Taking the Plunge: When is the Best Time to Switch to BIM?

Part 1

October 18, 2014

Change can be difficult. Despite the rapid technological changes that are happening in the AEC world, making the switch from a 2D drafting process to using a BIM (building information modeling) package can require a leap of faith. Many firms, particularly small- and medium-sized ones, can be very reluctant to dive in to BIM. However, BIM provides amazing benefits that can just as easily be realized by a single-person shop as a large multi-office firm. In this post, I’ll address some of the perceived roadblocks that keep firms from taking advantage of all that BIM has to offer.

BIM Saves Time

There have been numerous articles and papers written about the advantages of BIM, including this previous post from the Tesseract Design blog. Almost all of the arguments in favor of adopting a BIM workflow boil down to one simple fact: using BIM saves time.

Having all of the information for a building design in one (or very few) files makes it easy to streamline many common tasks that are boring and repetitive. These including creating and annotating views, generating and maintaining schedules and sheet indexes, and many others. I don’t know of anybody who went through an architecture or construction management program in order to manage construction documents, yet huge amounts of time are spent doing just that with a 2D drawing process. Using BIM allows the AEC professional to spend significantly less time with document management and more time designing and constructing buildings.

BIM, Revit, Tesseract Design, Portland

BIM models can easily generate schedules and information that would be time-consuming with a 2D process

Is Your Current Process Wasteful?

Many AEC professionals, particularly architects, are reluctant to change their existing workflow. “We’re happy with our current process,” they’ll say. “We don’t want to change it.” In many cases, the workflow has been refined over the years, and the thought of abandoning it makes people feel uncomfortable. However, just because a workflow is comfortable doesn’t mean that it is efficient, or that there couldn’t be a better way to get the job done.

For example, consider the issue of creating digital renderings. Hand renderings are wonderful, but they are extremely time-consuming and the number of people capable of creating them is relatively limited. However, digital renderings are relatively easy to produce, and the user doesn’t need gobs of artistic talent or experience to produce really eye-catching renderings. Having good-looking 3D renderings at an interview will significantly increase a firm’s chances of getting the commission.

There are many inexpensive or free 3D modeling/rendering programs out there that can be used to create really awesome visualizations. The problem is that these rendering programs do nothing more than produce the eye candy, and contribute very little to the creation of working drawings. I’ve seen any number of times when a designer has spent dozens and dozens of hours creating a great-looking model in SketchUp, only to have to go back to square one in AutoCAD when it’s time to begin the drawing set.

This represents a significant amount of duplicated effort, and the time that is spent recreating that beautiful SketchUp model in a 2D drafting package is time that could be spent in design exploration. With BIM tools, it’s easy to create a good-looking design concept rendering that can then be used to automatically generate the basis of a complete drawing set. Switching over from a disconnected design process to using BIM can free up hundreds of hours every year. That’s time that could be spent designing – or relaxing.

BIM, Revit, Tesseract Design, Portland

A BIM model can produce an eye-catching rendering and 2D drawings without duplicating effort


Finding Time to Save Time

Over the last seven years or so, the AEC field has become rather cutthroat. The recent economic downturn has firms scrambling for jobs, and reducing their profit margins to a razor’s width. Sometimes it seems like we’re either knocking ourselves out to find work, or knocking ourselves out to fulfill the commitments that have been made. In these circumstances, it can be difficult to consider taking the time to make a significant change like adopting BIM. However, it can also be easy to get stuck in a loop where the firm is either too busy working or looking for work to adopt BIM.

As the adage goes, “It takes money to make money.” Likewise, it takes time to save time. If a firm is considering making the switch to BIM, then there really is little point in waiting to make the switch. It doesn’t seem realistic to expect that the old 2D-based work flow is going to be able to serve a firm ad infinitum. There may be design firms out there that are still using hand-drafting and pinsets, but they are few and far between. Everyone else adopted digital drafting back in the 80’s and 90’s because it was demonstrably more efficient than drawing by hand. The same logic now applies to BIM. By quickly adopting BIM in favor of an less efficient work flow a firm will soon find that it is completing projects more efficiently and finding work more easily.

BIM, Revit, Tesseract Design, Portland

The Right Job for BIM

Frequently, firms will resist making the change to BIM because they are waiting for the “right job” to come along on which to roll out BIM. Frequently, it is assumed that this job has to be fairly large to justify the use of BIM. This is erroneous and can lead to major problems.I worked for one firm that decided that a highly complex, 25-floor project was the best initial project for BIM. The results were, at best, problematic. Since this was such a big job, there was a lot more at risk when things went wrong. And things will go wrong with a first BIM project – it’s simply unrealistic to expect otherwise.

Generally, I advise clients to start small with BIM. Essentially, any design job that requires more than floor plans is a good first project for BIM. Any project that has elevations, sections, and schedules – all of which can be much more easily generated and managed with BIM than with a 2D process. Even something as small as a 200-square-foot TI or residential addition would make a good first BIM project.

I also recommend to clients that they do a dry run with a small project that has already been completed. That way, the risks of making errors is effectively neutralized, and a lot of the freshman errors that happen when switching to a new tool will be gotten out of the way before going live on a paying project. Also, the new users will get a feel for how to best get the drawings to conform to the desired standards, something else that will save time when a real project is attempted.

Finally, using BIM will help firms land more work. Some market sectors, particularly healthcare and publicly-funded projects now require the use of BIM. Even for clients that don’t mandate the use of BIM, being able to demonstrate the ability to use a sophisticated BIM tool will give the firm an edge over the competition. Firms that use BIM are perceived as more progressive.

BIM Affordability

There is a common misconception that BIM applications are prohibitively expensive, and that only large firms can afford to use it. This is simply not true. It is true that BIM applications have greater upfront costs than 2D package (a full version of Revit is approximately twice as expensive as a full version of AutoCAD). However, the cost barrier to entry is now even lower with “light” versions on BIM packages that are available for less than $1400. The features that are missing from these “light” versions tend to be features that most small firms wouldn’t have much use for, such as work sharing.

As with many aspects of the AEC world, it can be a mistake to focus solely on the initial cost. With BIM, the return on investment over the long term is positive. A 2012 McGraw-Hill Construction report noted that most firms found a positive ROI on their BIM investment, with 36% of the architecture firms surveyed reporting an ROI of greater than 25%. This number is most likely higher today, as more firms have adopted and become comfortable with the BIM workflow.

Even small firms are finding BIM to be a smart move. There are an expanding number of small design firms (including Tesseract Design) which use BIM as their primary design tool. It’s not just for huge multi-office firms; even one- and two-person outfits can realize the benefits of BIM.

Why Wait?

With all of the well-documented benefits of using BIM for design, coordination and construction, it make sense to switch to BIM sooner rather than later. Rather than inefficiently switching between multiple applications for 3D modeling, drafting, energy analysis, etc., most of these functions can be handled in one BIM application. While getting up to speed on a new tool will require an investment of time, that investment will pay off quickly and handsomely in increased work efficiency and less duplicated effort. Likewise, this will translate into a financial gain that will quickly outpace the initial costs of BIM. One doesn’t need to wait for a big project or for a client to mandate the use of BIM, either. Small firms working on small projects can also very easily start profiting from the use of BIM. With all of these advantages, why wait? Make the switch to BIM today!

This is the first part in a two-part article. For further thoughts on why now is the right time to switch to BIM, see www.tesseract-design.com/switching-to-bim-part-2

For more information on how Tesseract Design can help you start taking advantage of BIM tools, please see www.tesseract-design.com/bim-services