Firm Profile: LHBAECbytes Profile (January 15, 2015)

LHB, a multi-disciplinary engineering, architecture, and planning firm headquartered in the Midwestern United States, shares its perspective on AEC technology in this Firm Profile.

What is the history and background of the firm?

LHB began as a structural engineering firm in Duluth, MN and was incorporated in Minnesota in 1966. Since then, LHB has added other disciplines: civil engineering, architecture, landscape architecture and planning, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, interior design, land survey, Performance MetricsTM, and historical preservation. With a staff of 250, its headquarters continue to reside in Duluth, and it has offices in Minneapolis, MN, and Superior, WI.

What is the firm's current focus? What are the key projects it is working on?

LHB specializes in public works, pipeline, industrial, housing, healthcare, government, education, and commercial design. A key focus of the firm is measurable performance. To this end, it has developed and trademarked a tool called Performance MetricsTM, which measures actual energy consumption of completed projects. The data that is collected is used to validate design intent with actual results and guide design decisions on new projects.

A few key current projects include:

  • Cascade Meadow Wetlands & Environmental Science Center in Rochester, MN (Figure 1)

  • Veterans Administration Ward 3 in Minneapolis, MN

  • Enbridge Integrity Dig 4 Way Survey Sweeps throughout the US

  • Wayzata Bay Center Redevelopment in Wayzata, MN (Figure 2)

Figure 1. Exterior and Interior views of the Cascade Meadow Wetlands & Environmental Science Center in Rochester, MN.

Figure 2. Preliminary design of the Wayzata Bay Center Redevelopment in Wayzata, MN.

When did the firm start using AEC technology, and how is it being used today? How important is AEC technology to the firm?

Constantly driven by a desire to provide additional value and deliver more accurate and better coordinated designs, LHB started using AutoCAD 25 years ago, and then AutoCAD Architecture, AutoCAD MEP and Land Desktop approximately 18 years ago. Today, all new projects are started and completed in Revit and Civil 3D with rare exceptions. Staff experience, industry trends, and being a longtime Autodesk customer helped pave the path LHB is currently on. Additionally, many of the firm’s clients require 3D software proficiency and the general feeling is that its commitment to technology and sustainable design helps to attract and retain quality staff as well.

LHB has a dedicated BIM Manager in addition to a 4-person Technology Department.  The firm was an early user of Revit MEP (Figure 3), and it developed the Electrical Productivity Pack for Revit MEP, which is now being used by electrical engineers and contractors across the United States.

Figure 3. LHB is an extensive user of the electrical engineering capabilities of Revit MEP, for which is developed the Electrical Productivity Pack.

Does the firm have a specific approach and/or philosophy to AEC technology? If so, what is it?

LHB tries to maximize its investment in AEC technology by providing training to staff and streamlining the software it uses.  Having a professional in-house trainer allows the firm to seek out the right person when filling new positions, and train that person as needed rather than hire based on knowledge of a specific program. Its trainer has presented on BIM internationally and has written several books on the subject.

LHB uses a number of external tools to analyze and better document its projects. For example, lighting analysis is done using ElumTools within Revit (Figure 4), and energy modeling is performed with Trane’s TRACE HVAC design-and-analysis software using an exported gbXML file. LHB has also used Sefaira, Fuzor, Tetra 4D’s 3D PDF creator, and Autodesk Showcase. Since implementing Revit, it has found a lot more options for analysis and presentation (Figure 5). Many of these tools were either not available or required the creation of a separate model back when the norm was to primarily create disconnected 2D drawings.

Figure 4. The use of ElumTools within Revit for daylighting analysis.

Figure 5. Renderings of the model of the Cascade Meadow Wetlands & Environmental Science Center shown in Figure 1.

What are some of the main challenges the firm faces in its implementation of AEC technology?

Most of the challenges lie in the limitations of software. For example, the first few releases of Revit MEP did not allow the electrical designer to create code compliant panelboard schedules. Today, we still cannot model accurate voltage drop calculations or easily create a sloped wall. It can be difficult to get staff buy in when the software has significant limitations. Another challenge is to be with client standards which essentially prohibit the use of LHB’s preferred software—for example one recent project required Bentley BIM (for a building project) and another Microstation (for a civil project), where translation was either not possible or literally prohibited by the client.  

How does the firm see AEC technology evolving in the future?

Eventually, everything will be in the cloud—software and data. This will all be accessible from anywhere, on any device. We are starting to see this with Autodesk A360 Collaboration for Revit and Autodesk’s recent public Revit beta program based on Citrix, plus Software as a Service (SaaS) and also third party services such as Advance 2000 and Panzura. LHB hosts its own cloud service to allow external partners to work directly in its Revit models for optimal collaboration. 

If the firm had a wish list for AEC technology, what would it be?

Ideally, the software updates would be more progressive and address limitations voiced by the users. There needs to be a balance between forward looking features and tackling the limitations in day-to-day documentation and workflow issues.

Any additional information/observations/insights on AEC technology implementation that the firm would like to share?

Like many others, LHB is excited to be leading the way on multiple fronts in the AEC industry: Building Information Modeling (BIM), performance based design, and Performance MetricsTM. This is evident by its new Minneapolis office which is currently seeking LEED Commercial Interiors (CI) Platinum certification for their new office space. This new office is also home to the US Green Building Council’s Minnesota chapter (USGBC-MN) through LHB sponsorship.

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