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How to get started in BIM

Aug. 17, 2017
As more building owners become familiar with Building Information Modeling (BIM) contractors are realizing the need to embrace the BIM revolution.

As more building owners become familiar with Building Information Modeling (BIM) — and even mandate its use — mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), and fire protection design contractors are realizing the need to embrace the BIM revolution if they want to stay competitive and keep pace with industry trends. However, for many contractors the cost of adopting BIM and putting it into practice can seem daunting — a hurdle that needs to be cleared in the race to win bigger and better contracts.

Once considered a “design tool” primarily for architects, BIM has evolved beyond software to encompass an invaluable combination of software and workflow processes for contractors, engineers, specifiers, and owners alike, proving to ensure constructability, reduce interferences and change orders, and transform collaboration and communication in order to get the job done faster, at lower costs, and higher quality.

Furthermore, owners across all building sectors recognize BIM’s value to their real estate investments and are increasingly becoming directly involved with BIM, so much so that most now demand it. When a client specifies a project must conform to a particular BIM level, securing the work and satisfying owners’ expectations, depend on that requirement being met.

For those beginning their journey with BIM, having a solid plan for evaluation and implementation helps simplify the process, boost ROI and ensure the benefits of BIM are achieved within your organization.

Evaluation and implementation

BIM is not merely a software tool that, once purchased, satisfies the “BIM-ready checkbox.” In other words, having Revit in your software stack doesn’t necessarily make you a BIM-ready shop. Instead, BIM is a strategic approach to design and construction in which all project stakeholders collaborate using 3D modeling and the application of intelligence to that model to drive efficiencies, reduce risks and costly rework and waste, and create confidence in project delivery. To that end, it’s as much about people and processes as it is about technology.

Here are some tips on how to make your journey toward BIM easier, more successful and more profitable.

1) Assess Current Capabilities: There’s truth in the old adage, “You don’t know where you're going until you know where you've been."  Analyzing your BIM-readiness in terms of people processes and technology is important. For example, to what detail do you need your deliverables? The answer to this question will drive the Level of Development (LOD) requirements for your model. For example, do you prefabricate? Do you need to track weld diameter? How about planning field connections and hanger layout?

2) Set Goals and KPIs: From your assessment set intermediate targets and establish measurable progress indicators and milestones. For example, do you receive a model from the engineer? If so, how long does it take you to duplicate the original design intent information such as size and location with your detailed model compared to other technologies? Can these new technologies improve communication to other departments such as your shop or field?

3) Build a Culture of Commitment: Buy in and support is one of the most important success drivers, and can also be one of the most challenging. BIM adoption can be polarizing, with some people viewing it as an opportunity while others as an unnecessary cost and disruption. Getting everyone on board early requires thorough and consistent communication and a tailored training program. Different users within your organization such as MEP designers, sheet metal detailers, mechanical detailers and plumbing detailers will have different training requirements in terms of applications, content and processes. Bringing in an expert or recruiting a dedicated BIM manager or consultant capable of tailoring training needs to your team can help ease the transition. Furthermore, having strong leadership on your team who can manage perceptions and expectations is invaluable. Sharing challenges and successes, even small ones, will help inform others in the company about the evolution that is taking place, and, more importantly, the benefits that are being realized.

4) Monitor and Improve: The importance of continuously measuring the impact of your BIM investment cannot be understated. It’s imperative to measure the impact BIM has on projects and your business as a whole — positive or negative — and communicate that with your team. Conduct a return on investment (ROI) analysis monthly, quarterly and annually, and use that insight to circle back to step one, and then devise a plan to improve and extend your BIM maturity in terms of skills, process and technology.

How quickly you achieve BIM maturity and ROI will depend on making the best investments for your business circumstances. As an MEP contractor, your technology requirements may be different from others involved in projects.

Tips for evaluating BIM tools

The most important factor in evaluating BIM technology is ensuring the software meets the specific needs of the MEP contractor. 2D and 3D CAD drafting software can be useful, but they are basic applications with no specific trade or industry focus. As general purpose offerings, these tools give users the capability to design and assist in preparing construction documents and generic engineering plans. On their own, however, they lack the requirements and deliverables that MEP contractors and installers need, such as LOD 350 or higher, which provides detailed models based on real manufacturer specifications and content. For you to achieve the true benefits of BIM and realize an ROI, invest in solutions that are purpose-built for the MEP industry or consider industry specific add-ons.

BIM should augment your workflows, not rip and replace them. If you cannot share the data between your departments then this means you will need to rebuild the project information every time you move from one software platform to another. This requires costly rework, delays occur, risks introduced and productivity is lost. For this reason, make the integration capabilities of any software you’re considering support your workflows.

BIM deliverables are most impactful when a fully constructible model is delivered as it provides accurate graphical representation and real intelligence about the components and materials that are being purchased, fabricated, and installed. It is also important to note that while the process is centered on the model, products such as estimating, shop management (CAM), field solutions like robotic total stations (RTS), scanning, and even mobile apps are now authoring data that increases the level of detail and information referenced by the model itself. With the right technology, MEP contractors can capitalize on the BIM process from nearly every department within their company.

Brett Stacks is the segment manager, MEP solutions at Trimble. He got his start as a Local #67 Sheet Metal Worker over20 years ago and has since then been passionate about improving the technologies and processes for virtual design and BIM through his management positions at companies including TSI, Autodesk, QuickPen and Trimble. He is currently segment manager for Trimble’s MEP division where he oversees product development of Trimble’s BIM and 3D CAD detailing solutions for MEP contractors. For more information, visit

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