be the best. However, the Action Plan Digital Switzerland 2018 calls for the planning of public-sector buildings and federally-owned companies to be carried out using digital collaboration methods from 2021. For all those involved, this means moving closer together! BIM is a must in this context. Dr Sonja Geier from the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts and Professor Thomas Rohner from the Bern University of Applied Sciences and Arts launched two joint research initiatives to this end: BIMwood – BIM-based Planning in Wood Construction and DeepWood – Disruptive Evolving Engineering and Planning in Wood with the clear goal of putting cooperation and synergies before competition. With these requirements from the federal government, the switch to Building Information Modelling (BIM) from 2021 is an obligation for planners and companies if they do not want to miss out on contracts in this sector. This is an undertaking that seems to be trouble-free, if one believes the published success stories of pilot projects. BIM has become an integral part of marketing and reporting, especially when it comes to communicating innovation. BIM is not a new tool, BIM is a new method. With BIM, a new era in planning culture is dawning. BIM offers the opportunity to advance the industrialisation of the construction industry, to strengthen industrialised timber construction as a future technology and the key to climate-friendly construction. Because: timber construction is BIMready and has been familiar with digital planning and production processes for years. The challenge lies less on the (software) technical side than in the cooperation of the disciplines and the necessary structural foundations.
Everyone plans and fights for themselves
BIM as a methodical departure towards a new understanding of planning calls previous routines into question. One of these routines is disciplinary thinking and planning, which, according to the rules of the profit-oriented market and laws, sometimes produces less pretty pictures: Projects are not so much the realisation of a client’s wish or the goal-oriented collaborative development of solutions, but the “battlegrounds” in the increasing competition on the market. Everyone plans and fights for themselves. Order structures, interfaces and agreed formats are often seen as a necessary evil. We run the risk of drowning in data rubbish because the planning team does not coordinate. A fundamental cultural change towards actual interdisciplinary cooperation in planning and building will be necessary.
Fig. 1: Overview of possible discipline-scalar priorities.
Competition in the education market
Planners and companies too often have to face this challenge, but universities are not spared by the competition in the education market either. This is a fact that at first glance seems of little significance for the awakening and cultural change in the industry. In the transition to BIM, the players in the construction industry are looking to the interest groups and the universities, because the basics for the application of the BIM method need to be developed, broken down to use cases, prepared for communication and application and made available for practice. This engine for BIM is running at full speed – everyone is trying to make their contribution and publish documents and guidelines. It is still too early to proclaim eureka, and an end to the trampled rose-coloured glasses is not in sight, if one follows reports from practice. In the health sector, people are aware of the need for interprofessional collaboration. In the case of chronically or multiply ill persons, the responsibilities and competences are regulated, the treatment lead is defined. Everyone makes the best possible contribution from their profession for the comprehensive or best possible solution to the recovery process.
Joint research initiatives of the HSLU and the BFH
Dr Sonja Geier of the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts (HSLU) and Prof. Thomas Rohner of the Bern University of Applied Sciences (BFH) in Biel recognised the potential of such cooperation and launched two joint research initiatives on the topic of BIM:
- BIMwood – BIM-based planning in timber construction
- DeepWood – Disruptive Evolving Engineering and Planning in Wood
With the idea of interprofessionality, both projects aim to use synergies in the technical-scientific and personnel areas to meet the great challenge of the industry. The motto is competence orientation instead of competition.
Synergies instead of competition
As history teaches us, revolutions rarely happen and are rarely based on paper and standards “top-down”. A profound change in values, thinking and action cannot take place without a bottom-up movement. If one demands interdisciplinary collaboration in planning and building practice, the interprofessional collaboration of research institutions must not take place in isolation in halls of research. The necessary revolution towards a new understanding of planning must be initiated together with the actors. Across disciplines and companies, in dialogue between research and practice, the new challenge must be met. New techniques and directions must be identified and tested. Inert research supertankers are less suitable for this task. What is needed are agile and cunning pioneer units that explore different solution paths. With BIMwood and DeepWood, the two universities HSLU and BFH were able to set up two pioneering units that complement rather than compete with each other. The common, overarching goal is to be able to use the opportunities offered by BIM methods in industrialised timber construction. The approaches and philosophies of the two projects could not be more contrasting: Universities are obliged to play a role in research as well as a key position in education: As educational institutions, they are called upon to train the generations of future actors. This concerns the offer of Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes. The integration of new technologies into knowledge transfer is one side of the coin.
Fig. 2: BIM maturity model. The timeline shows that with 2020 onwards the time for BIM Level 3 will dawn, but the structural foundations for building practice have already been created.
The other equally important side are the “soft” factors. This includes the connection to generations Y and Z and their needs as “educational nomads” in a highly networked world of knowledge. This also includes the role model effect. Healthy competition is important between planners and companies. Competition for students and also for research funds supports excellence at universities and universities of applied sciences. However, top results of Switzerland as a location for education and research are also based on the recognition and use of synergies and the bundling of forces. The challenge is to support the actors in the practice of BIM in industrialised timber construction for future excellence: “If everyone in a team does what they are excellent at, then top results can be expected” (Thomas Rohner).
The BIMwood project refers to a successful planning principle from the product design of the 1980s, which has only slowly been receiving attention in the construction industry in recent years: DfMA – Design for Manufacturing and Assembly. The BIMwood project team derives a restructuring of the process structure from the DfMA planning principle. Manufacturing, logistics and assembly must be taken into account in the early design phases and the modelling and structures must be aligned for a loss-free transfer to production. The major challenges here are decision moderation, change management and the handling of decision-making freedom. In managing the process, architecture, cost and sustainability are the focused criteria of performance. BIMwood focuses on the revolution of methods, processes, strategies and culture in an openBIM approach. BIMwood implementation team: – schaerholzbau AG – GKS Architekten Generalplaner AG – Pirmin Jung Switzerland AG – DesigntoProduction GmbH – Efficiency Engineers AG
The DeepWood project refers to the future further development of the BIM maturity level 2 to 3 and faces the challenge of how the collaboration of several users can be realised simultaneously in a common model. DeepWood uses an industry platform and its structures as an example to develop and test new structures for future real-time-based, cross-company and collaborative planning in timber construction in a living lab. In a closed BIM approach, the “noise” of the interface problems of current BIM projects is eliminated. Disruptive means the complete solution of previous standards. In a “white” room, the team concentrates on the question: how do we want to work together in the future? DeepWood implementation team: – Timbatec Holzbauingenieure Schweiz AG – Dassault Systemes (Suisse) AG, – Helbling PLM Solutions – Stuber & Cie AG
Note: BIMwood and DeepWood are co-financed by Innosuisse. This article first appeared in the Schweizer Holzrevue 4/5 -2020.