Seven Pitfalls to Avoid as You Transition to 3D Modeling

10 Jul, 2013 By: Robert Green

You've heard plenty about what to do when moving from 2D CAD to 3D and building information modeling. Now it's time to learn what not to do.

The transition from 2D CAD to 3D modeling and BIM (building information modeling) continues to change how we do business — and vexes CAD managers as it does so. But you already knew that. Whether you're implementing 3D systems in the form of BIM for architecture, mechanical design/simulation for physical systems, or 3D topology design in civil/GIS environments, you've no doubt heard many suggestions about how to make the transition.

In this edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'm going to put a new twist on 3D/BIM implementation by telling you what not to do. By sharing the mistakes I've seen made time and time again, I hope to spare you the pain of repeating them. Interested? Here goes.

Do Not Believe the Sales Pitch

If you read all the marketing materials for 3D software systems, you'd conclude that 3D/BIM software is so simple to use that no training is required at all. Buzzwords such as intuitive and easy abound in the literature, and it's easy to see why senior management staffs often fall for those claims.

I don't care what any marketing person says — you're radically changing the tools people use and the way they work, so going from 2D to 3D is not going to be intuitive, easy, or simple. In my experience the entire process is counterintuitive (as you unlearn the old software), difficult (change always is), and complex (because many standard work procedures have to change).

Rule of thumb: Use sales literature as a way to start the 3D/BIM conversation, but always question marketing claims.

Do Not Buy the 'Everybody Else Is Doing It' Argument

I remember completing my first 3D design and analysis project on SDRC Ideas software back in 1986, when AutoCAD was in its infancy. At that time, vendors in the 3D CAD industry (SDRC, Intergraph, ComputerVision, CALMA, etc.) said we'd all be using 3D software by 1995. Now it is 18 years after 1995 — and we're still not all using 3D. In fact, my surveys indicate that 40–45% of all CAD work today is done in 2D!

If 3D were that easy to adopt and use, we'd all be doing 100% 3D work every day. While some firms have made the leap to a totally 3D/BIM environment, most haven't. And of those companies that have attemped to switch over, many are struggling with the transition.

Rule of thumb: Your company should move to 3D methods only when it makes sense for you — not because of peer pressure or hype.

Do Not Underestimate the Time Required

If you heed my advice to question marketing claims, then you have to conclude that transitioning to BIM/3D isn't that simple. Therefore, you should take great pains to not underestimate the task or the time commitment. Over the years, as I've implemented all sorts of 3D software, I've found the following to be true:

  • Transitions from 2D to 3D/BIM are measured in years, not weeks.
  • Users are always more resistant to change than you expect.
  • Production pressures always take precedence over learning new software.
  • Any economic downturn will slow the rate of 3D adoption.

It seems that every time you get rolling on your 3D/BIM implementation, some factor in your workplace changes and the result is a slowdown/redirection of resources allocated to 3D implementation.

Rule of thumb: Figure out how long you think the transition will take, then multiply by at least 2, if not 3, to get a realistic time frame.


Do Not Forget the Hardware Updates

Modern software tools require modern hardware: It's a fact that's often overlooked. Many times, in small architects' offices, I find the users are still running a dual-core Dell 8200 with 32-bit Windows XP. This machine can't even run AutoCAD very well, but these professionals actually expect to create BIM models on it! I know that many of you have good hardware and network systems and can't believe the situation I'm describing but, trust me, it is out there.

Three-dimensional models are just plain bigger than 2D — they require more memory, a 64-bit operating system, bigger hard drives, and faster network transport. Modern software tools running on a six-year-old computer better suited to be a boat anchor won't run well, if at all; it's a waste of everyone's time.

Rule of thumb: If your company won't commit to modernizing hardware, you might as well forget about transitioning from 2D to 3D/BIM.

Do Not Expect That Everyone Will Like It

Believe me, they won't! My experience has shown that a portion of your staff will love working in 3D, most will accept it (with varying rates of speed), and some will simply hate it. It is this last group that is most troublesome.

My strategy has always been to prove the naysayers wrong by bringing along the early adopters first, then holding them up as an example. A sample conversation goes like this:

Naysayer: "I really hate using BIM; I was faster on AutoCAD."
CAD Manager: "Everybody was faster on AutoCAD until they learned how to use our BIM tools correctly."

