A Guide to BIM

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Contractors: Get the information you need to get started with BIM, including definitions, benefits, regulations and real-life examples.

If you work in construction, you can’t escape the buzz around business information modeling (BIM), the 3D modeling method used to communicate information throughout the design, build and lifecycle of a project. But construction contractors’ investment in BIM varies widely, with 27 percent of companies in the United States reporting having a BIM department, while another 28 percent say they don’t bid on BIM projects at all. Many other contractors fall somewhere in the middle.

For contractors interested in BIM but lacking time to explore the ins and outs of the technology, BIM might feel like too much of a lift. To help you get the information you need, we’ve put together a guide of BIM basics, so you can get the resources you need to decide whether to invest in it yourself.

What Is BIM?

According to the National Institute for Building Sciences, BIM “is a digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a facility.” It’s a resource for shared knowledge that stakeholders can consult throughout the life of a project. BIM models include graphical information, non-graphical information, relevant documents and other data that users will need to understand and carry out a project.

Project managers, for example, can consult a business information model on a jobsite to ensure construction follows plans. Once a project is completed, building owners can refer to the BIM for maintenance information. These individuals and everyone else involved in the project can more easily get the information they need using BIM.

From a contractor’s perspective, BIM helps increase the efficiency of projects by making information accessible to everyone who needs it: architects, engineers, project managers, field crews, building owners and more. Everyone’s working from the same models, which also reduces room for errors.

Benefits of BIM

As mentioned, one of the biggest benefits of BIM is efficiency. And real-world case studies back that up. A recent large-scale development in San Francisco, for example, used BIM to help coordinate the complicated project. The technology increased visibility and real-time collaboration, which ultimately resulted in an efficiency boost.

But that’s not all BIM can do. In addition to increased project efficiency, BIM yields many other benefits for contractors including:

  • Better communication and collaboration throughout the organization and with external stakeholders.
  • Reduced errors and rework because it’s easy for teams to review models.
  • Improved logistics and staging, as the extended team can see where materials will be staged.
  • More accurate bids, since models allow estimators to better identify risks.
  • Simplified handover of information like warranties and audit histories to owners.

The Future of BIM Standards and Regulations

BIM is beneficial for many contractors, but you might be wondering if it will ever be a requirement. At this point, no national BIM mandate exists in the United States, but we do have a BIM Standard that recommends best practices. Private companies and local municipalities have also been requiring contractors to use BIM more frequently. This means contractors who use this technology could be more likely to win bids in the future.

Other countries have already taken steps to require BIM. The United Kingdom has a well-established mandate that requires construction projects to meet BIM Level 2, which uses 3D collaborative models. (If you’re interested in BIM terminology, we recommend this glossary of terms that will demystify the levels of BIM and other common words.)

Countries such as Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Singapore have also announced plans to pursue BIM, so it won't be too surprising if we continue to see an increase in demand for BIM projects in the United States.

BIM construction management improves collaboration.

Contractors in the U.S. and abroad are turning to BIM for their projects.

BIM Already Having an Impact

Contractors need to understand the basics of BIM, but before deciding if it’s right for you, it’s also helpful to see what others have achieved with this technology. Some pretty high-profile projects have used BIM recently or plan to use it. For example, Paris plans to renovate parts of the Eiffel Tower for the 2024 Olympics — a project which will use BIM. Projects like this demonstrate what’s possible with this collaborative technology, so it’s worth exploring what others in the industry are doing.

BIM has also made headlines for interesting applications, including improving the use of prefabricated and modular components in construction and resolving disputes among contractors, subcontractors and owners. While these two uses for BIM are quite different, they both benefit from the fact that everyone is working off the same models.

BIM for Your Construction Business

When you’re deciding to implement any new technology, you need to do research, learn the requirements, assess your own business needs and plan for deployment. With BIM, you’ll need to decide whether to train your teams or hire people who are already knowledgeable about BIM.

Learn more about using collaborative BIM to connect your office team, field crews and extended project teams in Viewpoint’s recent white paper. Or check out Viewpoint’s construction software suite, ViewpointOne, to see the benefits of connecting your whole team with a single system.