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So why would anyone BIM, or Building Information Modeling?  Unless you are doing a power plant or some very specialized industrial job, our guys in the field can work things out, right?  Not exactly, first let me start with some definitions so we can all be speaking the same language.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) - The science/art of putting the building elements that will be constructed on a project into a computer program that includes 3D spatial information along with other key data about the components that go into the building (cost, manufacturer, schedule, warranty, etc).

Virtual Construction (VC) - The same as BIM, but without the extra info, just a 3D modeling effort.

Right now I am willing to bet that most of the companies that say that they BIM are really only doing VC.  I know most of the large General Contractors out there really push that they BIM, but I have not seen many models that combine schedule, warranty, and all of the other data that it possible.  Given the technology and benefits, I would say that most jobs should be utilizing VC, not just the specialized ones.

Let me give you an example.  I am in the process of building a house, which is a great experience to learn from and is also a good experience to look at VC.  On the second floor I have a corridor that runs parallel with the roof joists, which is pretty standard.  The corridor is about 4' wide.  For lighting we laid out downlights that run down the center of the corridor since there are large closet doors and many other doors in this area and wall sconces did not work.  Well as luck would have it one of the joists is located directly center of the corridor, which leaves me as a Owner only a few options.
  1. Find a surface mount fixture
  2. Add structural support to an already framed house so that downlights can be accommodated.
  3. Fight with contractor about what he should have known.
As far as the contractor, they could be in for a world of trouble.  Depending on how the drawings can be interpreted and who signed off on the wood packs can be a sticking point, I mean the drawings clearly showed a downlight and the contract says that the Contractor is to notify the Owner of any conflicts in the drawings.  Even if he can win it through court, I could make his life miserable in fixing the problem and not paying him for months (and any subcontractor obviously has it a more difficult than that being down stream of the Builder).

As a veteran of the industry I obviously did not hurt the Builder and am working on a surface mounted solution to the problem.  I understand where the breakdown was, it was in VC.  I could visualize most of the house from a set of 2D drawings, but the actual install methods I could not (like the joists).  When multiple systems got put in place the conflict became clear, but since we were not using VC I had to see it in the field which costs me time and money.  If we would have done it in VC it would have been easy to see on the screen and move the joist packs 6" which would have solved the problem.

I have about a half dozen other examples from this 50% complete project (I am keeping my fingers crossed that no other ones come up).  Imagine the number of examples I would have if both my wife and me were not engaged in the Architectural/Construction industry?  For people who can't visualize the documents, you add another component to the mix beyond conflicts between trades.

Whether you are a designer or subcontractor the technology is out there and becoming cheaper every year, please look into BIM or at least VC.  I am not saying that each house should be modeled (not sure if I would model the next one or not), but if you can find advantages in wood construction, I am sure there are advantages in offices, hospitals, retail, ballparks, and industry.

About the Author

Craig Pierce

Craig Pierce has been working in the construction industry for the past 25 years helping subcontractors master their trade. Currently he is President of Atalanta Enterprises which provides consulting services to contractors And software solutions through ConstructionMonkey.com.