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The parametric nature of BIM paired with standardization of work processes could allow a design practice to leverage BIM and lean thinking to enhance a supplemental service line such as furniture specification and procurement.

In a traditional delivery model, a design firm would use PDF backgrounds to lay out furniture, populate schedules that capture the types and quantities of furniture, create a specification book, and prepare a material board with material finishes and textiles for the specified furniture. The work flow begins with the layout of furniture in plan view and the initial creation of schedules and specifications. Subsequent work is characterized by revisions and constant checking to ensure that all three separate documents remain in alignment. As with any process based on human checking, there lies inherent risk of error while managing three sources of truth.

A lean BIM approach can transform this process by automating the majority of checking, thereby building in quality (BIQ) through mistake proofing, and largely eliminating the potential for counting errors. This is done by unifying the data into a single source of truth hosted within the Revit model. When furniture is placed in the floor plan, its parametric data populates schedules used to manage quantities or to develop the specification. Manual coordination between plan, schedule, and specification are eliminated.

In a lean BIM workflow, the firm would initially invest in creating and collecting furniture families organized around industry standards. As many manufacturers offer models of their products, this would involve customization to the required attributes of the firm, as well as addition of custom parameters as required. Assuming the firm uses Revit, the families would need to be set up so they can be scheduled in a manner that produces a schedule that is suitable for procurement and contains parameters for required specification fields. This allows both schedule and specification to be automatically generated based on room placement in the Revit floor plan views.

The firm would also spend time setting up a virtual showroom where master families can live in an environment where lighting and cameras are pre-set. When paired with a process for scanning fabrics and material samples to create materials, this allows for rapid generation of rendered views using custom palettes as selected by the owner. All modeling of furniture should originate in the showroom with instances in the design model to allow for single source editing.

An initial investment to set up the system would be required. However, once the initial effort is expended, some furniture from the showroom would be reused on subsequent projects while new furniture is added to the showroom. Eventually, a comprehensive library would be constructed that would lead to efficiencies in delivery to the owner. This approach would be particularly effective with a client undertaking a building program where furniture is to be standardized across multiple projects as the showroom could be used directly to create a design standard that could subsequently be applied to furniture packages on individual projects.

Furniture procurement is often priced on a fee per square foot basis. If this fee was based on the legacy method of furniture specification and procurement, the paradigm shift to a BIM approach would immediately produce efficiencies through the elimination of checking and counting between plan layout, schedule, and specification. As noted, the growth of the library over time should result in additional savings based on reduced setup and decreased instances of new furniture family creation over time. Should the market shift and require a fee based on a resource loaded work plan, the standard processes described could be mapped against furniture quantities, number of new families created on a typical project, and staff hours worked to prepare the package to develop a fee.

As a parametric modeling software, Revit can be leveraged not only for a lean BIM approach to furniture procurement, but also for various scopes of work, including equipment coordination and procurement, standard casework types, or partition types. The key is to embrace the potential of mistake proofing and built-in quality to reduce the amount of work required to produce high quality outcomes.

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Romano Nickerson is a principal with Boulder Associates Architects. Since 2016, he has helmed BA/Science, where he coaches project teams in lean design. Romano serves on the Board of LCI and speaks frequently at both domestic and international venues. He lives in Colorado with his wife and son.