Posts about BIM in general

Catch Jeffrey at today's San Francisco Revit User's Group

Catch Jeffrey at today's San Francisco Revit User's Group, hosted by Ideate, where he'll be speaking with our good friend Doug Smith on using BIM for large-scale Burning Man projects.

Doug, a BIM manager at Woods Bagot and prior to that SOM, and Jeffrey from BecauseWeCan, have both volunteered their time and technical skills to help with building Burning Man's yearly Temples. The Temple is a non-denominational place for reflection and remembrance that is a large part of the Burning Man tradition, a big project, and a huge team effort of many people who come together to build something that will only live the duration of the event, to be burned at the end.

Here's the link for the invite for today's event in San Francisco.

If you can't make the San Francisco event, there's the same event next week in Oakland. Here's the link to the Oakland event invite.

Hope to see you there!

We're giving a talk tomorrow at the SF Dynamo User's Group

We're proud to be giving a talk tomorrow at the San Francisco Dynamo User's Group, where we'll be showing off our recent series of Nodes for Fabrication called 'BecauseWeDynamo'.

Thanks to HOK and Ideate for inviting us. The event is free, and you can register here.

Hope to see you there!

BecauseWeDynamo, a set of Fabrication Nodes for Project Dynamo and Revit

We here at Because We Can love leveraging technology and creating our own unique way of working to make great things. While we’ve developed a decent amount of in-house software to help our work over the years, I’m very excited and proud to begin sharing some of that work with you, with the initial release of “BecauseWeDynamo”.


It’s a set of custom-made Nodes for Project Dynamo focused on fabrication. You can find it in the Package Manager in Dynamo under BecauseWeDynamo and the open-source code is hosted here on GitHub.

A wonderful example of what this is all about is shown with the complex triangle walls of our recently completed Shipping Container Lounge project. The organic, flowing interior walls are made up of hundreds of unique triangles joined together to make a fluid, undulating, expressive (yet affordable!) surface.

Making something like this without some automation is almost impossible; the complexity can be hard to manage both in the design and in the building. So we used what’s called in our industry “Generative Design” where the combination of parametric 3D models and intelligent functional programming are used together to have the computer generate the design for you. You set up the rules and the smarts, and let the computer figure out the rest.

Autodesk Revit is wonderful at producing parametric models. We used it to made a special triangle object or ‘Family’ as they are called in Revit that you can flex using math into whatever size and configuration you need. You set the location of it’s three corner points, and the Family produces a flat triangle with radius tips, an offset ‘gap’ between it and the triangle next to it, and even proper placement for the joining hardware and more. This let us ‘hang’ these Adaptive Families off of 3D splined curves, making it easy to control the complex surface of the wall. Rather than model every triangle, we simply can push and pull control points on the splines, and have all the triangles model themselves.

However, just having a nice model of something is only the first 1/3rd of actually getting it built. Managing the production and assembly of hundreds of unique parts can be very daunting! This is where automation via functional programming is a huge help. We needed some way to export every triangle in a format that works with our CNC Router, and we need to label every triangle for ease of assembly. Doing it manually would take forever and is error-prone. Much better to produce a ‘script’ and let the computer automate that task for us!

Project Dynamo is a ‘functional visual scripting language’ for creating, manipulating, and automating all sorts of design data by non-programmers. Rather than write code from scratch, or call on existing libraries, and produce a stand-alone application like a software developer might, tools like Dynamo let us easily create one-off workflow solutions to automate small repetitive tasks and model impressively complex objects. It works fanatically well with Autodesk Revit, and thus was an obvious choice. Plus we really dig it, and dig the people working on it, so it was a joy to use.

Rather than write code, where the ‘flow’ of the program is abstract and non-visual, tools like Dynamo let you ‘draw’ your program. Perfect for visual designers like us! By connecting various Nodes together, you ‘wire’ together a solution for your project-specific problems, iteratively working your way through it as the code runs live and you see the immediate results.

