Building Information Modeling

A decade ago, the world of architecture, engineering and construction buzzed with talk about building information modeling, a concept that had been around in both name and theory decades before that. The buzz was loud enough that the foodservice industry even paid attention. Like the first mention of BIM, however, the practical application of the concept in foodservice was ahead of its time.

“One of the earliest documented uses of the term ‘building modeling’ in the sense that BIM is used today appeared in the title of a 1986 paper by Robert Aish,” says Ilia Terzi, CAD Department, SpecifiLLC, Venice, Italy. “Aish illustrated BIM technology concepts in a case study applying BIM to the phased refurbishment of Terminal 3 at Heathrow Airport in London.”

Since that time, BIM has been touted as the wave of the future in building design and construction, an almost magical way of assembling the traditional documents required to permit and construct a building through 3D visualization instead of traditional 2D drawings. And over time, the concept’s practical applications have expanded and grown sophisticated enough that governments around the world, including the U.S., U.K., Singapore and South Korea, now require building architects and contractors to use the technique for all government projects. Australia and several EU countries will make it mandatory in 2018.

But foodservice projects, which seemed a natural fit for the concept, were slow to follow the trend. Consultants and designers found the software necessary to implement BIM cumbersome and expensive, equipment manufacturers hadn’t made their information available in the right format, and operators didn’t see the benefits.

All Sizzle, No Steak
BIM, in its simplest definition, is the digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a building. But it’s also a way of working, a process that uses information and technology to create value.

“Imagine it this way,” says Ted Doyals, FCSI, Principal with Ricca Design Studios, Oklahoma City. “We used to draft plans by hand, both floorplans and elevations, that contractors used for permits and construction. Any time someone made a change, we had to redraw the plans. We moved from that to CAD, which allowed us to put dumb blocks on plans that stood for objects like kitchen equipment. As time went on, AutoCAD allowed us to add some information to those blocks. Now software lets us add information like electric loads, water lines and pressure and much more, and when an architect or draftsperson changes the drawings, the information in the software is automatically and universally updated to reflect that.”

Adding information to the building blocks in the software—blocks that represent walls, floors, doors, windows and objects—enabled architects and designers to draw plans faster and with more detail. And software programs like Auto-CAD enabled them to create those plans in 3D drawings, giving contractors and owners a better idea of what finished projects would look like.

When even more sophisticated software programs like Revit came on line, they accepted and manipulated so much information about the products and materials used to fabricate all those “blocks” that the 3D drawings could actually be viewed as renderings of the finished product. And the renderings were so lifelike that often people equated BIM with 3D.

But those beautiful 3D renderings are only the tip of the iceberg; the sizzle, not the steak. Projects were sold on that basis, and clients didn’t get the real benefits of BIM. The real meat of BIM is its next levels—4D (Time), 5D (Cost) and 6D (Lifecycle)—which we’ll get to in a moment.

While the AEC community worked on truly incorporating BIM into projects, the foodservice industry was slow to adopt the concept. Several factors contributed to the industry’s reluctance.

First, Revit and other software programs that could implement the BIM approach had no category for foodservice equipment as they did for other parts of a building. The few brave souls who did incorporate BIM into foodservice projects had to create from scratch the parameters that described each piece of equipment they specified in their plans. NAFEM, FCSI and FEDA collaborated to create standards for foodservice equipment and released them in ’11, but few manufacturers had developed the information that consultants and designers needed to easily include the manufacturers’ equipment in plans and renderings.

And few consultants or operators embraced the shift from Auto-CAD to programs like Revit. “Going from AutoCAD to Revit for most people is like the shift from drafting on paper to CAD,” Doyals says. Not only were the programs complex and difficult to learn, but making the shift meant a substantial investment in hardware, software and training.

What’s Changed
“A lot of people also were frustrated by Revit when BIM first started taking off in ’07 or ’08 because it didn’t allow a lot of freedom,” says Ben Guler, Senior Project Manager and BIM Manager for Chipman Design Architecture, Des Plaines, Ill. “And Revit updates weren’t backwards compatible with previous versions, which meant that there could be errors in data that was transferred from one version to another.”

