Leadership at Every Level: Impact2021 Winner Madison Alexander & BIM2.0
Earlier this year on May 17, Entuitive held its second annual Big Ideas challenge, Impact2021. We believe in creating a platform for participation for our staff, and our Big Ideas challenge is just one of the vehicles that allows us to do that. The challenge is organized by our Ennovation Committee and consists of an idea submission period open to all staff, a shortlist selection, and finally pitches to Entuitive’s Board of Directors.
We sat down with Madison to talk about his winning idea and how it can optimize and evolve the way we work.
Thanks so much for sitting down with us, Madison, and congratulations on your big win! Can you tell us what your winning idea was?
Madison: Thanks so much! My Impact2021 idea is called BIM2.0 Applications. At a high level, BIM2.0 is my concept for an evolution over classic BIM, founded on the principles of collaboration, single-source modelling, and integrated information exchange. The applications component of the idea is my intention to develop scalable computational design workflows and modules that facilitate full process automation of key design tasks by applying the BIM2.0 philosophy.
What does that mean? At present, any engineering project requires a set of modelling and analysis tasks in different software programs. A typical workflow would begin with a project engineer creating initial design mark ups in PDF, followed by a designer developing an analysis model in a program like ETABS or RAM, and a technologist creating a BIM model in Revit. Both of these models are based on the mark ups.
In the early stages of a project, a lot of time can be spent on design iterations, meaning new mark ups and new modelling for all three people in this process. This process of modelling and remodelling in different software platforms, in my view, takes up far too much time.
The BIM2.0 Applications project seeks to amalgamate all of these modelling tasks. From a common modelling software, such as Rhino, we can build modules that automatically push and pull models and iterations into each of the different required individual software packages to execute on their unique purposes. This eliminates the need to model and re-model in each program individually, as only the common, integrated model needs to be maintained, with its updates automatically pushed out. I like to think of it as a single point of truth.
Building these modules composes the bulk of the BIM2.0 project, since each one performs a specific design and automation task. The modules are graphical programming scripts, mini-software applications run from within Rhino to automate data transfer between specific applications. If we can build enough of them that they can be re-used on different projects, then it becomes that much easier to maintain the integrated model and eliminate the need to re-model in the different software platforms.
For example, if I build a module to describe the geometry of a simple rectangular structure, and another module to export data into SAP2000, and lastly a module to export that same data into Revit, then we would start to see the barebones structure for full process automation coming together for this basic project type.
Can we look at these modules as Lego pieces? Right now, BIM2.0 is manufacturing the individual Lego pieces that are required to build different models. Since models, or engineering projects, are so different from each other, many different pieces are required. But once you have all the pieces, you can put them together any way you want.
Madison: I’d say that’s a great way to look at it. We can also look at it as a shop if that’s helpful. Entuitive team members can come to the module shop with a specific project automation need to avoid repetitive tasks, and we can either re-use a module we’ve already built to allow for that automation, or custom-build a new one, a new Lego piece, for the project and then add it to our library.
We love a good automation at Entuitive, as it frees up valuable time for solving more pressing engineering challenges. Can you give us an example of how this workflow would operate on a project?
Madison: Of course. Prior to pitching BIM2.0 to Entuitive’s Board of Directors, we already had a working proof of concept with a module we call AutoWarehouse. This was a real Entuitive project that consisted of the design of 15 steel warehouses, each with slight differences in geometry. The design of steel warehouses is a competitive market, and, as you can imagine, developing individual analysis models and BIM models for each structure would have taken a lot of time. To automate this, I built an algorithm in Grasshopper, a visual scripting environment that works with Rhino, that could parametrically describe all 15 structures and automatically generate the SAP models. Not only did this speed up the process, it translated into better quality designs for our client.
