An Interview with Derek Cheung, Manager, Building Information Management & Strategic Sourcing, Mattamy Homes
CanBIM: Today we have Derek Cheung, Manager of Building Information Management and Strategic Sourcing at Mattamy Homes Canada, here with us to discuss Mattamy’s journey into BIM.
Derek, for those of us unfamiliar, would you please start by telling us a bit about the company?
Derek: Thank you for having me!
And as far as background, absolutely – over the past 41 years, Mattamy Homes has built itself into the largest private homebuilder in North America. The level of continuous production that we accomplish, at more than 4000 homes each year in Canada, is a record that we are proud of and that we continue to try to beat.
At Mattamy, there is a natural inclination to try new and novel approaches to improve, particularly in ways of elevating value through increasing speed and quality while reducing cost. Between the additional level of control afforded, the increase in ease of coordination and accessibility to information, the integration of BIM technologies into our process is certainly a natural choice for us.
CanBIM: What is Mattamy’s philosophy in approaching BIM?
Derek: To talk philosophy, it is important to first understand Mattamy’s role in a typical project. Mattamy starts from acquiring and developing a given piece of land, all the way through to building and selling the homes in the communities we develop. We then measure our success against delivering The Best Homeowner Experience (our Mission Statement!).
The value from utilizing BIM at Mattamy spans design, construction and ownership – an atypical perspective, as stakeholders usually only capture value with BIM as a tool for one of those areas. It is also worth stating that BIM to Mattamy stands for “Building Information Management” instead of “Modeling” and is a technology-enabled process to be implemented, NOT a singular new piece of modeling software to be installed.
The priority for the Mattamy BIM Program is to establish a process that generates transparent data. We strive to create digital assets that are trusted and accessible “single sources of truth” for internal and external stakeholders alike, in order to extract positive outcomes through collaboration at a level never before experienced in homebuilding.
Properly executed, the new, digitally integrated process stands to improve the way we design, coordinate, analyze, contract and construct our homes. In the long run, this allows Mattamy to futureproof our operations as a production homebuilder.
CanBIM: Any particular strategy on how to bring forth the changes mentioned in the above philosophy?
Derek: Mattamy has been putting our energy into bridging our existing 2D-based process into using BIM technology, to enhance productivity and support business needs in the near term. We focused on providing step changes to our current process using BIM-enhanced deliverables to allow augmentation and adjustment, instead of pushing a revolutionary new approach in one fell swoop such as a full 3D operating environment.
This intertwines technology delivery with process excellence, and we believe that for any process change to be widely adopted, existing knowledge and experience (and by extension our people, who have this knowledge and experience) need to be tapped for implementation.
To that end, we focused on working with our people to identify what the current process is, where it could be improved through better collaboration, and how to facilitate the communication that may have never previously occurred. Working on pilot projects across Mattamy divisions in Canada, we honed in on enhancing a few targeted outputs only, to allow time for refinement and to foster company-wide sense of ownership in developing the new process.
CanBIM: What were these target outputs and were they well-received?
Derek: The idea of implementing BIM at Mattamy stemmed from an internal discussion about matching CAD standards between different deliverables. So naturally, the first target was to ensure equivalence in information and stylistic elements across intended output documents. As this is a core competency of BIM, we were quickly able to produce working drawings, pre-planned options drawings and marketing brochures with this level of desired equivalence.
What happened next was what our BIM technology consultant, BIMstudio, dubbed the “ripple effect”. At that point in our BIM process development, a properly modeled home was already created in digital space with embedded component data – material types and categories, physical dimensions, etc. From there, it isn’t a big stretch to do more. Why wouldn’t we extract quantity data so that Estimators can save time from doing repetitive quantity takeoffs manually? Or create a material usage comparison between the same model with different elevations, to compare and contrast the effect of architectural design on material use? For that matter, why not create enhanced working drawings, so Builders have clear and concise information tailored for each lot, with critical data broken down by trade needs (for example, cutsheets for lumber framing and concrete forming respectively)?
