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Maximizing BIM for Optimal Outcomes on Construction Projects

When properly implemented, building information modeling (BIM) has a significant impact on infrastructure by increasing the productivity, efficiency and quality of design and construction projects.

Initially used primarily for vertical building efforts, BIM is now also being frequently used on horizontal projects. In both cases, BIM enables designers and engineers to make earlier informed decisions about the specification of materials as well as identify and resolve conflicts.

As with any new technology, firms should also carefully consider the risks. When entering the world of BIM, three areas to consider are practice, technology and legal/risk management.

Practice Considerations

BIM is both a “process” and “design technology.” While BIM implementations can have meaningful and positive impacts on the project delivery process, it will also cause disruption to the more traditional CAD oriented process. To fully maximize its benefits, BIM requires careful planning among design disciplines, general contractors, and other project team participants throughout the design phase.

BIM project delivery is most effective when implemented in a collaborative and integrated project team environment. Architects, engineers, general contractors, major trade contractors and sometimes even key manufacturers’ representatives should be included. A BIM Execution Plan (BEP) should be created at the very forefront of the project by the lead BIM firm, which is usually the lead design firm, to establish clear-cut objectives, protocols and responsibilities. Next steps then include the identification and empowerment of a BIM leader for the entire project team.

Production inefficiencies are to be expected when team members do not have equal levels of skill and dexterity with BIM protocols. The need for enhanced collaboration between all team members may be a significant culture change in firms. While individuals may be used to working in isolation, BIM modeling is most successful when data is shared and coordinated regularly between design and construction disciplines in accordance with the BEP.

The data-rich and integrated nature of BIM not only allows for, but requires, early decision-making on planning concepts, building systems, materials and related technical aspects to ensure proper outcomes. This is a major shift in the project process and requires design leaders and clients to invest the necessary time and energy needed to make more facile and expedient decisions during the earliest design phases.

Accelerated decision-making can be a challenge for institutional owners who have extended internal approval processes. However, the benefits of streamlined project delivery and enhanced quality can be realized throughout the process if properly adapted. The ability to provide advanced 3-D images through BIM enables user groups and owners to better visualize the project, revise designs as needed and speed decisioning.

Embracing and shifting to BIM requires firm and team-wide commitment. Everyone involved must understand both the benefits and challenges since the transition from traditional CAD methods can be besieged with short and medium-term inefficiencies. In many ways, BIM is like learning a foreign language that includes a host of new terms such as “families,” “components,” “parameters” and “libraries.”

Here are seven recommendations for speeding the transition:

  • establish BIM processes, protocols and standards and remain flexible to changing project requirements, while maximizing consistent use throughout the firm;
  • recreate CAD libraries in BIM—a necessary and worthwhile investment in the project’s productivity, effectiveness and quality management;
  • have skilled BIM personnel work closely with senior staff to enable quality assurance of the BIM content and stronger adoption of the new standards and processes;
  • discourage “work-arounds,” which can detract from the consistent adherence of practices, while compromising productivity and quality;
  • implement a BEP, including a Model Element Table, to establish the Level of Development [LOD] and the author of each model element. Develop these items collaboratively with the project team and lead design firm;
  • establish a template to facilitate the creation of the BEP to enhance the efficiency of the BIM planning process on subsequent projects. The productivity, efficiency and coordination for the entire design and project team can be best realized through the use, monitoring and adjustment of this important planning tool; and
  • refer to reputable industry resources such as the following for further information:
  • Guide, Instructions and Commentary to the 2013 AIA Digital Practice Documents
  • Penn State University BIM Project Execution Planning Guide
  • LOD specification published by the BIM Forum

Technology and Training Considerations

Like any new technology, BIM requires a meaningful and often significant investment in time, materials and expenses. In addition to IT infrastructure, hardware, software and employee training, these costs may include:

  • Robust IT networks (LAN and WAN) and hardware. BIM involves the storage and exchange of data rich files, which are much larger than CAD files and can stress insufficient IT infrastructures.
  • Employee training and communication. Initial training should be intense and thorough with communication platforms established to enable the ongoing development of standards and processes to promote firm-wide efficiencies and consistencies.
  • Creation of a content library management system, where the firm’s BIM standards are stored and easily accessible. The content library may require separate software and a dedicated server(s). Ongoing feedback and input from BIM users will enable the BIM library to become increasingly comprehensive, while maintaining consistency with the firm’s QA/QC criteria and protocols.
  • Expanded network security features and protocols, which are normally needed to mitigate cyber risks.

Legal Considerations

Clients and contractors will likely have expectations for a higher level of coordination and quality of BIM design services and documents. It is important to have a legal agreement that clearly establishes expectations and intentions. For the design professional, it is particularly important that the normal “standard of care” is not elevated due to the use of BIM.

Project team operational protocols including file and data exchange procedures should be established in Client-Design Consultant and Client-Contractor agreements. AIA documents E203-2013 and G202-2013 provide thorough definitions outlining the use of BIM on projects as well as each project team member’s roles and expectations through a common contract exhibit.

BIM should be considered as a “tool of convenience” with reliance for construction based on the stamped and sealed drawings and specs. While BIM contains valuable project information, the design and construction industry is not yet ready to elevate BIM to the level of a contract document. Stay alert and informed—that day is coming!

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