While building information modeling (BIM) has been labeled a “game changer” and touted as “the future of building and design,” it has yet to be fully embraced by everyone in the construction industry. Many general contractors using BIM or taking steps to incorporate its capabilities into business operations question their role in the process.
BIM is the development and use of a computer software model to simulate the construction and operation of a facility in real time during its life cycle. Multiple parties can access the data via a multi-dimensional model. If data is altered in the program, everything else in the program shifts to accommodate that change.
Because BIM initially was developed with architects in mind, contractors continue to adapt to the technology’s expanding range of tools. General contractors must understand their role in the process, and how incorporating this technology can help them make better decisions and improve the bottom line.
Traditionally, architects render drawings and contractors manage projects—a clear division of labor. With BIM, the lines between these established roles become blurry. How involved a contractor becomes depends on the firm’s capabilities. Investing in an in-house BIM designer or architect can be costly, but it allows a construction company to maintain control of all aspects of the project. Outsourcing an expert to build the model reduces the initial investment and ensures quality.
Contractors reap the most benefits from the program once the initial work is completed and the data can be accessed and used to review designs, determine sequencing and scheduling, and bid estimates.
In addition, the virtual models illustrate the inner workings (structural, electrical, plumbing, etc.) of a proposed building to owners and potential clients. With BIM, customers don’t need to know how to read drawings to be able to visualize the project, which helps architects and contractors explain their designs to people who aren’t in the industry.
Beyond the visual benefits, BIM detects errors and makes adjustments accordingly. For example, if it’s necessary to move a row of windows, the program can report if any clashes—such as electrical wiring, plumbing or ductwork—are associated with the change, making it clear if the move is possible or if it will incur costs.
In addition to visually laying out tangible items, such as wiring, cement and pipes, BIM helps determine the best order to schedule subcontractors to prevent conflicts. The program also generates cost estimates that impact the overall budget.
In essence, BIM creates an arena for all project team members to work closely, and more efficiently, resulting in less opportunity for conflict and lower costs for the client. Collaboration must exist to achieve the highest levels of functionality.
New users can expect to gain a working knowledge of BIM in six to 18 months; however, the initial investment and learning curve depends on the way BIM is incorporated into a firm’s building model. Contractors that take the time to effectively master the program find the benefits outweigh the upfront time and expense.
- Formulate more accurate bids.
- Improve productivity and streamline complex construction projects in cooperation with the architect, engineer and client.
- Identify conflicts in the pre-construction stage, which results in fewer errors onsite.
- Realize expected conditions at the jobsite to allow for prefabrication of materials offsite.
- Create what-if scenarios to determine job logistics, including subcontractor scheduling and scopes of work.
- Reduce warranty costs because manufacturer callbacks are less frequent.
- Illustrate the end product for clients and investors.
- Demonstrate the different project stages for marketing or shareholder presentations.
- Gain a competitive marketing edge over other general contractors in the industry.