Where did BIM come from and why?

By the early 2000s, the mechanical engineering industry already had advanced systems for handling data from MCAD software. Due to the competition among the many data handling systems that emerged in the 90s, PDM and PLM solutions became the main platforms, to which the information from CAx (Computer-aided technologies) software specialists: CAD, MCAD, CAID, CAPP, CIM, CAE, SCADA is now flocked.

The concept of BOMs (A Bill of Materials) plays an important role in data management in mechanical engineering. This is a bill of materials or specification where the top level BOMs represent a finished product, which may be a node or a complete component. Specifications describing assemblies are called modular BOMs. The use of BOMs for project management reduces the risks of errors and rework by eliminating the reuse of obsolete data.

BOM management is comprehensive product structure management, ensuring full digital associativity of design, supply chain, production, sales and service.

A significant contribution to these systems came from the automotive and mechanical engineering industries, which needed to link their design processes to 4D-7D production and operation processes with the advent of the first 3D CAD programs. The main role in these systems in the 1990s was played by data generated by users of PTC’s product Pro/ENGINEER, which by the mid-1990s had become the main design software for the entire engineering industry: its customers included BMW, Fiat, Ferrari, Toyota, Hyundai, PSA and Volkswagen, Caterpillar, John Deere and other major global industry players.

PTC’s Pro/ENGINEER programmers were the first CAD software to parametrically simulate solids and the first to conceptualise a single data model for the whole project, which revolutionised the MCAD (mechanical computer-aided design) market. Parametric feature-based modelling, derived from Pro/ENGINEER, has dominated the industry for a quarter of a century and all leading MCAD systems (CATIA, NX, SolidWorks, Inventor and Solid Edge) have become the ideological successors to Pro/Engineer.

Behind PTC and the Pro/ENGINEER product were mathematics professor Samuel Geisberg and his student Leonid Reitz of Leningrad State University (St Petersburg), who immigrated from the Soviet Union to America in the 1970s and 1980s (with new repatriation) following the Six Day War in 1967.

After leaving PTC, Leonid Reitz, who created the geometric core of Pro/Engineer in the late 1980s, created a new start-up in 1997, Revit, which took over the best from MCAD Pro/ENGINEER and aimed to satisfy the construction industry in parametric modelling with the modular concept of BOMs.

While machine builders were already working in PDM and PLM platforms, construction companies in the late 1990s had only 2D CAD solutions and separate 5D ERP solutions. The CAD data created mainly in Autodesk’s 2D product Autocad had almost no use for the 5D data that was created in the estimating, costing and budgeting departments. 

Following the success of MCAD developers, Autodesk Corporation unsuccessfully tried to build its parametric modelling product on the existing Autocad product (AutoCAD Architectural Desktop) and with the help of a redesigned IFC format. After unsuccessful attempts to buy MCAD startup Solidworks (from former PTC engineers), Autodesk buys Revit startup from former PTC employee Leonid Reitz for $133 million in 2002. 

Revit, with its mechanical engineering background, was a radically new CAD system in Autodesk’s portfolio, giving the corporation the opportunity to finally open up the subject of BOM-PDM-PLM-ERP to the entire construction industry. 

To announce the arrival of a new era of data and new processes in the construction business, the Autodesk Vice Presidents have written the Whitepaper BIM.  According to the logic of the new BOM-BIM concept, all information previously stored in different ERP systems should now be transferred to the CAD software (Revit), where new (mostly textual) properties will be added to the 3D model elements within the CAD software.

Ten years after the publication of the Whitepaper BIM, by 2010, Revit had swiftly taken over the CAD market worldwide (except for some European countries).

But since buying the Revit startup in 2002 for the next 10 years, Autodesk has unfortunately failed to develop the BIM concept into a turnkey 4D-7D data handling product or a working analogue to PTC’s PDM, PLM products. Big corporations in the CAD market (Autodesk, Nemetschek, Bentley) have followed in the footsteps of the MCAD solutions of the 1990s and started working on multi-program Closed BIM environments in which the customer would not need third-party solutions.

At the same time, managers in design departments, having started to receive the first BIM-BOM “super data” (geometries, text properties of elements and specifications), are finding it necessary to link existing ERP and CAD systems using BIM-BOM data themselves, without waiting for solutions from Autodesk.

The mid-2010s are upon us and thousands of private investors from all over the world are trying to enter the BIM and PropTechs market (Property technology). Advanced managers in large construction companies (with programming skills) are going into start-ups, where they plan to completely replace outdated construction 5D ERP-ECM solutions in the already set-up business processes of construction companies by creating a data connection to CAD.

These days, thanks to the “gold rush” created by the growth of data in the construction industry, every day there are new proprietary (mostly community-driven and Open Source solutions – more on that in the next part) start-ups that want to work with data from CAD systems. 

In 2020 alone, $19.9 billion was invested in PropTechs start-ups (by comparison, Autocad was sold to Autodesk for $1 and 10% from sales, and Revit for $133 million).

As a result, the lack of off-the-shelf solutions on the market and the growing volume of data in construction has led to unequal competition between large CAD corporations, construction companies and start-ups for the right to own and handle the data in $10 trillion of new construction contracts each year.

Formation of a monopoly in the data market 

Unfortunately, the developers of any CAD-BIM-BOM-PDM-PLM-ERP solution face the Legacy code written back in the 90s, the core product (Archicad, Revit, Tekla Structures) where even the most experienced developers spend hundreds of hours testing and debugging one line of code.

Legacy code is Frankenstein’s monster code that still seems to work, but poorly, and new code with potential cannot develop it because of the mess in the legacy code base.

The problems of external services interacting with Legacy code bought in the 1990s are not much of a concern to large corporations who own the data and who are focused on building their own, “truly proven”, 3D-5D Closed BIM tools.

With transparent and interoperable access to data, all information from projects can be seamlessly transferred and automated using external services, databases and ERP systems. But then such a Closed BIM ecosystem would no longer make sense and 3D CAD solutions would be limited to geometry creation functions, which corporations and investment management funds cannot allow to happen.

In turn, corporations are forced to create such closed environments by the need to maintain stable quarterly earnings. The real masters of the big corporations producing new age oil – data – are the investors from the financial big  five investment funds, who care about quarterly growth and cannot allow corporations to lose their monopoly on the extraction of valuable information.

Therefore, maintaining a monopoly over data is at the core of the policies of the big 3D solution vendors, allowing them to change licensing models and raise the prices of their products. The companies interviewed (from a letter from architects to Autodesk) claim that their costs for licensing Autodesk products increased by 70 per cent between 2015 and 2019 alone. 

CAD vendors are not prepared to hand over “their” data for free, and in order to create the illusion of access and connectivity to this data, they have imposed rather complicated ways of storing and accessing information on their customers, allowing them to pull the initiative in processing master data over to their proprietary solutions.

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