We took these thoughts and focused on defining critical deliverables, with determining criteria being those most pertinently supporting three functions:
So far, BIM outputs in our pilot projects have been very well-received by stakeholders, with the strongest feedback received being “we need more”.
This was intentional.
BIM-enhanced deliverables give a taste of what is possible without becoming overbearing for meeting Mattamy’s 4000+ unit production schedule. Going forward, we will further refine deliverables, begin to augment some processes with more direct use of BIM technology, and bring the program forward to all divisions in the company, focusing on iterative, continual improvements.
CanBIM: Tell me about some of the challenges you’ve encountered up to this point.
Derek: Part of the challenge was the nature of low-rise homebuilding being uncharted territory for conventional BIM processes.
Understanding that construction management using 3D technology had trickled down from heavy industrial and ICI construction, the common theme in conventional BIM work practice involves a lot of trades and services that need to work on a singular physical building. This type of BIM process services a highly complex product with relatively low variability in optional changes. For the sake of this discussion, we shall dub this “Buildings BIM”.
In stark contrast, while the design of any individual low-rise home is far lower in complexity than that of a typical building. This actually creates the illusion of simplicity for BIM execution in this type of project, which is simply not true. In fact, low-rise residential contends with high variability due to the need to construct a variety of models, with dozens of purchasers’ options, scattered across many lot conditions within even the same site that may change the exterior and sometimes structural characteristics of the house. Multiply that by a couple hundred houses in a community, and you can see that the challenge of handling low-rise in BIM is much larger than initially meets the eye.
Simply put, low-rise residential requires a different scale of vision than buildings.
The above realization led to the conclusion that a low-rise specific Information Management process needed to be established (let’s call it “Low-Rise BIM”), given that no reference process is readily available in the industry to suit the type of project management required.
While the blank canvass in carving out a unique BIM process is a blessing in some ways, it is also the root cause to the two major challenges we currently face.
The first is the difficulty in determining capable suppliers. BIM-readiness is NOT a given with suppliers in the low-rise homebuilding space. Sometimes suppliers will tout themselves as being “BIM-ready” – and this may very well be true from a Buildings BIM knowledge perspective, where they are ready to handle technology deployment catering to building complexity. However, this “readiness” is unlikely to serve as an ideal starting point for the variability of Low-Rise BIM, if the given supplier fails to adjust their scale of vision. This adds a layer of difficulty to both supplier selection and the determination of an appropriate level of supplier involvement through the collaborative process.
The second is internal latency due to a lack of comparability. While you may expect higher data accuracy through BIM technology to be welcomed with open arms, it has been counterintuitively unappealing at the outset per reviews with internal teams. This is because our current process is designed to absorb inaccuracies caused by high variability in low-rise products. The lack of comparable proofs of concept (Buildings BIM projects are not apples-to-apples) makes the comparison between the degree of improvement possible through Low-Rise BIM versus the additional effort to implement difficult to digest. This resulted in more initial hesitation on embracing BIM than the team had expected.
Having said the above, the BIM Program at Mattamy has been backed with strong technical knowledge from our consultant, and a good understanding of what improvements to push for within our internal processes. The lessons learnt from our initial phase of pilot projects have allowed us to progress quite far in resolving these challenges.
CanBIM: What does the next phase of Mattamy BIM look like?
Derek: Our next phase will be to implement a full-scale, start-to-finish Low-Rise BIM project using all the lessons learnt and development done in our BIM pilots to impact more product types. So far, our pilot projects have been focused on single detached products only. In the near future, Mattamy will be evolving our Low-Rise BIM approach to suit low-rise attached products, and also commence our very first Buildings BIM project (a mid-rise development).
In addition, with the streamlining of design information through BIM, there is now higher clarity to how we design and build our products against associated costs, square footage, land use and other data which we never would have previously had at our fingertips. Without giving away too much, this progression lends itself handy to using big data analytics and artificial intelligence to drive continuous improvement, in areas such as supply chain management, building science, sustainability and lean production. So please stay tuned for updates!
CanBIM: Sounds exciting. We look forward to hearing more when the time comes and reporting this to the rest of the BIM community.