BIM Is for Everyone
Ask yourself a quick question: How do we design our structure, exchange information, and coordinate our model? If your answer has not changed from what it was 10 years ago, chances are you are just using Revit® and not fully embracing Building Information Modeling (BIM).
From design software, 3D scanning, and Dynamo scripts to 3D modeling, BIM has, over the last decade, become more than just the structural model. It has become about the information within the model, how it gets there, how to get it out of the model, and how it is shared and used to allow easier distribution of the information around which you are building the model.
BIM can be scary place for small to midsized companies if you are not ready or do not have the pieces in place for implementation. With time, patience, the right people and software, you can not only survive but thrive.
BIM Is for the Big Dogs
Wrong! BIM is the perfect fit for small structural firms. Not only does it allow you to keep pace with the big dogs on the block, it also gives you the chance to come out ahead and land those larger jobs that for years owners thought had to go to the bigger companies. Now you will not only keep pace—BIM allows you to have the chance to outshine the bigger companies.
BIM lets small companies organize staff in a way that allows them to put their best foot forward. Through collaboration tools such as BIM 360™, modeling software like Revit, and the ability to round trip between modeling and design software, any size team with the right people having the right skills and the right tools (software) can be front runners in their design community.
BIM is the same for everyone. The key is to not be afraid to jump in and just do it. There is room for everyone in the truly collaborative environment that BIM allows us to work in. It does not matter if you have a design team of 100 with a fully stocked IT department to back you up, or if you are a small, skilled, forward-thinking team of 15 that can, does, and will do it all.
Figure 1: BIM looks the same regardless of size
It Seems to Take a Lot of Time
To be honest, yes it does. I am not talking years here, but as they say, good things take time. But do not follow the adage of “good things come to those who wait.” If you wait, you will be left behind. To do it right you need to put a bit of effort, research, time, and money into it. Waiting will only put you behind and you can not lead and be productive if you are playing catch up. You want to be the company that has the answers—the company other consultants look to for results and forward-thinking workflows and design.
Expect to fail at times. It might not be a big step back, or one that will be seen by anyone outside the walls of your office. You will have setbacks that are frustrating, making you wonder if the hard work and time are worth it. Trust me when I say you will learn from those mistakes and setbacks. It will be easier once you see that you come out ahead on the road to BIM if you keep at it and keep learning from mistakes and sharing your experience and new knowledge.
BIM is a new way of thinking and has lots of moving parts and pieces. It is very true that you get out of it what you put into it. If you are just going to get Revit and say you are
“BIMing,” then you are going to get what you put into it, and that is a nice model and nothing else. Well, hopefully you get a nice model. If you are willing to take the time, invest in people and their skills and the tools they need, you will see the benefits ten-fold.
It will not happen overnight, and there may not be that big moment where you say, “Hey, look, we are doing it,” but it will happen. And when it does, you look back and say,
“That wasn’t so bad.” The time you will save, the work you will create will be the way you define the milestones of your journey into BIM.
You may not see a giant increase or any increase in your project fees. You will, though, spend less time on reworking projects, doing less post tender coordination, and so on, meaning the money you spent on a new computer, a new piece of software, and the ensuing eight-hour training course has just repaid itself by cutting down on production hours on not just one job, but every job going forward. Seems like a pretty good return on your investment. BIM will not only save you production hours, but also allows you to go get the next big and exciting job you now have the time for, a job that you also are fully capable of doing and being a team leader on because you have invested in yourself and your team.
What About a BIM Manager?
BIM Manager, Lead, Coordinator, Dude… whatever you want to call it, you need it. You need that one person who can answer the questions or at least find the answers—who will organize everything that BIM involves. That one person to help put the moving parts into place, who understands it all—design, modeling, administration, coordination. There is a lot that goes into BIM and it needs to be organized and sorted out.
Find that person who not only loves what they do, that is great at the job, but also sees the vision and the road ahead that you want to travel. Someone who has the knowledge and ability to use the software, knows how it will affect your office, and can manage not only the software but people as well. By that I mean someone who can let go and allow the young gun right out of school to create the families for you. Yes, the BIM manager knows how to do it, but nowhere does it say they have to do it. Admit it, there is a good chance the young gun can do it in less time and in some cases better than the manager. Put that one person in place who can go to a senior engineer or designer and help guide that person in a new direction and the new way BIM makes us think and work.
Even if you don’t give the new BIM manager the title or a title at all, make sure everyone knows—employees, clients and the individual—that there is one person who everything and everyone goes to and will help guide them. This will allow them to bring in new ideas, new software, and new ways of doing things that are needed and will help the company move forward as well as making sure there is a contact person for clients and other consultants to contact. BIM is evolving and changing as we speak, and without someone keeping up, you will get left behind.
