3 tips for contractors to leverage BIM

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Before a panel of experts at this month’s Design-Build Conference & Expo told contractors how to implement BIM on jobsites, they confessed to their crimes.

The three BIM pros pulled up a slide deck, complete with their “mugshots,” which detailed the mistakes they’ve made in their careers, including onboarding VDC too late, taking shortcuts in the model and rejecting a BIM waiver. 

It just goes to show that even the experts can stumble when deploying and using technology in the build process. 

With that mea culpa as a preface, the panel’s experts gave attendees three key points to keep in mind when applying BIM in the field.

Communication is the foundation

Important to the whole BIM endeavor is making sure that every party, from the owner to the general contractor to the subs, is on the same page. That includes talking to stakeholders who may be hesitant about adopting the tech.

“We want to get to a point where we feel comfortable around these conversations, like we’re not taking on too much risk,” said panelist Meghan Higgins, VDC manager for Baltimore-based Whiting-Turner.

BIM affects everyone, and execution needs to be a full team effort, said panelist Jennifer Macks, the director of design-build and vice president at Providence, Rhode Island-based Gilbane Building Co. 

“It’s an important conversation for us, to see how we can holistically address this,” Macks emphasized.

Then there’s the visualization process, which differs for everyone and thus can cause issues.

“There’s a really big deviation in how we communicate with each other,” said Brian Skripac, DBIA’s director of VDC.

The panelists emphasized that clear, consistent communication between each party is essential for success.

Define the goals and uses of BIM

When using the technology, panelists said it’s important to ensure that what a contractor or designer asks for is what’s provided in the end. 

Panelists pointed to LOD plans, or level of development, which scale in detail as representations of the build become more complex. Scales range from conceptual design at LOD 100, to as-built at LOD 500. 

When going through the model, stakeholders should keep this scale in mind, and make sure the model isn’t overly detailed or lacking specifics. 

To resolve these issues, it’s important to define how the models and the program will be used early in the process, Higgins said. Garnering every stakeholder’s point of view is invaluable.

“We need to be able to use the model for 2D, PDF deliverables. It needs to be a living document,” Higgins continued.

These goals can include who is making specifications in different parts of the model. If there are light fixtures, is the architect responsible for creating that asset in the plan, or the electrical engineer? 

As responsibilities are set, build assets a single time only. Rely on the models, and work collaboratively, panelists said.

Knowing what you don’t know

Understanding the risk that comes with using BIM is also critical to the process, panelists said.

Macks noted that the conflicts usually arise from different contractual understanding. She emphasized that it was important to have someone in the room who understands the contracts around BIM work — which can include not just model usage, but also model sharing.

For example, without guidance, a contractor may unwittingly agree to do something it doesn’t do, or cause other problems down the line.

Additionally, knowing what the owner of the building wants out of BIM is also important, Macks said. Do they have a detailed list of requests? Do they have nothing written down? If more information is needed, ask for it, and make sure that it’s necessary. Owners may have no expectations, Macks said, but they also may have significant expectations for BIM that they didn’t tell the builder up front.

“We want to design and build amazing spaces, and we want our owners to be able to use and maintain them,” Macks said.

Every risk on the project is different, just as every project, subcontractor and piece of dirt are different, Macks said. The conversation shouldn’t be an item on the project’s punch list to be checked off and completed, but instead an ongoing informed dialogue with all parties involved.

At the end of the day, there’s value to integrating the technology, Skripac said. BIM impacts everyone, and the sophistication is growing.

“We’re creating these amazing things in models now,” Macks said.

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