BIM and fire protection engineering


Challenges and issues 

While content development for models could improve, BIM is not without other issues. As many organizations that have worked on BIM projects have discovered, it requires a significant shift from traditional architectural and engineering workflow. Since the model is constantly developing, 2-D drawings to drafters may not be the most effective routine. Engineers and designers need to get directly into the model and input information as the model develops. It is not just showing information in space, but providing specifications of equipment as the model is developed. The designer is actually inserting the component into the model, similar to how the installer inserts the component in the building. 

Since BIM models are not just 3-D representations of a building but an information database correlated to that model, the file sizes get very large. As noted previously, cloud server models may be an ideal solution for certain applications, but some owners and developers may want to limit access to the organizations that can make changes. In such situations, the model may be updated routinely for other organizations to download and work from, which can be challenging when dealing with large file transfers. 

Another recognized obstacle is the contractual and legal issues concerning intellectual property rights and how BIM models are accessed or made available. Standard design contracts often establish who owns the rights to the intellectual property, which can be contentious during and after negotiations. Multiple parties are providing input into a model that the owner may ultimately be paying for. While, under such conditions, the project owner(s) may feel entitled to unrestricted use and access, the designers may want limitations on who can access the model and how access is controlled. Since the designers, engineers, and architects may not input proprietary equipment into the model, procedures and terms for how contractors and installers input information into the model without significantly changing the system parameters must be established. In other words, a clear method for handing over from design to construction and from construction to operations must be established to protect all parties and their respective intellectual property. 

As with most design disciplines, BIM and fire protection engineering will continue to develop into a more powerful tool that allows designers, owners, and building personnel to effectively use models and BIM databases to manage buildings from cradle to grave. All active and passive fire protection systems, from suppression, alarm, and detection to fire-resistance rated walls, floors, and ceilings can be managed and maintained by all parties associated with buildings. The current and future status of BIM technology related to fire protection engineering is exciting for everyone in the building and construction industry. 

Imagine the time when you can design a building using actual assemblies and components, check for conflicts prior to reaching the field, and then install and maintain those components through an efficient and functional BIM model. That time is now. What the future holds is how far we can capitalize on the benefits of integrating the BIM model.

Gregory K. Shino is technical director of fire protection engineering at JBA Consulting Engineers, with more than 15 years of experience in design and commissioning of fire suppression, fire alarm and detection, and smoke control systems. He is a member of SFPE, NFPA, and the ICC.

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