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From rummaging around to a quick click – ATP revolutionizes building management

ATP Partner Matthias Wehrle
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Press Release  (8024 character)

“Please service me!” – Is the sort of message that smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, and light bulbs are now able to send to their facility managers. And there’s more: With a click of the mouse, the photovoltaic panel in the digital building can shed light on the agreed energy concept, the lift can reveal its maintenance interval, and the door to the air-lock can name the contact person at the suppliers.

As a pioneer for integrated design with Building Information Modeling (BIM), ATP architects engineers has taught all the building elements that are subject to testing, controlling, and maintenance requirements a common language – and, thus, it has dragged facility management into the digital age. And BIM has finally entered the arena in which it promises to be most beneficial to clients – namely, the operation of buildings.

We discussed all this with the architect Matthias Wehrle, Partner and Managing Director of ATP Zurich.

Mister Wehrle, the “digital building” is already a fascinating and valuable support to planners and builders in the areas of design, tendering, and realization. But what about the operation of buildings?

Wehrle: The luxury of BIM has yet to establish itself in the world of operating buildings. This is really surprising, because this the phase of the building lifecycle in which clients are subject to the highest costs – and could, hence, make the greatest savings.

Why is this the case?

Wehrle: Probably, because those responsible for communicating the advantages of BIM initially focused on planners and builders due to the fact that these players first had to be convinced to share their specialist expertise inside digital models. Some are still resisting today. This reluctance shouldn’t be a surprise if you consider that, for centuries, the construction sector in Central Europe was based on the principles of working in series or in parallel rather than working together. In contrast, we at ATP started to change our culture as early as the 1970s and ours one of the first companies that was already making the switch to designing within digital models a decade ago. And this is something from which our clients also benefit.

How? Isn’t it more or less irrelevant to a client which software you use to design their buildings?

Wehrle: The client of tomorrow is increasingly aware of the fact that the real power of BIM can be found in building operations – and that we can simplify our design model in a targeted way for later use. Whereas our earlier conversations with clients were often met with skepticism, incomprehension, and sometimes even fear, the desire for operator models is now growing steadily. Today, we can use examples to demonstrate the extreme simplicity of the user interface. This convinces clients that their facility managers don’t have to be super-intelligent IT freaks to find their way around the “digital building”.

How can I envisage such an operator model? What about the example of the door to an air-lock?

Wehrle: That’s pretty easy to explain. Each such door is anchored in the model as a simple symbol. When I click on this, the corresponding data pop up on the right-hand side of the screen – with the required level of detail and background information. Depending upon which aspects of the door are important for the operation of the building in question, this information can vary extensively. For example, I can see the guarantee deadlines that I should be aware of, the phone number of the service company, or the material that I can use to clean the door.

For a large listed company it could make sense to include the decision-making criteria for choosing that particular product in the model. This information then remains available, even when the person who made the decision has moved on. For an SMU, perhaps a simple 1:5 scale view with assembly instructions is enough. You can already see that the difficult question is not how to technically transfer the data from the BIM model into an FIM model but how to intelligently slim down the volume of information.

What’s important here?

Wehrle: The key is to avoid bombarding the client in the early phase of a project with all the options and details that such a model can offer. It’s much more important to decide, layer-by-layer, in well-prepared and well-followed-up workshops, exactly how the “digital building” can be individually structured. For each client.

What do these workshops look like? And what are the real challenges of building management?

Wehrle: They generally start with a long conversation in which we try to develop an idea of how maintenance has previously been approached. What works well and what works less well. In the end, we tend to be sitting around the table with the people from the facility management department rather than with their bosses.

We talk about what they really need in order to operate a building. All too often, they start by showing us a huge pile of files – digital or physical – that the last architect gave them at the end of the project. They tell us about having to rummage around, even when it’s just a sliding door or a smoke alarm that isn’t working. And then they tell us that, when they finally find the right company or supplier somewhere in one of these files, the relevant person has usually left the company or the information that was recorded is no longer much use.

Then we work together to identify, step-by-step, which elements are seen by which players as being important in the operation of the building. Only in this way can these be built into the model systematically and at an early stage. This process must take place during the first half of the preliminary design phase. If it happens later, then it’s like adding an extra layer to something that’s already complete – and it won’t work.

For which clients does such an operator model make sense?

Wehrle: Basically, BIM2FIM is suitable for every sector. Because every project has a fire extinguisher and a lift. And, for ATP, BIM is standard anyway. The difficulty is identifying which particular aspects are important for each client.

What are the obstacles to making BIM2FIM standard for every project?

Wehrle: First of all, we still have to create awareness. We still have to convince clients that using such models is as self-explanatory for their facility managers as using the screen of their smartphones. And many planners also still only understand BIM as a tool for the 3D modeling of buildings. And yet it’s the “I” for information that’s the most important element, the added value, of BIM. This is an intellectual challenge, a challenge that demands more understanding for the incorporation of the individual contribution into the wider whole. And this is an understanding that’s firmly anchored in the corporate values and brand of ATP architects engineers.

What developments can be expected in the area of BIM?

Wehrle: For example, the use of BIM – full-scale BIM, not just BIM as a spatial-geometrical tool – has been obligatory in public-sector tenders in Switzerland since 2021. And BIM is becoming a standard right across Europe. As soon as people become aware of all these advantages, BIM will swiftly spread across other sectors. This is an ideal situation, to which we at ATP architects engineers can contribute.

atp matthiaswehrle becker (.jpg )

ATP Partner Matthias Wehrle

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