Adding to the confusion are multiple versions of Revit standards. “There are currently four different standards for Revit,” says Terzi. “It would be great if there was one worldwide standard; that would solve a variety of the problems manufacturers and content creators are encountering when creating models. For instance, many countries are non-English speaking and can’t use English as default language for parameters and product descriptions. Besides, all around the world, there are endless lists of standards for electrical, plumbing and HVAC disciplines. Manufacturers should be able to provide foodservice content for all countries and regions. That’s why we need one global standard which includes all the rules and parameters to accommodate all markets.”

Specifi is working in an advisory fashion with the Foodservice Consultants Society Int’l. (FCSI), Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA) and European Federation of Catering Equipment Manufacturers (EFCEM) to develop a standard for the industry, which will be a collaborative effort driven by the trade associations.

The steady march of technology, however, has made it much easier for anyone—consultants, operators, equipment dealers—to get into the game. Hardware costs have come down at the same time computing power has risen, so a decent laptop can now do the job (though most kitchen designers will want desktops with large HD monitors). And software can do even more, but is easier to use than earlier versions.

“Increased processing power has enabled us to do a lot of things we couldn’t do 10 years ago,” says Mike Hnatschenko, AIA, Director of Strategic Solutions at WD Partners, Minneapolis. “And now cloud applications let us share and access information. That’s led to even more applications and tools that can use information associated with each piece of a project, whether it be a window, floor material or piece of foodservice equipment.”

Manufacturers, especially large multi-category companies like Manitowoc, Ali Group, Electrolux, Halton, Alto-Shaam, Hobart and Middleby, have gotten on the bandwagon and made information on their products available in standard NAFEM/FCSI format for BIM. And companies like Specifi have developed software especially for the industry, making it even easier to develop foodservice projects with BIM.

So what’s all the fuss about anyway? Why should you be designing projects or asking your providers to design projects in BIM? What’s wrong with drafting plans with AutoCAD or something similar? After all, you can create elevations in these programs, too.

“The ability to visualize a project is the aspect of BIM that people first jumped on,” says Hnatschenko, “but now coordination and project management are what people are most interested in. With BIM, you’re not just placing equipment items on a floorplan. You’re looking at how they’ll be used, so data being added to these virtual models includes things like power hookups and usage, labor needed to operate the equipment, maintenance required to keep it in warranty and so forth. BIM takes projects beyond construction into operations and facilities management.”

Next Level Up
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s get back to basics. Using a BIM approach to design projects saves time and money. Simple as that.

“The biggest advantage to using BIM is that you start with a fully coordinated virtual model,” says Guler. “Consultants don’t spend as much time drawing, which saves time and money. And you can customize tools to your or your client’s needs—generating a materials list, for example, based on a specific project. With a coordinated model there aren’t as many RFIs [requests for information], and you end up with a better set of drawings, which lowers construction costs.”

To help ease the migration to BIM from manual drafting or CAD, groups in the AEC industries in different countries developed definitions for “levels of detail” through which a BIM element— floor, wall or piece of foodservice equipment— can logically progress. In the U.S., it was determined that five levels were sufficient: 100, a conceptual approximation; 200, approximate geometry of the item; 300, precise geometry of the element; 400, fabrication details; and 500, as it’s actually built.

Let’s say you’re designing ductwork for a kitchen ventilation hood. In level 100, the run isn’t modeled. Cost and other information, though, can be included as an amount per sq. ft. of floor area. In level 200, drawings would include a 3D duct with approximate dimensions. Level 300 details would include precise engineered dimensions in the 3D model. Fabrication details would be added in level 400, and in level 500 the model would include a 3D representation of the installed duct. Other details that might be included at that level are things like static pressure, airflow cfm rates, cleaning and maintenance schedules, and even warranty information.

A couple of things are important about these levels of detail. The more information, the easier it is to spot problems. And when a problem is corrected and a change made on the model, software automatically changes anything that’s affected by that change.

