Beyond the Build

Construction Trends

BIM: Getting Past the Hype

Earlier this week, I met with a national architectural firm with whom we are partnering on a 2012 mixed-use project. I asked the principals what they thought of BIM and their response was, “it will become the norm for architectural and engineering work sooner than later–in less than five years.”

We also believe BIM will become the standard, but not without growing pains and good effort to learn.

We know firsthand. On our first BIM project, our building superintendent was excited about getting into they system. He liked having the flat screen in the trailer and the ability to manipulate the plans. Cool. I recently spoke with him and he hasn’t done a whole lot more with it since then. The hype took over, but substance has not.

I also recently visited a site where everybody was carrying around iPads loaded with BIM software and the talk was about it being the greatest thing since sliced bread. As I read the tea leaves, I fear there is a bit of hype here as well.

So, how do you get past the hype?

For us, it all lies in educating our team.

Realize the initial benefits.

  • Using BIM in presentations can help you win jobs. This works as a commercial developer, a building contractor or as someone trying to sell the construction of a new project within your company.
  • Using BIM is helpful for non-construction types. Most have difficulty visualizing two-dimensional flat plans, but BIM helps them understand what they are seeing.
  • Putting BIM into practice will reduce change orders. The “tool” reduces clashes and delivers the images of the product with more clarity.
  • BIM will eliminate collisions and overlap between trades, saving time and money.

Realized future benefits.

  • BIM will be a great tool for operations and facilities management after construction is complete.
  • BIM will probably lead to better customer long term relationships. Models will help us “own” the project or development.

Realize the obstacles.

  • Right now there are only a small group of BIM-capable personnel in the workforce. With the hype, one would think everyone is using is using BIM, but that’s far from the truth.
  • The software is at times difficult to navigate, even after training. We’re hoping for more use-friendly programs that can be easily used in the field.
  • There are folks in the field who have been reading 2D drawings their entire lives. Widespread acceptance of  the technology will require it to be as easily accessed as a set of paper plans.

Even with these obstacles, to me, BIM is worth the time and cost on the front end. The gains in efficiency and understanding of the project will be of great value to our customer relationships.

Have you been successful putting BIM into practice? What challenges have you overcome?


Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.