Now, Dynamo is rather new, and it didn’t have all the Nodes we needed for this project. So we decided to create our own custom Nodes to scratch our own itches, and shared them openly for other designer-fabricators to make use of. For as we have for years now we release most of what we do under a creative-commons license.

So one thing our custom Nodes help do is parse the Revit model, label every triangle, lay them all out flat, and then export them to our CNC router for production. Every triangle is not only labeled, each edge of the triangle is labeled so you can easily figure out what edges go together. It made short work of this problem, and helped us make this wonderful and complex design efficiently and effectively.

Within BecauseWeDynamo you’ll find Nodes for part labeling, DXF exporting (with proper true curves!), mesh topology walking, edge labeling, and even our own custom old-school line-based pen-plotter style font suitable for CNC production. We’ve also got some auto-sectioning tools ala 123D Make, and are currently working on Nodes to help automate shop drawing production and development of complex surfaces. You’ll find on the GitHub site some great working examples, and we’ll be developing more samples, how-tos, and actual physical case study objects as well.

Our ongoing goal with this project is to make the fabrication of elements in Project Dynamo and Revit easier and more efficient; thus empowering all designers to be able to make great things like we do.

Come see us at Autodesk University 2011. Because we're keynote speakers!

We're very proud to announce that our own Jeffrey McGrew will be giving one of the keynote presentations at this year's Autodesk University.

With over 9,000 people attending, this is very exciting news indeed! We'll be briefly sharing the story of Because We Can and some of the work we've done. Buy a robot and change the world!

We're also giving a more formal hour long presentation on 'The Five Myths of Digital Fabrication'. We'll cover the five most common mistakes (and how to avoid them) that we see people make when they first get into making things via Digital Fabrication.

We'll also be doing a bonus talk, more informal, in The Lounge about how we made the tails for the Serpent Twins (that we made a recent Instrucable for).

We hope to see you in Vegas!

No EatFoodTalkShop this month, instead let's meet in Los Angeles!

We're going to be speaking about digital fabrication at the Revit Technology Conference later this month. So we're going to have the first-ever BWC L.A. meet-up while we're out there. We're very excited about it! If you're in the area for the conference (or the wonderful Dwell on Design show), we'd love to see / meet you.

So no June EatFoodTalkShop, instead it's a L.A. Meet-up. EatFoodTalkShop returns next month!

We'll have details posted to our blog and twitter feed later this month. We'll see you in beautiful Los Angeles! Thanks everyone!

Jeffrey McGrew wrote a chapter for Mastering Autodesk Revit Architecture 2011, which is now out!

The wonderful Mastering Autodesk Revit Architecture series is one of the standard books on Revit. Highly recommended. Put together by this crew of knowledgeable folks, it's currently available from amazon and soon as a downloadable version.

In additional to all the BIM basics, there are extra chapters on all sorts of great work being done via Revit. The one on Revit in the movie industry for set design is stunning! We got to help out on this one too, in that we wrote the extra chapter on BIM-to-CNC fabrication.

So go and grab your copy today!

Trade Show booth for Unity Technologies at GDC 2010

There is only one more day left of the 2010 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.
If you get the chance to go, check out the booth we made for Unity Technologies.
It's hard to miss them on the trade show floor, as they are front and center!

And their booth looks a little differently from everyone else's.
Instead of the hard plastic and pop-up look of the booths around it, we made them a booth with inviting wooden furniture and a dramatic feel. It's all sustainable materials too!

The main elements included:
A big big wall with Unity Logos and Flat screens

A podium

A Standing Reception Desk

A Triangular counter table for 3 iMacs

A station for 4 iphones

Two Long Counter tables for demo stations

Six cabinets with signage for their affiliates (shown here standing back to back)

Thirteen little stools

And a lounge area!

Because We Can at the Winter BIM Forum

BIMForum was amazing. We were honored to be included! The presentations were all great. It's certainly wonderful to see the newest developments out there within our industry.

As always, the steel fabrication guys are way ahead of the curve. We got to see a presentation from Chris Fischer of Schuff Steel where they talked about going from BIM models (Tekla, in this instance) to their fully automated steel shop, where huge CNC plasma machines and automated conveyer systems process massive steel beams all day long. It's just like we do, except a whole lot bigger and heavier!

