Building Information Modeling (BIM)

What's the BIM Deal? Part 2

8 Sep, 2009 By: Robert Green

Readers have lots of questions about building information modeling, and CAD management expert Robert Green has answers.

In the last issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I began my series on deciphering BIM (building information modeling), learning its key terms, and understanding how to prepare for a BIM transition. It turns out that a lot of readers were wondering about these topics, as I received a great amount of reader feedback. The reader questions I received were so good that I've decided to make them the focus for this issue.

What are readers wondering about when it comes to BIM? Here goes.

About BIM Hype

Several reader questions were along the lines of this one:

"I see an awful lot of information about BIM, but I see very few real BIM-based projects being completed. Is BIM a reality, or is it just marketing hype at this point?"

There's no doubt that the companies that produce BIM software are trying to create an atmosphere of excitement and interest by saturating the market with advertising. On the other hand, I've worked directly with a number of firms that are using BIM software to complete projects, so BIM is a reality at this point — just not a widespread reality.

In my opinion, CAD managers should view the buzz around BIM as exactly what it is: an attempt to educate and persuade key personnel in architectural and engineering firms that BIM is a technology worth exploring. CAD developers have obviously done a good job with their marketing efforts, since we're all wondering about BIM.

How Will BIM Affect My Company?

Another question came from a variety of project contractors like civil engineers, mechanical contractors, and electrical engineers — that is, professionals who are in the building trade but don't actually design buildings:

"If BIM becomes more common for architects, how will it change how we work with them? Are we going to be using BIM as well?"

This question is more difficult to answer, because it is impossible to know how quickly BIM will displace more traditional CAD software platforms (typically AutoCAD- or MicroStation-based) or how quickly BIM tools will evolve to include tasks that are outside the normal scope of architectural duties. My best guess is that we're in for a period of two to five years (depending on how the economy picks up) where BIM will be used on some projects, but not all, thus leading to different BIM-to-CAD integration requirements for each project. In this new environment, interfacing with an architect using BIM systems will require close coordination with CAD managers to ensure that all software issues are contractually set out and all parties understand what their obligations are. Imagine starting a major project without knowing what software you’d be expected to use or how you’d deliver final project files, and you’ll begin to understand what stepping into an undefined BIM project could be like.

The best thing any CAD manager can do for a given project is to work with customers and architects to explore which BIM systems they may be migrating to and what requirements for BIM compatibility will have to be met, if any. If your company works with an architectural firm that will being using BIM extensively, you may need to formulate your own BIM strategy sooner than you think.

Preparing for BIM

Some readers already know that BIM will eventually become their primary CAD platform, but wonder what to do next:

"OK, I'm convinced that BIM is in our future. Given that reality, what can we do to best prepare for BIM so we're in a good position when the time comes?"

This question requires a multifaceted answer that will form the basis for the next installment of the CAD Manager's Newsletter. For now, let's set out the basic steps for getting ready for BIM:

Audit your hardware. Are your workstations, server drives, and networks ready to meet the demands of BIM? BIM models generally consume more disk space than 2D CAD drawings, and because teams of users typically need access to them, files must reside on network servers — thus resulting in more network traffic. The fact that BIM models are 3D databases that drive computer-intensive processes like rendering and conceptual visualization means that your old 2D-capable computers will not be up to the task of BIM. One thing I'm sure of is that any company that undertakes BIM with outdated hardware, networks, and storage will find it much harder to make BIM work.

Figure out how your departments work. Which departments will build the BIM model and which departments will use that model? Which departments have the CAD expertise required to make the leap to BIM and which will need more help? Which departments in your company actually want to use BIM and which don't? If you attempt to implement BIM without knowing the answers to these questions, I can guarantee your implementation will be painful — or even fall apart completely.

Find the right project. Not all projects are suited to being a BIM guinea pig. You'll want to identify a project that is manageable enough in size to truly test how BIM will work in your organization without overwhelming everyone, as well as a project that has enough breathing room in the schedule to accommodate the delays that are inevitable any time you introduce new technologies and processes. (In Part 3 of this series, I'll offer more detailed advice about how to choose the right pilot project for a BIM implementation.)

Coordinate with subcontractors. Just because you're getting ready to use BIM doesn't mean your subcontracting engineers are ready. (See "How Will BIM Affect My Company?" above.) Determine in advance how you will manage this reality and how you will move data between your new BIM system and the legacy CAD systems that your contractors might still be using. If you don't resolve these issues in advance, you'll likely face nasty data interchange problems mid-project, when you can least afford the time to solve them.

Train, train, and train some more. As far as possible in advance of your first BIM project, determine how you will educate your core project team on your new BIM software platforms and how many people you will train at once. Will you train just enough people to do the pilot project or will you attempt to train everyone? Establish reasonable training timelines and determine who will perform the training. Address these issues early and you'll head into your BIM transition with a staff that's educated, and even supportive, rather than confused.

Set realistic senior management expectations. If your management expects you to move from AutoCAD to BIM over the weekend, I guarantee you will fail. On the other hand, if your senior managers understand that a transition to BIM requires multifaceted hardware, software, training, and project management coordination, they'll be much more likely to support you through the transition. Make sure your senior management team understands every step of the BIM transition, what it will cost, and how long it will take. If you ignore this critical task, you're making your job too hard.

Summing Up

I hope this issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter has given you a more realistic perspective on what it takes to get BIM up and running in your organization. In the next issue I'll help you identify the right test project for BIM and help you develop a plan for BIM training — the two toughest parts of the equation. Get ready to start planning your BIM strategy.

Note: Thank you to all readers who completed my recent mini-survey about how the economy is affecting CAD managers. I'll be sharing some preliminary results over the next several issues.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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