BIM in Construction

BIM in Construction: Part 2 – The Bad

Whether you’ve embraced BIM (Building Information Modeling) or still have your doubts, it’s here to stay. And it’s already changing the construction process in some pretty fundamental ways.

This post is the second in a three-part series about the use of BIM in construction. Check out Part 1—The Good, and stay tuned for Part 3—The Inevitable (now posted!) next week.

The Downsides of BIM – The Challenges

Last week, we came up with a brief explanation of BIM and talked about its benefits, specifically for contractors and manufacturers.

But as with any new technology, especially one so disruptive to tried-and-true processes, most of us still have doubts. Here’s a look at those challenges, along with some real-world advice for addressing them.

Legal Risks

BIM is changing how designers and contractors work together. Traditionally, contractors haven’t been involved in the design process, putting the responsibility on the architect or engineer to avoid errors and omissions. But with BIM, it will be difficult for contractors to skirt blame for problems caused by faulty drawings.

Similar to what happened with the internet, BIM is new but the laws surrounding it are not. So maybe the biggest risk is the unknown. What happens if the BIM software fails and causes a delay—who’s responsible?

[bctt tweet=”Similar to what happened with the internet, #BIM is new but the laws surrounding it are not.” url=””]

Success Story: Overcoming the Challenge

When Nunelah Design Consultants started working with BIM in 2005, they considered the legal implications from the start. With the goal of avoiding doubt in all areas, they implemented policies to address problems related to collaboration.

Nunelah also came up with the idea of a BIM Manager—a “champion” to make the model and its data current and accessible to the right parties. And they recognized the importance of identifying the intellectual property owner.

Your Mileage May Vary

Nunelah’s level of protection may be more than you need, depending on your role. Or it may be more than you can afford. The answer could be a project insurance policy to help eliminate contract disputes and protect against unforeseen liabilities.

Look into the ConsensusDOCs BIM Addendum, which was developed by a group of designers, owners, suppliers, fabricators, subcontractors, general contractors, sureties, insurers, and construction lawyers.

Added Costs

Simply put, BIM costs money—hardware upgrades, training, and technical support, and the software itself all immediately come to mind.

BIM can cost time and effort too. It’s subject to the same inefficiencies as any other process: designers who don’t document their decisions, unproductive meetings, duplicate work, and lack of strategy and expectations. It also has additional frustrations that come with large file sizes (note to manufacturers: limit the size of your BIM objects), inexperienced users, and incompatible software (covered in its own section below).

While BIM does save time and money overall—by detecting clashes before construction begins, enabling better collaboration, and more—you have to spend at the beginning to see the rewards later, which can be hard to justify on fast-track and tight-budget projects.

Success Story: Overcoming the Challenge

Despite using BIM for years, Mortenson Construction never had the opportunity to measure its cost benefits. Their chance came when they realized their upcoming university research building project was right next to a similar building that had been recently completed by another contractor who didn’t use BIM.

They commissioned an independent study, which found that $585,000 was saved in RFIs alone, with 780 fewer of them. That doesn’t even take into account how much was saved by solving problems before construction began.

Mortenson research building

Image courtesy of AIA.

Your Mileage May Vary

Mortenson’s numbers are definitely compelling, but if you don’t regularly work on multimillion-dollar projects, they might not do much to convince your own powers that be.

Instead of focusing on maximizing the “return” part of ROI, worry first about minimizing the “investment” part. Do BIM on a budget by trying some of the free or lower-cost software options. Also, keep an eye on an R&D tax credit Senate bill that will probably be voted on in the fall. It could cover a big chunk of your upfront and ongoing costs.

[bctt tweet=”Instead of focusing on maximizing the return of #BIM, worry first about minimizing the investment” url=””]

Skills Shortage

There are employment shortages throughout the construction industry, and the BIM specialization is no different…well, it actually is—because BIM is so new and highly technical, finding new employees with the right skills is even more difficult.

Success Story: Overcoming the Challenge

Turner Construction has been using BIM since 2002, and, as a multinational company, has an ever-growing demand for BIM managers, engineers, and coordinators.

Instead of relying on finding already-trained new employees, they created “BIM University,” an eight-week training course to familiarize new staff with a variety of BIM tools.

Your Mileage May Vary

Even if your company isn’t big enough to implement a comprehensive training program, you can still grow your own BIM experts instead of hiring them. Take advantage of discounted classes through the AGC, and use a “train the trainer” model— certify one “expert” who can train other employees, who can then turn around and train even more.

Focus on Millennials, who prefer to work for socially responsible companies and want to keep learning even after they’re done with school. Use that to your advantage by emphasizing the environmental benefits of BIM and offering the training they need to take on the roles you need.

[bctt tweet=”#Millennials want to make a difference and keep learning, so train them for #BIM roles” url=””]

“BIM-less” Partners

BIM works best if everyone on the project is using it. So what do you do if you’re working with a partner who is unwilling or unable to use BIM? (Or what if you are that partner?) Do you go back to 2D construction documents?

Success Story: Overcoming the Challenge

DPR Construction used 3D PDFs, and eliminated the usual “revise and resubmit” delays that happen when non-BIM users need to access BIM data. With 3D PDFs, exports of a BIM model can be viewed, marked up, and commented on without special software or highly technical skills. The review cycle was shortened by over 33%, and DPR avoided printing countless sets of shop drawings.

Your Mileage May Vary

3D PDFs are a great way to use BIM when not everyone has the right software, but if you’re not already familiar with 3D tools, you’ll still have a learning curve. Fortunately you can hone your skills with free online help like this tutorial or this video.

iSqFt Construction Software

Image courtesy of AEC Bytes.

Incompatible Software

As BIM becomes more common, it also becomes more complicated. Like any new breakthrough in technology, we’ve ended up with multiple, often incompatible versions (think Mac vs. PC).

To translate from one platform to another, companies often end up recreating early conceptual design models and re-entering data—losing some of the big benefits of BIM. One expert estimates that incompatible software can account for 2-3% of a project’s total budget.

Success Story: Overcoming the Challenge

In 2011, structural engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti was using a minimum of six different design and modeling tools, all incompatible with the rest. Employees were spending thousands of additional hours. They solved the problem by creating a custom platform that can “speak” to all of the others.

Thornton Tomasetti

Image courtesy of Thornton Tomasetti, via Building Design + Construction.

Your Mileage May Vary

Thornton Tomasetti’s platform took two years to create, two full-time staff members are employed to maintain it, and upgrading to BIM features that are now commonplace—like version comparison and web-based tools—is a significant undertaking.

If you haven’t already invested in BIM software, you have the opportunity to avoid the problem altogether by choosing one that meets openBIM standards for compatibility. If you’ve already crossed that bridge, though, try the 3D PDF solution mentioned above.

What Do You Think About BIM in Construction?

Are you in the “Good” camp or the “Bad” camp, or somewhere in between? Tell us what you think in the comments, and let us know what your job is.

Don’t forget to read Part 1—The Good, and check back for Part 3—The Inevitable (now posted!) next week! Subscribe to our blog, or follow us on Twitter (@isqft), Facebook, or LinkedIn and we’ll let you know as soon as it’s posted.

Additional Sources Consulted