Making Masonry Efficient

Eliminating Transactions Digitally is a Smarter Approach

Tom Cuneio

BIM-M Technology

Tom Cuneio

Companies that harness the power of digital solutions have a tremendous advantage over their less digital competition. Sophisticated digital integration for masonry should present a major opportunity to advance masonry market share.

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Making Masonry EFFICIENT

Eliminating Transactions Digitally is a Smarter Approach

EFFICIENCY MATTERS.

Just ask Sears & Roebuck Company. They are the latest in a long list of companies that did not embrace the technological revolution. The world is being swept up in a digital tidal wave and efficiency is at the heart of the matter.

Think about it. Amazon reinvented retail by overhauling supply chain dynamics. They simply found a more efficient way. Traditional supply chain had way too many moving parts and Amazon found a way to eliminate the vast majority of those transactions. It worked so well that they converted their vertical solution into a horizontal one and set their sights on all retail supply industries. Apparently, efficiency is a big deal.

Following the Leader

Amazon also proved that quality data is a major component of eliminating inefficiencies. The traditional retail supply chain is a complicated and expensive apparatus. As a producer of retail goods, I need to find that subset of the population who is my customer base. That’s actually a data question. Consider all the transactions required in a traditional business model to identify that population subset and then distribute products to them. The digital marketplace creates a vehicle that allows customers to find producers. By reversing the roles of who is looking for whom, the right data sorts itself out and virtually all traditional transactions are eliminated.

So, what does that have to do with masonry design and construction? Actually, a lot. We live in a world increasingly dominated by data. Our phones, cars, homes, watches - even our appliances are generating data. Businesses that manage and analyze data effectively can dramatically reduce costs. We are witnessing design and construction awakening to new opportunities in its integration of digital solutions. Digital approaches unlock the power of software and enable massive efficiencies. By looking carefully at masonry materials from the perspective of data management, we find tremendous opportunities to improve design, production, delivery and construction.

Businesses that manage and analyze data effectively can dramatically reduce costs

The Power of BIM

Consider recent and current design processes. In the 2D approach to design, the discrete nature of masonry was labor intensive since many components had to be individually drawn. Editing was manual, tedious and prone to producing discontinuity in contract documents. In today’s emerging 3D modeling approach, to represent masonry correctly, either a tremendous amount of component data must be manually created, or masonry systems must be grossly simplified and work arounds must be employed to add the proper detail. A 3D masonry design model is still heavily dependent on 2D detailing processes.

Opportunities availed by having a proper masonry data resource are worth pursuing. This is, of course, contingent on having an efficient means of generating that data model so that the current approach to masonry design would be minimally altered.

What if you, as a designer, could let software take over and build data-rich models that automatically implement code requirements, industry guidelines, component relationships and structural relationships?

What would be possible if we could easily access and iterate an LOD 400 component level masonry model during the design process? An LOD 400 masonry model contains modeled elements for units, cuts, rebar, bond beams, control joints and all other features that affect coordination.

For starters, we would have a proper basis for implementing BIM for masonry. Anything short of this is ultimately just a work-around that will not deliver all the promises of BIM. Such a model would give us a single data source for masonry. That’s a big deal. That means masonry sections, plan view details, elevations, quantities and everything else we would like to know about masonry would be accessible by simply placing a call to the data. Unit geometry, material properties – even graphical rendering could be properly differentiated in such a model. Updating all those details could be accomplished by changing the data model one time in one place. THAT IS THE POWER OF BIM.

This is already possible.**Masonry actually lends itself quite well to a digital analytical approach. Masonry’s modularity makes it a highly rule-based material compared to other wall systems. Masonry walls are essentially composed of discrete data elements. True, we are talking about a lot of data, but analytical approaches love data. The more data the better. Wall geometry, fenestration, movement joint layout, aesthetic patterns and other features of masonry are ideally suited to a digital approach to design. **Software that can manage masonry shape, relative location, orientation, physical properties and its relationship to other units in context opens up a new world of opportunity.

