Only a few years ago, building information modeling was considered an emerging technology, but today it is rapidly taking a prominent place in the toolboxes of Texas designers and contractors.

A growing number of owners and contractors now expect BIM to be used on projects, and they’re pushing other team members to embrace it. In light of the recession, some BIM experts see this as a critical period when firms can gain an edge with the technology or lose pace with the competition.

“If you’re not working in BIM today, you’re behind the curve,” says Cameron Curtis, manager of business development, community affairs and BIM at Turner Construction, Dallas.

Turner has been pushing to use BIM on virtually every job for nearly three years. Although the firm can find benefits using the technology on its own, Curtis says the company has been focused on getting other team members involved as well.

“With our subcontractors, we pretty much mandate it on jobs now,” Curtis says. “We’re looking for subs that are actively using it in-house versus going through third parties because there is more collaboration,” Curtis adds. “We find that their pricing tends to be better because they’ve learned the efficiencies of working in 3D.”

Curtis says that Turner has seen the trend spread among team members on the design side as well. As a result, Turner is often able to establish early in a project what data will be put into the model that it can use later, such as quantities.

Although the economy may be affecting many firms, Curtis says the downturn is a time to build BIM proficiency.

“The bad economy has slowed people down a bit,” he says. “Everyone had been running at 1,000 miles per hour, trying to do as much work as they could with the time they had. Now they have more time to catch up. That’s the biggest thing I’ve seen happen [to BIM adoption] in the last year.”

Among its major recent jobs, Turner is using BIM at the $135-million Deloitte University & Social Venue project in Westlake, Texas. Linbeck, meanwhile, is using BIM on the Cook Children�s Expansion. The project, which broke ground in October and will complete in April, uses BIM for MEP coordination among trade contractors.

BIM is also tied to the schedule, allowing the team to visualize the overall construction sequence, including foundations, main structure, exterior envelope and sitework.

Turner plans to use BIM for some of the interior scheduling.

Turner is among an expanding field of firms that is adopting BIM. Twenty-nine of the 55 top project starts featured by Texas Construction [ June, 2010] are using BIM on at least some portion of the job. In many cases, multiple team members on a project are using BIM and sharing data among themselves.

Houston-based Linbeck is using BIM on several projects and plans to implement it on all projects within the next 12 to 18 months, says South Cole, the firm’s BIM manager. Cole says the company is trying to be “as flexible and organic” as possible with its BIM adoption, keeping in mind the needs of owners and abilities of its team members.

“We have a lot of different client needs and subcontractors with a range of abilities,” he says. “We realized quickly that we could get in trouble if we said we needed to do every project this way or that way.”

Still, Linbeck is working with trade contractors to help bring them up to speed on the technology.

“For trades that are interested in innovating but maybe don’t have the means to or the knowhow, this is a good time for them because they can partner with someone like Linbeck or another general contractor to help them take that step,” Cole says. “We see the need for a community of integration and we’ll do what we can to help that process.”

Linbeck recently completed Texas Christian University’s new $7.5-million, 15,000-sq-ft Mary Wright Admissions Center in Fort Worth using BIM to help coordinate the complex MEP layout and design. The project will seek LEED–silver certification. Trade contractors provided models in BIM that helped coordinate the complex, Cole says. “There were no field conflicts and zero changes associated with the model,” he says. Hahnfeld Hoffer Stanford of Fort Worth served at the architect of record.

Although BIM has been touted by advocates as bringing tangible benefits to projects, those claims are being put to the test during the recession. Two-thirds of BIM users say they see positive return on their investment in BIM, according to McGraw-Hill Construction’s 2009 SmartMarket Report, “The Business Value of BIM.” Additionally, 93% of users reported that they expected the BIM to gain more value in the coming years.

Cole says Linbeck is taking a measured approach to using BIM.