Policing BIM Town

1 Nov, 2006 By: Scott MacKenzie

Working in the building information model requires a whole new set of rules and regulations

Projects based on BIM (building information modeling) are quite vulnerable to lawlessness and disorder. Every project should have a model manager to serve as the police -- and the fire department.

If you think of a CAD or BIM project as a city or a close-knit community, you will appreciate the need for law and order. In BIM Town, the potential for vandalism, theft, fires and corruption is ever present.

  • Vandalism:  Layer naming run amok. Poor modeling and drafting techniques. Even your most law-abiding citizens can cause trouble if they don’t know the standards.
  • Theft: Deleted objects, files and folders.
  • Fire: Unforeseen hardware and software issues. Problems related to user incompetence.
  • Corruption: Poorly made objects and elements imported from unknown sources.

You can think of the BIM project as an entire city under one roof. Everything is connected and relational, so corruption in one part of BIM Town can affect the whole population. This is why you need someone to maintain law and order.

Team Etiquette

What if I sneaked into your house while you were gone, rearranged the furniture and changed the locks on the doors? How would you feel? Or what if I brought in some tacky new appliances from an unauthorized source? Locks on files and unauthorized objects are rude and disruptive -- and in the case of unauthorized objects, can cause trouble if created incorrectly. Poorly designed objects in a large model can bring progress to a snail's pace.

This illustrates the need for some rules of etiquette. Here is a selection of teamwork etiquette tips for a polite and civil project environment.

  • Communicate. Staying in touch with your teammates is essential. Maintain real-time communication: Sit next to them, pick up the phone often or use instant messaging.
  • Be neat.The mess you make is the mess you clean up! Clean up after yourself before you sign out. Remove your construction lines and any unused stuff you placed off to the side.
  • Don't be a model hog. Do not stay signed into a file while you are out to lunch, away for a meeting or gone for the day! Sign out only the layers and stories you need, and use a marquee to define your workspace when your work is limited to a particular area of the building. Sign in as team leader with exclusive access only when you absolutely must.
  • Know the intended architecture of the project library, or don’t mess with it. Any team leader with the wrong library mapped may unknowingly overwrite the model's library settings. 
  • Do not change layer combinations without informing, or getting permission from, the model manager or someone who has been trained in the art. (If you don't know how to change layer combinations, you should not be signing in as a team leader!)
  • Never redefine any view set that is already set up without consulting the model manager or the creator of that view set. This affects the ability of all team members to print correctly and has huge repercussions.
  • Do not assume anything. Never delete, overwrite, move or edit any wall that you have not drawn or that's not your responsibility without asking the relevant team member -- even if you have to wait a day to do it.
  • Before you insert any line, object, wall, column or slab, consult the current standards to ensure that you're using the correct layer and pen.
Archicad and the Shared Model

Our BIM software, Graphisoft Archicad, shares what it calls the Virtual Building Model via its Teamwork system, which is based on roles. You assume a certain role when you sign in to a model, and each role has a different level of permissions. (See the Teamwork Permissions Matrix below.) I find this system easier to comprehend than some other BIM work set environments.

At my office, we were working on a very large project in Archicad 9 that required many different model files. Everyone on the project knew the administrator and team leader passwords. We soon learned that this was a catalyst for lawlessness; team members would remove or change things in the models that would cause trouble for others. I had to put an end to this free-for-all approach to keep the project from spinning out of control.

I assigned one person to be a primary team leader and assigned a secondary team leader to each model. Each primary team leader got to choose a new password for team leader access to the assigned models. Only the primary and secondary team leaders knew the passwords for their assigned models. Some bandits whined and complained at first, but we stuck to our guns. Now our projects are stable and predictable.

Teamwork Permissions Matrix: The author created this guide to help himself and his coworkers understand the different roles and permissions in the Archicad Teamwork environment.

If we all lived in the same town, we would have to follow rules and regulations to keep from hurting each other. The old laws of the traditional CAD environment, where you could open a file and have it all to yourself, do not apply to the new world of building information modeling. I hope this article will be a helpful guide as you enter BIM Town. Go forth and prosper, model citizens!

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