Naysayer: "BIM just doesn't work. It is too hard to use, and I can't complete projects with it."
CAD Manager: "That's strange, because the other 15 people in the department are able to get their work done on BIM."

This leads me to my next point ...

Do Not Train Everybody at Once

In order to make the arguments above, you'll need to break your users into several training groups. Always start by training your ace users — those who are most willing to learn — so they can conduct your first 3D projects. After training the first wave, train the remaining teachable users, and save the naysayers for last. This way, you'll be able to confront the naysayers with concrete evidence.

Rule of thumb: Train your best and brightest first, and get them to work on projects right away; then keep going until you've trained everybody who is willing to learn. If this takes years, so be it.

Do Not Assume Senior Management Understands

Every warning I've articulated in this article must be communicated to your senior management staffs. It is imperative that you not be held to unrealistic expectations, timelines, or budgets because management believes inflated claims of how easy 3D/BIM will be.

Rule of thumb: Only you can communicate to senior management. Do so — or face the consequences.

Wrapping Up

It's hard enough to navigate through the process of implementing BIM/3D systems even when you plan everything perfectly, but it is almost impossible if you make unforced errors. By following my advice about what not to do, you'll steer clear of needless mistakes and reach 3D nirvana far sooner.

What mistakes have you made in your 3D implementations that you'd counsel your fellow CAD managers to avoid? Let me know, so I can share them! Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

Add comment

Note: Comments are moderated and will appear live after approval by the site moderator.


Re: Seven Pitfalls to Avoid as You Transition to 3D Mo...
by: CobraCommander
July 10, 2013 - 1:57pm
Critiques & Comments: IDK if you were a Grumpy Gus today or just dealing with Resellers From Hell but in all my BIM dealings I have never been pitched anything that is truly erroneous. I think if someone reads this with zero prior BIM research you may be instilling an epic level of skepticism. Time Required is also quite specific to a company's circumstances although your root point is solid. When you say Transitions are measured in years, some people might jump the gun and believe ROI is measured in years which is not universally true. As an Wide-Achieving Technologist (IT Guy) I appreciate the Hardware note. I strongly recommend that people benchmark a few options before deploying dozens of $6000 workstations that may only improve bottom line performance 5% over a $1500 desktop (ask my friend who made a $250,000 mistake how that ends up). The training hierachy comments are appreciated: never thought of it that way. Senior Mgmt... in my limited (compared to you) experience that's Pitfall #1 - coupled with a lack of executive awareness and knowledge that BIM does not necessitate the figurative group orgy (pardon moi) the naysayers assume... there are arguable degrees of BIM. Understand a handful of options regarding BIM, decide what degrees you're willing/unwilling to do and get with the program before assumptions destroy relationships with clients (because they'll make their own erroneous assumptions). Regardless, thanks Robert: you are one of the only CAD Management resources I value.
Re: Seven Pitfalls to Avoid as You Transition to 3D Mo...
by: Longplay
July 10, 2013 - 1:59pm
Another pitfall to avoid is thinking that BIM implementation can be completely farmed out to consultants, especially if they will not be on site and dedicated to your project.
Re: Seven Pitfalls to Avoid as You Transition to 3D Mo...
by: ebeckman
July 18, 2013 - 10:14am
One of the pitfalls that I have been experiencing with BIM adaptation is that other involved parties dig their heals in and refuse to come to the table with 3d modeling. The BIM process is most successful when all involved parties come to the table and provide detailed modeled 3d drawings. Unfortunately, no one can force another company to adopt another's level of BIM or 3d integration, unless they are contractually obligated to do so. Yet, I still find situations where special dispensation is made for one of the BIM parties on a project. This leads to overall lowering of the quality of the results.
AutoCAD Tips!

Lynn Allen

Autodesk Technical Evangelist Lynn Allen guides you through a different AutoCAD feature in every edition of her popular "Circles and Lines" tutorial series. For even more AutoCAD how-to, check out Lynn's quick tips in the Cadalyst Video Gallery. Subscribe to Cadalyst's free Tips & Tools Weekly e-newsletter and we'll notify you every time a new video tip is published. All exclusively from Cadalyst!
Follow Lynn on Twitter Follow Lynn on Twitter

At your company, who has the most say in CAD-related software purchasing?
CAD manager
CAD users
IT personnel
vice-president/department manager
CEO/company owner
Submit Vote