Over the past several years, the architecture and commercial interiors industry has been making a shift from using traditional, two-dimensional CAD systems to three-dimensional Building Information Management (BIM) systems like Revit. Most clients view the major benefit of this change in the ability to really start seeing the space and how it’s developing. With a three-dimensional rendering, you can make sure that the design truly reflects what you want your space to look like.
For end-users who aren’t used to thinking in three-dimensions, this is a pretty big benefit. When they just look at a 2D drawing, they may not be able to translate that into how the final project will look. So by designing in a BIM system, clients can get those renderings based directly on the construction documents, rather than having to rely on a separate drawing or rendering tool like SketchUp.
Now while this is a pretty good reason to switch tools, from an architecture and construction standpoint, there’s an even bigger benefit. As noted above, the I in BIM stands for Information. Models made in a BIM system have information embedded within the design. By being able to embed data within the model itself, we can much more easily keep track of all the specs of the space—and communicate that important information to the contractor.
Why does this matter? Say I have a toilet and a sink that I add to a restroom. With a BIM system, these aren’t just 2D drawings of a toilet and sink. Instead, they are objects with built-in data. Objects in a BIM-based model have information about who the manufacturer is, the model numbers, and whatever additional information somebody wants to add to it. So from that information, a contractor can develop a highly accurate schedule and bid.
Now let’s take an example of a project that has a lot of more complex information in it. We recently worked on a commercial office design project with several hundred differently-sized and colored custom acoustical ceiling panels. How do we convey that information to the contractor for bidding in the best manner? Because the model was built in a BIM, the system pulled that data into a schedule, easily identifying it on the plan without the designers having to spend a ton of time verifying all of the information—and the contractor wondering what on Earth was going on.
So the BIM can pull together all of the information about the design—materials, plumbing fixtures, acoustical panels, etc.—and put together the schedule list. This is something we could never do in 2D CAD drawings. We couldn’t take quantities of this information and put it into a schedule. And in addition to the amount of each material that I need, the BIM allows for any customization that may be required.
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Moreover, if we add or delete an object—an acoustical panel or a toilet—the BIM automatically removes it from the schedule. Before, with CAD systems, you had to go and manually change all of this information if even the slightest detail changed. With BIM, now I don’t have to worry about that.
With all of this information that you used to have to cull through, you can see the potential for human error. When you get large construction documents, it becomes pretty easy to make basic counting mistakes. What BIM does, when set up properly, is dramatically reduce the likelihood of human error. It generally makes the work much more efficient—which saves everyone time and money.
When you start to understand that, you can see why it’s so beneficial for the client. Because all of the information on the schedule is drawn directly from the model, it’s incredibly precise. This helps contractors more accurately bid on the project and even, hopefully, shrink the bidding timeline. With BIM-based designs, project teams can help to bring the project price down, because they don’t have to cover the inherent uncertainty of a manually-calculated schedule.
So enjoy the three-dimensional renderings created for your next project. They look great, and they can help ensure the design is what you truly want for your space. But also remember that the benefit of building models with Building Information Management systems is so much more than just the cool, 3D renderings. The embedded data can help ensure your project is completed on time and within budget.
Shawn Wochnick is a Design Technician and BIM Manager at PlanForce Group.