The Immense Value of Taking BIM to the Field

Bringing 3D models to the field makes constructible data more powerful than ever and allows construction teams to execute projects on time and on budget.
By Lee Snyder
July 8, 2020

Today, the biggest problem with fully adopting a model-based approach throughout the entire construction process is that it’s simply not done enough. Taken to its fullest potential, constructible BIM covers the entire design, build and operate lifecycle. Getting to that point, however, requires a mindset in which digital is the starting point, ending point and everything in between.

By now, the industry is broadly aware of how each stakeholder throughout a project’s lifecycle can benefit from BIM. A growing number of industry players recognize the value of 3D models and digital construction data as the key to improving overall project efficiency and taking a holistic approach to construction projects. With the solutions available, it should be common practice to create, share and use high-precision, construction-ready models to leverage the full potential of BIM from planning and fabrication to construction and beyond. However, many in the industry aren’t going the distance by making BIM available to crews in the field.

It All Begins with Constructible Data

The true power of BIM is in the “I” or the information within the model. All of the information gathered—from conception to completion—isn’t just stored, it’s actionable. This data can be used to improve accuracy, express design intent from the office to the field, increase knowledge transfer between stakeholders, reduce change orders and field coordination problems and provide insight into existing buildings for future renovation projects. With each phase of the project, a new layer of information is added to the model and existing data is refined and enhanced. This layering and sharing of information are part of a constructible process in which all phases and trades are connected, models and workflows are content enabled and constructible models drive smarter workflows.

With all the work and information that goes into a constructible BIM model, liberating that data for use in the field should go without question but for many, this is not the reality.

How Crews Use BIM in the Field

With the proper tools and resources in place, it’s possible to create and share content-enabled constructible models from the very start and immediately benefit from the rich metadata they contain. Constructible models go beyond basic geometry and include all of the detail—such as the position, size and thread-count of bolts, the precise location of welds and the camber of steel members—needed to build and fabricate.

Collaboration platforms make it possible for crews in the field to access constructible data from mobile devices and tablets. Constructible data can be used for everything from assisting with placement and installation of rebar to layout with robotic total stations and visualizing and interacting with 3D data\information overlays with a mixed reality ready hardhat. Two examples illustrate the value of BIM in the field.


Construction layout can account for as much as 25% of a project’s cost. When using traditional tools and processes, such as tape measures, levels and other manual methods, to position points, layout is extremely time consuming and tedious.

Instead, workers in the field can import a constructible model into a robotic total station and accurately locate and lay out the points to be marked. This allows a single person to pinpoint locations from the model to within 2mm tolerances, using a tablet to select points and mark where the laser indicates. One worker can lay out five times as many points as a two-person team using manual methods.

Field measurements and data can then be imported back into the model. When changes occur on the jobsite, variations to model data can be logged and captured in real time. This is yet another example of how model sharing is a vast improvement over each trade developing custom models to manage work. Steel and concrete contractors, MEP trades and layout teams no longer need to recreate building data because instructions for the work to be performed are driven directly by the model.

Mixed and Augmented Reality

Mixed and augmented reality technology bring models off of the screen and into reality, allowing users to engage and interact with design data more intuitively. Workers in the field can view 3D models overlaid directly on the physical environment for clash detection and visualization. With this technology, the model can also act as a step-by-step “instruction guide” for actual production.

By democratizing construction data, mixed and augmented reality offer a more natural way for all project stakeholders to collaborate and understand the work to be done, and ultimately reduce rework, increase productivity and improve overall job quality.

Despite the growing use of BIM in preconstruction, it’s still common to revert to 2D drawings once work is underway. Even with access to 3D models before a project begins, teams may rely on a 2D plan to complete work on the jobsite. This back and forth between 3D and 2D data increases the risk for confusion, misinterpretation and errors. Bringing 3D models to the field makes constructible data more powerful than ever and allows construction teams to execute projects on time and on budget.

by Lee Snyder
Lee Snyder is a product manager and industry workflow specialist for Trimble’s Structures division. He has more than 15 years of industry experience and prior to joining Trimble, worked as a steel detailer. In his current role, Snyder develops software technologies for the sustainable future of design and construction, and acts as a liaison to enhance the workflows between Trimble software and hardware equipment used on job sites and in fabrication shops, connecting the office to the field.

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