OpenBIM for Structural Engineering

OpenBIM (Open Building Information Modeling), better known as Open BIM, was a key enabler for the planning of a new school for the town of Holbrook, Massachusetts.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) for structural engineering has typically been hampered by various issues, reducing some of the efficiency gains that BIM provides.

OpenBIM (Open Building Information Modeling), better known as Open BIM, was a key enabler for the planning of a new school for the town of Holbrook, Massachusetts.

For example, poor compatibility between modeling and structural engineering software programs creates additional work, putting pressure on already strained schedules and budgets. 

The lack of an integrated yet flexible design solution for the entire project team leads to inefficient working methods and manual errors that could otherwise have been avoided. Combined with the trend towards larger projects, greater detail, and freeform shapes, it is clear that structural engineering workflows need to adapt to meet all these requirements and deliver the expected benefits.

The Current State of Structural Engineering

A particular challenge structural engineers face is that exchanging data between different modeling tools and structural software packages can be difficult or incomplete. This leads to information being lost, forces recreation at different stages of the project and wastes valuable time. 

According to a 2019 survey by the Institution of Civil Engineers, over 50% of engineering professionals are frustrated by receiving incomplete design data from other disciplines, and 40% of those professionals are concerned by the risk of exchanging structural data between project team members.

Together, these problems result in an inconsistent, fragmented, and poorly managed workflow. Not only does this reduce design efficiency and productivity, but it also means that any investment in software is often wasted. Often, the processes do not deliver the expected benefits and workarounds are developed, making the return on the investment negligible – which is a serious issue when the opposite is the desired outcome.

The Reasons for Change - OpenBIM

An efficient structural engineering workflow that overcomes issues with data exchange and manual processes would significantly improve design creativity, as well as productivity. With less time spent recreating information, more resources can be dedicated to optimizing the design and exploring different options and variants. 

This could lead to innovative new materials, approaches, or solutions that improve quality, reduce errors, or save money during construction, operation, or future maintenance works.

Projects are also becoming increasingly large and complex, as well as more detailed and data driven. With project teams being located across many different offices or even countries, being able to quickly and easily share and access data at any time is a necessity. Similarly, using manual methods for repetitive project requirements is an incredibly time-consuming and inefficient design method. 

Even with the time and cost required for these processes built into the project, it can be a frustrating and disheartening way to work. Implementing a modern, streamlined design approach can therefore potentially help to attract and retain the best talent, as well as help them work more efficiently. However, few 3D modeling tools for structural engineering can provide solutions to these challenges.

Improving OpenBIM for Structural Engineering

Allplan 2021 has been developed specifically to overcome these issues by providing a better, managed workflow for structural engineers. Using cloud-based technology and openBIM, 3D models from a range of disciplines and programs can be brought together to create a unified, federated model and then exported to structural analysis solutions, all without losing data.

Similarly, models can be imported back after structural analysis is complete and integrated into the federated model with all data intact. Structural engineering thus becomes integrated within the design workflow, rather than sitting outside the process. Not only does this provide a more efficient and cohesive way of working by reducing manual re-work and errors, it ensures that the workflow is controlled, information is retained, and risk is managed.

Time is also saved by having the ability to transform 3D geometrical openBIM models into high-quality structural analysis models using SCIA AutoConverter, rather than recreating them manually in separate software solutions. The resulting analysis model can be connected to any analysis program, and data exported to Microsoft Excel for further analysis and manipulation if required.

It also provides the design team with the flexibility to use the model for design as well as analysis and removes the potential for errors and discrepancies between different models. 

Once completed, the results can be published into Bimplus – a cloud-based collaboration environment – for the entire team to review. Both the geometric and structural analysis model data can be viewed, coordinated, and managed from anywhere, and clashes between models can be quickly identified using built-in tools for improved design quality.

Viktor Várkonyi, chief division officer and Nigel Rees, project lead at the Nemetschek Group, are challenging the status quo, explaining what the future holds for BIM and structural engineering

Despite the various software solutions that industry giants like the Nemetschek Group – and its 16 brands – and other companies have developed over the last few decades, the construction industry is still considered to be one of the least digitalised industries overall. There is a lot to be learned by looking at automation techniques from other industries, such as the automotive and manufacturing sectors.

As modern buildings have become increasingly complex and processes increasingly more data-driven, we see the number of stakeholders involved along the value chain of construction projects growing proportionally. This means that handover phases – which traditionally carry the highest risk of losing data due to inefficiencies or incompatible software – increase in number, thereby making the seamless usage of data and ease of collaboration even more important.


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