We also got to hear from my old boss Ken Sanders and a fellow Gensler friend Shawn Geile with a stunning presentation on the epic towers Gensler is working on. One of which was just finished at the LA Live! Center. It was great to see that building complete, as I helped out in the early stages of it years ago when I was still at Gensler. A very complex project that could only be done via BIM, yet a complex project to do with BIM!


When it came our turn to talk we focused on our in-house process we use for fully leveraging CNC and BIM together for creative interiors. Happy to say that it went over very well and that we hope to get a video of it up soon.


Best thing about the conference was all the new friends we made. There are some amazing people out there doing simply incredible things. Specialty contractors making mountains for Disney, civil engineerings using automated robotic grading machines, huge contractors coordinating whole skyscrapers, to programmers developing totally new ways of collaborating together: across the board, everyone we met was up to something mind-blowing and awesome.

We're sad that our schedule won't allow us to make the next one in June. But we certainly hope to go again soon!

To the so-called 'new industrial revolution' boosters and its critics...

So with all the talk recently both in favor of and the rather cynical counter-take on the 'new industrial revolution' I figure that it might be good for someone who's personally involved to share their thoughts as well. Take it for what you will, for this is just my view, but so far most of what I've seen written about it hasn't come from anyone directly involved with it.

So then who am I to talk about it? Well, a few years ago my wife and I bought a CNC routing table without much idea for what to do with it beyond making cool stuff. As a matter of fact, it's the very first blog post on this blog. We'd never even used a CNC machine before, actually never even seen one before in person. But we figured that we could figure it out, and with help from others online and the company we bought it from we got it running. We started making stuff for ourselves. Then friends. Then friend's friends. It blossomed into a business. Pretty soon we quit our day jobs, and now we're even hiring people. We were the first ones to bring a CNC router to Maker Faire. Hell, my wife and business co-founder's picture was on the poster for the first two years of Maker faire. So we're smack in the middle of this 'movement' I think.

Everyone seems to be having a hard time figuring out exactly what to call what we're doing. We've had this problem too. In fact, I have yet to hear anything that really nails it. But this guy comes close with the thought of calling it 'punk manufacturing'.

Let's take a brief look at punk rock then. OK, so just before punk, let's say the mid 70's, to be in a great rock band you'd need to be either a big rock star or a talented virtuoso (or both). Get signed by a big label and all that. Rock music was mostly about big production, big ideas, big marketing, and 15 minute guitar solos.

But then along comes punk. Suddenly, anyone with passion and good ideas can have a great band. Get rich? Probably not. But at least have a chance to be something more than whatever they were before. Have some great stories. Maybe even make enough money to just play music and not have to work some crap job.

And for most that was enough. I mean, heck, leisure for half the people on this planet is a full stomach, so getting to play music for a living, even if it's a lower middle class living, sounds like a hell of a deal to me. Sure, by the second or third wave you had punk bands like Green Day making a killing, and all that big media stuff getting back into it, but even those Green Day guys were starving teenage punks at one point, just playing music because they loved it, and riding that for as long as they could.

So now we've got the 'Makers Movement'. The new industrial revolution. But honestly, it's just a bunch of folks that via new possibilities can do what they have always wanted to do: make stuff. I think that both extremes of the Wired article and Gizmodo's response totally miss the fundamental point: it's really about freedom. Freedom for those of us who have only wanted to make things, to be able to do so, and make enough of a living that we can spend all our time doing what we love.

The sad reality that I have seen today is that anyone interested in making things goes to school for many years with the hope of being able to make fantastic things. Then they graduate, only to work on soul depraving things for years on end. Either pushing lines around in a CAD program drawing bathrooms, or designing headlights to purposely break in around five years. Only after working for a very long time, or playing well at political games, or becoming an academic to support themselves, or being really, really lucky, only then do they even have a chance of being in a leadership role; deciding what's getting made. I know many disheartened engineers, architects, and industrial designers. Once in the real world, they've found that no matter how good their ideas are, or how much passion they have, or how hard they work, it simply doesn't matter. Until they fight their way to the top they aren't going to be doing much other than making someone else's ideas real.

