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Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a powerful design tool with a potent set of benefits that made the foodservice industry sit up and take notice a few short years ago. Despite the undeniable value BIM promises, adoption of this leading-edge technology has been slower in foodservice than in other industries. Certainly, some of this can be attributed to a complex business environment for an industry that faces a variety of financial pressures. Equally complex, though, is getting up to speed on BIM, which involves a commitment of time and money that can intimidate business leaders operating with razor thin margins.
Despite these hurdles, BIM slowly and steadily continues to make inroads into the foodservice industry and a growing number of design-oriented companies are getting on board.
"We have 4 design teams in our office, 2 work with BIM 100 percent of the time and then others are getting there," says Steve Carlson, FCSI, LEED AP, president of Robert Rippe & Associates, Inc., a foodservice design firm. "We have a few projects still done in CAD."
In some industry-specific cases, such as large healthcare projects, BIM has become the main design platform, Carlson says. "And we're doing more of that work now because that's what is out there." Corporate cafeterias represent another emerging area for BIM, he adds. "We are even dealing with an 800-square-foot renovation project in an elementary school that is in BIM."
Indeed, it seems as if BIM's migration to smaller scale projects is a natural evolution for this design technology. "There is no reason to discriminate based on project size," says Christopher Brady, principal at foodservice consulting firm Romano Gatland. "Building up the content is the heavy lifting at this time. So once the content is built it's easier to design in BIM."
For the most part, architects continue to drive the use of BIM in foodservice. "Most of the architects we work with are in BIM and they are asking us to work in BIM, too. I can't think of one that's still working in AutoCad," Carlson says.
But architects are not the only ones mandating BIM on their projects. "Yes, it is part of the architectural contract, but the GSA (U.S. General Services Administration) now requires that you provide the BIM data along with the design," Brady says.
This is similar to what's happening with government projects in the U.K., adds Dennis Martinez, president of RevEquip, a BIM content creator. Martinez is a longtime member of the foodservice industry who has also worked as a design consultant. "Everyone sees the value now: chains, airports and more. I have not talked to one consultant that is not considering working with it. "
One thing that has not changed is the simple fact that incorporating a BIM competency into a foodservice design firm represents a significant commitment of time and money, given the expense associated with training personnel, licensing fees and the necessary investment in technological infrastructure such as servers, video cards, top-of-the-line processors and more. "There is an investment made initially but once that investment is made and you have a learning curve you can windup light years ahead of where you were," Brady says. "Put a fully functional armed BIM station against a CAD station, there's no comparison. It's like a jet compared to a prop plane."
While the benefits for design consultants to migrate to BIM are undeniable, the investment remains steep enough to give many of them reason to drag their feet. "It's been hard on the consultants because they were the ones that had to bite the bullet. They felt they had to make the big investment and that everyone else was benefitting," Martinez says. "But in the long run it makes consultants more valuable to their clients."
Some consultants have hinted they might have to add fees to certain jobs if the equipment content is lacking. In the short-term, this may impact whether BIM is used to design a foodservice space. "That will eventually become a moot point, though, as more content comes out," Brady points out.
Although the industry overall appears to be coming to grips with BIM, progress has been faster for some companies than others. For example, the dealer community's adoption of BIM has been uneven at best. Some companies have jumped in head first while other dealers are taking a more gradual approach and reacting to client demands. "For our company, we are starting to educate ourselves on it," said Brad Wasserstrom, president of The Wasserstrom Company, a foodservice equipment dealer. Wasserstrom is also the current president of the Foodservice Equipment Distributors Association. "And no customers are demanding it at the moment. The few times we have been asked to provide it, customers have balked at the price. It's a very expensive endeavor. But there are segments in this industry where if you are not in it you are not getting business."
Still, despite this gradual approach, the dealer community realizes BIM will eventually become part of their business. "It's inevitable that at some point we will be using it. It's not a year from now. Maybe it's five years but certainly we will be using it within the next seven to ten years," Wasserstrom adds. "The investment cost is pretty high and not many dealers can afford to invest that right now. Right now, this is still for early adopters who can make an investment. For us, it does not make sense for our model. But from an overall dealer perspective, we need to understand that BIM is coming and we have to get up to speed on it."
Despite the uneven approach, there's no denying that BIM keeps building momentum in the foodservice industry. "Many of those people that were showing reservations before are now on board," Martinez says. "The industry is changing. It's either get on board or miss out on opportunities. "
From the end user's perspective, using BIM on a project offers a pretty straightforward advantage. "We always think of our customer as the end user, even if we are working with an architect. And being able to see the space in 3-D helps the operators understand the space better," Carlson says. "They basically work with food and people. They don't have experience looking at drawings. Before you would read plans and elevations with them and they would nod their heads but it was clear they did not know what was being built. And then when the project was done, they would be a little surprised."
"As consultants we have to bring value to clients and giving operators the chance to visualize the space is so valuable to them. By seeing the project in 3-D they can make changes in the design stage and that saves them money later," Martinez says.
Take, for example, a small service corner in a foodservice operation. It could include coffee and espresso makers, bread and various other service items. Seeing a three-dimensional representation of such a space during the project's design stage has many benefits. "It's a functional workstation and there's a lot of ergonomic aspects that go into that. So when you have a 3-D model to look at and you can see the detail — placement of the straw holders, for example — the client has confidence that you are doing what they want," Martinez says. "They are not design people but they desperately want to see that those functional components are part of the plan."
And being able to view the front of the house in greater detail can help better shape the customer experience. "Now they can see all the height levels in the seating area and have a better idea of how that will look and feel," adds Mike Wrase, a senior project manager for Robert Rippe & Associates. Wrase regularly works in BIM. "They are asking more detailed questions now that they can see the drawings in more detail."
This approach can also lead to better flow in the back of the house. "We don't think in plan-view. In BIM you can get a much better reaction about what you have done, not just that you have the right equipment but that it is ordered correctly," Brady says.
This also leads to a more cohesive approach to design. "When you do 360 degree visualization, everything becomes important — the ceilings, floors and more. And that opens the door for consultants to do more on the project," Martinez says. "If you can create a space and visualize it, even for these smaller projects, it makes a difference."
The net result, most BIM users agree, is a better end product that comes about as the result of a more collaborative and efficient process. "We used to joke that we would work certain issues out in the shop drawings and it never happened until we got into the field," Carlson says. "Now that we are working in 3-D you have to work it out. So in the end, it does make a much better process."
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