AEC Tech News (#238)

22 Oct, 2008

Army Corps Drawn to BIM Design

Corps of Engineers' use of BIM results in considerable time savings for its design team and impressive cost savings for its customers.

By JoAnne Castagna

After the bombing campaign ceased in Kosovo in 1999, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was called upon to design and build two camps for its customer, the United States Army, which was there performing an operation for NATO. Camp Bondsteel was designed and built from scratch; Camp Monteith was designed and constructed on the site of a Serbian base that had been largely destroyed.

David Rackmales, a structural engineer with the Corps of Engineers' New York District found himself working in a tent in the dead of winter in Kosovo designing the camps with a team of project managers and engineers. "We were working very closely in an intense, energized environment," Rackmales said.

Rackmales had that same feeling recently while taking part in a building information modeling (BIM) workshop at the New York District facilitated by Bentley Systems, the Corps of Engineers' primary vendor for BIM software.

It happened that the New York District design team had been assigned a project involving three buildings for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. These buildings had to be designed at the same time the workshop was taking place, so the team took advantage of the opportunity to design the structures during the BIM workshop, which also served as a way to test the BIM program. As the workshop progressed, the benefits of using this software as a team, including the savings in money and time, became more apparent.

BIM is a collaborative approach to design that involves integrating the various disciplines to build a structure in a computer virtual environment. The process allows the design team to work effectively, particularly when identifying potential problems before they arise during construction. "We came together as a team," said Rackmales, who served as the BIM manager. Read more »

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JoAnne Castagna is a technical writer-editor for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District. She can be reached at


AEC Insight Column: Golden Rule of BIM

By Jerry Laiserin

Nearly 10 years ago, Paul Bell, then-vice-president at Dell (and now president, Americas), observed that in the manufacturing business, "inventory ... is the physical embodiment of bad information." In AEC business, the cost of bad information is embodied in routine practices such as add/deduct alternates; allowances; requests for information (RFIs), addenda, and sketches; change orders and substitutions; material stored on site; contingencies; retainage; and — all too often — litigation. Just as end users and consumers in manufacturing and distribution supply chains ultimately pay all costs of inventory-related bad information, building and project owners — as end users and consumers of design and construction services — ultimately bear all costs of bad information in construction supply chains.

Paying the Piper
Whether passed along directly as change orders, hidden in excessive bid spreads and bidding surprises, or buried in someone's overhead, reimbursables, or general conditions, all costs of project information, good and bad, are absorbed by project owners. On hypothetical (but not atypical) projects, owners could pay as much as 6% of construction cost for architectural and engineering fees or creating building information. Another 6% or so of construction cost might go to a general contractor or construction manager for general conditions, fees and/or profits, or managing building information.

Yet, as I've discussed previously, numerous studies in both the United States and the United Kingdom suggest that as much as 30% of construction cost is wasted because of bad information: inaccurate, delayed, misplaced, inconsistent, uncoordinated, and so on. Thus, project owners pay roughly 12% of construction cost to create and manage building information, and inefficiencies of as much as 30% are attributable to inadequate building information. Read more »


Mark Your Calendar: AEC Events

Energy, Efficiency, Sustainability, and Innovation
December 8-10, 2008
Berkeley, California
The Construction Specifications Institute's Building Product Manufacturers Alliance second meeting will include technical sessions, a tour of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, round-table discussions, and networking opportunities. Read more »

Webinar: Automated Code Checking of BIMs in an e-Government Environment
December 16, 2008
2 p.m. ET
Presented by the Construction Specifications Institute, this webinar will discuss how initiatives, such as building information modeling, will change the design, construction, and approval of buildings. Read more »

For a complete list of CAD meetings, conferences, training sessions, and more, check out our calendar of events on