BIM versus VR, what’s the design difference?

CESA says that for BIM models to truly represent a fitted out facility, they will have to comply with International Food Service Equipment standards, such as the right-hand image.

Dealers are now increasingly turning to virtual and augmented reality software to create electronic designs for their clients to visualise their prospective kitchens. But does this mean that Building Information Modelling (BIM) – creating 3D models of catering equipment – will fall by the wayside?

Not according to CESA, which runs the CESABIM database for foodservice appliance BIM models in the UK. Chair, Glenn Roberts, commented: “Virtual reality (VR) is fine for the visual design element and for presentations, but this is but one part of the issue.

“BIM includes the visual element but is far more all-encompassing. It’s about providing a central hub of data that everyone can access. Designers, service engineers, MEP contractors, operators and FM companies – they can all refer to the BIM document to find the data they need.”

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If BIM has a wider remit than just visual design representation, does this then mean that it can integrate with VR models? Roberts detailed: “BIM software packages can deliver VR walkthroughs.

“One issue is the standard of the BIM models. For them to truly represent the fitted out facility, they will have to comply with IFSE (International Food Service Equipment) standards. That means the models will have to look like the actual appliance – almost as if they were a photograph – rather than being a grey block or a drawing. For this to happen manufacturers need to invest in the development of models – many have done so and they are on CESABIM.”

BIM may also be able to be integrated with other types of software, but according to Roberts: “The nitty gritty is the exchange of data. There will be increasing integration but the software has to be compatible.

“There are major benefits to integration on every level. That’s why CESA totally supports the EU’s digital agenda, which calls for a harmonised and aligned approach to digitisation. Making integration as easy as possible is vital – that’s why the CESABIM and EFCEMBIM libraries of BIM models are set up to be as flexible as possible in terms of the files they can accept. CESA’s aim is to future-proof the issue for the industry.”

He can see BIM utilisation improving for both dealers and manufacturers too, adding: “The key drivers for the move to BIM are procurement costs, data management, EU directives such as Ecodesign and Carbon Footprinting, and business growth.

“One of Schneider Electrical’s five megatrends is that the electricity demand of buildings will increase by 80% in the near future – they estimate that energy efficiency will have to double to cope with the rise. BIM is a key part of the solution, helping to deliver more efficient design, build and operations.

“It’s also key to catering equipment in the circular economy, which runs from raw materials through design, production, distribution, service life and recycling.

“Most of an appliance’s energy consumption will be in its service life – which is where BIM comes into play and can help minimise the equipment’s carbon footprint.”

The CESABIM database and Europe-wide counterpart EFCEMBIM are both managed by BIM software provider, Specifi. Vice president of international sales, Stuart Campbell, believes that VR is part of BIM technology. “With VR, BIM could go a step further,” he said. “VR could be a part of BIM, helping the client see how a finished project will look, in more realistic way than a 3D model.

Specifi manages the CESABIM BIM model database, including these for Unox.

“VR allows immersive visualisation to become a natural and integrated part of the kitchen design process. BIM project/models could be integrated with virtual reality walk-throughs using VR apps and plug-ins.”

However, he cautioned: “To obtain full VR requires an expensive VR headset, expensive graphics card and a high powered workstation. So we should keep in mind that this process is quite costly. The pressures on day to day business means that this will be further expense for distributors over and about the high cost of the BIM software.”
Nevertheless, he cited augmented reality (AR) as the next evolution of BIM. “It’s a direct view of a physical, real-world environment and all elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data,” Campbell explained.

“BIM could also benefit from the advent of machine learning and artificial intelligence, because they are making changes across various areas, including risk management, schedule management, subcontractor management and construction site environment monitoring.”

When looking ahead at BIM uptake, he believes: “It is obvious that dealers and manufactures will benefit from BIM. BIM is useful for manufacturers, because it can actually help them to get their products specified – 3D geometry will be supplied with information and technical data. Then design teams are more likely to select those products and use them within BIM projects.

“It is also imperative that models are created to a world standard to ensure rendering capabilities, especially in VR, moving forward.”

As for manufacturers themselves, Rational is one which is taking a go-ahead approach, offering a full family of BIM Revit models. UK technical sales director Graham Kille doesn’t believe that VR capabilities have surpassed BIM though, detailing: “Most people are not aware what is already possible with existing BIM tools. For example, there are options to allow you to send BIM projects to any computer or mobile device and there you can view it, turn it, etc, without any additional software.”

He added: “Another BIM software plug-in, called ‘enscape’, allows the user to walk through buildings, walls, stop at any place and modify surfaces and change components in real-time. That can be shown on a PC and is a fantastic option to visualise the whole building.

“VR is just another way to show all this to third parties who have little experience of reading and understanding 2D or 3D plans. Professional planners and architects, and their professional customers, would not really need the VR head-mounted display. Plus the use of VR back of house may help in areas such as checking a kitchen design’s workflow.”

Emphasising that BIM families contain all 3D drawing data for VR applications, Kille also underlined that they hold all relevant technical data for planning buildings.

He commented: “VR is mostly about the drawing part of the project and can be based on the BIM data. In my opinion the transformation process from BIM to VR will be improved in the near future, because the platform of BIM data is increasing dramatically. This means there will be no need for a separate VR platform; it will be part of BIM.”

Rational offers a full family of BIM Revit models.

Kille further believes that BIM will replace 2D and 3D CAD software, just as this replaced the drawing board. He added: “There needs to be interfaces for an exchange of data between Revit and other comparable software packages such as MEP.”

