To BIM or Not to BIM

If you are part of the AEC community, you are probably at least familiar with the term “BIM” as it is rare to receive an AEC-related magazine or newsletter that does not talk about BIM.  This is typically an acronym for “Building Information Modeling” as it relates to the design of a building and its components.  Autodesk and other software packages, along with industry experts, tout the advantages of using BIM on your design projects.  A big question, though, is whether you should use BIM for every project.

BIM is a great tool to use to envision your project design and track the myriad of information that can be stored in the 3D model.  It can help coordination between disciplines and potentially reduce change orders during construction.  There are many advantages to utilizing BIM, and I am a firm believer in BIM and the future that it holds in the AEC industry.  I could spend the entire article on why BIM is beneficial, but there are multitudes of articles espousing the advantages of BIM.  Regardless of the many advantages, BIM is not right for every project.

Determining whether BIM should be utilized on a project first requires that BIM be defined in more precise terms to ascertain the actual benefits.  Creating a 3D model is considered a critical part of BIM implementation, which provides the “Modeling” portion of the name.  The “Information” portion is more nebulous as it can be defined in many different ways and at many different levels of detail.   Different companies, disciplines, and end users will have different levels of detail required depending on their needs and what they want/need out of the model.  For instance, a construction company will typically desire a higher level of detail than an architect.  Different companies in the same industry can even require different levels of detail in a BIM model.  The higher the level of detail required, the more time is typically invested in developing the model.

The project manager must look at various aspects in determining whether to utilize BIM on the project, and if so, what level of detail to include.  Does the client require the project be in BIM format?  If so, how does the client define BIM and what do they expect?  What amount of detail does the budget allow?  Will the project electronic files be used again for another project by your company?  Will the project electronic files be used through the life-cycle of the building?  Will the electronic files be used to coordinate work with other disciplines?  Will the automatic scheduling features of BIM be needed and utilized on the project?  Is it a simple project that requires minor coordination?  Is there value to the project using BIM technology and features?

There are tremendous advantages to using BIM technology, but not every project takes advantage of the features of BIM.  There are many projects that have a very small scope, a very quick turn-around, requires only general information, or generally just do not need BIM.  These types of projects include tenant space improvements, re-roofing, window replacements, as well as any number of other types of projects.  If a project will not take advantage of BIM, then you should not force it into BIM.

While the majority of projects can benefit from the features of BIM, not every project is a fit for BIM.   Review the needs of the project and make the decision wisely.  It is acceptable to not use BIM on every project.

(Article by author as published in AU Quarterly Newsletter in September 2008)

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