Like AutoCAD, building information modeling (BIM) is a transformative technology for the building industry. And as AutoCAD far surpassed the capabilities of hand drafting, BIM far surpasses AutoCAD for architecture, engineering, and construction firms because it provides three-dimensional drawings opposed to just two dimensions. Considering that BIM is currently used by a slight majority of firms, what does the future hold for this tool, and what does the A/E/C (Architecture/Engineering/Construction) industry look like when most firms are using BIM?
According to the 2021 report, Accelerating Digital Transformation Through BIM SmartMarket Report, a new global study by Dodge Data & Analytics conducted in partnership with Autodesk (that company that makes AutoCAD), the use of BIM among A/E/C firms is expected to jump in the near future.
According to the report, “60% of architects and 51% of MEP and structural engineers currently use BIM on at least 50% of projects. That number is forecasted to skyrocket to 89% and 80% respectively within the next 2-3 years.”
How REX Engineering Is Using BIM
REX currently uses BIM for certain projects, but not a majority of projects—yet. Our expertise and utilization of BIM are growing along with the rest of our industry. After Revit, the leading BIM application, really took off in 2016, we’ve been steadily expanding our use of BIM based on the projects we take on.
The way this works can greatly enhance efficiency in projects. For example, REX has structural engineering, MEP, and even construction business units with our sister company, REX Construction Services. When we are contracted for all those functions on a project, it’s convenient and smart to leverage BIM among those in-house teams.
We create a BIM model and all those teams do their own specialized work on the shared model. It’s all updated in real time and helps us refine the design and eliminate collisions, which happens when two elements are placed in the same physical space.
Before BIM, the designers would use AutoCAD to design the space, but in 2D. They would have to visualize the space in 3D. Inevitably, there were collisions, and the contractors and subs would have to make adjustments to assemblies like the HVAC system during or after the space had been built. It was better than paper plans, but was still not as efficient as it could be if it could have been drawn in three dimensions. 2D required reworking of completed work, which is wasteful. With BIM and 3D designs, we face less of that now. It’s much more functional to do a walkthrough of any space in the design and see how the space works, represented on the screen in 3D.
BIM Provides a Number of Advantages Over AutoCAD
Another huge advantage for BIM is the “I” part, which is “Information.”
The program has a place for the user to include all kinds of information, from the details of an assembly to the schedule. The program keeps track of all the electrical boxes in a room, for example, and you have the information about those boxes, and the length of the run, and so on. It’s all included right there and you don’t have to go searching for it, or try to remember it.
This advantage becomes more apparent when you consider how an RFI (Request For Information) is normally done when you’re not using a BIM model. RFIs are a standard occurrence on a construction project, and tend to slow down the process. Work often stops until the design team can respond to the RFI. So that is a time suck for the architecture and engineering teams, and for the construction crew. With a BIM model, the crew can usually consult the information included with the design and have their answer immediately. They don’t need to submit an RFI when that information is readily available.
Other benefits that are driving the adoption of BIM have become apparent since we’ve seen supply-chain challenges in the last couple of years. BIM helps us produce much more precise designs, and that includes cost and material estimates. When our designs are close to spot on for the material needs and costs, we don’t find ourselves under or over on materials by much. Both of those happen with some regularity in the A/E/C world, but BIM gets us closer. Naturally, that’s good for the budget, as the model can include real-time cost data. It’s also good for the schedule, as we can minimize delays that are caused by supply-chain issues. Supply is dynamic lately and BIM is a more accurate tool to help us get it done accurately earlier in the project. Then we have more data for ordering, so we can watch pricing and availability and order when optimal.
BIM also helps us to identify what assemblies can be prefabricated. This process can add substantially to both cost and time efficiency. For example, we can have much of the conduit bent offsite, as we’re confident in the design. The electricians don’t have to fabricate much onsite, so when they are onsite, the work goes faster.
The third advantage of BIM is helping owners to see the design more accurately than they can with a 2D plan. The model gives them a much clearer idea of the space, and so helps them to visualize what’s been designed, and if the design fits their vision.
Finally, we can also put on a VR (Virtual Reality) headset and experience the model in real time, as if we are actually there. Revit Live is one example, and you can find their videos on YouTube. You can control your movement and walk around the space, evaluating how it feels, checking the natural lighting, and so on. It’s quite remarkable, and it’s useful from a design perspective.
It’s also invaluable for an owner or other interested person who was not involved in the design. They can get a much more accurate impression of the space, both inside and outside the structure, than just seeing the model on a screen. Can you imagine the value of doing this for custom, one-off designs? It’s truly a game changer, and I expect it will be the norm in just a few years, as BIM use becomes more prevalent.