Data-Rich Files

If we want to see what the future of masonry design and construction looks like, we should be looking at every transaction that can be automated or eliminated. How many steps are required to create masonry elevations or sections? How easily can we reference and edit those details? How about rendering masonry for an owner? The same questions should be asked for production, supply chain and installation. For BIM to deliver all it has promised us, we need data-rich models. Today, designers don’t have adequate tools to create and manage those models. By developing software that generates data for us, we can properly build and manage BIM. What if you, as a designer, could let software take over and build data-rich models that automatically implement code requirements, industry guidelines, component relationships and structural relationships? What if these models could export reliable production orders and download data to robotic layout tools or even robotic fabricators? That’s the power of harnessing data. Masonry is benefitting from this approach.

Thanks to BIM-M and private enterprise, the road to this future is already being paved. Direct Design is harnessing software to quickly and thoroughly perform structural analysis of masonry. The MUD (Masonry Unit Database) is maturing and providing a basis for serving data to a variety of applications – some of which already exist and some have yet to be imagined. MasonryiQ is pushing LOD 400 models for masonry directly from Revit. These solutions each reduce a significant number of transactions and are providing the leverage masonry needs to excel in the future.

Component-level models for masonry (LOD 350 to 400) are necessary to manage the content that mature BIM solutions will require. Today's software and hardware have huge capacities for data analytics capable of delivering unprecedented opportunity. Data-rich models are the essential ingredient for the masonry industry to effectively leverage the future of construction.

How Digital Is Your Masonry?

Advantages of designing with a data management perspective go well beyond the requirements of owners, architects and engineers. The construction process is quickly being reinvented by the data that proper models can deliver. Advantages are so significant that contractors are in many ways leading the charge in the modeling world often investing heavily in modeling regardless of whether designs were developed in traditional 2D or in a BIM process. Their incentive? Profit. Design teams that anticipate this will have a significant advantage in coming years.

So how digital is your approach to masonry? Here is a list of technologies being used today that are enabled by having access to digital construction models. Once again, the more data we have to work with, the more opportunity we have to design smart and build smart.

  • Estimating from 3D models.
  • Creating digital mock ups from precise 3D models.
  • Coordinating with 3D models from all trades.
  • Using LiDAR to incrementally model job site conditions.
  • Managing material supply chain with just-in-time deliveries.
  • Using VR (virtual reality) or AR (augmented reality) for project visualization and worker training.
  • Using 5D models with time and cost data enabled.
  • Using tablets or laptops for onsite drawing review.
  • Using daily automated drone video to monitor masonry production rates.
  • Using digital layout tools to locate points onsite directly from contract documents.
  • Exporting modeled components directly to automated fabrication.
  • Coordinating masonry, rebar, in-wall utilities, control joints, and field cuts pre-construction.
  • Using robotics to distribute and install materials.
  • Prefabricating masonry assemblies for modular install.

A unified modeling approach will likely be an evolutionary process. Masonry could lead the way

Tapping into proper data models for masonry does more than optimize production, delivery and installation. Rendering custom masonry patterns with content from local producers can be done using MasonryiQ, giving a look and feel that captures texture, preblended mortar colors and natural color range in all its glory.

These are all exciting tools and many more are in development. One primary task for everyone in the AEC profession is to simply know what tools are available and, most importantly, when to apply them. With a good understanding of what is possible, the right tools can be applied at the right time, improving communication among teams and positively impacting outcomes.

This brings us to a significant wrinkle in the current state of BIM. Designers are increasingly using models to produce contract documents and contractors are also using models to execute construction in a smarter way. The problem is that they are rarely, if ever, using the same model. Design models don’t have the required component level information and often are not kept current with changes to changes and revisions which are frequently represented in the 2D world only. This forces contractors to produce their own models from scratch using the latest information in the 2D documents. A platform that could marry these two models would be a win for everyone.

A unified modeling platform for design and construction will likely not happen all at once. Just as BIM was implemented by some materials like steel and concrete before other more complex materials, a unified modeling approach will likely be an evolutionary process. Masonry could lead the way here. The modular nature of masonry lends itself to precise, incremental geometric constraints. These constraints could be imposed on the design process guiding the designer to forms that are constructible. It is said that “form follows function” but it can also be observed that material constrains form. If the rules that govern material are becoming accessible through software and data-rich models, then why shouldn’t we be thinking about a process where intelligent materials inform design?

As exciting as it is to see what is possible today, I’m sure the most exciting developments can’t even be imagined yet. One thing seems clear though, data is a major key to unlocking the power of the future. The good news is that masonry materials lend themselves very well to a datacentric approach to design and construction.

Tom Cuneio
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