The Lyncinerator on… Failure

Don’t get me started.  Stuck on an interminably delayed flight, I leafed through the airline magazine.  An article on a new Museum of Failure in Sweden caught my eye.  “Only in Scandinavia” I thought, cynically.  But it made interesting reading.  The curator is a psychologist and innovation researcher who got fed up with hearing people talk only about success and not the failures that lay behind it, his view is that development only comes through learning from failure.  The fact that the museum is partly funded by the Swedish governmental department that supports industrial R&D suggests that he is not the only one to think this way.   The museum demonstrates products and services that did not take off, and explains some of the reasons why.  It was a thought provoking and informative article.

This blog was written by Lynne Ceeney, Technical Director at BSRIA

I talked to some colleagues about the museum and the article, and laughingly said I would write a blog titled “BSRIA is good at failure”.   I’m sure you can imagine the raised eyebrows, and concerns that this could be misconstrued.  And in a world of short tweets and clickbait headlines this is a justified concern.  But for an industry like ours, understanding and learning from failure is really important, and maybe we don’t talk about failure enough.

In-use failure of safety critical components and elements simply should not happen.  That’s what testing and inspection are for, although we know that sadly, these are not fail-safe.  But talking about those failures is imperative.  The causes of these failures are shared openly and quickly, so that future incidents can be prevented.  Public enquiries are one route, but for less public failures, as an industry we need to look at the “no blame” culture that the aviation industry has introduced.  (More correctly perhaps, it’s a “just” culture – where people are rewarded for providing safely related failure information.  Deliberately unsafe actions or decisions are still penalised).  If this type of safety critical failure is declared and investigated, it can and should prevent future incidents.  It seems that litigation and insurance may get in the way of the necessary “no blame / just” culture, and there is a definite need for an industry-wide approach to investigate and remedy this.

But what about failures that only interrupt occupant functioning and are inconvenient?  There is a tendency to patch or fix, or to simply replace, and to move on without capturing learning.  This is one of the points where BSRIA comes into its own.  Our Problem Investigation team get to see multiple failures in different buildings, delivered and managed by different teams.  This has two consequences: (1) we are quick at spotting the cause of problems which cannot be simply identified by front line repair teams because we know where to look with our analytics, so front line teams can fix the problem efficiently, and (2) we are able to upcycle our learning into publications, guidance and training to pass preventative knowledge to the industry.  A good example of this is our work on pipework corrosion, which we have been able to investigate in some depth and include our learnings in guidance for water commissioning.  This helps optimise the performance of existing buildings, but importantly we can also influence the design of the next generation of components and buildings.  To increase our impact, we need to encourage more failures to be reported and investigated so that we can better understand trends and problems, and report back to the industry as to how to remedy them.  This too requires an industry culture that recognises the value of learning from failure.

And of course innovation doesn’t happen without failure.   There are of course degrees of failure (the Museum features frozen pizza marketed under the brand of a toothpaste company, I would have loved to have listened to the strategy meeting for that!).  Controlled failure is useful – in our test laboratories we help establish parameters for new products through testing prototypes, and then we test the end product on behalf of the manufacturer.   We move beyond labs though, and we monitor technologies in the real world, in occupied buildings, to see what happens when expert and non-expert users are let loose on equipment and to see how it performs and what doesn’t work so well.  All useful data for the next iteration of designs, products and systems.

So BSRIA is pretty good at failure – investigation, remedy and recommendation for prevention.  And the industry clearly benefits from reporting, investigating and talking about failure.  So we need to think about how we can encourage this culturally, and how to process and use what we find.

The flight, incidentally, was very delayed.  I read the whole magazine.  And I couldn’t blame the pilot, it was a weather issue.  But the failure to deliver on board food because they had sold out – well that was a failure too far, don’t get me started…

 

The Lyncinerator, September 2017.

 

 

 

Nearly there – delivering the Level 2 BIM tools. Will they be what we were expecting?

We are just a few weeks away now from the first deliverables from the Innovate UK’s competition to deliver the last two key components of UK BIM Level 2 – a digital plan of work (dPoW) and an industry-wide classification system.  The ‘soft’ launch is scheduled for the 8th April 2015 at the BIM Show Live event in Manchester, with the ‘hard’ launch planned for some time in June.

With the very short time frame for the work, the opportunities for consultation with the industry have been limited and what will be delivered will largely represent the views of NBS and the other project partners.  There has been some dialogue with a group representing a number of the institutions and institutes, but it is not clear at this point how much influence they have had.  Also, there have been a number of presentations and webinars over the last few months showing progress to date.

As you would expect, there has been a significant amount of feedback from the institutions’ body, including a CIBSE team from its BIM Group.  The CIBSE team has tried to look at how these new tools will work throughout the life of the asset, and has looked wider than just the 3D modelling aspects of the output.

Three key issues have come to light with the classification structure being prepared.  Firstly, it must be capable of classifying multi-services systems or elements.  A good example would be a multi-services co-ordination drawing.  Historically, classification systems such as Uniclass have only classified up to ‘types of systems’ – ventilation and air conditioning services and electrical power and lighting services are two such examples.  Combining services in an application is common and the new classification system needs to be able to accommodate this.

Secondly, it is important to be able to classify things other than those associated with a 3D modelling environment.  A wide variety of documents will be generated throughout the life of an asset and these all need to be classified in order to be stored and subsequently made available for reuse.   Obvious examples are reports, correspondence, drawings and specifications but could equally include EIRs.

The third aspect is the continuity of classification.  It is suggested that the Elements table would be used at the early stages of a project to describe needs – Heating would be an example.  As the project progresses and more detail develops, this might become Low Temperature Hot Water Heating Systems from the Systems table.  Although this looks sensible in theory, there must be a connection between these two tables as a cornerstone of BIM is to build on information and not throw it away and start again.  Therefore, the first part of the Elements table should match the corresponding Systems table entries to achieve this.  The alternative is that the Systems table is used throughout with subsequent pairs of characters being added to reflect the increasing level of information as the project progresses.

We have discussed these issues with NBS recently and it will be interesting to see how the new classification structure accommodates them.  Realistically, it is probably too late to see them reflected in the April or June releases, but more are planned for later in the year.  If these issues are addressed I believe that it will be a significant step towards providing a classification system that works for all those involved.

A key factor in the success of the Innovate UK project will be the way in which the outputs are disseminated.  They could be the best dPoW and classification system in the world but unless they are adequately explained they might not be adopted into common use.  The phrase ‘winning hearts and minds’ seems appropriate in this case and its importance should not be underestimated.

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