“When we did drawings the old-fashioned way, by hand, we always seemed to end up with a worktable leg sitting right on top of a floor drain or seam,” says Doyals. “Or the ice-making head on a beverage dispenser wouldn’t fit under the dropped ceiling. Now we can see those things in 3D and fix them before construction starts. As soon as we link our design with the architect’s drawings or model we can eliminate a lot of problems.”

Another note about the level of detail used is that not every aspect of every project has to strive for level 500. “Not everything has to be modeled,” Guler says, “so you can transition from AutoCAD to Revit to get some 3D modeling, but still draft other pieces of the project in AutoCAD.”

Big Winners
Which brings up the question of how to make the leap from your current technology and processes to BIM. One multi-unit operator FER spoke with said, “Because of our poor experience with Revit we haven’t done a BIM project. The biggest issue I see is the gap in experience among kids coming out of school; they know how to use Revit and BIM but know nothing about how to put a building together or build a restaurant. And people experienced in foodservice are not typically trained or proficient in BIM or programs like Revit.”

Most of those who are already working with the process say that the only way to get started is to jump in with both feet. How depends on your company, your philosophy and situation.

“We’ve found it’s better to hire people with foodservice design and consulting experience and train them how to use software like Revit,” says Doyals.

“It’s probably easier to learn to use software than to learn the industry,” agrees Guler. “If you’re a designer, spend a year forcing yourself to use a program like Revit instead of CAD. BIM’s not tough to pick up in terms of concept once you’ve mastered the software. If you’re an operator, request BIM in your RFPs, or hire a firm to handle templates, products families, parameters and standards.”

On the other hand, everyone in the industry was a newbie at some point. “It’s all about mentoring when you move from one paradigm to another,” Hnatschenko says. “Each succeeding generation has increasingly powerful tools, and will do more amazing things with technology. Find those people the right mentors who can give them the knowledge they need to leverage the technology.”

The benefits of BIM far outweigh the short-term pain you might experience learning software or new technology.

“I think you have to adopt the concept whole-heartedly,” Guler says. “I don’t think you can adopt a few elements and make it work. People now want more information on projects. We used to do a set of drawings which led to permits and construction bids, but with virtual models we can get so much more, faster. The fact that you’re not drafting, that alone makes BIM cost-effective.”

“As more information becomes available from manufacturers in BIM format, I can see even smaller chains really benefitting from this,” Doyals says. “If they have all the data on their equipment packages and décor packages in the system, they can easily change and rearrange layouts or specific elements of the design when the physical dimensions of their stores change.”

“Portfolios of projects, like a chain of restaurants, is becoming more prevalent now in BIM, not just single projects,” Hnatschenko says. “The process and amount of information that can be included means they can look at and compare stores in the portfolio in terms of performance and lifecycle.”

“Using BIM will provide large foodservice chains with a range of value engineering options that will help them not only meet new stricter building requirements, but also various scenarios showing the direct impact of design solutions on constructions costs, construction schedules, subsequent operations costs and lifecycle maintenance of the building and foodservice equipment,” says Terzi. “Smaller businesses also are ideally suited to adopting BIM—they can make decisions and adapt client/project/industry needs really quickly if they’ve learned how to use it.”

BIM System Requirements
You may need more processing power than you presently have to run BIM software efficiently. Fortunately, costs for hardware have come down substantially in recent years. Here’s what you’ll need:
CPU: 64-bit quad-core processor.
RAM: 8 GB (16 GB recommended.)
Operating System: Windows 8
Display Resolution: 1024×768 (1600×1050 recommended with True Color)
Video Card: DirectX 11 capable graphics.
Video Memory: 128 MB VRAM or greater.
Disk Space: 6 GB free disk space for software installation.
Apple users in most cases will have to run Windows in parallel, so you’ll need the latest version of OS X (Yosemite) on a Mac with a quad-core processor and 32 GB of RAM.

BIM Software
Autodesk Revit,

BIM Resources
• BIM-speak glossary of BIM terms:
• NAFEM/FCSI guidelines/standards for building equipment families in Revit:
• Revit design video tutorials:
• Generic foodservice equipment objects for BIM software:
• Specific foodservice equipment objects for Autodesk Revit:;;;
• Specific foodservice equipment objects for AutoCAD and Bricscad:;

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