Structures for supporting BIM-based automation in the design process

Abstract: During recent decades the advent of IT in the construction industry has prompted a gradual shift from manual paper-based processes to computer-aided design and production. In this shift there has been an increasing interest in the application of building information modelling (BIM) for the overall management of information throughout the lifecycle of a building. By implementing BIM and automating the workflows within, decreased time spent on engineering tasks and an increased focus on building performance could be achieved during the design process. Due to the complexity of the design process it is rare that a single BIM application can manage all the activities that are present. This puts pressure on the coupling of multiple applications, tools, and information. The challenges that this poses on interoperability and information exchange has received a wealth of attention in research however it is still argued that many of these operations require manual input. Automating parts of a BIM-based workflow is facilitated by the possibilities that exists for exchanging information and controlling the flow of information. This implies that not only do we need to understand this on a data level, but also that we understand how the system and information structures can be managed to enable this.The purpose of this thesis was to investigate how structures could be applied on both a system and information level to support automation within a BIM-based design process, and more specifically how these structures could be used to overcome some of the challenges of information exchange. Three studies were conducted to explore different methods and their potential in achieving automated workflows. The findings of these studies were then analysed against a theoretical framework based on structures of systems and information. The results show that choosing a distributed method for structuring systems allows for the coupling of multiple software, tools, and information without the need for a single shared schema. The critical component of the distributed system structure is a middleware which is responsible for controlling the flow of information. It is the middleware that when implemented allows for the management of multiple sources of information, each with their corresponding schemas. The results also showed that information which travels between the components of the distributed system can be structured according to their relationships to provide the foundation for a mapping. This structure enables the decomposition of information that can be used to transfer information only relevant to the current activity. When applied this aids to resolve the coupling of information at each activity in an automated BIM-based workflow.