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OpenBIM & Connected Construction: Odd Couple or Dynamic Duo?

The construction industry is beginning to embrace digital transformation in pursuit of the cost savings, safety enhancements, and efficiencies it offers. But many in the industry are struggling to make the most of their technology investment. Only 12% of construction firms report their digital strategy is highly effective at advancing their business goals, and less than one-third say their organizations have effectively used technology to improve business efficiency. 

These disappointing results may bring transformation initiatives into question. But they’re more likely a symptom of disconnects that haven’t yet been addressed. While architects, engineers, and contractors have adopted point solutions that digitize processes and documentation, many of those applications aren’t built to communicate with one another. According to Deloitte, poor data visibility, a lack of centralization, inadequate analytics capabilities, and weak information technology systems are all contributors to the budget and schedule overruns that plague major capital projects.

9 out of 10 megaprojects have cost overruns.

For every $1B invested in capital projects, $109M is lost.

Source: Deloitte, Improving capability and performance across the capital project lifecycle

The construction lifecycle is highly interdependent, and the current technology ecosystem doesn’t support the data sharing capabilities needed to bring stakeholders together and digital transformation promises to reality. To fully realize the benefits of their digital investment, stakeholders need to be able to leverage the systems of their choice while also being able to access, share, and act on data. OpenBIM and Connected Construction each play a part in addressing these needs. 

What Is OpenBIM?

OpenBIM, sometimes written as open BIM, was created in response to the need for a common language that allows disparate systems to communicate. The concept of openBIM was initiated by buildingSMART International, an organization dedicated to addressing interoperability challenges in the construction industry. The organization is leading a collaborative group of industry stakeholders to drive the development and adoption of open, neutral standards for data interoperability, as well as benchmarks to ensure quality. 

“OpenBIM presents many benefits to projects and assets if adopted. This includes standard, transparent, dedicated and documented workflows that help streamline interdisciplinary workflows, avoid communication errors, and foster “future proof” accessibility of data. These provide clear business and societal benefits in the construction phase as well as asset performance.”

—buildingSMART International

OpenBIM data exchanges are based on Industry Foundation Classes (IFC), a framework managed by the International Standards Organization (ISO). This open framework provides a standardized communication protocol that enables data to be easily imported and exported between technologies. Technology-agnostic, non-proprietary data closes the gaps between the complex network of stakeholders involved in large construction projects by helping them:

  • Develop standardized, transparent workflows to enable interdisciplinary teams to hand off tasks more effectively.   
  • Reduce communication errors caused by manual data sharing and using systems that don’t communicate with each other well.
  • Ensure longevity of data so that it can be accessed for asset operations and maintenance well after construction has ended.

Construction software providers are stepping up to support openBIM and the benefits it delivers. As Trimble CEO Rob Painter explains, “[OpenBIM] is something that we’ll continue to work on as we evolve the technologies and operating models of the business. It’s continuing to advance a sense and status of being more open and having less data loss in the system. All of us in the industry have to work together to understand, just like the digital twin conversation and the BIM conversation, what we mean by openness, so that we can deliver a better outcome to our customers and the industry.” 





Open Standards for Construction Data Don’t Have to Limit Technology Options

The need for open standards shouldn’t override the need for owners, design professionals, and various trades to use the systems that best suit their needs. No single technology provider covers all of the workflows of the construction industry. Even as investment in construction tech has doubled over the past decade, the industry is still dominated by point solutions, which are designed to serve specific use cases, such as estimating or project management. 

Point solutions in and of themselves aren’t a bad thing. A diverse marketplace of solutions fosters competition and allows for greater innovation and user productivity. Breakthrough technologies like robotics, 3D printing, and mixed reality should be open to early-stage innovators as well as established firms. And individual stakeholders need to be able to assemble the right tech stack with their preferred hardware and software systems. 

