Taking the Plunge Further – More Thoughts on Switching to BIM


The original article about firms “taking the plunge” and switching to BIM generated a lot of discussion – something that I’m always glad to see. In response, I wanted to post some further thoughts about making the switch from a 2D-centric design process to the mighty power of BIM.

Attitude is Everything

One of the questions that I posited in the last article was: “When is the right time to switch to BIM?” Overwhelmingly, the answer was “now!” Or, interestingly enough, “5 years ago!” – or even before that. It should be pointed out that with some discipline-specific BIM applications, such as Revit, the different disciplines vary as far as their versatility and functional maturity. Revit Architecture is widely viewed as being the most mature, with Revit Structure being slightly behind, and Revit MEP still struggling to catch up to the functionality that its users need.

There were one or two bitter-enders who answered the question with “never!” It is unfortunate that some people have had really unpleasant experiences with BIM, but also perhaps not too surprising. Switching to a BIM-based design process is just that: changing the entire design process. It is not simply switching software, like going from Photoshop to PaintShop Pro – it’s a major change in the overall process of a firm, and that needs to be understood and planned for as such before implementing a change.

Attitude is everything when it comes to making such a major change. There needs to be a total buy-in from the principals to the drafters that this is the right thing to do. (This is covered in more detail in the post The Benefits of Being a BIMwit.) Grudgingly adopting BIM is a sure-fire recipe for a painful and unpleasant experience. This is particularly true for smaller firms, as the change is going to affect the entire firm at once. Larger firms have the luxury of being able to make the switch team by team, making it easier on the firm overall. Regardless of the size of the firm, the concerns of every team member need to be adequately addressed before implementing the change. Having an experienced BIM whiz on staff or outside consultant available to help lay the groundwork and smooth out the bumps during transition is invaluable.

Size & Family Matters

One concept that generated a lot of comments was my suggestion that one should start small, perhaps on a residential or TI project. It was pointed out that Revit might not be a good choice for a small residential project. I can understand this point of view – Revit is a pretty powerful tool, and may not be appropriate for a firm that is primarily working on small residential projects. There are other BIM packages out there, such as Chief Architect or SoftPlan, that are more suitable for smaller residential projects. However, if your firm works on projects larger than single family residences, it is well worth the time to learn how to use more powerful packages such as Revit, ArchiCad, or Vectorworks. Just be sure that you are not taking on too complex a project for your first foray into BIM – you want to leave some wiggle room to deal with the learning curve. You don’t have to start small, but you should definitely start simple when choosing a first BIM project.

Another concern that was raised regarding using Revit for residential projects was that of family creation. Some were concerned that it would take too much time to create component families in Revit for use in residential projects. It is true that family creation is an advanced Revit topic – in my mind almost a “parallel Revit” in terms of complexity and learning curve issues. However, there are thousands upon thousands of Revit families available for free. Out of the box, Revit provides a generous array of families in its families library (very few of these will be loaded into the default template, however). Also, increasing numbers of manufacturers provide detailed Revit families online. There are also numerous websites, such as RevitCity, where users post their families for others to use.

Finally, if you feel you need to devote hundreds of hours to creating custom families, you may be over-modeling or providing detail in the drawings that may be best left to the specification documents. One of the potential pitfalls of BIM (or even 2D drafting applications) is spending too much time modeling or drawing detail that won’t be discernible on the drawings, anyway. Know when to say when.

BIM. revit, tesseract design, portland

Revit families are a powerful tool, but don’t get sucked into over-detailing

BIM IT Issues

There are also many misgivings about the IT side of making the switch to BIM. To be honest, I am not qualified to address most of these issues. For larger firms, the IT department will undoubtedly need some training and preparation for deploying a BIM application. As with the rest of the firm, the IT department needs to have buy-in – and have their concerns addressed – prior to the implementation of a BIM program.

Regarding desktop hardware, the gap between the capabilities of the BIM applications and the capabilities of common PC systems is getting narrower. Sure, many high-end workstation manufacturers would like you to think that you need s super-high-end (and super-expensive) system to maintain a BIM project, but this simply isn’t true. In most cases, an off-the-shelf system with an Intel I7 processor and 16 GB of RAM should work fine for most small- to medium-sized projects. In some cases, it may be necessary to install a higher-end graphics card, but these can be had for a few hundred dollars. For laptops, a low-end “gamer” machine is usually enough to handle the demands of a BIM application.

In my experience, unless you are dealing with monster projects that  link multiple 300+ MB files, many off-the-shelf PCs are capable of getting the job done.

White-Knuckling the BIM Learning Curve

Make no mistake: there will  be a learning curve in making the switch to BIM, and it can potentially be steep. Proper preparation and planning are invaluable in helping flatten that curve. Having a resource with plenty of practical BIM experience is also vital to creating the optimal BIM transition.

When planning for a BIM program, keep in mind the “three project” rule of thumb: it generally takes a team three projects before they get enough experience to fully realize the capabilities of a BIM application. Plan for the learning curve for those first three projects – there will be issues that cause problems on the initial projects. Above all, do not get discouraged. Keep in mind that the growing pains that are experienced in early BIM projects will be rewarded in the long run with a better design process.

BIM, Revit, Tsseract Design, Portland

The BIM learning curve – know what to expect!


Tesseract Design can help firms of all sizes successfully navigate the switch to BIM. Our wide variety of BIM experience can help you make the transition to a BIM-based process go smoothly. For more information on our services, please see www.tesseract-design.com/bim-services.