The Business case for BIM-based Automated Code Checking: Beyond e-Permitting

Article written by Tamer El-Diraby, Associate Professor, University of Toronto

BIM-based automated code checking has been traditionally considered in the context of e-permitting. This possibly is related to the increasing demands for efficiency in the permitting process, which has been shown to have a major impact on development or even economic activities on a regional level. The complexity of establishing an e-permitting system and its reliance on the level of BIM maturity, makes it very hard to quantify the value of automated code checking.

The regulatory room in buildingSmart International is working on a project to develop the benchmarks for establishing the business case for automated code checking outside the scope of e-permitting. Specifically, the project will investigate the issue within the following scope:

  1.     The role of automated code checking in reducing design errors: discovering errors after design approval can result in delays and, if discovered during construction, rework.
  2.     The role of automated code checking in reducing premiums for professional insurance incurred by design firms.
  3.     The role of automated code checking in enhancing the efficiency of the design process—especially the management of scope changes and review tasks. Because of the multidisciplinary nature of design teams, not all members of a design team will be fully versed in code requirements in all disciplines. An automated code checking system will help a team member avoid violating a code in a discipline that they are not experts in. Furthermore, because of the complexity of code in many disciplines, a senior review task is always conducted. Automated code checking can reduce the time of this task by helping junior designers avoid some mistakes.

Automated code checking could help in other areas:

  1.     Education: by allowing junior designers to study code violations, such a system can help them discover and understand code requirements in a self-directed mode. It is, however, not a replacement for other means.
  2.     Innovation: in many cases, the burdensome nature of analyzing code compliance can deter designers from experimenting with alternative, even risky ideas. An automated code checking can help reduce the overhead required in investigating new/innovative ideas.
  3.     Design automation: a future for partial automation of some elements of project design is certainly possible. It is, however, infeasible without automated code checking.
  4.     Data analytics and pattern discovery: the automation of code checking introduces this task to the realm of digitized processes. This will allow users to collect data about violations, discover violation patterns, and, possibly, the reasons for such violations or products or design schemes that can increase the levels of code violations.

The types of codes use cases considered in this report include the following:

  •       A national or regional code: this is the most typical code that is enforced by authorities to assure safety and compliance with national/regional regulations and standards.
  •       A code by a large or specialized owner: large conglomerates can establish additional code and rules for their facility design and construction. Presenting such code in a BIM-compliant format will help designers quickly learn and get familiar with such code.
  •       Optional codes & certification: with the increased interest in green and energy-efficient practices, rules and guidelines for relevant certificates in this field (such as LEED) are akin to code and can benefit from an automated checking system.
  •       Simulating the analysis of new codes: in many cases, national regulators put proposed code changes to the test through engaging practitioners. Using automated code checking can help create a simulation experiment to test the proposed new regulations against a diversified set of cases.  

To this end, the work in this project will also discuss the issue of code digitization. Instead of text, should regulatory agencies start issue design codes in the form of equations, algorithms or heuristics? Digitizing codes at the inception stage is not only helpful to the industry, it is also beneficial to the regulatory agencies. By embracing digitized (and BIM-compliant) code, regulators can analyze data collected about usage and investigate patterns of problem/ambiguity. This can help in evaluating and refining new codes more efficiently. Such task is increasingly becoming important given the complexity of scope and depth of requirements in modern codes. In fact, it will be very challenging to realize a smart city with automated cars or interactive buildings with a non-digitized code. For example, digitized code is essential to assuring the compliance of an automated vehicle operated by a private sector agency (with some safety rules) in real-time.   

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