Building Information Modeling

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a relatively new process of generating and managing building data to increase efficiency and yield better structures. Zahner’s digital definition process is well known for seamless integration with the greater BIM structure. We use digital definition in our fabrication process, coupling highly skilled craftsmen with brilliant engineers, both of which work digitally. Digital definition is incorporated into 95% of our fabricated product used on intricate buildings around the world.

We also frequently speak on this subject at conventions as well as write articles on the subject for numerous publications. Below is an excerpt from a idea put forth by L. William Zahner, CEO/President.

Information Sharing – A Fabricators Perspective

“Man’s mind, stretched by a new idea, never goes back to it original dimensions.”
- Oliver Wendell Holmes

Over the last decade, the design, engineering, and construction industry has been working to integrate digital technology into the process of construction. Like a growing leak in the dike of ingrained conventions, the integration of digital technology is dissolving the barriers that slow down the building process. Companies that do not embrace this technology will be overwhelmed by the shift that is occurring. Older traditions that often act to slow the process or confine the process need to be revised or eliminated. If preformed correctly, the information is significantly more accurate and robust. Litigious concerns for who is responsible for checking or validation are less and less an impediment.

At Zahner, we work with the surface of a structure or object. We are involved with the geometry, patterns, materials, the way a surface performs and the way the surface reflects light.  We digitally define the surface we are creating for the structure because of the benefit to quality and accuracy. The geometry, surface patterns and interfaces are all defined digitally on the solid model we create.

Much of what we model is parametric. We define certain relationships of the integrals that make up or construct the finished part.

We integrate our process of defining the surface into a kanban or signaling system for the part fabrication.  Kanban is a tenant of Lean Manufacturing processes. Lean Processes integrate very well with digital definition and demand fluid information transfer. Certain knowledge is consistent in our processes and the various parts that make up the finished product arrive together prior to the final assembly. One piece of paper, usually containing dimensional values and an image, are utilized as a quality check.  The information is all contained in digital files utilized by the fabrication equipment to define parts and assemblies.

All of this is internal, sort of the blood flow of the factory / engineering interface. It insures that what we fabricate is what we intend on placing on the structure. We can be more accurate than ever before. On the product floor, our supervisors can call up images of the model to evaluate the information on the model before we produce the product if needed.

Basic Process

After the designer completes the digital model, a digital model is created that is an exact overlay of the designer’s project. The model we create is transformed into a parametric surface. The parametric surface incorporates information needed to drive the product fabrication. Proprietary algorithms are introduced to generate framing fastener layouts, individual surface elements, and other information needed to construct the finish surface. Often the algorithms relate other parts, such as hidden surfaces, chips, and various fabrication techniques.

With our model we incorporate seam locations, flashings, interface connections and other information necessary to show the designer what it is we intend on providing and how we are going to provide it. Details are created non parametric CAD systems often created directly for the parametric model. These are informational files that provide section information, about the various parts. They are keyed off a ‘snap shot’ of a particular elevation. The designer, general contractor and other specialty contractors use theses details as reference information. The designer requires us to convert the digital parametric model to IGS or DXF for their use. The designer’s original digital model remains as the master for comparison. It is often housed at a managed server location.

The Future of Building Information Modeling

At one point in time, the designer and the fabricator were closely tied, often integrated as part of the same team. The world was smaller and simpler, and one major project may have occupied much of a lifetime. Over time, strict divisions of construction developed and risk transfer became as important as quality and service as primary focuses of the building industry.

All of a sudden the world began building simple boxes out of rectangular components defined by these divisions. Complexity was risky. The structure was made of steel and bolted in straight lines by one division of labor. The cladding is attached to the structure in rectilinear components by yet another. Dignified guilds with apprentice inculcation disappeared and were replaced by semi-skilled workers, lacking passion and expertise in what they were producing.

It is hard to get passionate over a box.

That was the problem.  Today, the connection between designer and fabricator is healing through advanced technologies and working with the Building Model. The ability to model shape and form and then to transfer them to the manufacturing floor is introducing art back into fabrication process. You can see it in the eyes of those that work in the process.

Being part of creativity is fun and satisfying. Construction workers want to work for us because of the challenges of creating these complex forms. We work closely with designers. The goals are quality and efficiency. There is a blurring of the traditional divisions. Integrated skin with structure to create efficient and interesting surfaces can now be produced. Designers paint with a new style of paintbrush. Some of the shackles are being removed and the potential is expanding.

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Featured Post: Building a dual-curved facade with pre-fabricated panels. — Writer Susan Chaityn Lebovits profiles Zahner in Form Magazine, about how the Neiman Marcus facade was made in Natick, Massachusetts.

Featured Post: Zahner ShopFloor team develops a perforated Louvered Screen Wall Facade System — How a small team of ShopFloor engineers at Zahner hacked a ten-year old welding robot arm to create louvered screen wall facade systems.

Picture of ShopFloor ShopFloor: Create unique designs for architecture and interiors using a simple configurator.

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