Building information modeling is one of those terms with a changing definition. In the residential construction world, it's a holistic process that solves many challenges in a building's evolution including timelines, accuracy, minimizing files, collaboration and eliminating waste.
“BIM is such a misunderstood term. BIM is not a software; it's a process,” says Jay Moore, business development director, Ameri-CAD, an ITW company based in Allen, Texas. “If you are sharing information up and down the chain, you are sharing BIM data.”
Using Ameri-CAD's VisionREZ software, designers can create 3-D models, construction documents, add products such as windows and doors into a design, export a bill of materials and share that file with the manufacturer. “We created a link to export our model into manufacturers' solutions,” Moore says. “We populate the architectural model with the manufacturer's data and create a bill of material. It's a bidirectional link, collaboratively sharing data with the supply chain.”
An important part of successful BIM is working with manufacturers. “SoftPlan allows you to place real manufacturer objects in a house. Fixtures will show up accurately in the construction documents, 3-D model and on the material list,” says John Jones, vice president, SoftPlan.
Cadsoft's Envisioneer residential BIM tool works with other BIM solutions on the market to create a complete system. “We integrate with other leading BIM solutions in the market including iLevel's Javelin software for engineered wood and MiTek Sapphire Structure for trusses and structural components,” says Brad Finck, vice president, Cadsoft. “We also integrate with Keymark for whole-home analysis. Most recently we created a bidirectional link with 20-20 software for communicating with kitchen and bathroom design specialists. They can do the full kitchen or bathroom design and send it back to us.”
Learning Curve, Challenges
As with any new technology or business practice, there's a learning curve. Design software creators offer support to minimize the curve. “We offer free seminars to our current users - several webinars every week from introductory-level to very specific. We also offer an extensive video library with more than 400 training videos,” says Scott Harris, vice president, sales and marketing, Chief Architect. The company also provides support staff with building industry background.
Ameri-CAD's VisionREZ is based on Autocad, so familiarity with Autocad equates to an easier time learning VisionREZ, Moore explains. The company offers two-day training sessions and users should feel comfortable with the software after completion of four to six drawings. “The key to learning BIM is how much you are using it,” Moore adds.
BIM may be the next generation of home design, but this doesn't mean there aren't some challenges or limitations. “The problem with BIM is it relies on collaboration for it to work. The person who needs to start [the process] is the architect or designer. But because they are so concerned with legal liability, most architects won't share. They think if they share and there is an error in the field, they will be held accountable,” Moore says. “The industry has to address the legal limitations of BIM - who is going to own an error. Until then, it will be difficult for designers to initiate and pass it down the chain.”
The mere fact that multiple people are involved can be another challenge when working with BIM. “You are taking different trades, personalities, standards and now asking them to cooperate,” Moore adds. “It's like putting a bunch of players from the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and telling them to throw the ball the same way.”
So what's the solution? Moore says it lies with who is in charge of a project. “They need to say, ‘I understand your concerns but this process allows my organization to create better design, a more accurate house and fewer resources. If you don't use it, then I'll find someone else,'” Moore says.
Demands and Benefits
As with many aspects of home building, consumers are driving the demand for BIM. “Consumers are tired of having homes built and getting surprised by the finished product. Even with TV shows, they are showing 3-D images so consumers are starting to expect it,” Finck says.
The economy has also had a great influence on the use of BIM. Producing more accurate products and using fewer materials, BIM has allowed building professionals to stay competitive and be more cost-efficient.
Before purchasing a BIM solution, consider the following. “On the surface, people think that all the packages are the same, but you need to do your research on what the differences are,” Harris says.
“Three-dimensional design is now essential, but you also need it to be robust enough to produce drawings and material takeoffs,” Finck adds. “You should also consider something that [can] communicate with a material supplier and other facets of the construction industry.”
Because successful BIM relies on collaboration, make sure the programs are compatible with other software. “If I am creating my drawing with Brand X software and need to share with others, I need to ask, ‘Can they open it, read it and manipulate it?' It's also important to consider legacy drawings. Asking them to go to a different file format from what they've been using could be costly because of the legacy data they have,” Moore says.
BIM for the Win
Change isn't always easy, and changing a process that involves so many people can be even harder. But using BIM ultimately will eliminate human error, jobsite errors, material waste and streamline the entire process. “It's a tremendous change for everyone,” Moore adds. “We moved from pencil to mouse in the ‘80s. This is a new paradigm shift - a new solution that will further elevate the knowledge from CAD, create better drawings, greater accuracy and build a more sustainable structure with fewer resources.”
The amount of digital information in the design and construction process will continue to grow, and those professionals who take advantage of what BIM offers will be successful even in a depressed market. “Times are competitive. The people who aren't paying attention aren't very busy and are struggling,” Harris says. “The people who are staying in tune with the right tools are the ones who are surviving.”
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