Volume 43, Issue 4 - April 2008

A Model Approach?    
Is BIM the Next Big Thing? 
Suppliers Share their Views on Using the Technology in Part I of a Two-Part Series 

by Ellen Rogers

Just because building information modeling (BIM) hasn’t yet made its way into the contract glazing realm of construction doesn’t mean other segments of the glazing industry aren’t jumping in. 

Mike Collins is a co-founder of BIMWorld, an online product library that he, along with James Jackson, started three years ago. Collins explains that BIM is simply the transformation from 2D to 3D.“Essentially, 25 years ago it was the same thing—you went from paper details to 2D AutoCAD. Some of the primary benefits for the design community involve automating many of the tasks such as the development of construction documents, collision detection and visualization. BIM applications fundamentally enhance productivity earlier in the design process,” says Collins, who adds that there are also great benefits for suppliers.

“For suppliers, the value that BIM can bring is the transformation toward manufacturer-specific products with the data attributes embedded in the models,” says Collins. “Manufacturers are starting to realize they can provide tangible value to the design community by taking the responsibility of repurposing their technical product data so it can be used inside BIM project details.”

A growing number of building products companies, including curtainwall manufacturers, glass fabricators and component suppliers, are modeling their products and placing them in BIM libraries. This effort, they say, will help better position them for architectural specification. 

Full Speed Ahead
EFCO Corp. in Monett, Mo., has been offering BIM options since early 2006 and now has more than 400 models of various products available through the different libraries (see box on page 32). When first starting out the company worked with BIMWorld to have its different product lines modeled and published. While there are definitely upfront costs, which vary based on product details and complexity, Dave Hewitt, EFCO’s director of sales and marketing, says it was money well spent.

“It was a scenario of jumping in and taking the lead,” Hewitt says. “To me, it was no different than our ad dollars.”

Other suppliers are also getting involved. Devin Bowman, national sales manager for Technical Glass Products (TGP) in Kirkland, Wash., says his company had a firsthand experience in getting started.

“We’re in the process of building a new facility for our company and the firm with which we’re working presented us 3D drawings,” says Bowman, who explains it has taken a year for his company to become fully engaged in BIM. “Architects had been asking us about it, so last year we made the decision to really start looking into this and start moving in the BIM direction.” 

TGP also worked to have its products modeled and published, and has now modeled its full line of fire-rated glazing products, framing systems, steel curtainwall, doors and windows, as well as products such as the Pilkington Profilit channel glass.

Contract glazing firm Trainor Glass Co. has not yet ventured into using BIM for drafting and design purposes, but has had several of its custom impact curtainwall systems modeled and made available.

“We were seeing BIM becoming more prevalent and we wanted to be one of the first glazing contractors out there to utilize it for our glazing systems,” says Jerry Kern, vice president and division manager for the company’s Florida branch. “This makes our products more visible to architects who use BIM and we didn’t want to be knocked out of an opportunity just because we didn’t have something.” Arch Aluminum & Glass headquartered in Tamarac, Fla., hasn’t yet begun modeling, but is gearing up to do so.

“We see that there is an absolute need for this program,” says Max Perilstein, vice president of marketing. “We’re still in the beginning stages, but we know we have to do it.”

A Good Reason Why
Suppliers say they have found a number of benefits in having BIM models available. In addition to being at the forefront of technology, BIM gives them a strong presence before architects.

“We have additional product promotion from having these files available,” says Hewitt. “We can generate 3D designs for architects and when we bid something we know exactly what we’re bidding—there’s no longer that interpretation of architectural drawings.”

Perilstein agrees that when suppliers have all of their products available and quickly assessable for architects it will make it easier for them to be specified.

“Plus, it gives architects another design resource. It’s a whole system calculation that takes the design process to a new level,” Perilstein says.

Bowman, too, says it’s advantageous to have this presence in the architectural community.

“We believe many of the major firms are bringing on young architects who are being taught about BIM in school, and they are learning about the advantages of being able to work efficiently, so it’s good to have our products available,” says Bowman. “Another benefit is that when the BIM data is saved it’s actually embedded into the model itself. So, should there be a reason to add an extension or to makes changes, it’s very easy to replicate.”

Making it all Work
Any time a company adopts a new technology there are always some challenges and concerns. These suppliers all agree, though, that so far the addition of BIM hasn’t been too difficult.

