Understanding BIM and how to implement it

It seems like a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away; building designs were meticulously drawn by hand. As a young architecture student I can recall the black and white photographs of such architects as Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier working at their large drafting tables surrounded by T-squares, drafting pencils and apprentices. Then something happened that would completely change the architectural profession: the invention of CAD. With the ability to quickly draw, copy and edit 2D geometry not only increased precision and speed, but also had a profound effect on the quality of production. But this new technology wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms by everyone. A lot of people in the industry were so entrenched in their processes and standards that training and switching to CAD seemed like an impossible task, especially with multiple projects in the works. Flash forward a few decades and today CAD is the industry standard. Ironically, tech savvy professionals are just as protective over their processes and standard today as yesterday’s professionals were with their handcrafted traditional practices in the past. This is very similar to where we are today with BIM. Architecture is a proud and powerful profession that is slow to adopt new technologies and tools, not to mention heavily reliant on traditions, standards and the old way of doing things. While there are certainly times when tried and true is the way to go, there are benefits to adapting new workflows. To that end, let’s look at exactly what BIM is and discuss some of the possible reasons for the slow adoption of this new way to work. We’ll also discuss a few ways to overcome those challenges so that your organization can make the transition from a CAD culture to a BIM culture and reap all the potential benefits that this new way of working and communicating offers your industry.

What is BIM?

To understand how BIM works, let’s break the three main components. 44447_Inline_01First, we have the “B”, which is the Building component of BIM. Most people associate this building component with only the architecture, structure or MEP systems of a building. While we’re looking at BIM from an architectural perspective in this article, the BIM workflow isn’t limited to only buildings. As David Butts states in his 2014 Autodesk University presentation on Managing BIM Projects, BIM can be used on a multitude of projects including natural gas, utilities and even waste water facility design. Therefore, the “building” in this case the act of building something, as opposed to limiting it to only a physical building. 44447_Inline_02 Now let’s take a look at the next component of BIM, the “I”. This is arguably the most important part of equation. This is Information. Without information on physical properties, manufacturing information, or even the ability to run cloud-based tests and simulations, you’re left with 3D geometry with no data. You can think of it this way: there is no I in CAD! Information is really what separates BIM from CAD; the ability to input, extract and analyze real world data that resides within your 3D models. 44447_Inline_03Finally, you have the “M” in BIM. This component is, you guessed it, modeling. The ability to create 3D models allows for designers to resolve potential issues before any ground is even broken. This is also known as clash detection, and can potentially reduce waste, save time and a whole lot of money. Modeling also provides clients and designers with the ability to visualize the result, ensuring the project stays in line with the design intent.

Challenges and concerns for implementing BIM

So if BIM has the potential to improve quality, save time and reduce waste, why hasn’t the industry as a whole, fully adopted the practice? Just as CAD once did, BIM faces resistance because of unwillingness to change that stems from a number of issues. The first is tradition. The notion that “our practice has done it like this for years and it’s gotten us this far” has the potential to stunt an organization’s growth, allowing it to continue only on its current trajectory. In business, this is referred to as organizational inertia. To remain competitive in this day and age of continuous improvement and constant change, routine rigidity is a pitfall your organization needs to avoid. Another issue is training. Many practices are intimidated by the idea have to retrain staff and production on how to use a new tool, let alone the way their organization works. The amount of time spent away from actually producing something just doesn’t seem to make good business sense to those calling the shots. A third possible reason for the resistance to change is the financial investment it takes to get the operation up and running, outside of the training costs. If you think about it, switching from a CAD workflow requires a financial investment in people, training material, new software and possibly even hardware and servers. This can be a huge turn off for many organizations operating on shoestring budget.

"BIMplementation" tips

So with all these challenges and concerns when it comes to implementing BIM, what are a few ways an organization can successfully shift to a BIM workflow? The first is to have a plan. This means dissecting your current processes to better understand how BIM can be used to improve them. Having a plan also means setting up a timeline and even a checklist to set and track goals throughout the implantation process. Also, have a plan for training. Educate yourself on the educational opportunities available today. Those range from online learning platforms to possibly hiring a BIM manager to make sure software is up to date and people are up to speed. With a BIM workflow, communication is key. Instead of relying on linked models or emails for communication, have meetings regularly, whether it’s face-to-face or remote. This is vital to ensuring everyone on your team is on the same page. Whatever BIM tool or platform you choose, make sure everyone from the design team, to the engineers, to the contractors all know how to use the tools for their respective tasks. When just getting started with BIM, starting on small projects can relieve some of the pressure and anxiety that working differently can bring. Once you’ve completed your first project using BIM, take the time to analyze your process and the results. It can be helpful to also compare these to your traditional workflow. From there, you can take what you’ve learned, both the good and the bad, and the next go-around will be even better. Keep in mind all this can be implemented while still utilizing your “CAD” way of doing things on the larger projects. The key is to make the complete change once the organization better understands the process and has worked out all the kinks. What you want to avoid is having an office trying to juggle both CAD and BIM workflows. After all, the goal should be to completely shift from CAD to BIM. One last tip is to create and develop a culture of continuous learning, both in the office as well as out in the field with contractors and trades people. Organizing lunch and learns, open sessions, round tables are just a few ways to promote good communication and keep people up to speed on changes or improvements to whatever BIM platform works best for the organization.   Transitioning from CAD to BIM is definitely no easy task. What it takes it a willingness to change, a culture of continuous learning and great communication amongst all key players. To learn more about what BIM tools work best for you, be sure to browse our Revit courses. With new content is added weekly, you’ll be sure to find very useful tutorials on anything BIM and CAD related.