BIM. For construction folks who work a lot with architecture and engineering firms, seeing these three letters is kind of like greeting a familiar friend. Building information modeling (BIM) technology is widely used when planning and visualizing projects, so many modern architects, designers, and VDC professionals are well-versed in the technology.
But outside the design world, and even within, BIM can carry a reputation where it’s often seen as a highly technical series of tools and processes involving 3D, 4D, 5D, and even 6D. Unfortunately, this perception can hinder its growth outside of the office.
Take the field, for instance, where BIM can feel like a stranger. Less than half of construction firms (41%) use BIM in the field and only 59% of companies indicate their teams have the skills to work with BIM.
But what many don’t know is that BIM does not have to be as complicated as they perceive. At its core, it can be as simple as sharing a model between the VDC department and the field.
The business case for empowering BIM access in the field
When models are flattened to PDF documents and distributed at the jobsite, a good amount of rich BIM data gets lost during the building phase of the project. Today, for instance, design firms draw to meet city and Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) requirements. This means information is often missing. This could include one pipe or duct to signify design intent where there might be multiple pipe or conduits on a rack that need to fit into that space. With simple 2D and design intent drawings, it’s like having half of the instructions to assemble something.
“Placing the model in the hands of installers is the goal. Midway through construction, we only see a partially installed condition,” says Joshua Mercado, Director, BIM and Technology Integration at The Boldt Company “Field leads will still run into issues in the field based on a multitude of variables, including tolerance. To suggest a satisfactory alternative to a variance in the field, field leads must understand the original intent. The model helps outline the original intent and answer the question – did we build what we intended to, and if not, how do we adjust?”
While some firms have tried to solve these challenges using mobile BIM viewers, many of the apps in the market require complex setups and additional workforce training.
This creates a sizable gap between design and construction—which ultimately leads to poor communication and unnecessary trips between the trailer and the jobsite. It also leads to additional rework costs or time to field measure prior to ordering material. Industry data also shows that 60% of general contractors view lack of coordination and low-quality documentation as key contributors to decreased labor productivity.
A lot of team members in the field also waste too much time looking up project data or putting out fires. Research shows that 35% of construction professionals’ time is spent on non-productive activities like searching for information, resolving conflict, and fixing mistakes.
Here’s the good news: many of these problems can be fixed by keeping design and field folks aligned through BIM. When these teams can access the same information on a collaborative platform, communication improves, data visibility increases, accountability improves, and things get done faster.
Industry data supports this; 61% of construction professionals say that BIM processes reduced project error. Additionally, 82% of BIM users report a positive return-on-investment.
All this to say that it’s time to rethink the role of BIM, particularly on the construction site.
We need to recognize that BIM is not just a design tool; the technology can be used beyond the realm of design and VDC.
As Jeremy Thibodeau, AMER Leader, Construction Customer Success for Autodesk, puts it, “If you boil it down to its essence, BIM is a communication tool. The future of BIM involves using the model at all stages to improve collaboration.”
The benefits of BIM to the field
Expanding the use of BIM beyond design helps both field and office teams deliver high-quality work faster, which leads to favorable results. Consider the following benefits.
Streamlines communication. BIM enables design, coordination, and field professionals to easily communicate with each other. Since everyone is working from the same platform and model, teams can relay—and receive—accurate information faster.
Have a richer view of construction documents. BIM supplements 2D sheets, so field teams can have a richer and more contextual understanding of construction documents. Furthermore, BIM helps field teams visualize work in 3D and utilize object data to ensure correct installations.
“Data drives durable decisions. Production tracking parameters are applied to model objects and as a result, the team can regularly update the status of the installed scope and make it easily visible to all project team members. While many team members are used to viewing charts and graphs to understand metrics, it is even better when the model itself is the primary visualization tool.”
– Joshua Mercado, Director, BIM and Technology Integration at The Boldt Company
Promotes safety. Limiting onsite personnel can reduce safety incidents. And when you have limited workers on-site, it’s paramount to equip them with tools that can make their jobs easier. BIM allows folks to collaborate with stakeholders who aren’t in the field by comparing real-world conditions with virtual representation. Field teams can identify conflicts in the field and efficiently communicate necessary changes in the BIM model. This paves the way for productive remote work; plus, you don’t have to compromise the safety of those who are on-site.
Better team relations. When everyone’s on the same page with a single source of truth, conflicts are less likely to spring up. Reducing ambiguity strengthens relationships.
Reduces rework. All of the above means fewer mistakes and rework. Research shows that 52% of rework is caused by poor project data and communication, so keeping teams aligned and on the same page can help minimize errors.
Higher adaptability. Enabling field and design teams to work on the same platform also keeps all stakeholders up-to-date with any changes. As such, teams on the ground can ensure that what they’re building truly aligns with the most updated plans. Additionally, with real-time, accurate information, teams can make critical decisions faster.
Saves time. In addition to facilitating communication, BIM also digitizes documentation, providing teams access to files and view both 2D and 3D side by side. This saves them time from having to manually search for paper documents or input work back into their models.
Access to richer data and insights. BIM hosts rich data and information including design details, coordinated trade models, and issue resolution and decisions. Having this information on both the design side and in the field eliminates data silos between teams, in turn giving stakeholders greater access to data and insights they can use to improve existing and future projects.
Making BIM a tool everyone can use
At Autodesk, we believe that making BIM accessible beyond design and VDC is key to solving some of the construction industry’s biggest challenges. Poor collaboration, rework, safety issues, and the lack of data visibility can all be addressed with improved BIM enablement across the entire construction lifecycle.
That’s why we’re thrilled to launch a collection of BIM workflows on mobile and web in Autodesk Construction Cloud—a collection of web and mobile workflows that helps teams stay connected through various stages of the construction project.
These workflows and tools offer an enhanced model viewing experience to give teams a more contextual way of reviewing construction documents. This makes it easy to confirm measurements, catch mistakes early, mitigate risk, and ensure quality output to reduce rework.
These new capabilities allow both office and field teams to visualize, interact, and analyze the latest 2D and 3D model data throughout each stage of the construction process. They ensure that teams always have the most accurate and up-to-date information to work with.
What does BIM accessibility in the field look like?
By enhancing mobile viewing in the field, BIM’s benefits extend far beyond the office.
- A superintendent who is navigating the jobsite with subcontractors wants to compare what’s happening in the field with the building model to avoid potential clashes. In this scenario, the superintendent can access models from a mobile device to easily identify areas of concern. In addition to knowing how all items will fit into a space, BIM workflows in the field help keep trades accountable to install and confirm everything is complete before closeout.
- Similarly, a foreman walking the jobsite could use BIM workflows within Autodesk Construction Cloud to measure two points within a model so he can verify the accuracy between what’s laid out in the design versus what’s on-site.
- That same foreman can utilize BIM technology to see what materials and equipment are required to install an electrical conduit. The tool can also help him determine the right place to fit said conduit.
- Meanwhile, a project engineer who needs to document what’s happening on-site can easily do so using these BIM workflows. Plus, she can use the new workflows to easily communicate any issues back to the designer.
- A project manager at a subcontracting firm can better connect the office to what’s happening in the field by updating budget changes to the model and communicating issues or RFIs with GCs.
- Finally, a BIM manager can use the tool to share the most up-to-date coordinated models and viewpoints with the field teams and assign issues to be resolved on-site, thus ensuring that all action items are taken care of.
Ready to take your BIM to the next level?
Putting effective BIM tools in the hands of your field teams offers higher data visibility, so they can improve efficiency and reduce errors. BIM also streamlines communication between all stakeholders, ensuring that teams are on the same page and information doesn’t slip through the cracks.