Connected Construction Ties Technology, Teams, and Data Together

The challenge in building that tech stack is making everything work together. When evaluating a potential new application, many stakeholders find themselves weighing the costs of building workarounds and manual data sharing processes to overcome communication gaps between the new tool and existing systems. Oftentimes, they’re faced with a choice between a tool that performs its core function well but lacks seamless integrations, or one that’s not ideal for their use case but plays well with their other systems. 

See how Connected Construction unifies teams and technologies to improve construction productivity, quality, and sustainability.

To realize the efficiency gains possible with technology, construction stakeholders need to connect the tools in use across workflows and teams. They need a place to centralize the data and serve as a home base that individual point systems can be plugged into. Such a platform should enable real-time collaboration between numerous disciplines such as design, engineering, project management, resource planning and management, scheduling, and cost tracking, and in doing so bring data analytics capabilities into the mix, giving stakeholders a broader range of insights from the entire process. 

In an industry already challenged by productivity concerns, efficiency shouldn't and doesn't need to be sacrificed in the name of using innovative technology. Connected Construction provides the collaboration tools that bring teams, technologies, and data together to:

  • Streamline communication
  • Facilitate cooperation
  • Increase transparency across the entire project lifecycle
  • Centralized project data to yield insights for improved productivity, safety, and quality while reducing waste and rework

How OpenBIM and Connected Construction Bridge the Gaps Between AEC Stakeholders 

OpenBIM facilitates data interoperability of construction technologies, while a Connected Construction platform creates the connections and managed workflows between those technologies and centralizes the data they provide. You might think of Connected Construction as the super highway, and openBIM as the rules of the road. When the two are used in combination, they support the efficient flow of data and removes the guesswork that communication “noise” can create.

Many firms are already taking advantage of Connected Construction and openBIM. Here’s how three companies are combining the two to realize efficiencies in the field, reduce rework, and improve jobsite safety.

Streamlined Data Sharing Allows for Early Conflict Resolution 

For a major bridge repair project, the California Department of Transportation (referred to as CalTrans) piloted Trimble Quadri, a platform for connecting civil construction stakeholders. Using Quadri, CalTrans was able to address design-build conflicts in the preconstruction phase, as well as better visualize the jobsite during construction to avoid safety hazards.

For example, CalTrans was able to identify a discrepancy in the location of bridge abutments (where the bridge meets the road), a common issue, at the design phase. Quadri facilitated the sharing of the bridge model and road model between their respective teams so they could work together to adjust their designs and ensure proper alignment between them. These issues are typically identified later on during construction and are left up to the contractor to address, creating rework and the additional time and costs associated with it. 

 Trimble SiteVision helps a CalTrans engineer visualize a bridge abutment.

Trimble SiteVision helps a CalTrans engineer visualize a bridge abutment.

In the field, the team used Quadri to facilitate the use of the 3D model created in SketchUp with Trimble SiteVision, an augmented reality tool. SiteVision allowed the team to visualize the model in relation to existing terrain, earthwork, temporary bridges, and site utilities. For example, contractors in the field were able to visualize a jet fuel line running alongside the project, so they could clearly understand its position and safely avoid it, instead of having to rely solely on flags placed in the ground, which can get knocked over or obscured. 

This type of data is usually stored in disparate formats, ranging from civil 3D linework to Google Maps. By leveraging an openBIM approach, Quadri provides a common platform that makes this data usable across a range of technologies and teams on the site, including machine control and survey systems. 

To learn more about connecting civil construction stakeholders at every stage of the construction lifecycle, watch the webinar.

Field Data Capture Streamlines Workflows and Improves QA

Mortenson Construction, a 60-year-old construction firm specializing in the sports and entertainment industry, used to rely on a combination of manual methods and laser scanning to capture measurements in the field, a process that spanned several days. There was no way to know if the scans were complete and usable until they’d been processed, registered, and analyzed back at the office. If they weren’t, the surveyor would have to return to the site and spend additional hours capturing new scans. 

