Business information modeling – BIM – is the computer-aided construction design now used by 70 percent of industry professionals, according to McGraw-Hill Construction’s Smart Market 2012 study.
Contractors are leading users, with 74 percent, followed by architects, 70 percent, and engineers, 67 percent. McGraw-Hill believes that adoption will rise to 90 percent, making the technology pervasive in the building industry.
Manual drafting of designs and blueprints was an entire field of work until the rise of the personal computer. Companies like Autodesk, still a leader, recognized the perfect fit between computer capability and construction design.
Software gives the user tools to draw perfect lines, perform mathematical functions and easily make changes. This first generation is known as CAD: computer-aided design.
The creation of 3-D computer graphics led to the development of BIM, which has the ability to display objects to be built as they will appear in real life. 3-D can convey mass, street presence and integration into the landscape far beyond two-dimensional architectural renderings. 3-D can also display the visual result of design changes immediately.
3-D modeling makes it much easier for partners in the project, including owners, financiers and buyers, to visualize the final product.
Linking models to schedule (4-D) and cost (5-D) are the latest innovation.
Design-phase features in Autodesk software, for example, support cross-functional design teams, create virtual walkthroughs and simulate system performance. Modeling can improve constructability and make the building process more efficient and cost effective by testing out various designs and decisions.
Construction management tools help generate more accurate cost estimates, create schedules and allow better decision making during building.
In its overall survey of users, McGraw-Hill found larger companies (91 percent) were more likely than small (49 percent) to use BIM.
The West Coast led the vanguard of adoption, but other regions are quickly catching up. Top benefits for all users include maintaining repeat business, increased profits and reduced costs, and project duration.
Architects and engineers both cited business development and reduction of errors as top benefits.
Design professionals regard BIM as enhancing productivity and marketplace position, both important to their long-term success in the industry.
For contractors using BIM, the main concern is how the technology affects the job site and their role in the construction process.
Leading benefits ranked included reduced rework and project duration and fewer document errors. For these contractors, BIM is making the project process more efficient on a practical level because the building design is more accurate and complete going into construction.
Contractors also believe that use of BIM is helping their market position, leading to both new and repeat work.
Implementing BIM software requires significant investments in funds and education. Like other CAD programs, the software is complex and specialized.
Although the starting cost for BIM software is about $5,000, learning and using the software involves a significant investment of staff time and training.
Besides being a complex and specialized technology, BIM should be integrated into all company processes from sales through construction to use it to its capacity. More detail is required in earlier phases of building than with older CAD software, requiring additional staff time.
BIM requires ongoing investment. In 2013, companies in the McGraw-Hill report plan to invest in communications, software, training and process improvements.
Improving internal and external collaboration is a key area where users plan to invest in 2013. Participants in the McGraw-Hill study reported that their investment in BIM is paying off. Over 80 percent are reporting a positive return on investment (ROI).
High engagement with the software is correlated with increased ROI, as would be expected. Two thirds of those with high engagement – defined as a year of use – expertise and degree of implementation, reported ROI of higher than 25 percent.
Associated General Contractors of America recognizes the importance of BIM training to the industry and has created a BIM certificate program.
Courses are offered around the country. For an overview, The BIM Handbook, published by John Wiley, is available on Amazon for about $60. The handbook discusses the features, benefits and implementation of BIM technology for various audiences, including contractors.