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Using the BIM method as part of building optimization

Gruner Roschi AG
Manuel Frey Manuel[punkt]Frey [ät] gruner[punkt]ch

At a workshop with several colleagues, I was recently confronted with the question whether design thinking can be reconciled with traditional engineering. At first, the question threw me for a loop. That’s why I would like to present my perspective on engineering in this article and draw on my specialization in building simulation to show that design thinking is a prerequisite and inherent part of every engineer – and has been long before the term “design thinking” became so popular.

What an engineer does

“You can find an engineer anywhere there’s a problem to solve” is a saying that explains the approach engineers take to their everyday work well. This also ties in with the origin of the term “engineer” from the Latin word ingenium, which means “ingenious invention” or “innate talent” and describes engineers as creative and full of innovative spirit. This is also reflected in my daily work, which deals with finding solu-tions to new problems and questions with tools that sometimes don’t even exist yet. I’m constantly exploring new paths to reach my goal. My main responsibility is to develop effective solutions in the context of the cost-benefit ratio. Can this be considered design thinking?

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is more than simply finding a good solution to a problem. It’s an approach intended to solve problems and foster new ideas that is being developed and researched at Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute. Design thinking assumes that problems are more easily or better solved when people from different disciplines work together according to a defined method. This method requires a creative environment in which approaches are jointly formulated to respond to people’s needs. From this, concepts are developed that are checked for their suitability and optimized repeatedly.

Implementing design thinking

The implementation of this design thinking method is divided into several phases. First, the problem or goal must be clearly defined and the resulting task understood and analyzed. Based on this, solution ideas are developed, possible solutions calculated (e.g. with digital simulation models) and the results visualized.
The visualized simulation results are evaluated by the project team and, if necessary, optimized through one or more iterations. In the process, a target-actual comparison is carried out and any conflicting goals resulting from the respective needs of the individual parties in the planning team are resolved. Finally, the developed solution is implemented in the overall project.

Design thinking in Gruner’s everyday work

The steps of the design thinking method described above remind me of my own everyday work. I collaborate with various stakeholders to plan a sensible and sustainable building that fully meets user requirements while remaining within the time and cost constraints. Since each building is different and only certain basic characteristics can be transferred from building to building, each project requires a unique solution and therefore the development of a prototype.
In the following, I would like to demonstrate our approach to design thinking. Within the context of a prototype development, a joint digital building model that serves as the basis for the building and system simulation is created. Based on this digital model, I’ll describe the use of the BIM method in the digitization of sustainable work processes within the Gruner Group as well as with external project partners in the planning team in more detail.

What does digitization mean for Gruner?

In my opinion, future-proof digitization in this sense means defining data structures and qualities and or-ganizing the data exchange across all internal and external processes in a way that ensures the project implementation as well as quality and time management are improved and added value is generated. To achieve this, the Gruner Group uses building information modeling, or BIM for short. BIM is a method which, among other things, adds additional information about the use of the building, the quality of the building components and the building services to the geometric architectural models.

This information can be accessed by all project participants via a shared data exchange and enables collaboration on the digital building model. Using a digital building model helps preemptively minimize risks in every planning phase and thereby contribute to goal-oriented and sustainable planning with high planning reliability and quality. But BIM is more than just working together on a digital building model. For me, BIM holistically optimizes the planning process with the aim of generating added value for the building user throughout the life of the building. Below, I would like to describe one aspect of this planning process from the perspective of a simulation engineer on the Gruner Group’s Building Environmental Control team.

From the perspective of a simulation engineer

As a systemic approach, building environmental control makes use of dynamic simulations with the primary objective of examining concepts for feasibility and efficiency at an early stage, developing innovations and providing a transparent decision-making basis for project planning. Increasingly, a higher requirement is placed on the quality and quantity of the results, while the processing time is getting shorter and shorter. Specifically, a level of detail and quality of results which in the past had to be provided only at a later planning stage are now required of the project participants in the early phases of a project.

More and better results through dynamic simulations

The use of dynamic simulations which take into account parameterized digital building models allows us to meet the requirement for quality and quantity of results at an early stage. A so-called digital twin of the real building is created so that we can “experiment” with it virtually on the computer. The creation or modeling is based on a common digital building model. This saves time and costs and increases the quality and quantity of the results tremendously since all information can be coordinated directly with the architectural model. This results in processing that is consistent and transparent throughout and significantly reduces the likelihood of errors.

Holistic optimization

This “experimentation” described above is actually the computer-aided mapping of different solutions that are developed jointly by the project team. Together with the client, team members of different disciplines, such as architects, civil engineers, facade planners, building physicists, building services planners, project managers and cost planners, discuss the issue of summer heat protection in a building, for example, and develop variants to optimally achieve this. The job of the simulation engineer is to summarize the different ideas and needs of the individual participants and direct the results back to the project team. In this, design aspects of the architect are considered just as much as the materialization of the building by the building physicist and/or the existing heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems of the building services planner. The goal is to find a holistic optimum that addresses all considerations rather than to optimize the individual aspects separately. Unfortunately, the separate optimization of individual aspects still happens too often, especially if the planning team isn’t pursuing common goals and/or using joint communication strategies. Achieving the goal of holistic optimization requires the joint development of solution strategies as well as the mapping of sometimes diametrically opposed individual needs while taking creative and innovative solution approaches into account.

As an advocate of team-based solution strategies involving digital tools, I encourage you to try them out as well. In my next article, I will illustrate our in-house application of the BIM method in the context of ther-mal/energy building optimization using a detailed case study.

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Gruner Roschi AG
Manuel Frey Manuel[punkt]Frey [ät] gruner[punkt]ch