“The biggest concern was just figuring out how to do it correctly, as there were no guidelines for doing so,” says Hewitt. “We talked to experts in different businesses who’d been around and had done more with it. It’s a matter of getting into the mainstream, and it can be difficult to know how to do that.”

Perilstein agrees.

“It’s a new technology, so understanding the applications, making sure it’s done right and following the right path are the main challenges,” he says. “As an industry we’re used to doing things the same way and new technologies scare us.”

For TGP, Bowman says it was important that they not get started too early.

“Because it is such a new technology we didn’t want to get going with it and then have everything change completely six months later,” he says. 

Another challenge, Bowman adds, is making sure the information they provide [to the BIM libraries] is conveyed correctly. “We have to make sure all the embedded data is correct and also that all of the limitations [such as with a curtainwall system] are all included,” he says.

One challenge for Trainor Glass has to do with the way the model is drawn. Kern explains that architects can still draw whatever they want—even if it’s not possible to construct. “So we still have to interact with them to make sure what they draw can actually be built; we still have to check the constructability of the project.” This is also one of the reasons they’ve not yet ventured into using BIM for their own design purposes. 

“It’s not that drawing in 3D is different from the real world, it’s that BIM does not construct the glazing system in 3D the same way as it’s constructed in the real world,” says Kern. 

Air of Uncertainty 
Just because some companies agree about the benefits of BIM, not everyone sees it in the same positive light. Terry Newcomb, director of marketing for Thermal Windows Inc. in Tulsa, Okla., isn’t yet convinced that BIM is the best way to go. “BIM seems like another attempt to wow the industry with 3D capabilities and I’ve seen it before,” says Newcomb. 

“Architects and manufacturers sign on to these technologies, and we invest time and money into developing them, then get burned because it doesn’t perform the way it’s supposed to and everyone ends up going back to 2D CAD.”

In order to adopt the technology, Newcomb says he would have to see real results that BIM products truly deliver what they promise.

“If you could prove that BIM really does produce accurate, usable shop drawings without a lot of extra effort, then it’s something I’d consider,” says Newcomb. “Unfortunately, at this time, BIM requires the creation of a CAD object for every building component, as well as a lot of computing power, disk space and bandwidth.”

But Collins says all companies who want to remain competitive will have to start using the BIM tools eventually.

“Go back 25 years and manufacturers were asking the same question: ‘How do I know that doing this [AutoCAD] will get my product specified into the building?’ It quickly became apparent that if you didn’t create CAD files then the opportunity to be specified diminished dramatically,” says Collins. 

“Eventually, building product manufacturers realized they had to develop [these] CAD files. Now, as design firms continue to adopt BIM as a core tool set they will continue to demand more manufacturer specific BIM products to be developed.”

Looking Ahead
But regardless of whether or not a company sees BIM as the right direction, experts agree, it’s here to stay. And it’s only a matter of time before more and more companies follow suit.

“Right now [in this industry] there are only a few manufacturers with products available,” says Bowman. “I think as the architects start using the tools more and more they are going to see this handful of companies and then they’ll start going to those product competitors and asking the same of them. That’s really going to start alerting everyone of this.”

Plus, Hewitt points out another advantage, “BIM allows you to build better buildings, more efficiently and at reduced costs.”

And isn’t that what everyone’s really after? 

Get “Smart” with a New Tool for Checking Code Compliance
No matter how pretty the windows, it’s not always easy to know immediately that a building design is sure to be in compliance with a given jurisdiction’s codes. Now, with the development and growth of building information modeling (BIM), the International Codes Council (ICC) and the buildingSMART alliance, a council within the National Building Sciences Institute, have developed SMARTcodes™, a program designed to automatically determine whether a project will comply with the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Through a manual code search, SMARTcodes users ask specific questions about the 2006 IECC. The program then takes them through all aspects of the code, including reference standards, commentary and code interpretations, as well as product listing directories that will take them directly to a manufacturer’s product information. According to information from the ICC, the automated compliance check takes the building plan as represented by BIM to automatically check for compliance through the use of model-checking software.

Developers of the system explain that SMARTcodes is an “interoperable” system, which means it is capable of sharing and using information from different groups. For instance, the system could help contract glaziers effectively address code-related issues prior to submitting their plans for approval.

