STAFDA Technology Consultant Steve Epner

Building Information Modeling: A New Standard

www.stafda.orgAnother new thing; do I need to worry about it? What does this mean? Is it important to me? Will it affect my business?

The answers are all yes. Recently, the state of Wisconsin announced that it will be required on all state funded projects valued at over $3 million. More states will follow. If you want a leg up on the competition selling to the contractors, this could be it. The early adopters will have an edge over everyone else.

Steve Epner, STAFDA Technology ConsultantWhat is BIM?
A Building Information Model (BIM) is an electronically stored description of a structure (think everything from bridges to power plants). By following specific standards, it makes it possible to share information across a wide spectrum of users. Most importantly, the BIM is started when the project is conceived and continues throughout the life cycle of the structure. That means it is available for everything from bidding on the original construction, to maintenance, facility management, right up to destruction, if that is required.

The BIM contains information on everything in the structure. Every part, the location of utility runs, capacities, fire code compliance, even repair or replacement is recorded. Ultimately, it is a history of the structure from start to finish.

Work on the standard has been going on for years. It can even be traced back to early work done by IBM in the ’50s. During the ’90s, Ken Herold (now Chief Knowledge Officer at HOK, the world’s largest architecture firm) was one of the driving forces behind creating “Interoperability Standards” for the building industry. “Our goal was to capture and store every type of information necessary for managing the complete life cycle of a building in one place and a sharable format. From the early design, to bidding time and materials, to construction, to maintenance, to reconfiguration, to ultimate teardown — everything you could need would be in one place, easy to retrieve.”

Ken was executive director of the International Alliance for Interoperability while at BSW Consulting, Inc. in St. Louis. The name has been changed to “building SMART international” and may be found online at Members of the
alliance represent all areas and functions in the life cycle of a structure.

Interoperability standards include the design “model” (this term is replacing “drawings” as they become just one of many outputs available from the model), purchasing/bidding details, the submittal processes and details related to building quality. It is hoped that BIM can help bridge the gap of information lost when hand-offs occur between the design team, construction team and the final building owner/operator. Each team is able to add to and reference back to all of the data they develop during their specific tasks in the structure life cycle.

One example may be in altering a section of a building. Before demolition begins, a complete inventory of what is in the walls and where will be available to the building trades.

During construction, if different areas of a structure require steam control valves, as the appropriate valves are installed, their specifications are captured and entered into the BIM. Later, this information is available when required for maintenance or repair. The BIM would have the specific valve size, manufacturer, part number, and other data
captured over the life time of the structure.

As a shared knowledge resource, BIM can serve as a reliable basis for bidding and decision making. Over time it will greatly reduce the need for researching, trying to
find misplaced (lost) drawings or re-formatting data from non-compliant systems.

Mr. Herold points out that “another trend is to use the BIM model in an IPD (Integrated Project Delivery) or Lean Construction method of doing a project.” It creates an environment where the client, contractor and design firm all work at the same time together on the project.

Currently, the client hires the architect to design and then a contractor bids to get the work for construction. Under IPD, the contractor is hired at the same time as the architect and everyone works as a team to deliver. It allows the design to be improved as the contractor is helping to define constructability and cost to build.

In 2003 the General Services Administration (GSA) established the National 3D-4D-BIM Program. Per the GSA Web site, all major projects receiving design funding in Fiscal Year 2007 and beyond require spatial BIMs. All GSA projects are encouraged to deploy mature 3D, 4D, and BIM technologies.

Here are a few highlights of the GSA National 3D-4D-BIM Program (the specific link is www.Contractor [search: Get Your BIM On] or at

  • Establishing policy to phase in 3D, 4D, and BIM adoption for all major projects
  • Partnering with BIM vendors, professional associations, open standard organizations, and academic/research institutions
  • Constructing GSA BIM Toolkit

How does it work?
The members of the various organizations that work on structure design, construction, and management all use specific standards for collecting, storing and retrieving building information. Major industry programs like Revit from Autodesk support the current standard for BIM.

Ken Herold explains: “A Building Modeling tool provides for all information to be stored in one file and includes a 3D definition of the object like a door, window, etc. BIM tells us where it belongs, the exact place in space, and contains the correct volume and shape. Attributes allow us to attach materials, performance, etc. to each of the objects. We are actually doing Structures and MEP (Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing) using BIM.”

In the case of a new structure, the design team will develop the concept through a building Model. Once the model is released for bid, contractors will have access to all of the data they need to create an accurate bid.

A distributor bidding parts, rental equipment and supplies will be able to retrieve detail information on everything that has been designed into the structure. This includes building codes, use of specific brands or equivalents and dates (or time based on days after contract signing) on which each item is required on the job site.

When won, the specifics of the items are entered into the BIM. In the case of subassemblies such as water pumps, this includes warranty information, serial numbers and potential recall information.

How can I use BIM?
Quantities of materials can easily be extracted. Systems, assemblies and sequences can be isolated and defined. What this means to the distributor is that it is easier to bid. The normal time to do a “take off” is eliminated. The endless back and forth between the contractors, the general, owners and architects is reduced to zero. Information is accessible to all, whenever needed and from wherever they can access the database.

Is BIM ready for prime time?

Basically, yes. Will it require investment in new programs? In the short run, maybe. Will itbe worth it? As the reality is fine tuned, the ability to do an accurate estimate the first time is worth a great deal. Reducing the time and effort to bid is money on the bottom line. Being able to bid exactly what is needed without “just-in-case” quantities will allow the bid to be as exact as possible. BIM has a way to go before it is ubiquitous, if you have the chance to bid on covered projects you will have a significant advantage over any distributor who is not using the potential or capabilities of BIM. CS

STAFDA business technology consultant Steve Epner is the founder of the Brown Smith Wallace Consulting Group and has been appointed Innovator in Residence by Saint Louis University. You can reach Steve at 314-983-1214 or by e-mail at