Let your new BIM champion dive into creating a BIM execution plan, a LOD guideline, decide what families you need, how to set up the analytical model etc. You will be surprised at how much they start to see the big picture by placing all the pieces together to create your new BIM plan. An overall plan is a must to move forward and will only benefit you and your company.
We Have No IT Department
This should not stop you. There are many qualified IT companies that can give you as much or as little IT support as you need. The upside is software has become so easy to install that most software companies will even list the system requirements you need before you download it. And they usually provide free phone support or, in the case of Autodesk, a great online knowledge network, making it much easier now to get up and running on your own.
This also might be the chance to give the young computer genius who sits two cubes down from you more to do than setting up email on your phone. Send them to a few courses and next thing you know you have your own small in-house IT department.
BIM is also very coordination and collaboration driven, so most aspects of your new daily workflow can and will be cloud based. Software such as BIM 360 means not needing to invest large amounts of time and money into a large on-site server system.
Let the tools work for you, and you will have more time to invest in your own education and on bringing in more work.
My Designer Does Not Know That Program
Some days it seems that every software company is coming out with new or better design software. Lucky for us, most of them realize that and have their software somewhat compatible with other design and current modeling software. From exporting or importing an IFC file to using add-ins for Revit, there is no reason to not continue using your current software.
I would recommend, though, exploring your options with other software out there. For example, Autodesk has a full toolbox of project-ready software that will cover all the bases with the AEC Collection. If you have the AEC Collection, there are a few design options that may make you wonder, after you have used it for a while, why you hadn’t used it before.
Figure 2: Easy to export and import
If you are struggling with something in Revit, maybe try Advance Steel for your connections. This also gives you a chance in the comfort of your own office to see how easy it can be to export and import from other software. Have a smaller job that you want a program-savvy technician or up-and-coming designer to start? Why not let them start it in Robot Structural or another design software option you have been looking at? Many software providers provide a 30-day free trial. The worst that can happen is you realize the software does not fit into your workflow. Or you may learn new software and get to train a staff person at the same time.
Take the Next Step
Try not to be worried about trying something new. If you see something out there that might help your design process, drawing production, or even advance what your company can offer, try it. The worst that can happen is you find out it is not for you. Best case is you will come out of it with a new service to offer a client or new workflow to cut back production hours.
3D scanning is one of those things you should try. It is a big step, I know, but so was moving from the drafting board to AutoCAD®. It is not just for field verifying the as-build condition, but can take the place of existing drawings for renovations. Have a large amount of site verification to do before replacing a piece of rooftop equipment? Why not scan the existing conditions? Not only will you have something you can do site measurements on while not being on site, but also something you can use in your model.
Dynamo, what LISP routines were to AutoCAD, is a graphic programming tool for Revit. This is another tool that is making headway. BIM managers do not have to know how it works inside and out, but you will need someone on staff who does. It may take a bit to get accustomed to and to get everyone up to speed, but just think about something as simple as not having to ever fill out a title block over and over again. That’s what Dynamo does—it takes the time out of doing things.
Just Jump In
Do not let BIM and all the other TLAs (three-letter acronyms) of the AEC world get in your way of moving forward and taking advantage of the workflows, technology, and advances that are offered to us. The small, close teams that smaller companies have are a perfect fit for today’s BIM workflow. Now is the time to take charge of the type of work you do—now and in the future. Use the tools provided and keep looking ahead to the next one. Do not be happy with just keeping up, but with drive and passion become the leaders in your community and help make the change to a better BIM environment.
Figure 3: AEC Collection
The worst thing you can do is wait to see what happens. If you are seeing others doing it and succeeding, chances are you are already behind. Join a BIM community, talk to other consultants, and arrange for demonstrations. The future of the BIM road you are taking may not always be easy or straightforward, but it will be exciting and beneficial as long as you are willing to try it. The next thing you know, you will be doing it.
Jason Peters is the BIM Manager at Lavergne Draward & Associates, a Structural Consulting Firm in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada. He has 20 years of experience in Structural Consulting using AutoCAD and Revit as a drafter, modeler, coordinator, team leader, and CAD Manager. In his current role as BIM Manager, Jason is responsible for implementing and maintaining BIM and modeling standards as well as providing technical support and training for both AutoCAD and Revit users. He works closely with Architects, Mechanical engineers, and other members of the AEC and MEP team, working on projects ranging from small residential additions, world class sports facilities, a one-of-a-kind museum, education, and health facilities. Jason’s experience and depth of knowledge exemplifies a well-rounded member of the AEC community.