BIM: Importance of object libraries

 Object libraries: critical to BIM success

In my post BIM Nirvana- interoperability and object libraries, I discuss the future of shared BIM object libraries. As I explain, these object libraries are useful to a point, but most companies who use BIM will still maintain their own libraries.

An object library makes a HUGE difference to model quality and efficiency, and is therefore it is critical to profitable & successful project delivery.

Think of a BIM object library as a ‘kit of parts’ for the production line.
If a designer/engineer /architect/modeller can quickly find an object in the library that goes straight into the model with a minimum of effort, this will save hours, days or weeks of work. The same objects can be used over & over again.

To extend the ‘production line’ analogy- car companies don’t only standardise components across different models, but across different brands because it is obviously more efficient to re-use the same component. For example, Volkswagen Group use components across VW, Porsche, Audi, Skoda, Bentley, Lamborghini etc.

>100% Utilisation

Design consultancies essentially sell time (of professional staff such as architects, engineers & designers).

By creating a library of objects that can be re-used multiple times, the time/money spent in creating these objects is effectively being sold multiple times. In other words, the utilisation is >100%…!

Therefore, this is a key issue in making a profit from BIM.

Each project is obviously different, so by allowing the standard or repetitive (library-based) work to be completed as quickly as possible, more time is available for the important differentiating design and documentation work.

“We can just download objects from the internet”

Yes, there are plenty of web sites where you can find BIM objects. These include government or industry bodies, paid, sponsored by manufacturers and ‘community’ sites. However, the quality of theses objects varies enormously, they use different object standards, units & file formats and will probably introduce model clutter. They are also available to everyone else (i.e your competitors).

Using these objects could be better than nothing, or it might cost time in inconsistent and cluttered models, but it is certainly not the basis for an efficient and competitive system.

“Out-of-the-box object libraries will do”

Various BIM applications include basic object libraries that are a reasonable starting point to demonstrate how the applications & objects work. These objects might also be useful as a starting point for custom objects. I guess they are similar to the templates & clipart which come with Microsoft Word.

But once again- they are not adequate for a professional design consultancy.

Building a library

It can take significant effort to build up a decent object library.

The amount of work depends on the type and variety of projects that the company works on. For example, if an architectural practice works predominantly on a single type of project such as hospitals or sports stadia, then the object library would contain relevant objects such as spectator seating & standard sports facilities or medical equipment & fixtures and so on.

But for a generalist architectural practice that might work on a residential high-rise, then a school, then a hotel, the number of library objects required is much greater. There is obviously some common ground across all projects, such as generic doors or sanitary fittings.

So, this is why many big design practices have invested large amounts of time and money into building up object libraries. These object libraries need to be carefully protected as they represent valuable intellectual property & significant cost in their development.

However, there are also design consultancies that believe they can save money by not developing their object libraries and BIM systems. However, it is really a false economy and costs more in the long run.

How long will it take & how much will it cost ?

I think I gave one of my previous employers a heart-attack by saying that it would take years and ~$1,000,000 to build up decent object library, and that this was unavoidable in meeting their BIM aspirations.
However, considering the variety of disciplines & project types, regional spread, staff numbers and number of modelling applications this was not unreasonable.

It obviously isn’t worth creating a library object if only one person or one project uses it. but if an object is used hundreds or thousands of times, then the multiplier effect means it is worth making that object as good as possible, to save time down the track.

Some complex parametric objects take a significant amount of time to get right- in the order of several hours to several days or even weeks for a single object. For example a Revit family, with complex nested families and parameters could be a week’s work. But this might save each project team 3 days work.

As a rule of thumb:

  • Only worth doing if the object will be used >5 times
  • On average, each object might take 1 day but with a wide variation (hours<->weeks)
  • A small specialised design consultancy might need a few hundred objects
  • A medium sized multi-disciplinary consultancy might need 500~2000 objects
  • A large multi-disciplined or international consultancy might need 5000-10,000+ objects

You can do the maths of time & cost.

Refer to my BIM: Making money & Success is not Guaranteed posts. This is why I put ‘object libraries’ on the list of success factors.

The Tipping Point

In my experience, there is a tipping point where an object library becomes useful, but it takes a significant amount of effort to get it to this point:

  • If the library is incomplete or poor quality, then people will quickly lose confidence and either trawl the internet, borrow and fudge from a previous project, or make it up themselves.
  • A tipping point is reached when the object library becomes useful to most people, particularly if they are able to submit new objects (and given credit for it)
  • Once a critical mass of people using the library is reached, then it tends to keep up momentum as people contribute to something that is useful to hem.
  • If this critical mass is not reached, then it tends to wither & die.

BIM object library recommendations

  • A library will not manage itself- someone needs to be responsible for the library and given adequate time to manage and develop the content
  • Prioritise objects i.e focus on the objects that will be most useful to the most most people & develop a program.
  • It is essential to have standards in place before content is created (either impossible or very time consuming to retrofit)
  • Objects need to be disciplined, consistent & compatible/matched with modelling standards. For example, in a Revit context, the object categories need to be aligned with the view templates
  • Allow end-users to submit objects, but review before distributing to ensure they meet standards
  • Define a brief/outline requirements for each object before creating objects.
  • Use caution when issuing models in their native format- it is possible to extract the objects from most BIM applications i.e your intellectual property & hard work can end up with competitors.
  • Most businesses bigger than a dozen or so people will need a system to organise and manage objects, rather than dumping on a network drive- to look after version control, indexing, searching etc. There are various systems out there- for example Unifi.

I might get around to another post ‘BIM: The Importance of Systems & Standards’ although it is much the same story as this one, the key point being effective utilisation of time and resulting profitability.