A timber frame manufacturer’s BIM learning curve


As the UK’s first timber frame tool built on Autodesk’s® Revit®, Wolf Systems’ Horizon software brings BIM capabilities to timber frame

Paul Hanney, Senior Designer at Fforest Timber Engineering Ltd in Gorseinon, Swansea – one of the earliest adopters of Horizon – describes the lessons learned through its inaugural BIM project: the construction of new buildings at Ysgol Dafydd Llwyd, a designated Welsh medium school in Newtown, Powys.

“Back in 2013, BIM was a relatively new concept within timber frame and at that time, there didn’t seem much pressure to get on board with it. We did however understand the principles of the methodology and appreciated the added value that would be intrinsic to a more collaborative way of working, so BIM was certainly a factor in our uptake of Wolf’s Horizon software.

“Crucially it broke new ground, providing the functionality and capability for us to work with all the trades from a shared base platform – Autodesk’s® Revit®,” explains Paul. “And this new-found competence was soon put to the test in our first BIM project: the timber frame design for a substantial school buildings scheme at Ysgol Dafydd Llwyd.

“Works comprised a large steel frame hall to be in-filled with timber frame, with a central courtyard area, enveloped by single storey classroom and Design & Technology blocks, plus a large, curved building housing further classroom space. Some elements of the build featured clear storey levels with high level windows, while roofs were monopitched or flat and constructed with I-joists.

“Coincidentally, it is believed that this was the building contractor’s first BIM project too and as such, enabled all parties – including architect, engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical trades – to ‘test the BIM waters’ without having to be fully up-to-speed from the off.”

Enhanced visibility means greater efficiency

“From a designer’s perspective, working from a fully manageable, customisable model is a huge plus. The 3D modelling element is incredibly helpful – all elements of the model can be selected to acquire information about the construction and material make-up. It’s all there, in one place so there’s no unnecessary communication between trades. This really speeds-up the process; there’s no time lost waiting for information and accuracy is improved too.

“One of the biggest positives is that trades can load ‘shadow jobs’ into their own model – in this case, the architect’s. This allows the user to view the interaction between the selected trade’s models, allowing us to check the accuracy and continuity of design.

Clash detection highlights inconsistency

“To make this project more manageable, we divided the build into six phases and provided all parties with six separate working models. Part of the BIM methodology is to clash detect individual trade’s models against each other. The Revit® models are exported to a separate package on which the clash detection is undertaken. This process will flag up any anomalies or ‘clashes’ between the models which can then be corrected prior to design completion and commencement of product fabrication.

“If the model is fully completed, collaboratively, and all materials are specified ‘virtually’, the management of materials is greatly enhanced. This leads to far less wastage, not least time lost on-site whilst plans are reworked and additional labour hours on-site to correct any errors.”

Having all requisite information accessible from one place is a standout advantage for Paul. “You just need one file open and everything’s there; no disparate paperwork, drawings, or separate PDFs with detailing. Collaboration brings better organisation and reduced administration; for larger projects like this, it’s a major improvement.”

Key learnings

Paul believes the insights gained from the project will stand Fforest in good stead for future BIM projects. On a personal level, after nearly eleven years in the industry, he relishes the changes that the imminent BIM adoption deadline heralds and looks forward to embracing deeper BIM involvement. However, for BIM to be “realistic throughout the timber frame industry, there will need to be significant changes in the way companies work and recruit sub-contractors,” he advises.

Changes for the better

“Timber frame contractors need to be on board from the outset to engineer core building structures, from which the aesthetic of buildings can be developed, rather than designing a model, then bringing in subcontractors and needing to make significant changes.”

He also believes that technology will need to advance further too. “Horizon’s doing exactly what it needs to, but if you imagine core interactive models stored on servers with four or five trades plugging in to them in real-time, then the hardware needs to move up a gear to accommodate this.”

As BIM gains traction within timber frame, what’s next for Fforest? “We learned a lot from our first BIM project and having taken what can be described as ‘baby steps’ initially, feel we now have a firm footing from which to move forwards. We don’t want to run before we can walk, but meeting BIM Level 2 requirements certainly feels achievable now.

“Horizon means we’re well equipped. Potential probably outweighs need at the moment, but this software puts us in a great position.”

For further information about Wolf Systems’ Horizon BIM software, call 02476 602303 or visit www.wolfsystem.co.uk


Wolf Systems’ Horizon BIM software

Tel: 02476 602303



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