Research Nation: A Visit to Finland, Part3
The massive Finnish R&D efforts for information and communication technologies (ICT) in construction, design and real estate that we've explored in the last two issues might be interesting academic exercises of merely local interest, but for one key ingredient: the Finns practice what they preach. Companies in every corner of the Finnish real estate cluster actively commercialize and market the results of national systems and software R&D projects—both for domestic consumption and for export. What is it like to run an entire country with the innovative spirit and entrepreneurial drive of a Silicon Valley startup? (albeit with the managerial wisdom and deep pockets of a national enterprise). Nervous competitors plying their own AEC and FM technology wares in other parts of the globe may have good reason to wonder.
Few design firms anywhere in the world have been as aggressive in their deployment of ICT for competitive advantage as Finland's building services design and consulting leaders, Olof Granlund Oy. Founded in 1960, the firm now employs nearly 300 people, with four offices in Finland and one in nearby Talinn, Estonia. Roughly 75% of the firm's business is in building services engineering (HVAC, automation systems and so on), with the remainder split 2:1 between the interrelated areas of facilities consulting and design/facilities software development. Granlund employs 20 full-time software developers and offers its software in eleven countries across northern Europe (all of Scandinavia, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary and so on).
Like many engineering firms its age, Granlund followed the 1970s boom in building energy performance consulting and then was caught up in the 1980s reversal of the earlier energy crises. Along with much of Finland's economy, especially its construction sector, Granlund was hit hard in the 1990s by the aftermath of the Soviet Union/USSR's political and economic collapse. Where the USSR had once been the biggest customer for Finnish construction companies, the pendulum has swung so far that many observers now say the greatest economic disparity across any international border is that between the have-not Russians and the reinvigorated Finns.
On founder Olof Granlund's retirement in 1988 a new generation of engineers—including current Managing Director Reijo Hanninen—took ownership and leadership of the firm. Since 1991 Hanninen has focused on the dream of integrated design and construction as part of the total building lifecycle—with Granlund contributing value at every step along the way. The reunification of Germany afforded some opportunities for facility consulting and energy design work, as did Finland's homegrown support for knowledge-transferring partnerships between private industrial companies and universities or research institutes—efforts largely funded by Tekes, Finland's national technology agency (see also Part 1 of this series in Issue10).
But the real breakthrough came in 1995 with Finland's entry into the European Union (EU) and the coincidentally timed launch of the International Alliance for Interoperability (IAI). With the support of Tekes and in collaboration with Lawrence Berkeley Labs (LBNL) in the USA, Granlund helped launch the Nordic Chapter of IAI in March 1996.
Granlund's focus on interoperability as a foundation for building performance simulation (rather than as a mere CAD-file format converter) has shaped the firm's software efforts. In building simulation, a data-rich 3-D model is the starting point (rather than being the end itself, as is the case with more limited views of building information modeling). In the rare instances that a project architect delivers the design to Granlund as an intelligent 3-D model, the firm works with that input. Otherwise, Granlund creates a model in its own Space Modeler by Olof Granlund (SMOG) software built on AutoCAD (Granlund is a member of ADN, the Autodesk Developers' Network).
Availability of 3-D models is improving: with Graphisoft's Plan2Model for converting 2-D drawings to intelligent 3-D; an IFC model model server developed at research institute VTT (see also Part 2 of this series in Issue11); and some under-publicized work in Germany by Eberhard Michaelis and others on an IFC2.x version of Autodesk Architectural Desktop (ADT—a product for which Autodesk's strategistas profess to see no need for IFC compliance in the USA-market).
Regardless of the source of the 3-D model, Granlund runs the model's building envelope data through it's own RIUSKA whole building energy simulation software (RIUSKA incorporates LBNL's DOE-2 energy simulation engine). RIUSKA carries the analysis from whole building energy through to HVAC unit sizing, and can export its results back to the building model.
All of Granlund's design, analysis and simulation tools are IFC compliant (that is, they are certified implementations of IAI Industry Foundation Classes as a means of sharing building model data). Building team participants, such as project managers, who may not have one of Granlund's design tools can nevertheless view any analysis results—such as zones, space details, heat loss by space and the like—in an IFC file via a simple viewing tool called GraView. For design tasks such as product selection, duct sizing, pipe sizing and so on, Granlund keeps the data in the IFC family by relying on MagiCAD, a building mechanical add-on to AutoCAD 2002 that was developed by Progman Oy, a 20-person software company on the western coast of Finland. Unlike Autodesk Building Mechanical (ABM), the HVAC "flavor" of the Autodesk's Architectural Desktop (ADT) family, MagiCAD can open and operate on IFC files. After performing typical system design tasks, all HVAC and plumbing parts in MagiCAD can be saved back to the IFC file.
In 2001, Granlund started developing its own IFC middleware for moving analytic data to and from IFC-compliant design and analysis programs. Building Services Pro, or BSPro, a COM server for IFC files, is Granlund's tool for moving IFC model data into applications such as its own RIUSKA package, and is also widely used within the IAI/IFC modeling community—at sites such as LBNL, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and , and leading universities such as Georgia Tech.
Granlund does comparable work with its own software tools for lighting design, simulation and luminaire selection (VIVA) and an extensive suite of facility maintenance, operations, data management and energy management tools (RYHTI) for building owner/managers.
These ICT development efforts have paid off handsomely for Granlund by helping the firm gain long-term competitive advantage and international recognition. For example, the firm has more than doubled in size since launching its vision of integrated design and construction. Granlund's share of the Finnish building services design market has expanded to the 25% to 30% range, and its market share of design services exported to other countries hovers near 50%. Besides the marketing benefits, Managing Director Hanninen believes the firm's investment in technology leadership supports more comprehensive analyses on each project and better quality client service. Further, he attributes Granlund's adaptability to change to a top-down commitment and all-inclusive approach to innovation. That spirit makes the Granlund success story a microcosm of the Finnish success story—and a competitive challenge to larger companies and countries around the globe.