by Glenn Tate
Earlier this year, we were offered the opportunity to present at the Discover NBS events in Edinburgh and Newcastle upon Tyne. The suggested theme of the presentation was our digital strategy. We used this as a chance to reflect on the technological advancements that the practice has undertaken in what we thought was our recent history, only to realise that digital technologies have been part of our processes for over 30 years.
As a pioneering business, we were early CAD adopters in 1988, moving from the traditional drawing board to its more intelligent electronic clone. During the 1990s, we built on these capabilities and began writing custom add-ins: LISP routines for our processes to help the production of our documentation. We invested in our first purpose-made digital specification writing tool in 1999, in the form of NBS’ Specification Manager. This brought order and consistency to our specifications, which were previously the product of laborious word processor tasks. This closely followed with development of our intranet – RyderNet – in 2000, a central repository for data relating to our clients, projects and staff. RyderNet is now in its fourth generation, and is key to ensuring that we have consistency in the information that flows through Ryder.
In 2006, we trialled Autodesk Revit on a project which incorporated two similarly designed buildings over different sites. The process illustrated the power of 3D data-integrated design and collaboration. In January 2008, we mandated the use of Revit on all new projects. Following a successful Knowledge Transfer Partnership, we established BIM Academy in 2010: a joint venture with Northumbria University that provides consultancy, education and research in Building Information Modelling (BIM). 2015 saw us return to customising the digital tools that we use, establishing the digital innovations team by employing computer scientists to work with our architects to champion digital design and push our capabilities in computational processes.
We invested in our first purpose-made digital specification writing tool in 1999, in the form of NBS’ Specification Manager. This brought order and consistency to our specifications, which were previously the product of laborious word processor tasks.
We currently use a software stack that is both interlinked but specialist in the processes that the individual tools operate. Autodesk Revit remains our design authoring package, and NBS Building is our chosen specification platform.
We supplement these with other design-oriented software programs, such as Solibri Model Checker (design validation), Enscape3D (real time visualisation and VR) and Autodesk Dynamo (visual programming).In addition to the above, we have adopted Microsoft Office 365, Skype for Business, Adobe Creative Cloud, MediaWiki and Rapport3 to assist our general business functions. We use digital platforms to promote consistency and quality in our information, and aim to template, standardise and modularise our information where possible.
The NBS BIM Object Shared Parameters provides the template for our Revit dataset. We see it as the most complete set of construction properties available, and only add to these where there are bespoke project requirements, or if necessary for our own customised tools.
Our documents, drawings and BIM objects are also templated for consistency and familiarity in level of detail, information and terminology. Most projects, regardless of sector, require the same drawing types and specifications to be produced.
The NBS BIM Object Standard provides a framework to template our BIM objects. We develop Revit family templates, so project-specific objects begin life from a consistent point, which includes the object’s classification reference and its dataset. As standard, we include properties from the BIM Object Standard, IFC and COBie property sets.
Where appropriate, we standardise elements of the design, such as drawings, objects and specifications. The same elements, products and the interfaces between them occur on projects regardless of scale and sector – we keep it simple and avoid reinventing the wheel.
Annotation on drawings is purely a functional tie to our specifications where we can more safely deal with descriptions on execution. In addition to standardisation, we modularise elements of our design where it is rational. Assemblies of products that are commonly used together, or have spatial dependence between them, are pre-assembled for simple and consistent placement. We apply this methodology for washroom fittings, room types and building cores.
The NBS BIM Object Shared Parameters provides the template for our Revit dataset. We see it as the most complete set of construction properties available.
We have seen the technological landscape in which we operate advance exponentially over recent years; any digital platform we adopt in the future will need to be agile, global and unifiable. We are now, more than ever before, performing our role away from a single place of work; the scales of projects and their teams differ vastly, as does the procurement and/or our scope.
Our projects are now shared between teams across the world, and we require a single source of truth which is accessible to many, both inside and outside of the organisation. Beyond this, the potential for automation of our sector using computational and artificial intelligent processes will be a key driver for us going forward.
We are now, more than ever before, performing our role away from a single place of work; the scales of projects and their teams differ vastly, as does the procurement and/or our scope.