The concept of BIM (building information modeling) has existed since the 1970s, but BIM as we know it today has really gained traction as a necessary tool for construction over the last two decades. By now everyone knows that BIM produces a 3D model. It’s used for coordination between trades, replacing a traditional 2D coordination process or a “we’ll figure it out as we go” process. But what is BIM from the contractor perspective? Specifically, does BIM provide any unique benefits for the electrical contractor? Following are three ways ECs can think of BIM that may not always be considered:
1. Coordinated BIM vs. non-coordinated BIM.
While this may sound like a contradiction in terms at first, the concept may make sense more for the EC than any other trade. Mechanical and plumbing trades will typically model a larger portion of the overall scope of their work. That is to say, if it’s getting installed, it will be modeled. However, electrical contractors tend to be on the opposite end of this spectrum. Think about it. Does it really make sense to model every cable, bracket, box, and fitting that will get installed? . . . especially since these items typically do not cause any conflicts with other trades. Of course not. You would take more time modeling with little to no value added during the coordination process. This is why contracts contain language like “1-1/4in and larger conduits to be modeled.” Even the GCs don’t expect that “smaller stuff” to be modeled, so why bother?
I suggest ECs think of BIM as more than a coordinated model. Think of BIM as part of the planning process. Utilizing 3D models provides many benefits; it’s a look into the future. The goal of utilizing BIM to its fullest potential is taking the information that can be gathered early in the construction process and creating a plan for installation. That can even mean that some items are “modeled” but not “coordinated.”
Take cabling and branch conduit for example. While these items can typically be moved and adjusted easily to not conflict with other trades, putting them into a coordination model will just cause more headaches than it’s worth. But modeling these items may still have value. Detailers can easily remove items like this from ever entering a coordination model, so the coordination process does not get bogged down from 100’s of unnecessary conflicts. Instead, use these modeled items to provide field crews with drawings of the work that needs to be done and capturing bills of material which can lead to kitting areas of work. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but if “you fail to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.”
2. BIM as a process.
BIM coordination is obviously a process. Trades will model their components, go back and forth until it fits, then sign off and go. In my experience, the process is more than that. It’s a time to collect information. It’s the time for getting the “I” in BIM. Most people who are not part of the BIM process fail to understand the amount of valuable information that is collected and understood by detailers. The goal of the detailer is not just to “model stuff,” it’s to collect information and convey it to the field crews so they can understand it quickly and easily. That is also the challenge, because time and time again information is lost in translation.
ECs should have a process for BIM. How is information gathered, how is it documented, and how is it conveyed and stored so that everyone has access to it? I don’t believe there is any easy solution for this per se except for “process.” A process is defined as a series of actions taken in order to achieve a particular end. And the key to a good process is that it must be repeatable. The goal doesn’t need to be coming up with the best process or most accurate, but really creating a process that’s repeatable so that it can continually be improved.
3. BIM doesn’t cost, it saves.
Over the years questions like these have always come up: What does BIM cost? How long will it take for you to do the BIM? What do we budget for BIM on this project? My answer may surprise you – zero! Zero? How can that be true? You have hardware, software, detailers, BIM managers. These people and tools aren’t free. This costs money.
While that’s true, and there is definitely cost associated with being able to perform BIM coordination and modeling of any kind, this cost should be thought of as an investment. Hardware and software should be considered tools (like any other tool). While they cost money, they also allow you to perform a task faster and more efficiently than doing the same task without them.
What about the detailers? All those hours put into the project that never existed before! Really? That time never existed before? Think about a typical labor unit: 3% “study plans,” 8% layout. While these percentages may vary slightly, every hour estimated contains about 10% of that time allocated to gather information and plan the work. Sounds very familiar doesn’t it? In reality this is not time added to the project, this is time that is now more visible than ever before. BIM is taking the same time that was spent during construction, bringing it the front end of the project and getting done earlier than was ever possible before. And let’s remember, planning takes place regardless of whether you allocate time for it or not. When you bring planning in earlier in the construction process, it just stands out like a sore thumb and tends to get more noticed.
So, what does BIM mean for the electrical contractor? It may mean many things to many people, but it should at least mean opportunity – an opportunity to build faster and more efficiently than ever before. While ECs may be experiencing growing pains in adopting a new BIM process and bringing detailers on staff – saying things like “I could build it faster than you can model it” – remember it’s an investment. This is uncharted territory for most ECs, and the people are everything. Detailers and people working within this realm are paving a way to build differently. While they may not have all the answers, and they may not always get it right, they have the one thing that will allow contractors to survive in this new world order: the willingness to change and adapt.
As you adapt to your industry’s changes, choose a technology partner that knows your industry firsthand. The experts of eVolve MEP have worked in the construction trades, so they know the challenges you face and the innovations that can make a difference.