Despite all the buzz around building information modeling, it is really a reintroduction of traditional practices, with technology added. Throughout the history of architecture, scale models have been valuable tools. Before beginning construction, great architects such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Wright all built mock-ups to uncover potential design issues and check constructability.

That’s what BIM is all about.

Our company began using BIM architecturally in 2003 and started using BIM for our MEP work in 2006. By 2007, we made the commitment to produce all of our major projects using BIM. To date, we’ve invested in excess of seven figures in software and training to get where we are. It’s been worth it, because extensive BIM infrastructure saves clients field complications that invariably delay the construction schedule and increase the budget.

All Models Are Not Equal Although most design teams now provide clients with a 3-D, computer-generated model, along with a standard set of CAD drawings, most are renderings and not true BIM. A true BIM deliverable provides a database of building design and system information. From this central database, different views of the information are generated. Because the resulting construction documents are derived from the same database, they are continuously coordinated and updated. That includes not only graphics and drawings, but hard data such as, materials, and building system information. Data included can be exported to other traditional construction management software to generate and coordinate schedules and cost estimates, and develop phasing information. With the exportable data, we can further refine the model to illustrate lay-down and phasing information determining the best scenario for each particular site and building activity. Construction professionals then review the model and visualize complex areas before any activity starts.


In a true BIM system, you can display a building’s HVAC system, zoom in and click on a particular component, for example, an air-separator. You should be able to display detailed specifications, such as the air-separator’s serial number and purchase date. When a BIM model contains that level of detailed data, you have a powerful tool from design to construction to facilities management.

Identify Collisions Before They Cause Issues in the Field Here’s an example of how BIM can dramatically reduce construction cost overruns. KAI was providing BIM services for a large hospital project already under construction. When we integrated the MEP, HVAC and fire protection drawings into our BIM model, we detected a potential collision between the electrical cable raceways and the HVAC. We met with the owner, the designer and the affected contractors to review the 3-D BIM model and work out the best solution for co-locating the raceways and the HVAC. The three-hour meeting saved thousands of dollars in change orders and weeks of potential construction delays.

In addition to collision detection, BIM enables the cost-saving power of reusability. For example, for our health-care portfolio, we developed standard hospital room types in our BIM system that we continuously adapt for standard components, such as wall and bathroom designs. That allows us to build quickly and keep costs competitive. BIM also makes more off-site fabrication possible.

In another case, we provided BIM services for an 11-story, 540,000-sq-ft research center. That provided a unique opportunity to analyze BIM value, as a nearly identical building had been built on the campus without BIM technology. Our analysis showed that using BIM resulted in a 50% reduction in coordination RFIs, a reduction of more than 50% in coordination-related change orders and a construction schedule shortened by six months.

BIM’s benefits for general contractors include higher quality work completed on a faster schedule, better design visualization, ability to clarify and control scope of work, more detailed scheduling and phasing, more accurate estimates and quantity takeoffs, improved spatial coordination and, of course, better collision detection.

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Darren James, AIA, is president & COO of KAI Texas LC, a design/build firm headquartered in Dallas with an office in Fort Worth. He can be reached at 214-742-0400 or