Arlene Stewart, president of AZS Consulting Inc., a code consulting firm in Gainesville, Fla., says having a tool such as SMARTcodes is going to help bring BIM more into the construction mainstream. “Once you start interfacing the different programs you have a live way of telling how to reach the energy code,” says Stewart. “For contract glaziers, they receive a request for a certain type of glass and a certain frame and they need to know what those [energy performance] numbers are. This program will help shift that responsibility back into the hands of the architect; the person doing the design can tell immediately whether or not the design is in compliance, so it helps take the pressure off of the contract glazier.”

A demonstration and additional information about SMARTcodes is available at www.smartcodes.org

ICC plans to expand the demo with more BIM options, additional codes and federal, state and local code amendments. Future plans include expanding SMARTcodes to include the International Building, Fire, Mechanical, Plumbing and Fuel Gas Codes. Before it is released for commercial use, SMARTcodes will undergo beta testing in which users can code check their own BIM. 

DeMichele Group and McGraw-Hill Plan New Software Launch for AIA Show
An increasing number of architects are making the shift toward building information modeling (BIM). A new software tool developed jointly by the DeMichele Group, based in Mesa, Ariz., and McGraw-Hill Construction, will also be beneficial for glazing contractors who are looking to make the BIM transition.

Architect Design Studio (ADS), which will be launched next month at the AIA Show, May 15-17, in Boston, operates with Revit, Autodesk’s 3D design program. During the architectural design phase, ADS analyzes the BIM and searches for detailed information about it. It then displays the extracted information, allowing users to choose a specific manufacturer’s products to fit into the design of the building. Since there may be more than one suitable product, the program can also compare products based on price, performance, etc. 

In addition, the program can analyze the building elevations to determine whether curtainwall, for example, can stand up to the given wind loads, dead loads, etc. It can do a cost analysis of the glass, metal and labor and then write a specification, custom to the chosen products.

And what about the benefits for the glazing contractor? As part of the current process, glazing contractors typically review an architect’s paper drawings, which they then must transfer into whatever estimating program they use. “Because BIM operates within the Revit program, the contract glaziers can choose the products they want and then do a complete takeoff for estimating,” says Nathan Henning, senior level programmer with the DeMichele Group. “They no longer have to look at the paper drawings.”

Henning says the program will allow contract glaziers to be closely integrated as part of the architectural design process and within just moments they can provide the architects with an estimate thanks to the automatic takeoff. More information about the software program will be available during the AIA Show, where The DeMichele Group will be exhibiting with McGraw-Hill Construction in booth 15011.

Who’s Been BIM’d?
Want to know who’s having their products BIM’d? The following lists will give you an idea of just some of the industry companies who’ve had products modeled and made available in the online BIM libraries.

Who’s on BIMWorld?
AGC Flat Glass
Andersen Windows
EFCO, a Pella Co.
Llumar Window Films
Marvin Windows & Doors
Technical Glass Products
Trainor Glass Co.
Vista Window Film

Who’s on the Sweet’s Network?
EFCO, a Pella Co. 
Optimum Window Manufacturing Corp.
Pella Windows & Doors
Pittsburgh Corning
Solar Tracking Skylights Inc.

BIM Libraries
Want to see which other companies have had their products modeled? Check out these online libraries:

On Board the BIM Bandwagon
 …Just because contract glaziers are not yet 100-percent on board with building information modeling (BIM) doesn’t mean the industry isn’t getting ready for the technology’s full-scale arrival. In fact, the Glass Association of North America’s (GANA) Building Envelope Contractor’s (BEC) division is one group that is taking steps to prepare the industry for BIM.

“Building information modeling (BIM) is changing the way commercial construction projects are designed, specified, cost estimated, procured, managed, erected and documented. Specific to our industry, three dimensional details of fenestration systems are already becoming readily available in construction product databases and will serve as the way we provide product and system information in the future,” says Greg Carney, GANA’s technical director. “Hopefully, very well respected software tools such as WINDOW, THERM, OPTICS and COMFEN developed by the Windows and Daylighting Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), as well as future LBNL tools will play a major role in fenestration system modeling.”       

The technical committee of GANA’s BEC division currently has several projects in the works. Realizing the significance of BIM to the industry, the group is working on developing a BIM Glass Informational Bulletin. In addition, the committee is working to secure a BIM speaker at a future BEC event, though specific details have yet to be finalized. More information will be available from USGlass as well as the GANA website, www.glasswebsite.com, as it becomes available. 

Look for the May issue of USGlass for an in-depth explanation of 
BIM from Steve Jones, senior director of McGraw-Hill Construction.

Ellen Rogers is a contributing editor for USGlass magazine.

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No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.