By: Marc Goldman, Director of Strategy, The Blue Book Building and Construction Network
Building Information Modeling (BIM) is the hottest topic in the construction industry and for good reason. Architects use BIM tools and process to deliver better designs; engineers use BIM to ensure designs meet codes and performance benchmarks. General contractors are using BIM to build projects first on the computer before ever winning the job, and owners are leveraging the “digital double” to manage and maintain their facilities with more predictability and efficiency.
Clearly, BIM is changing the way construction professionals perform their individual tasks and more importantly, how we collaborate, share and exchange information. BIM is directly influencing building designs, functions and the ways in which buildings are built. Dozens of books, thousands of articles and perhaps millions of “tweets” have been written about BIM in just the past couple years. Attend a construction event (an actual conference or a virtual “webinar”) and you hear architects and GCs describing how BIM is changing the way they design and manage construction projects. And yet, in this barrage of BIM, little has been written about the impact on the subcontractor or fabricator.
Before we dig-in too deep in this article about BIM for the subcontractor, let’s put a definition on what BIM is and what BIM is not.
What is BIM?
The popular use of the term BIM can be traced back to the CAD software vendors. The concepts of BIM date back further, but the term gained popularity and has served as a means of differentiating the latest generation of software from the (sometimes aging) CAD software. Initially (and in some cases still), the term BIM is interchanged with a particular software package.
However, in this article the term BIM is used as a verb rather than a noun. BIM is used to describe the activity of creating the building model. BIM is not a piece of software, or a database or a file saved on a local computer or a server. Instead, BIM is the activity that involves significant process changes in the design, engineering, fabrication, assembly and management of the built environment. BIM is Building Information Modeling.
BIM for Subcontractors
By definition, as a subcontractor or as a fabricator, you are responsible for only a portion of a building’s overall design or fabrication. You must work with other subcontractors to ensure your system is integrated, coordinated and compliant with the designs provided to you. If you are not using BIM, but instead using 2D CAD and related disjointed processes, you are part of a labor intensive workflow, where much of your effort is spent producing and updating drawings. These drawings and related documents probably have high rates of inaccuracies and inconsistencies, many of which are often not discovered until you show up at the jobsite. You produce these drawings for a variety of purposes including design, engineering, manufacturing and assembly.
If you are a subcontractor who is not using BIM, you will find the same information is being entered into computer programs multiple times, each time for a distinct and separate use. Some of this duplicate data entry occurs within your company, and some of it occurs across the project team. If you are a subcontractor not using BIM, you are limited by the tools and processes of the “pre-information age”. Your long-term value to the project team is limited by these methods and your ability to differentiate yourself, remain competitive, market your services and add value to the project team is limited by your ability to squeeze efficiencies out of an inherently inefficient process.
But, if you are a subcontractor using BIM (whether or not the owner or general contractor has demanded it), you are seeing significant improvements to the overall efficiency of your organization and the specific productivity of your team members. You are adding value to the project team while at the same time reducing, if not completely eliminating redundant processes. You have resolved the issue of manually maintaining consistency across multiple drawing files by means of extracting the data and drawings you need from the tools and processes of BIM.
If you are a subcontractor using BIM, you have connected the processes of design, engineering, manufacturing and procurement. And you have connected these processes with the rest of the team. The improved, and in some cases new processes you employ are recognized as a great contribution to the efficient execution of the entire construction project and you will reap rewards from higher profits and repeat business.
If you are a subcontractor using BIM, you have connected marketing and business development tasks to your other core business practices and you are winning jobs and gaining market share while your “stuck-in-the-CAD” counterparts are struggling to survive.
If you are a subcontractor using BIM, you have introduced new work processes that allow you to prefabricate coordinated systems even in the most complex construction environments. Your ability to prefabricate is shortening lead times while at the same time allowing you to get involved in the design project earlier and at a deeper business level with the entire project team. BIM is enabling fundamental process changes, because it provides you the power to manage the intense amount of information required of “mass customization” which is a key concept of efficient construction.
And the greatest benefit to you, the subcontractor using BIM, is that BIM allows you to virtually design, engineer, construct and fabricate your elements of the project. Your ability to virtually design and construct is not just an improvement, but a new way of working.
Welcome to the world of BIM for the subcontractor!
Marc Goldman is director of strategy for The Blue Book Building & Construction Network. As an entrepreneur and proven leader Goldman understands the potential power and frequent challenges of technologies in the architecture, engineering and construction industries. He is one of the leading experts in Building Information Modeling (BIM) and its impact on the processes and business of the building design and construction industry. Prior to committing to a career in building design technologies, Goldman studied architecture and civil engineering at Tulane University. He lives in Littleton, Colo. with his wife, Lynne, a veterinarian, his two kids and way too many animals. He can be contacted at (303) 842-1877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.