While he noted that BIM take-up is slow due to its cost and unfamiliarity to many in the industry, he advised: “The advantages of everyone working with the same standard of data are significant. The hurdle is not as high as it was from the drawing board to CAD. The switch from CAD to BIM is about learning to use a new software. The next generation will grow up with it.

“While BIM already plays a key role in many projects, and its importance will only increase, a key question is can all the different segments of the industry move forward at the same pace? And if we can, are we all moving forward in the same direction?”

Over at warewasher and waste systems manufacturer, Meiko, its CAD department feels that VR kitchen designs have improved the visualisation tools available to create a life-like walkthrough.

The department sees VR is an addition to a BIM model, via tools and add-ons that developers have created, for example, in Autodesk Revit. “BIM models can also have the addition of animation as well as VR viewing incorporated into them, so rather than ‘surpassing BIM’, it would be better to say VR technology has improved viewing options available in BIM models and other design software,” the CAD team stated.

The Meiko department also feels that BIM is the more advantageous tool in terms of sharing information and working on projects, adding: “The level of detail provided by BIM models is extremely useful, providing quick access to vital information across software platforms and disciplines.

“VR is a brilliant end project but the work up to this end product is from personal experience much more productive in BIM software.”

The team underlined that there is animation and life-like viewing possible in BIM models and they believe it is improving with each version of the many BIM software options. Plug-ins and additional add-ons in Revit also allow virtual reality viewing.

They stated: “Currently, our primary use of BIM models is not VR, as a manufacturer focusing on dishwash areas. However a working VR walkthrough of our tray conveyor systems and dishwashers would be attractive to clients for larger projects and potentially for advertisement and training. The time allocated to creating it would restrict its use on small projects.”

According to the department, construction sites can make use of BIM in their software to improve health and safety environments. “Using BIM models as a visual aide with all the relevant information can help in identifying potential hazards that the site managers can use to ensure these hazards are known or removed, if possible, to avoid any worker being injured and ensuring a safe work environment.”

The CAD team concluded: “Improvements are already being made to ensure projects are sharing information efficiently and the clarity of our models are increasing. We use Revit 2016 as our main BIM tool for modelling and an internet portal, allowing our BIM files to be downloaded around the world. It is exciting seeing all the improvements and from watching future design lectures and tutorials there are many more improvements to come.”

At fellow warewasher manufacturer Winterhalter, sales director Andy Blake acknowledges that VR and BIM are “two different animals”.

Winterhalter feels there is huge potential in integrating BIM with other technologies.

“The planning and design stage is only the beginning with BIM – it is a cradle-to-grave solution. It interfaces with the architects, the mechanical engineers, all relevant parties, ensuring everything interlocks.

“As long as the BIM document is kept updated, it will be able to tell service companies everything they need to know about a kitchen, from the service history of specific pieces of equipment to the amount of energy or water the kitchen consumers.”

Blake said: “Some of these VR software packages are compatible with BIM software and some are not – it depends on their data interchange compatibility.

“However, many BIM software packages include VR options – the software producer will offer special plug-ins for this. For example, architects often use VR in BIM for planning and for presentations. Similarly, construction companies may use VR on the site to check the ‘real’ building against the plans.”

He further predicted: “In terms of integrating BIM with other technologies, there is huge potential. For example, people are already using lasers and drones to take measurements in existing buildings and landscapes, and using specialist analysis tools to measure light levels and noise levels, and integrating the data into BIM.

“The issue is that as the technologies develop, the formats and information exchange must be compatible with BIM software.

“Another interesting area that is developing is the connection between CAFM software for FM and BIM software.”
Elsewhere, Precision Refrigeration has invested in creating a Revit configurator tool that allows designers and consultants planning a kitchen to use a variant model rather than a standard product from the firm’s 12,000 configurations.

MD Nick Williams revealed: “Precision’s Configurator plug-in allows customers to easily build the precise refrigeration model they want and produce the .rfa file that can then be used in a project. For example, a standard four-door counter might have two doors replaced by a bank of two drawers and one of three drawers.”

He concluded: “BIM utilisation will certainly increase as this technology slowly takes over from 2D CAD. BIM offers many benefits compared to 2D CAD – plus, of course, it’s essential for public sector projects. Consequently, dealers and manufacturers have to become more familiar with it.”

Distributors themselves are looking into options surrounding electronic kitchen design software, but for Welsh dealer, Shine Catering Systems, the way forward is clear. Operations director Jon Shine commented: “VR provides a great opportunity for clients and operators to assess the space, design, flow and functionality of the proposed kitchen environment, but access to a VR platform is limited and VR does not offer the opportunity for coordination of the mechanical and electrical services, equipment volumes and other metrics across a single federated platform.”

He continued: “We see BIM models and VR as too far apart at this point. It will not be long, however, before someone provides a cost effective bridge between the 3D flythroughs available from BIM packages and multiple VR platforms.

“However, BIM could be integrated with CADCAM software for manufacturing, such as Solidworks and RADAN.”
He can see BIM utilisation rates increasing for both dealers and manufacturers too, adding: “It is inevitable with the number of main contractors adopting BIM as a standard, and government funded projects stipulating the same.”

Over at Grimsby-based Sylvester Keal, marketing director Irene Keal believes: “Virtual reality developments are affordable and are based on open source technology to allow integration with other systems and devices, and can offer real, measurable benefits in the commercial world for organisations of all sizes and complexions.

“Many commercial kitchen design companies are embracing these technologies, however, Sylvester Keal still likes to meet people and build face to face relationships.”

She concluded: “BIM can be integrated with many CAD software packages as well as quotation tools. As technology progresses and improves, things can only improve with better intelligent software and systems.”

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