Volume 46, Issue 4 - May 2011


Putting the “I” in BIM
And How to Make that “I” Mean “We”
by Stan Gibbons

How many among us know the true meaning of building information modeling (BIM)? Sure, it’s popular to sling around these initials. But, without the missing ingredient, this tool cannot live up to its potential. And that ingredient is interoperability.

BIM covers geometry, spatial relationships, light analysis, geographic information, quantities and properties of building components (for example, manufacturers’ details). BIM can be used to demonstrate the entire building life cycle, including the processes of construction and facility operation. Quantities and shared properties of materials can be extracted easily. Scopes of work can be isolated and defined. Systems, assemblies and sequences can be shown in a relative scale with the entire facility.

The advent of BIM, dating back to the 1970s, was to change forever the way of construction as we know it. For the advantages to be realized, the concepts underlying this approach must be understood—and embraced—by all involved. If anyone in the loop is left out, for lack of access to the tools or an inability to perceive the benefits, BIM comes up short.

We All Have to Play Nice
The “I” in BIM is the fulcrum. To properly leverage the information in the model it must be useful for all trades. From the craftsman on the floor cutting a piece of material to the person installing that piece, the model must show the way. But is it possible to achieve this usability across trades?

Architects and general contractors in many cases are specifying that all sub-trades use Autodesk’s Revit design software to drive and facilitate the BIM process. But does the electrical contractor rely on the same equipment as a glazing contractor? Of course not. Then why should the construction industry assume—or expect—that all trades will work with identical software?

This lack of interoperability is the primary breakdown in this process—the missing ingredient. Not allowing the subcontractors to contribute using the software preferred within their professions reduces efficiencies and adds an additional layer of cost to the project—with little return on investment. A major premise of the BIM concept is to reduce cost overruns in the field, RFIs, change orders and other problems. This is tough to achieve when manufacturers and glazing contractors are not able to work with their own software.

The Missing Ingredient
The answer lies in “open standards” for file formats. How can we achieve open standards across such a disparate collection of trades and professions? By using management software such as Autodesk’s NavisWorks. This software suite allows many different types of 3D modeling formats to collaborate and includes tools for collision detection. Subcontractors in their respective fields can view the overall model, discuss the issues and create solutions in minutes.

Allowing trades to use their own software for modeling will go a long way to promote and accelerate the incorporation of BIM in the construction industry. All sides can collaborate and share in a successful outcome for the project—owners, architects, general contractors and subcontractors. Two years ago I sat in on a BIM presentation in which the entire audience was architects. At the conclusion I mingled a bit and when I mentioned that our company produces drawings for the glazing industry, no one expressed interest. None seemed curious about how the new collaboration process works at the sub-trade levels. Fast forward to today and the mindset is changing. Subcontractor and manufacturer adoption of modeling software is essential to success of a BIM project.

In my opinion, all sectors desperately now want to participate and grasp that BIM is inevitable. With today’s tight budgets and the uncertainty of requirements on BIM specifications for projects, it is easy to see why the hesitation to commit—and invest—is so strong. Think VHS vs. Betamax or DVD vs. Blu-ray. Still, open standards will accelerate acceptance and begin the swing to virtual design construction (VDC).

As an end-user of digital prototyping, I personally experienced the shift in thinking. The much higher levels of assured accuracy over what was on paper became a powerful motivator. I believe the advances realized by moving from pencil and paper on a drafting board to 2D CAD will be dwarfed by dramatic advances in efficiency open standards will achieve. Bill of materials, FEA stress and thermal analysis, integration with 3D cam software for CNC machines—just to name a few of the benefits—will all be available from a single source model.

Has my journey been expensive? Yes. Has it been worth it? Yes. Digital prototyping can be integrated into an existing organization with relative ease. Getting the software is the easy part. Managing the software is where most give up the fight and shelve it. I hear people say, “There’s no support” and “The software doesn’t work for our industry.” I know it works because I’m using it. BIM is prime for a domestic future, so don’t give up and allow this process to leave our shores.

Stan Gibbons is the president of Entelechy Corp., a full-service consulting, modeling and drafting firm serving the glazing industry. Mr. Gibbons’ opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.

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