Building Information Modeling (BIM) is big news, and for good reason. A close second to �sustainability,� it�s difficult to navigate the waters of the AEC industry without colliding with the BIM revolution. However, lurking just below the surface, there are some issues that need to be negotiated before your BIM ship sails into the sunset of profitability.
Advantages of model-based design and analysis have been well-documented. Element connectivity, material takeoffs, scheduling, clash detection, and photo-realistic visualizations, just to name a few. Beyond the capabilities built into the software, the model can be increasingly leveraged for use in external applications such as structural analysis, HVAC loads, energy usage, and LEED ratings. This technology allows for a progressive and efficient approach from project conception to completion by way of a digital prototype. With these capabilities, even the most traditional AEC firms are lining up for a closer look.
Invariably though, some initial issues need to be overcome to successfully implement the technology. Two common difficulties encountered when considering BIM are the applicability of the technology within a firm’s area of expertise and the required training effort. Without a doubt, watching a demonstration by a competent operator is impressive. Floors, walls, and windows, generated with the click of a mouse, simultaneously appearing in plans, sections, and in 3D. Dimensions and tags, automatically updating as elements are moved and changed. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment where unprecedented efficiency meets reality.
The first issue that comes to light can be ambiguous in nature. For those of us not designing new stadiums or skyscrapers, it’s difficult to come by examples of more “everyday” design work. I hear quite often, “I’m sure this is great on large, complicated projects, but I think the benefits would be lost on smaller projects.” This reaction is completely understandable given the way BIM has largely been depicted. The question becomes, how does a firm effectively decide if BIM is right for its specific needs?
The second issue becomes apparent after the decision has been made to proceed into this strange and exciting new world. To be clear, BIM is not an updated version of AutoCAD. BIM is to AutoCAD what a backhoe is to a pickaxe… you can use either to dig a hole; the backhoe just does it far more efficiently. BIM is a completely new way of working. Installing and learning the software is easier than the cultural transition that is necessary thereafter; effectively meaning the issue lies with the users themselves. BIM requires users to think and operate in a more integrated fashion. Expecting an entire CAD-based culture to broadly accept and understand this is somewhat unrealistic, especially in larger firms.
Although there don’t’ seem to be hard solutions to these issues, my experience as a ‘BIM Manager’ has afforded me some insight into successfully overcoming them. When considering whether BIM is applicable to your company’s areas of expertise, it’s helpful to know that the technology is geared toward productivity, exclusive of project size or type. In other words, BIM is applicable to virtually all types of buildings and structures. From design to fabrication, and through construction, engineers, architects and contractors are increasingly using BIM on all size projects because the “old way of doing it” simply can’t match the efficiency now achievable. However, because BIM is effectively a database, each project requires specific attention to content and details. The ability to create, catalog, use, and share content is a crucial component in molding the software to fit the firm. Particular attention should be taken during the training phase to determine how content will be created, stored, and used within a company.
With regards to a successful implementation, starting small is key. Identifying a ‘BIM leader’ with the right aptitude and attitude is a crucial aspect. Furthermore, selecting a relatively small pilot team to learn and use the technology will make the transition more effective. Every effort should be made to train concurrently with a pilot project so learned skills can be applied immediately. This staged approach will minimize short-term productivity losses while fostering growth toward your long-term solution.
There is little doubt that BIM is industry-changing technology. Most experts agree that the CAD-to-BIM revolution will be even more significant than the paper-to-CAD shift. Understanding how to deal with some of the issues prior to encountering them will hopefully make the process easier to navigate, and keep your ‘BIM ship’ on course for success.