We all went into this wanting to make stuff, and came out not making much of anything.

So along comes cheap hardware, cheap CNC machines, and the Internet. Suddenly, we can all make stuff. All the stuff we've always wanted. And, hopefully, we can find lots of people to make it for. People who love it. Heck, maybe we can even keep our day jobs, and make stuff on the side. Or we can start our own business 100% and see if our ideas will really fly. We can make the stuff that our friends will love. We can make the stuff that we love. It opens up vast new areas. Just like with punk rock, all it takes is an instrument and an idea and you're on your way. Are you going to be a rock star? Get rich? Probably not, but who cares about all that corny self-centered stuff when you're having this much fun simply doing it?

So will it change the world? You know what, us Makers really don't care. We're having too much fun doing what we love. We're free to simply follow whatever idea we've got as far as we can. If you think for a second I'm not going to ride that for all I can, when all I've ever wanted to do in my life is make great things, then you've got a strange idea of how people work.

Honestly, I wonder if the cynical counter-response is partially from someone who's bitter at being stuck at a desk job. What's wrong with a bunch of new small business sprouting up all over America? Small business built this country, small business are the backbone of this country, and frankly, big business have little interest in a lot of local issues. Small businesses are all about local issues. If this movement launches a slew of new small businesses, I think it will indeed have an impact on our world, every bit as much as the Internet has.

The Gizmodo article does raise one very valid point: not everyone is going to be part of this thing. Which is fine, really. Everyone having access to guitars didn't make us all punk rockers. Everyone having access to a computer didn't turn us all into programmers. Everyone having access to a worldwide publishing system didn't make us all interesting bloggers. So everyone having access to manufacturing capability isn't going to make everyone suddenly a professional Maker. And that's OK.

Let's look at it this way: I'm now a small business owner, making a middle-class life for myself, and starting to employ others. While over the last three years the world famous Architecture firm I used to work for has laid off almost half it's staff. Working for a big company is no more stable than what we're doing, and heck, what we're doing seems to be working pretty well so far. It's certainly a lot more fun. I'm adding a lot more value to the overall GDP and my local community now then I was when I was working for that big firm. I'm creating real value, here, in my backyard. And while I loved working at that big firm, and running our own thing is terribly stressful at times, man, I wouldn't go back unless I had absolutely no other choice.

In other words life isn't just about profit, nor is that the only meter one should measure a business with. I feel both Wired and Gizmodo missed the point here: it's about freedom and happiness, plain and simple.

See us at the AGC's BIMForum Conference in Phoenix, AZ later this week

We're honored to be included in this year's BIMForum conference in Phoenix, AZ! We'll be giving a talk about BIM-to-CNC fabrication on Thursday afternoon, January 14th, at 3:15 pm. We'll be focusing a lot on our in-house process we use to go from BIM to Digital Fabrication. We'll also be talking about the big changes that have been recently happening in that space. With a few fun things to show off, we've got high hopes that it will be a great talk!

In the past, CNC machines were used to solve one of two problems: either you needed to make a whole lot of something quickly, or you needed to make something that wasn't easy to make by hand. CNC machines were all about high production rates. And they had to be, for they were ungodly expensive, and the software and know-how even moreso. But now with CNC machines getting cheap enough, and the knowledge widespread enough, so that anyone can use them for almost anything they can think of, well, it really changes the whole game. And that's exactly what were going to be talking all about!

The BIMForum conference is held twice a year by the Associated General Contractors of America, an industry group akin to the AIA or AIGA but for builders. With a focus on emerging technology and it's use in the building industry, BIMForum looks to be wonderful conference of AGC people. People who are really making changes and making things work. So many of these technology-focused building industry talks can wander into the tall reeds of theory. So we're rather interested in talking to a bunch of people who are more about the day-to-day realities of getting things built! We're really looking forward to meeting everyone.

Hope to see you there!


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