Will BIM become mandatory on projects soon?


  • Contractors who make an effort to understand BIM also begin to see how it could become an important new source of potential business.
  • Large percentages of contractors report using BIM and getting a good return on the investment.
  • As you expand BIM to include scheduling and costs, you tap into ever-higher levels of project control.

When building information modeling, a.k.a. BIM, arrives at one of your projects, you’re in for a steep learning curve. Many small contractors are simply trying to ignore it, chasing projects that use good, old-fashioned paper. Others claim BIM will never be ready for prime time simply because of construction’s entrenched legalities and delivery methods. Still, BIM continues racking up numbers, with governments and owners demanding it more and more often.

Before you get caught behind the BIM eight ball, improve your understanding with this ultimate BIM primer.

What is BIM exactly?

BIM uses 3D computer images of a construction project to improve efficiency and collaboration. You can use desktop and mobile BIM apps to view and interact with the models, giving you a very clear idea of how to put things together. You can also quickly see clashes among all the building components. The greater value of BIM for contractors, however, is in aspects of project management. Those include less rework, fewer document errors, and reduced construction times.

There has been a lot of consolidation in the BIM software vendor landscape, resulting in seven major players in the North American market. Although many BIM software offerings are proprietary, most vendors encourage interoperability by supporting open source models like those in the Industry Foundation Classes format.

You might hear people talk about 3D, 4D, 5D and 6D BIM. Think of each type as increasingly data rich.

If you’d like to experience some aspects of BIM, try the free version of BIMx. After installing it, you can select models to view from the Graphisoft website. Once you open them in BIMx, you can walk through, take measurements, and select aspects of the build to see their technical details. Use the ESC key to bring up menu options.

You might hear people talk about 3D, 4D, 5D and 6D BIM. Think of each type as increasingly data rich. When you use 3D BIM, you are working with graphical and non-graphical design information. When you go to 4D BIM, you incorporate scheduling, whereas 5D includes cost and 6D adds life-cycle information for managing the structure through its lifetime.

At its full use, BIM becomes an all-inclusive process for building and managing a structure with all data and information included in a 3D visual model. As project participants do their work, they add and modify the data to reflect the most up-to-date information.

What’s its adoption trajectory?

In recent years, BIM adoption has grown, according to a McGraw Hill study. Firms using BIM point to a significant return on investment—74 percent of contractors using BIM said they get a positive ROI. In 2014, 21 percent of BIM adopters were using BIM for between 31 percent and 60 percent of their projects, while 58 percent were using BIM for over 60 percent of their projects.

Even though contractors with small-to-medium sized businesses are not adopting BIM as heavily as those with higher revenues, their adoption numbers remain impressive. Forty-nine percent of small business contractors in 2012 had adopted, while 76 percent of small to medium contractors had.

When it comes to selecting project team members, 28 percent of BIM users require others on the team to use BIM. In contrast, less than one in five says BIM does not influence their team member selections.

When it comes to selecting project team members, 28 percent of BIM users require others on the team to use BIM. Click To Tweet

Wider adoption has its challenges. It requires people to change the way they do things, and people tend to resist change. Budget is frequently cited as a barrier since it costs money to get the right tools and to train people. When working with BIM, a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous, leading to instances where people don’t follow established standards.

The final hurdle is lack of relevance. Small to medium sized businesses often don’t think there’s enough value in BIM for use on small projects. Many think BIM is only for complex builds.

Why use it?

Contractors who use BIM see a business use case that’s bigger than better project delivery. Over half say they see it as a new business line, and nearly the same percentage says it helps them maintain repeat business. In effect, once you are schooled in it, BIM becomes a point of differentiation.

At the project level, contractors can share the model with other stakeholders to help clearly convey the build intentions, methods, and materials. The model can include not just the typical information found in a 2D paper drawing, but also information about each material and fixture. If a plumber wants to know all the technical details about the bathroom faucet, it’s a matter of clicking on the item to view a pop-up box.

You could click on a portion of the build to see when it’s scheduled, who’s involved, and a wealth of other information.

This gets even more immersive when you add scheduling and costs. You could click on a portion of the build to see when it’s scheduled, who’s involved, and a wealth of other information related to resources, sequencing, safety, and contingencies. When you add cost information you could click on a building’s feature to see the estimated cost, cost to-date, total cost, lifetime costs, and repair and replace costs. Once you add a payment processing method, you see requests for payment, release of payments, receipts and other accounting data for all levels of the project.

The concept of the drawing having all the data is a pretty simple one and one that makes logical sense. However, BIM is a big change from how construction is usually done. At its best, BIM requires transparency and more collaborative delivery methods than just design-bid-build.

If the construction industry moves away from the entrenched adversarial business model to one that empowers collaboration, BIM will find its best fit. If, and when that happens, the BIM adoption rate will expand even more quickly.

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