Building Design

BIM Dos and Don'ts

1 Aug, 2007 By: Beau Turner,Joe Eichenseer

Two BIM professionals offer some real-world insights for success.

When it comes to moving from 2D design to full-fledged building information modeling (BIM), the necessary technology, process, and workflow changes affect almost every aspect of design. After consulting with many AEC firms as they make the transition to BIM, we at Avatech have learned some important lessons -- essential steps for successful implementation as well as common pitfalls to avoid. We share five key dos and don'ts with you here.

DO Make a Strong Commitment
The pilot. Most firms prefer to begin working with BIM using a test project as a pilot to prove the return on investment prior to making a company-wide move to BIM. Architects at Harley Ellis Devereaux chose a sophisticated 130,000-square-foot ambulatory care center (ACC), which is part of a hospital expansion, as their pilot project.

"Our pilot project allowed us to see the opportunities of BIM and incorporate our processes within this environment. We also began realizing rapidly how staff resources would be modified to accommodate this environment," said Shaun Rihacek, associate project architect of the ACC at Harley Ellis Devereaux. "Our existing software was just not going to get us to BIM, and when we saw the results of the [Autodesk] Revit pilots, we recognized this was the opportunity we had been looking for."

The plunge. Hankins and Anderson, an engineering firm that provides design services in mechanical, electrical, fire protection, telecommunications, civil, and structural engineering took a different approach to their BIM adoption.

"Since BIM is much more than a technology implementation, it requires the full commitment from senior management to overhaul existing work processes and to consider the need for a different mix of staff resources to propel the change," said Mike Matthews, CEO at Hankins and Anderson.

Hankins and Anderson took an all-embracing approach by implementing both Revit and AutoCAD MEP across all disciplines. Instead of starting with a core group, Hankins and Anderson deployed AutoCAD MEP and Revit Structure across their entire 130-person firm. "With over 90% of our business coming from government, the writing was on the wall," Matthews said. "We had to take the plunge or lose out -- and now we are ahead of many firms facing the same challenge." Read more

DON'T Ignore the Need to Manage Change
Recognize up front that your existing processes will evolve. Engage your team in the design of the new workflow so that they understand why change is necessary and how it can benefit them.

"Set aside resources to ensure that your organization is not just buying software, but that they are able to implement new workflow and design processes that enable them to optimize the way the system fits with current and future business needs," said Greg Hayes, architect at RDG Design and Planning. "The software investment will be realized more quickly if you invest in proper process engineering and training."

DO Take the Opportunity to Generate Corporatewide Standards
Leverage this change as an opportunity to streamline processes and create standards that promote consistency, accuracy, and productivity. When moving to BIM, the best companies take the time to discuss new in-house process and drawing standards that will improve their effectiveness and efficiency in their new environment.

"The most challenging part of our BIM implementation was not learning the new technology. It was agreeing on standards for every part of what we design, from simple title blocks and line widths, to complex patterns and what kinds of parametric data different drawing elements should contain," said Greg Hayes, architect, RDG.

RDG was also able to re-engineer its processes to reduce labor. "Revit changed the way that we complete projects. Now, in the early phases of a project we are able to use fewer staff more efficiently and then add to the project team as we enter the documentation phase," Hayes added.

DON'T Fall into Content Traps
When moving to BIM, typically two content-related issues arise. The first is that the company thinks they can generate all the content they need to be productive immediately. Often firms underestimate how much work it is to generate content components in 3D in the beginning, and they may also underestimate the skill and time required to do so.

As the Harley Ellis Devereaux group worked on the ACC, they outsourced their content creation. "One of the best things we did was to outsource the creation of 3D mechanical and electrical components, and we isolated a small team within the organization to create our specialized medical equipment. This allowed us to control the spatial relationships and functions of the equipment and concentrate our efforts on the architectural, structural, mechanical, and electrical BIM models to produce construction documents," Rihacek said.

The second issue that can arise regarding content is that CAD specialists and designers can potentially go wild defining many data points for an element. The sky's the limit in this area of BIM. The question is, how complex does the model need to be to generate an accurate picture for the client, for construction, and for trades? CAD managers and their teams along with engineers and architects need to sit down to discuss what data is important right away and what can be added over time or simply skipped altogether. "After the last day of training we created a set of rules or guidelines that our team was to work within," Rihacek said. "We know from past experience that guidance is an essential part of success with any implementation."

DO Take a Measured Approach
Define and measure ROI. When designing a BIM-based system, one way to look at developing benchmarks is to identify what is not working today and set metrics for improvement in these areas. Common problem statements might sound like this:

"Building projects end up much more expensive than we estimate because they take too long, and multiple drawing sets and updates cause too many construction errors."

The objectives in this case contain measurable and time-bound metrics: 1) decrease time to completion and 2) reduce the number of construction errors. The goal metric in the first case might be "reduce time to completion by 20% in two months" and in the second, "reduce errors by 50%."

Generate full-scale requirements based on objectives. It is of paramount importance that you develop requirements that define what your organization needs prior to jumping into a full-scale technology implementation. The objectives will drive requirements. Typical objectives include the following:

  • use more realistic graphics to help clients visualize the final project
  • manage revisions and varying design options better
  • integrate documentation with specifications
  • integrate changes from MEP and structural more smoothly
  • ensure estimates are more accurate and dependable

DON'T Be Afraid to Refine Systems
Upon implementing BIM, your team will likely discover new ways to work that generate long-term benefits. Implementing these positive changes should be done as opportunities arise. At Harley Ellis Devereaux, the team found that after implementing Revit MEP, they could add relevant information to the BIM (i.e., mechanical equipment product data information to aid the owners' facility managers with regular replacement of filters, belts, fans, and other parts in HVAC equipment.) "This allowed us to fill a gap for our clients. It ties plan/location information with useful product information," Rihacek said.

In addition to recognizing new ways to make BIM work for you, consider customizing the technology so that it meets the specific needs of your organization, facilitates best practices, and ensures that you meet your business goals. Avatech's experience with software customization indicates that the initial costs are far outweighed by dramatic reductions in time to design and construction.

BIM is all about working more effectively together so that companies can build better projects faster and more efficiently for their customers. For most organizations it enables new opportunities to provide ancillary and coordinated services while elevating design integrity and innovation to the highest levels. There are a lot more Dos and Don'ts where these came from; we hope these five get your company started.

About the Author: Beau Turner

About the Author: Joe Eichenseer