This proof of concept showed us that we could accomplish the analysis arm of the new workflow. From there, I knew we could automate the BIM side of things as well. As we begin to develop, scale, and refine this technology, I hope to pass along some of our efficiency improvements to our clients in the form of added value, refined design of structures, and reduced material quantities. Any time we have more space to think about the actual engineering problem, we are able to improve on the solutions.
Tell us a little bit about your inspiration for this idea and why you chose to pitch a workflow as opposed to a new service.
Madison: When I first began developing my computational design skills, I noticed that there are many different Grasshopper toolkits for exchanging data between software environments. I realized we could streamline a lot of our modelling processes, simulation processes, and analysis processes using these toolkits. Instead of modelling and remodelling in different platforms, we simply choose one software environment that ‘plays nicely’ with others, such as Rhino, then we only need to model something once and transfer that data between platforms.
So I guess you could say the inspiration came through continuous learning. The more I learned, the more I understood the different, positive applications of what I was learning. I firmly believe that computational design is the future of engineering.
I also have to offer a shout out to this video on the Ainsinoorit channel on YouTube, which provides an excellent example of the concept of integrated information exchange.
As for pitching a workflow in particular, it ties in to continuous learning. Entuitive strongly believes in being better tomorrow than we were today. We already offer a wide variety of engineering services and I believe it’d be a missed opportunity not to enhance what we already do first. If we want to push ourselves to the boundaries of engineering, we need to embrace automated workflows and equip more of our engineers with computational design skills.
How did you prepare for your pitch to the Board? It’s often hard to distill big ideas down to their main components, especially for a 20-minute pitch, which is really not that much time.
Madison: I can certainly attest to that. I knew what I wanted to present, but I did have a hard time translating this idea into a non-technical format condensed down to 20 minutes. The Ennovation Committee supported me, as did our external partner, Output Co. The Ennovation Committee also developed a Field Guide that helps individuals with ideas to better understand their potential impact and feasibility. Output is the company behind our internal Ideas site, where staff can submit their ideas to our various Ideas challenges as well as throughout the year to the always-open Idea Hopper. Dan Pichette, an idea expert from Output, helped me with my actual pitch. We also worked through a couple of whiteboarding sessions on Mural to break down and reconstruct the idea.
Thank you, Dan! Now you’re in the 90-day testing period that all Big Idea challenge winners must undertake in order to truly validate their idea. How is that going?
Madison: It’s definitely starting to feel like a sprint! I’ve made good progress so far. To test the feasibility of BIM2.0, I had pitched a targeted design tool to rapidly generate schematic steel designs that would speed up the iterative process that takes place during a project’s early stages, eliminating the need to model and re-model these designs.
Normally there’s a lot of time spent iterating on schematic designs in the early stages of a project. This tool would take the lessons learned from the AutoWarehouse module and greatly expand on its capabilities. Using Rhino as an integrated modelling platform, and Grasshopper as a visual scripting environment, I’m developing and assembling a large collection of modules that seek to provide full process automation for the schematic design of generic steel buildings. The program will automatically generate a SAP model, run the model, perform a design procedure, size composite beams, perform a column rundown, and finally create a final SAP model with the members fully sized, as well as a Revit model of the building.
This validation process is really about proving the feasibility of building a targeted tool that can improve the efficiency of our standard workflow, and at the same time be generic enough so that others can use it on later projects. If it takes the same amount of time or too much time to build an automation tool as it would to manually perform the task, then there’s no point in investing the time and effort. BIM2.0 is meant to save time. So this 90-day testing period will help us understand how feasible it is to develop these types of modules in Grasshopper, using steel design as the test case.
I hope to prove that this workflow is achievable and more time efficient than our current standard schematic design procedure. If so, this should encourage Entuitive to more aggressively pursue expanding its computational design capabilities.
Thank you so much for chatting with us, Madison. The BIM2.0 workflow sounds like it can really pay dividends when it comes to automating tasks and saving precious time. We look forward to following your progress.
If you’d like to learn more about BIM2.0 reach out to Madison Alexander.