If we’re being honest, BIM today is all over the place. Architects, engineers, contractors, sub-contractors, facilities managers and even professionals in between these disciplines all have different ideas of what BIM actually is. We can’t even agree on what “BIM” stands for. There’s “Building Information Modeling,” “Building Information Model,” “Building Information Management,” and probably several more. However, despite the existence of these different ideas and definitions by the various users who take advantage of BIM, I think the same underlying principles apply.
BIM is a process that focuses on virtually designing and constructing a building project before it is built. In fact, some people define BIM as “virtual design and construction,” or “VDC.” This is because, essentially, BIM is the process of modeling all aspects of building or infrastructure projects, which allows for planning, designing, building, and managing based on a single building information model. Today, I would define BIM as the process of assembling the information about a building or infrastructure project and sharing the data so that it can be used to construct and operate the asset.
How We Got Here
When I first started in the AEC industry almost 10 years ago, BIM was just beginning to gain popularity. While the origin of BIM can be traced back to sometime between the ‘50s to ‘90s, depending on who you ask, widespread adoption of BIM didn’t take place until around 2012. McGraw Hill Construction released a report detailing the use of BIM from 2007-2012. They stated that the industry-wide adoption of BIM in the US surged from 28% in 2007 to 71% in 2012. You can download the full report, The Business Value of BIM in North America.
Even though BIM was widely adopted by architects, engineers, and contractors, it was not a tremendous success. There were still overall inefficiencies in the industry. As my friend Josh Bone, a construction technologist and BIM/VDC expert, states in many of his presentations, BIM was oversold and under-delivered. For that reason, BIM struggled for years. Architects and engineers wanted to be paid more for ”doing BIM,” but owners didn’t see any value in it.
I believe this was primarily due to the same CAD workflows being transported over to BIM technologies. The result was still the same, but designers were spending much more time creating the same drawings. In other words, instead of creating three-dimensional models that contained real project information, design firms were using a program that its designers were not as experienced with to create the same two-dimensional drawings. For example, using Revit to create the same AutoCAD drawings.
This was not the case for every design firm, though. There were some firms that invested a significant amount of time and money to develop better workflows that produced a model that was actually useful. There were also contractors that began developing models that could be used for estimating, scheduling, and fabrication. And the good news is that these innovative companies began sharing their solutions with the rest of the industry.
Most companies that had been struggling did not give up, either. They had invested so much in BIM that they wanted to continue pushing forward. Eventually, those struggles stimulated innovation in new BIM technologies. Design firms and general contractors began developing their own digital technologies. They also pushed software developers like Autodesk to improve their BIM technologies. The result has been a continual trail blazing of BIM, and we are finally experiencing the change for the better in our industry!
BIM vs VDC
As I previously stated, BIM is all over the place today. This is likely due to numerous factors. I think that when things were looking bleak for the BIM process, some people bailed and started calling what they were doing “virtual design and construction”. Now, generally speaking, the design side refers to their process as BIM, and the construction side refers to their process as VDC. Essentially, architects and engineers use the building information modeling process to create a building information model. The contractors then take these models and further detail them out as part of the virtual design and construction process.
Ideally, the same model would be used throughout the entire process, but that is not always the case. The project delivery method often affects the overall process. For example, with the design/build method, there is much more collaboration between the design and construction disciplines than there is with the design-bid-build method. With the design-bid-build method, the design team focuses more on design intent, as opposed to actual installation. Additionally, practically all permitting processes require 2D drawings. Therefore, the design team must continue to focus on creating two-dimensional documentation.
For these reasons, there are typically separate processes for the design and construction teams. In my opinion, the principals of BIM still apply to both—they’re just called different things.
Future of BIM
The future of BIM is bright. I think that we are entering a period where the BIM technologies are catching up to some of the ideas we’ve had in the industry. We are getting better at collaborating across disciplines and improving on the “design to construction” portion of BIM.
There is still room for growth, though. JBKnowledge conducts an annual construction technology report. The survey participants are primarily general contractors and subcontractors. In the 2017 report, 28% of respondents reported that their company does not bid on projects involving BIM. Also, 25% reported that they only have one or two members trained to work on BIM projects. I share this because I believe that as BIM is implemented successfully from the design disciplines all the way to the construction trades, we will really start to see improvements as an industry.
Are you ready to start implementing BIM in your own organization? Well, first you are going to need Revit, the premier BIM program in the industry. But, you can’t simply buy a license of Revit and just start working in it instead of CAD. While this is a good start, there are several things you should consider and establish before beginning to use Revit for BIM.
First of all, realize that implementing BIM requires a change both in the overall culture and the mindset of individuals in your company. Everyone must be ready for the challenge, and relevant skills must be present. If so, a plan of action can be developed.
This implementation plan should be championed by management and driven from the top down. While everyone should play a part in developing the plan, management must be on board and completely support the initiative.
Depending on the region, BIM implementation may be different, as there are varying standards and mandates around the world. These should be considered when implementing BIM.
Once a plan has been established and BIM technologies are chosen to carry out the BIM processes, there must be standards and protocols developed for the use of those technologies.
For example, with Revit, there must be company standards for file location and management, project standards and workflows, design presentation standards, and so on.
Roles and responsibilities for members of the organization should also be defined. Team members will have varying roles in creating and adhering to these standards. Therefore, there should be a plan in place for training and learning.
As long as you have a team that is eager to take on the challenge, you are sure to both develop a plan and follow through with it, and have great success implementing BIM and transitioning to Revit.