An Easy Hand-Off from Engineering to the BIM Group

There is a fine line between engineering in 3D and utilizing BIM within your organization. When the two groups are separate, as in most cases they are, roles and responsibilities can become one and the same. Here are some tips, pointers, and a general procedure to delegate the correct tasks to the correct people in the right groups.

Engineering will take on the project from the get-go. They will lay out structures, devices, panels, and so on. They will design and detail the project from the ground up, keeping the project’s scope in mind while paying close attention to specific national engineering codes. I have recently moved from mechanical to electrical, so I can see from both sides of the fence. No matter your trade, the end result is always the same: to produce an engineered, working intelligent model.

Casino/Hotel 3rd Floor, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Hopefully your engineering department creates its detail and layout drawings in 3D. We all know the benefits of doing it this way—it automatically creates all of your section, elevation, and plan views when something changes, which saves precious man hours. It also eliminates the need for the BIM team to remodel everything that was already drawn in 2D. Nobody likes rework, especially clients. The benefits of engineering in 3D are endless compared to vintage 2D drafting, so I hope your company is taking advantage of this crucial and time-saving procedure. With that being said, this article is aimed at companies that participate in 3D modeling from an engineering standpoint.

Now that both groups within your company are modeling in 3D, it makes it somewhat confusing when roles and responsibilities are assigned and the client is requesting BIM coordination on top of engineered drawings. Who physically models the utilities? Does the engineering group simply tell the BIM team what they need modeled? Does engineering draw the detailed, assembly cut-sheets in 2D and leave the “large-scale” items to the BIM team to model in 3D? These are some questions that the different groups might have for the project managers. 

This is why a lot of companies are now creating a ‘task assignment guide’ for each group, to detail what is expected from each group relating to the other. Most likely, this guide will differ from project to project, thus making it a living, breathing, Roles and Responsibilities list for each group. It makes it easier for each group to know what is expected and how to easily mesh with the other group. This procedure should be somewhat global, and should resemble the following.

Mechanical Room of ZFTG for DeMattia Group, South Carolina, USA.

Engineering takes on the project from the start, designs and fine tunes everything in 3D—the cut-sheets, the specific “nuts-and-bolts” type of working drawing sets, the assembly drawings, and so on. With the detailed drawings, it may be cumbersome to engineer in 3D in the beginning. The longer a company engineers in 3D, the less time that it will eventually take them to finish a project in 3D. This is because as they grow intellectually, they also grow and maintain a “3D part library” for their specific trade. This will make it so that on the next job, they can simply grab the same types of items that were created from the library, in say, AutoCAD® MEP, and place it in the working drawing and tweak it as an MVPart. They then submit a 50 percent and then ultimately a 100 percent drawing set to the customer or GC for review.

3D engineering example

After the 50 percent set is completed, an assigned BIM specialist will be tasked to work directly with one of the engineers on this project. The BIM specialist will get acquainted with the drawing locations, file naming and layer practices, MVPart library locations, and other project-specific details. The specialist can either help with the intense modeling efforts, or do simple, tedious tasks such as plotting or dimensioning. It doesn’t matter, as his/her only reason for helping is to get acquainted with the project’s specifics. This BIM specialist is there to simply watch over an engineer’s shoulder, getting ready for game day.

3D engineering example

This will ensure that when the metaphorical umbilical cord is snipped and it is time for the official hand-off from engineering to the BIM group for coordination and collision-detection purposes, the learning curve is minimal. This will save copious amounts of time and manpower. This BIM specialist should then be the assigned “Lead BIM” for the coordination efforts, as that person knows the project best and can train the other BIM detailers on the project’s specifics that the BIM specialist should have documented.
Now that the 100 percent set is officially submitted by the engineers, the BIM team takes the model and strips the “nuts-and-bolts” detail from it to reduce file size and make the model more easily workable when combining all floors/levels. The customer will thank you for this, and so will the assigned “Lead BIM Coordination” company (LBC), as they have to add every trade into an overall model—not just yours. The LBC will now add the other trades’ drawings per the owner/GC’s instruction.

Alternative Energy Project, Ohio

This is where your BIM Group comes in—they must now move, add, and reduce objects from the drawing within AutoCAD MEP for the purpose of eliminating all internal and external collisions between trades within the working models using Navisworks Manage. This will be monitored and instructed by the assigned LBC’s weekly or bi-weekly coordination meetings with all trades in attendance, flying through the model in Navisworks to show the firms where the collisions are, and who should move for whom.

This is a powerful and tricky process, as the BIM detailers are now editing what the engineers have already signed off on. After the official hand-off from the engineering group to the BIM group, the engineers are not completely finished. They will still need to be notified of any new profound changes in the drawing, and all of these change requests should be documented in a daily log on your company’s server or FTP. Even though it is the BIM detailers who will be physically modifying the different facets of the drawings, the engineers must still be ready and available to look at the drawing and sign off on any new change request that comes through the system. It is also recommended that one engineer from the original team for the project is in attendance at every (or every other) coordination meeting so that they know what needs to be done at any given time. This specific detail relies on the assumption that the BIM group’s team members do not have a strong engineering background, and are not completely familiar with the processes that are in the model that they are editing for final approval.

In a perfect world, the engineers and the BIM detailers would be one and the same. Until each learns the other’s trade, though—we will have to adapt to the current way that will save the most amount of money for your company. In these economic times, I am sure that this will not go unnoticed by the high-level managers within your organization. Your team will get praise for a project well done (hopefully under budget) and the engineering team as well. This proven scenario is a win-win for everyone, and I have personally seen it work seamlessly at different companies around the United States. Sometimes the transition between the old way of doing things and the new way might hinder progress variably on the first couple ‘tester’ projects, but you must make your manager understand the long-term benefits of working together efficiently between groups within the organization.