Before Building Information Modeling (BIM), the only available workflow involved 2D CAD, in which all project documents were stored in standalone files. The main advantage of this solution was its flexibility: each member of the team could work continuously and simultaneously on separate files. On the other hand, coordination was very limited – essentially reduced to visual comparison of the drawings by overlaying them as external reference files (Xrefs).
BIM applications are based on a completely different concept, according to which drawings are derived from the model, and coordination of the different drawings is carried out by the software itself. This workflow results in fewer errors in the documentation phase, provided that the BIM model is maintained during the entire lifecycle of the project, and drawings are not detached from the 3D model.
Although all BIM applications share the same core concept, their internal collaboration solutions can be quite different. Most current BIM solutions are based on the file server technology, according to which a central project file is stored on a server machine and the users work on local copies of the central file using their local BIM application. To avoid conflicts with other team members, all users must reserve certain parts of the projects before they start working. Whenever they want to check the current status of the project, they must send and receive changes between their local file and the central file on the server.
During these operations, the entire project file is sent over the local network, which can result in long waiting times if the project is large.
This concept was based on the traditional paper-based workflow, in which large parts of the buildings (e.g. entire floors) are assigned to individual team members. Data communication was based on the Local Area Network (LAN), since high bandwidth Internet connections were generally unavailable.
Today, collaboration requirements are largely determined by the size and the structure of the office. However, for all offices – regardless of size – Flexibility, Speed and Ease of use have become key factors. Before we go into detail about the collaboration solutions in ARCHICAD, let’s examine the specific needs of architectural firms of different sizes.