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Implementing BIM to Your Office

10/07/2008 by Dennis Neeley


There are stages within the implementation process of BIM, these stages, with much less drama, are a repeat of the transition from hand drawing to CAD. Although there is less drama, there is more complexity within the process.

In the mid 80’s very few architects, engineers or building product manufacturers had heard of CAD. The initial response to CAD was that it was not natural, created ugly drawings, and was expensive. On the other hand, CAD was more accurate, faster, and most importantly created easily revisable and certainly more sharable drawings. After design professionals got over the shock of spending $5,000 per workstation for hardware and software, and another $10,000-15,000 for a plotter, CAD started its path to domination. During the early stages of CAD, the learning curve was not very difficult for two fundamental reasons. CAD could not do very much, so there was not a lot to learn, and in the case of AutoCAD we created AutoCAD AEC Architectural application that automated CAD for the architectural professions which “covered up” most of the complexity with automated routines.

Now let’s fast forward to today.

I suspect you could put all the principals from all the firms not using CAD in the US in a small auditorium. CAD is used by many (if not all) professions in the AEC community. Architects, engineers, contractors and building product manufacturer all use CAD. CAD has become very sophisticated, powerful and very complicated. I now look at the commands and the functionality of CAD and find it very intimidating. Fortunately, those entering the professions are taught CAD early and those entering the profession know that they need this knowledge to find a job; we have a large workforce of CAD experts. Firms have spent substantial amounts of money on CAD software, training, and hardware. They also have systems in place, standards for production of CAD drawings and predrawn details. They may have automated notes, schedules and even the extraction of data for automating their specifications. CAD is a “well oiled machine” with an available and well trained workforce.

Along comes BIM.

BIM is different. You must learn a new software system, and unlike early CAD it is not simple, all the sophistication of current day CAD has to be offered with BIM for it to competitive with CAD. You can certainly think you have mastered BIM in a few hours as you sit looking at the little building you created with walls, doors, windows and a slopped roof. Over the next couple of days as you struggle to understand footings, ceilings, finding the objects you really want to insert, discovering that light fixtures do not go into a roof, and then start opening all those dialog boxes. Then finally trying to create a stair with railings it becomes clear that this is complicated stuff.

So, how and why do you make the transition from CAD to BIM, simple because it is the future and it is better. The transition has different challenges depending upon the size of the office.

Offices fall into three fundamental sizes, 1) under 10 people, 2) under 200’ish, 3) more that 200 and multiple offices. The decision to implement and the process for implementation is different for each of these “offices”.

For the small firm it is the principal(s) deciding to look into BIM, and having their dealer, a friend or an employee that knows BIM give them a demo. After some thought, if they believe BIM is the future, they look into the costs and the disruption that bringing a new software product into their office will cause and decide to move forward. Because they have hardware and plotters, the transition to BIM is much less traumatic than the conversion from hand drawing to CAD. They are now used to spending money on hardware and software. There are good tutorials and most dealers offer training, there are also many books and even video training. The disciplines learned to make CAD work in the office are transferred to making BIM work in the office. Most of the projects are of short duration so they can finish old projects with CAD and start the new ones on BIM.

For the medium size office the process is not much different, except it is a bit more complicated. The projects are usually bigger so the transition from CAD to BIM will take longer as some current CAD projects may go on for months or years, this means that two systems will be in place for many months. More people allows for more complications, here are a lists of questions to think about:

  • Where are the objects that are created for projects located?
  • Who sets the object modeling standards?
  • Who is in charge of extracting data?
  • How is the data associated with the objects?
  • Who sets the graphic standards for BIM?
  • What about your structural, mechanical, electrical, landscape consultants, are they using BIM and what does that mean?
  • Do you use consultants for training or do you find an existing employee and have them become the office expert?
  • Can you find trained BIM employees to get you going, will other offices hire away your trained employees after you have spent the money training them?

You need a plan for implementation, list all the challenges, talk to your dealer and others that have made the transition to make sure you understand that all the ramifications of this move, and then make the move.

Large offices have a real challenge, but they have systems and dedicated people in place to control this type of event. BIM most likely came into one of their offices a few years ago when an employee starting looking into its capabilities, decided it was the future and starting showing it to others. Eventually it was shown to the one responsible for technology across all the offices and he/she started to do research. A small group was most likely formed to study BIM and how it fits into the future. In the mean time a couple of offices started BIM projects and the results were impressive, so more of the offices started BIM projects. It is at this point that the office is either on a path to greatness or disaster. If each project and office is allowed to set their own standards and create their own objects, they are on the road to wasting a lot of money. If the office recognizes early that this transition needs to be a coordinated effort and that they need company wide standards, rules for creating and managing objects (both graphics and more importantly data), set up training, have a plan for transitioning from CAD to BIM, and embark on modifying their “best practices” to BIM they will be successful. Even if they do all this, the large firm must deal with consultants and their adoption of BIM. They will most likely work with multiple vendor’s software, so all the concerns are multiplied. Also, we currently see consolidation of firms, so when firm “A” buys firm “B” there is a tremendous challenge to bring consistency to their technology.

I talk to firms every week and the current state in the transition from CAD to BIM spans the range from “looking into it” to “we are 100% BIM”. I am seeing that this transition is happening 3 times faster than the transition from hand drawing to CAD. This accelerated speed is being caused by several forces.

BIM is Better

  • Design and documentation time (when compared to CAD and creating 2D contract documents) is faster. (see below, I predict spending more time modeling in the future)
  • Less errors and omissions
  • Better coordination between consultants
  • Better visualization
  • BIM has Untapped Power

  • Automated QTO and costing
  • Automated analysis
  • Faster “what ifs” turn around, better design and better decisions
  • BIM will Lead to Tremendous and Positive Changes

  • Design fees will substantially increase, the models will be highly detailed and estimating, construction and operations costs will substantially decrease.
  • Analysis will be a real time event during design resulting in lower construction costs and most importantly substantial reductions in energy costs through out the life of the project.
  • Building product manufactures will see what is being specified years in advance, will be able to provide assistance when needed early in the design process and will be able to plan for production that will match demand.
  • Every office is in a transition period right now. The transition may be at the macro scale trying to decide on BIM or the expansion of BIM within the office. For those that already have BIM, the transition deals with standards, object creation and management and increasing efficiency. This is a time of education. Schools are just starting to teach BIM, offices are teaching their employees BIM, principals are teaching the owners about the logic of spending more on modeling and saving 10 to 20 times that amount in reduced bidding and construction costs. Global warming experts are finally realizing that it is buildings, and not just cars that are causing the environmental problems we face today.

    BIM has arrived at the right time, the sooner you master it - the better.

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