MBI combining 3-D and gaming software to create unique customer experience

On top of a hill at the end of a nondescript street off Weisgarber Road in West Knoxville is the headquarters of a company where entrepreneurially-minded individuals are applying innovation to the use of software technology.

The company is Michael Brady Inc. (MBI), ranked in the top 250 architectural and engineering companies in the nation. It has combined traditional three dimensional software with the technology that drives computer games to create a unique set of tools for his modelers and its customers.

In a recent interview with teknovation.biz, three MBI staff members explained the evolution of the company’s capabilities while also admitting that there is much more potential to be realized. Those interviewed were Larry Stephens, Director of Marketing and Public Relations; Marvin Titlow, Chief Information Officer; and Jeremy Nichols, BIM Manager.

Titlow, who leads a 12-person team that is part of a larger 75-person, four-location firm, said that MBI made the decision to invest in 3-D technology for Building Information Modeling (BIM) in 2006. Since then, the company has embraced opportunity after opportunity to become a leader in the use of Autodesk® Revit® Architecture building design software to improve the company’s efficiency as well as enhancing the customer’s experience. Titlow regularly speaks at workshops on the topic and has even written a manual for Autodesk.

“We’re in the top 15 percent (of companies) using this (Revit) to the extent that MBI is,” Titlow said. He added that only about 40 percent of the architectural and engineering firms nationwide use BIM 3-D systems. The others are still using CAD.

“When you use a system like this (Revit), you can convey much more in a 3-D format than you can with traditional CAD systems,” he said. “We could do live design.”

To illustrate the point, the MBI team displayed on an LED screen a traditional one dimension visual that individuals typically associate with architectural drawings. Then, through the magic of software and a cursor, they quickly converted to three dimensions, literally “raising the walls” of the building.

“We use 3-D modeling to give customers the true vision of what they will own,” Titlow explained. As a result, changes to the design, such as moving a door or adding windows, can be done in real time, and the customer can determine if that is what is wanted.

“It does not totally limit but comes close to eliminating the reaction, ‘that’s not what I expected,’” he added.

Titlow and Nichols showed how MBI’s system was used to design Connor Concept’s new restaurant in Huntsville, AL – showing the initial model, a subsequent rendering and an actual photograph of the completed facility.

MBI’s software strategy is “not about Revit alone,” Titlow said. “It’s about all of the software” that MBI uses and integrates. “It’s a productivity tool” for us.”

Revit is a database, so it can be used in a variety of other ways including producing mechanical, electrical and structural drawings and budget estimates.

While saying that “we’re scraping the surface of all that we can do with Revit,” Titlow quickly cited additional ways that MBI has developed software applications to serve its customers and grow its markets.

One area is a service to provide BIM construction modeling services and virtual coordination for contractors when MBI might not have done the initial design. Another is a way to use iPads in the field with customers that Titlow said has “added 20 percent to our productivity.” A third is MBI’s “Virtual Information Modeling and Management Solutions” (VIMMS) tool that Nichols developed along the lines of gaming software.

“We look at it (the customer project) as we do 3-D modeling, and we take it to a new level” with VIMMS, Titlow said.

To explain VIMMS, Titlow and Nichols showed an example with the new Blount Community Church which is raising funds to build a new facility while meeting in a temporary location. Prospective donors and members can take a virtual tour of the entire building or only parts that they want to see. (NOTE: To experience the VIMMS tool, readers can go to: http://www.blountchurch.org/ingodwetrust/?page_id=260.

The manner in which MBI has embraced all of these software solutions has changed the types of individuals who are hired. “If we had followed the Revit manual, we would not have modelers, only designers,” Titlow said.

In the end, it’s all about responding to customers, Stephens said. He cited a recent project where MBI’s investment in technology allowed the complete design of a new 225,000 square foot high school in Rhea County and modifications to the existing facility so it could be used as a middle school.

“We did this in eight weeks,” he said, emphasizing the increased efficiency and productivity that were possible.

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