Cadalyst AEC Tech News #112 (January 22, 2004)

21 Jan, 2004 By: Michael Dakan

Do You Have to Adopt BIM?
- Still in development
- Value adds
- Sound business sense

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I’ve been contacted by a number of people with the notion that they need to get into BIM (building information modeling) or else they’ll fall behind with their CAD usage. Though with all the recent noise about BIM this sentiment is understandable, and has some validity, there’s no reason to panic just yet if you’re not up to speed with these latest CAD tools.

BIM authoring tools are still immature in many aspects and will continue to be completed and enhanced for some time. The data modeling parts of the total building information model are especially incomplete and require a lot of setup and customization work to be useful. The architect or consulting engineer in a private design practice, primarily working with traditional design-bid project delivery methods, may not have much use for the data modeling aspects of BIM yet.

For instance, BIM promises to quickly generate material takeoffs and construction cost estimates directly from information in the 3D building model. But the material specification and cost information is not automatically added to the model as you build it. It’s up to the user to attach this information to the model. Interfaces to standard cost-estimating software and construction cost databases are becoming available. One uses IFC data from the virtual model and links to Timberline estimating software. However, most BIM authoring tools haven’t yet perfected their support of IFC data and links to external software. Most architectural firms do not have the in-house expertise to set up and maintain a full-blown cost-estimating system. Most will likely continue to use outside consultants for an accurate, detailed construction cost estimate when needed. Cost estimating based on information in the BIM database is probably most immediately applicable in a design-build practice that already employs construction personnel with cost-estimating experience.

BIM developers tout other types of data modeling, such as facilities management and reuse and tracking people and departmental changes and “churn” in a building over time. Architectural offices are often looking for services to offer that are closely related to what they are already doing. But as is the case with any business expansion into new areas, being able to sell the additional services may be a slow process, and getting a payback on money invested in expanded capabilities can take a while. Unless you are sure of strong demand for the services you’ll provide with the expanded capability, it’s risky to rely on additional revenue to justify your investment.

The potential for additional value derived from the design and production process, in the form of additional uses for the CAD database, is apparent. However, maximizing the potential may not be all that easy. Perhaps more to the point for an architect engaged in private practice, getting paid for providing the value-add might be even less certain. Unless clients are asking for these services and are willing to pay for them, you may have a hard time justifying the costs of adding and maintaining a high level of nongraphic data in your CAD database.

You can probably justify a move to 3D CAD based on in-house efficiencies and better coordination throughout the design and documentation process. It may be more difficult to justify investing time and effort in additional nongraphic data modeling unless you have a specific need. Relying on the ability to offer expanded capability that might not generate reasonable payback, or on a nonspecific “competitive advantage” to gain new work, also may not make economic sense.

In any case, your decision to implement BIM and how far to go with it should be based on sound business practices, not just technology. Keeping up with the latest technological trends is important, and it’s never too early to learn about and experiment with new ideas. But you shouldn’t feel forced to jump into the latest developments before you can justify the move economically.


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