As we approach the second decade of the 21st Century it might be time to adjust our industry's cliches and adages. With the advancement of Building Information Modeling, better known as BIM, the construction industry will simply revisit the "smart board" instead of going "back to the drawing board."

Before Computer Aided Design (CAD) hit the market, contractors relied on the accuracy of the design team’s blue prints.  The old pin-bar mylar gave way to two-dimensional CAD drawings and our current three-dimensional system of coordination. The construction industry is now ready for the next technological evolution of BIM. 


Existing 3D modeling capabilities have already made an impact on the building industry. With today’s technology, owners and facility managers can see their building in operation even before construction begins. Current modeling software includes clash detection, ensuring 100% accuracy for all 3D models. Increased accuracy results in increased shop production and field installation efficiencies. Including 3D modeling with subcontractor input during pre-construction and the design phase reduces scope gaps and resulting field change orders, ultimately saving time and money. As technology advances, 3D models will evolve into 5D tools integrating project cost and scheduling.  This innovation and creativity is enticing a new generation of bright, talented young professionals into the construction trades. While three-dimensional modeling has already proven its value, five-dimensional models will maximize the value of BIM and transform our industry.

True Building Information Modeling produces a functioning building with intelligence. Using programs such as Revit, Bentley Architecture and NavisWorks, a building can be brought to life with 3D models of all architectural, structural, as well as mechanical and electrical components.  Facility managers can access the model and determine exactly how much energy the rooftop air handling unit produces.  A simple click of the mouse within the BIM model will not only show the building’s intricate mechanical systems, but also display all equipment specifications, energy usage and optimal energy efficiency. The model could be capable of recognizing changes when they are applied to the building and determine exactly how those changes affect its surrounding systems. 

This information is the “I” in BIM, but the industry’s readiness to fully utilize this technology is still in flux. For example, a project team must coordinate within the same software in order to enable BIM’s intelligence. While it may seem like an elementary concept, universal coordination software that facilitates BIM for the entire project team does not yet exist.  While an architect and engineer may draw in Revit to design and display their building, MEP contractors are using incompatible coordination software such as CADMech or CAD Duct. These complete drafting/modeling applications are linked to production shops but lose the “I” in BIM when exported to object-based programs such as Revit. The result is a parallel effort in which the engineer is designing in Revit and the MEP subcontractor is coordinating separately. This compromises true BIM delivery leading to inefficiencies and loosely defined expectations within the industry.


The question remains, if technology is not yet up to speed, how can firms continue to promote their BIM capabilities?  Many firms that broadcast their proficiencies in BIM are simply operating under an incomplete understanding of their capabilities. Realistic 3D models built using clash detection can certainly assist in preconstruction, but cannot be classified as true BIM.  Moving forward, the next step lies with software engineers as they develop platforms for complete interoperability between 3rd party software and BIM programs. There are however, companies that have implemented practices that maximize the capability of existing technology and are headed towards true Building Information Modeling. These firms that are presently making the necessary financial commitments in both technology and talent will be well positioned for the future successful integration of BIM platforms.

Currently, an owner can leverage the most from BIM by engaging BIM-oriented construction firms in the early stages of preconstruction. As modeling processes mature, project teams that share the most information across all disciplines will be poised for the greatest cost and time savings.  Integrated BIM models supporting time and financial data will provide owners with an unlimited array of benefits. The high-performing contractors of today are embracing tomorrow’s technologies