A Perfect Partnership

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BIM manager at architect MulvannyG2 describes the development process for Unifi 

As Building Information Modeling becomes the prevalent way to design and engineer commercial projects, BIM users are learning one hard fact: it’s very difficult to track and share the BIM objects they create.
“Our people have objects on their desktops, in folders on individual PCs, on company servers, anywhere and everywhere,” explains J. Travis Yates, BIM Specialist at MulvannyG2 Architecture in Portland. “As projects using BIM approached 50% of our revenue, we knew we needed a way to catalog, store, search and share these objects, if we weren’t going to keep reinventing the wheel, creating the same objects from scratch over and over and over again.”
Two years ago, the firm became a beta test site for Unifi, which Yates describes as a Google search engine for BIM content. Unifi not only helps the 20 – 25 MulvannyG2 designers who have used it to find BIM objects, it acts as a plug-in for Revit, speeding the insertion of those objects into BIM models.  Yates says an architect working full time on BIM-based projects can save about 2-3 hours per week using Unifi, adding significantly to his or her billable time.
“We signed on to the beta test hoping Unifi would become not only our main content management tool, but a vetting tool that would allow us to control the quality of the BIM content that goes into our library.” Yates says that, whenever an architect creates a new BIM object, he can upload it to the firm’s cloud-based Unifi database, but it must be inspected by a manager first. The manager may approve it as is and proceed with the upload or ask for changes to make sure it fits the firm’s quality standards. Unifi also creates metadata from user input and project details and stores it with the file, making it possible to search for the object by a large number of descriptive terms.
If another architect needs a rendering of a bookcase, for example, he can search by ‘bookcase,’ ‘cabinetry,’ ‘millwork’ and other terms, and refine the search by the size, materials, date created, project created for and other parameters of the object. He can do this search right from Unifi, and when he finds the object he needs, he can insert it directly into the drawing. The program also allows users to rate the quality of objects they have created, found or purchased, making it very easy to drill down to exactly what they are looking for.
“Another thing we really like about the program,” Yates adds, “is its ability to store and make searchable any kind of file, not just BIM objects but pdf documentation, AutoCAD files, even video. That really attracted us, that ability to easily find anything related to a given project or client.”
The beta process
Yates says the beta testing process for Unifi consisted of meeting with Steve Germano of developer INVIEWlabs on a monthly basis, usually via WebEx.  “He would show us what they were working on and we would share what we hoped to see, as well as reporting any bugs or problems.”
Germano says Unifi was built with input from a number of architectural, engineering and contracting firms, including some very major players in the construction industry. He himself was a BIM manager for a consulting engineer before joining the firm. “We were actually in our third iteration of the product before we released the beta version,” he says. “The last two years have been a process of refining and enhancing Unifi to make sure it’s extremely useful to designers.”
Now that Unifi has been commercially released, Yates is in the process of providing the program to all 50 Revit users at MulvannyG2. When the next version is finalized, which will allow Unifi to act as a plugin to Sketchup and AutoCAD, he expects to add the rest of his staff.
“INVIEWlabs has been very receptive to our comments and ideas,” Yates says, “listening carefully to what we have had to say. We’d mention something we wished the program could do, and in the next release it would be installed.
“It’s been a perfect partnership, resulting in a tool that is everything we expected it to be.” 
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