In its many studies on the benefits of building information modeling in construction, Dodge Data & Analytics has consistently demonstrated that larger companies are more likely to use BIM and to benefit from it than smaller ones. Therefore, in the latest BIM study—where we examined BIM success factors and modeling—responses were limited to general contractors, construction managers and trade contractors with $50 million or more in annual construction value. That’s because we wanted to hear from firms with the most BIM experience.

This approach minimizes the likelihood of widely different responses due to company size and allows us to see the differences in BIM use among GCs, CMs and trade contractors. The study also examined factors that support the successful implementation of BIM and the overall prevalence of construction modeling as well as how firms are responding to other changing jobsite technology demands. Here are some highlights.

Modeling by Trade Contractors

The study defines BIM use as working with models produced by others as well as authoring models in-house.  About half of all contractors in the study report a highly intensive use of BIM in either of those ways, employing it on 50% or more of their projects. While GCs and CMs tend to use BIM a bit more frequently (55% and 56%, respectively) than trade contractors do (41%), that difference is not considered significant for this analysis because among larger trade contractors a high use of BIM is relatively common.

Although many trade contractors most often are downstream recipients of models produced by others, those trades that do create their own models report great value from them as a result. But trade firms as a whole do not author in-house models as frequently as GCs or CMs do.

The study shows that most general contractors believe structural fabricators and mechanical contractors are creating their own BIM models. Sixty-eight percent of GCs report seeing models done by structural fabricators, 69% by HVAC contractors and 64% by mechanical contractors. The GCs report seeing significantly fewer BIM models among building envelope contractors (34%), electrical contractors (32%) and interior contractors (20%).

However, the data also suggests that GCs are likely to underestimate how much construction modeling is being done on projects, compared with the level of modeling activity reported by trade contractors. The most statistically significant difference seen is in the 14% of GCs who see modeling for crew locations and workforce planning occurring on their projects, versus the 57% of trade contractors who say these modeling activities are occurring on their projects.

This is important because the study shows that most GCs say that use of BIM models by trades adds significant value to a project. More than 90% of GCs who report seeing frequent modeling by mechanical contractors think it adds a high or very high value, and 88% believe the same of structural fabricators. And it is notable—even though less widely seen—that more than 60% of respondents place a high value on the use of BIM models by building envelope, electrical and interior contractors.

BIM Benefits, Successes

The study also measured several impacts of BIM use across a group that included architects, engineers and contractors. Seventy percent of those firms reported at least a 5% decrease in requests for information during construction, indicating that BIM produces better construction documents. Around half also saw at least a 5% reduction in material waste, schedules and final construction costs. Among all respondents, contractors were the most likely to say that BIM reduces construction costs by at least 5%. 

Differences emerge between responses about impacts from trade contractors versus general contractors and construction managers. A high percentage of GCs (77%) and CMs (80%) see at least a 5% decrease in RFIs, but only 58% of trade contractors report that much of a reduction in RFIs.

On the other hand, a higher percentage of trade contractors (43%) report at least a 5% reduction in reportable safety incidents from BIM use than do GCs (26%) or CMs (25%). For the most part, the responses for many of the other BIM benefits, such as faster schedules and final cost reductions, are equivalent to the overall findings of the study.

It is a positive sign that trade contractors see the most notable reduction in the form of reportable safety incidents, given their roles on a jobsite. The combination of more trade contractors using BIM and better BIM tools to address safety may be a bigger benefit of BIM use in the future.

The study also looked at the use of and value placed on drivers behind positive outcomes. GCs, CMs and trade contractors each selected the following top three drivers for successful use of BIM: BIM standards, design modeling and planning.

Respondents were also asked to rate the frequency and value of owners as drivers of BIM use. Trade contractors report a much higher frequency of experiencing owner BIM advocacy (31%) than do GCs (15%) and a higher use of owner standards and guidelines (30%) than GCs (15%) or CMs (12%).

Since the question drew only from a subset of GCs, CMs and trade contractors, the base for evaluation is pretty small. However, even so, 82% of the trade contractors who have experienced owner BIM advocacy with any frequency say that advocacy is important, compared with only 37% of GCs. CMs fall in the middle, at 63% of firms that consider owner advocacy of BIM valuable.

This may suggest that GCs already see enough value in BIM to be driven by market and internal factors, but that trade contractors and CMs still need some encouragement from the client.

Other Technology Trends

Contractors say that BIM is just one part of their larger technology strategy, with the goal of improving information flow among project team members and between the jobsite and the office. The survey asked GCs, CMs and trade contractors about how that level of information mobility has improved in the last two years. The percentage of those who saw significant improvements falls within the narrow range of 39% to 44%.

All three players experience similar benefits from improved information mobility. Top benefits include improved collaboration, reduction of unanticipated problems and fewer paper documents. However, the second-highest percentage of trade contractors—far more than other players—also reports improved productivity. This may be an example of new technologies improving information exchange.

Trade contractors also see the greatest opportunities for improving information mobility, topping GCs and CMs for all functions that could enhance access to information on site. Not surprisingly, CMs are less interested in these potential improvements.

The study shows that trade contractors are an important—and often underestimated—group of users of BIM and technology. They also stand to benefit the most as virtual technologies continue to improve. They are in a position to see great benefits from BIM in improving jobsite safety—an area lagging in the industry as a whole.

Given the widespread recognition of the importance of BIM modeling by the trades, a greater understanding of their activities and more collaboration with them is essential for expanding the benefits of BIM.