Martinez adds, "We live in a three-dimensional world, not a flat one. But we are so used to working with flat plans that isolated the people that are going to actually use the space from the process. Now pre-construction visualization helps address this. Part of it is that social nature of bringing people into the conversation; the people that were sitting quietly nodding and looking at the floor plan are part of the process. Everyone is involved and once they are involved they don't want to go back."

And from all indications operators will eventually reap even greater benefits from projects done in BIM once they are able to interface with the plans on their own. "The next step is for the building managers and engineers using the data to run the building," Brady says. "In order to do that, though, you need the tools. It's as if they invented a DVD with lots of content but the player is not out yet."

Brady points out that the industry is quickly working to give the operators the tools they need to reap the full benefits of projects created using BIM. "They are building the technology that would provide building management with an interface with BIM to better manage preventative maintenance, usage and the like," he says. "For a building owner to know how many square feet of glass they have in the building is important when writing a maintenance contract. And with some of the longer term projects in the works now, building management should have the interface to use the info by the time it goes live."

Operators are not the only ones who benefit from a more collaborative process. "It helps consultants bring more value to their clients, whether they ask for it. It's a beautiful thing when everyone is involved," Martinez says.

Standards for Content Generation

The good news is that the amount of BIM-related content available continues to grow. "I would say there is triple the content than there was a year ago," Martinez says. "Now the big, multi-line foodservice equipment manufacturers are all moving to create content. A year ago, there were only a few companies creating content. And that tells us there is a demand for it because these companies don't do anything unless there is demand."

The factories' motivation is pretty simple. "The manufacturers have realized this can significantly hamper a consultant's ability to specify the equipment they want," Brady says. "Three years ago, when you told a manufacturer that you needed their products in BIM form they asked you what's BIM. Now when you ask them for the content they either turn it over or have it built. There's a wider understanding by the manufacturers of who is driving this and why it's important. And that's been a positive change in the last couple of years."

The challenge with this growth is ensuring all content generators are on the same page. "A lot of manufacturers have put out families that don't work with other factories. Rarely do you have a kitchen that has equipment from only one manufacturer," Wasserstrom points out. "This is as big a leap forward as it was going from hand drawing to AutoCad. But it's so much more complex because it has to connect with so many other areas. And if the data management is not done right up front it is going to cause a lot more work on the back end. It's a lot like the Wild West, where there were very few rules and people from different backgrounds coming together. But at some point this will settle down and you will see it become more widespread. Right now we need to be a part of that conversation that's defining the rules."

Carlson sees a way to remedy the situation. "We need to reconvene the FCSI-NAFEM task force on content creation standards," he says. "Everyone likes to think their needs are universal and as a result we are finding there are a lot of variations coming out and in some cases it is clear they have not seen the standards. We never thought of ourselves as a policing agent but someone has to be responsible for providing feedback to the factories about their content so we can get some consistency.

"Most of the manufacturers are hiring from the outside so we just need to do a better job of communicating the standards are out there," Carlson continues. "The manufacturers are trying to satisfy everyone's needs for content, but I don't think they have the resources to check their content. That's a pretty specialized skill."

For example, content creators often include more detail than designers really need. This leads to a variety of challenges. "They are able to produce something that looks good but the information is not always easy to find or in the right place," says Shelby Wurscher, a project coordinator who works in BIM for Robert Rippe & Associates. "Some of the files are coming in rather large and there are ways to minimize that by taking out some of the extra details."

In reality, though, designers' needs from BIM content remain pretty basic. "The characteristic of the family should be clarity, consistency and provide a very utilitarian approach for the designer," says Martinez.

Carlson adds, "If we can get the geometry and mechanics right, that will work for us. "We expect that we will need to go in and adjust the mechanical drawings. I think everyone handles those things a little differently."

Naming conventions and parameters content creators use represent another key area the task force would need to address. "People were using some pretty long names that were hard to search for," Carlson says.

A Continuous Learning Process

Despite its growing acceptance, the level of BIM knowledge continues to be pretty uneven throughout the foodservice industry. "We are certainly struggling to figure out how we do all of the things we did in CAD in BIM," Carlson says.

Determining exactly how long it will take a designer or a firm to develop their BIM competency depends on a lot of variables, most notably personnel and client mix. "First, it depends on how deep you want to go with it. Everyone has a different learning curve," Brady says. "And you are going to have clients that still want CAD."

In fact, Wasserstrom points out that his company recently completed some larger projects that did not require BIM, including four casinos. So BIM is not something every foodservice operator will require in the near-term. "Some chains may commit to building 100 stores but they will use only 1 of 3 designs," Wasserstrom adds. "Because they have worked with this design a few times they know what works and what does not and don't need BIM."

The robust nature of BIM, including the potential benefits it offers, means that training will remain a critical
issue for foodservice designers from firms of all sizes. "We are starting to do some internal training here to get everyone up to speed. We are big enough to do that but it's got to be harder for companies that are smaller," Carlson says. "We have the experience in house so we just need to spread it around."

To help bolster the knowledge base of the firm's designers, Robert Rippe & Associates has purchased some software that helps the company create customized training and they tap into some of the training offered by the companies that sell BIM software.

"Everyone comes from different experiences so that training is helpful," Wrase says. "Even internally, working on one project you may come across a situation and handle it a certain way but someone else might approach it the other way. There's a lot of ways you can do things in BIM."

So how do you get started? Brady offers some advice: "Do your research to find your point of entry. But jump in and join the party because every day it gets easier."


Three Tips for Creating BIM Content

While working with BIM can be rather complex, creating content needs to be a simple and direct process. Along those lines, Dennis Martinez offers these three tips to help all BIM content creators.

Make sure you are creating in the right version of BIM. The content needs to go back far enough that most people can work with it. BIM programs like Revit do not migrate backward. “You can’t create something in Revit 2013 and open it in Revit 2012,” he says. “Content creators keep it at the 2011 version for now, as a result.”