Mortenson acquired a Trimble X7 3D laser scanner powered by Trimble FieldLink. The Trimble X7 is a self-calibrating and auto-leveling scanner that can be used by personnel with minimal scanning experience, reducing reliance on specially trained surveyors. Compatible with a variety of layout and scanning tools, FieldLink enables the translation of 3D model data in the field. 

FieldLink helps Mortenson's team increase scanning productivity and accuracy in the field.

The combination of the Trimble X7 and FieldLink gives Mortenson’s team in-field registration capabilities so they know their scans are complete before they leave the site. Being able to register and stitch together point clouds out in the field reduces the amount of time spent capturing field measurements from days to hours. They can also perform better quality assurance by overlaying the fully registered, photo-colorized point cloud on the coordination model to easily identify conflicts. Read the full case study here. 

Seamless Data Integration Improves Job Costing & Procurement 

Dave Steel Company provides estimating, design-build and design-assist projects, steel fabrication, detailing, coatings, and steel erection services throughout North America. The firm wanted to upgrade its disconnected, outdated systems to reduce the time it spent on job costing and purchase orders, and gain greater access to real-time data. 

By transitioning to the cloud-based ViewpointOne construction management suite, Dave Steel Company was able to streamline the data flows to Tekla PowerFab, a suite of software solutions designed for structural steel workflows. ViewpointOne’s cross-functional collaboration applications allow all users to have real-time access to the same data, resulting in significant time savings. For example, instead of creating a workaround program to enter purchase orders from PowerFab into ViewpointOne, the export/import process now works seamlessly between the two programs. 

Being able to share data easily also allowed Dave Steel Company to move their job costing data out of spreadsheets and into cloud-based PowerFab workflows. On the shop floor, workers can access PowerFab on tablets, eliminating the need for paper documents, which pose a safety risk in the welding environment. In the future, they plan to reduce the manual paperwork involved in the PO receiving export/import process. Read the full case study here.

Combining OpenBIM and Connected Construction for Large, Complex Projects

With openBIM and Connected Construction, a diverse set of stakeholders can leverage a single collaboration language, scalable cloud platform, and flexible APIs. Large or complex projects, such as infrastructure, involve many data types –– including geospatial, earthwork, utility, structural, and regulatory information. Having a central common data environment allows project stakeholders to share data fluidly between systems. 

The combination of openBIM and Connected Construction also supports innovations like digital as-builts and digital twins that drive efficiencies across the entire design-engineer-build-operate asset lifecycle. Digital twins are touted for their operational advantages, but they are most useful for when the data populating the twin is built over the entire project lifecycle, particularly the early design and engineering stages.

“Our view is that a digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical object. That virtual representation is capable of storing data and metadata that pertains to that object, whether that’s a building or a utility network or a piece of farm equipment. And it needs an easy read-write mechanism and storage mechanism to that data model. You've got to have a scalable cloud platform and you got to have a flexible set of APIs so that you can access and operate on that twin. If we do that, this should help the whole ecosystem in construction.”

Rob Painter, Trimble CEO

OpenBIM and Connected Construction: Working Together to Address Pervasive Problems 

The lifecycle-wide benefits that can be realized by advances like digital twins are indicative of the better construction outcomes possible with Connected Construction and openBIM. Together, they address some of the construction industry's most pervasive challenges by producing measurable improvements in productivity, quality, transparency, safety, and sustainabilit

OpenBIM and Connected Construction also enable the development of more constructible models by  facilitating early and continued collaboration between designers, owners, and contractors. This level of cooperation reduces the rework and communication errors that cause projects to go over budget and schedule, and produce unnecessary waste. 

As more technologies become available, and their use cases evolve, having flexible, scalable systems is more important than ever. It all comes down to empowering construction teams with accurate data, whenever and wherever they need it, and however they choose to use it. With openBIM and Connected Construction, the right people can get the right data at the right time so they make better, faster, and safer decisions.

To learn more about harnessing these capabilities, download the eBook.