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BIM Software – Part II or, I Might’ve Been Hasty

July 20, 2010

About a year ago, I wrote about being unconvinced that BIM software was worth the trouble after struggling mightily through a project created with Revit but converted to AutoCad.  Let’s just say that the background architectural drawing files I subsequently had to work with were a disaster and required hours of work (that wasn’t built into the fee) to make them usable.

Now I wouldn’t want to suggest that AutoDesk deliberately made their conversion utility less than effective to encourage recipients of those converted files to just buy Revit, but as someone who has enjoyed a love/hate relationship with AutoCad since version 10, mainly due to the pricey but necessary upgrades that make me feel like a junkie returning to his supplier every year, the thought did cross my mind.

I am, however, more than willing to publicly admit that I might’ve come to the conclusion that BIM is too cumbersome, too costly and generally a giant pain in the butt…well, too hastily.

More and more of my clients are shifting to building information modeling tools for design and documentation of projects. After speaking with many of them over the past few weeks, its become pretty clear to me that this is the direction that architecture and engineering is moving, and the benefits of this technology are only realized if ALL the team members are using it – a familiar AutoCad refrain.

I downloaded Revit 2011 to get my feet wet and see what its all about, which I’ve been doing for several days now.

My first impression was one of surprise – Revit is quite intuitive to use. The work flow really does mirror the design process, and the user interface felt pretty natural right away. I’ve only scratched the surface, but I could immediately see how this could save a great deal of time just in drawing production, not to mention all the other benefits of coordination. Since you’re working in 3D, you immediately see where a conflict between systems exist without having to go through pages of details checking dimensions, etc. The program allows you to specify, annotate, locate and schedule equipment all at once, on the fly, while you’re working. This is something I’ve done inefficiently for years using multiple monitors, one with AutoCad, one with Word for doing schedules, and one running my calculation and modeling software. Revit should consolidate a lot of these separate functions into one cohesive process.

I am concerned about a couple of things. The way BIM works seems to force the design team to work in a serial fashion, in other words, each discipline must follow one another in order, ideally in the actual sequence that the real building will be constructed. This is much different than traditional AutoCad drawing preparation where the architect gets to a point of progress with his drawings and can send them out to the other consultants all at once with a single, common deadline at the end for document issue.

With BIM, no one can really start until the architects work is quite far along. The structural engineer does his thing, followed by mechanical, lighting, plumbing, electrical, etc., but each must be complete with their work before it can be passed along to the next. If I’m correct (and I may not be at this point in my understanding), this will cause a significant change in how projects are scheduled and delivered. My first thought is that lot of time will be added to the process, but since everyone essentially draws their stuff on one common document before passing it along, I could be wrong.

The second item is cost, both for the software and the investment in time to learn it. Revit isn’t cheap; combined with AutoCad (both on subscription of course) to service clients that aren’t changing the way they do things and software becomes an even larger item in the annual operating budget. As far as productivity, many of my clients that have taken the leap into BIM report that they aren’t yet profitable using it, even after doing several projects. They are likely more sensitive to this due to the tight economic conditions right now, but on the other hand now is probably the best time to learn a new way of working – while things are slow.

And BIM is a completely new way of working. Overall, I think it will be beneficial which is why Revit is being added to our computers soon.

I’d love to read your thoughts-

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