Five things I learned from 100+ construction managers about BIM

by Julian Norton, Pix4D

As part of the launch of Pix4D’s new crane camera system, I spoke with over 100 construction companies, wanting to get product feedback and assess which companies were ideal for our early adopter program. This system gives regular site updates as 2D/3D data, and can link to BIM. Despite having a background in construction surveying, I was surprised by some of the conversations I had, and my perspective on BIM changed.

1. BIM doesn’t need to be explained anymore

A few years ago I was involved in a similar exercise, and almost all discussions required a 15 minute introduction (or enlightenment) on BIM. That wasn’t needed this time around. BIM is well known, possibly well understood, and certainly recognized as the future of the construction industry. However, most people felt BIM had been forced on them, either through government legislation or competition with companies claiming BIM usage and expertise.

I’ve read comments that the transition to BIM is similar to the move from drawing boards to CAD. I don’t agree; BIM is more fundamental. While CAD’s introduction was a technology innovation that made the design process more efficient, the recent, rapid adoption of BIM resulted from an external demand to comply with policy and the market.

2. Everyone’s a BIM expert, but no one is comfortable with BIM

Many BIM managers I spoke to revealed that they were actually not confident in their level of knowledge on the subject. Many projects are won because a company claimed to be BIM compatible and have BIM experts, when in fact, most BIM expertise was to be found in the sales department. Many CAD managers become, by default, the BIM manager, which is not necessarily the correct choice.

BIM represents more than just 3D models linked to databases, and BIM processes can completely change a company’s approach to a project. BIM managers not only need access to CAD expertise, but also to be part of the wider construction lifecycle. Newly appointed BIM managers may need someone to cut through the conflicting online information, as well as the consultants who complicate the topic, so they can just get to work.

3. BIM makes complex projects possible, but you need to keep control of the schedule

BIM is truly a great tool; it can produce an optimized schedule for extremely complex projects, with minimal budget and timescale. Some of today’s projects would not be possible without BIM. The downside is that these schedules are very tight, and any deviation can cause big problems later in the build. BIM managers need to constantly check the site status against the schedule, and modify the build sequence if necessary. Pix4D’s solution addressed this problem, and when a BIM manager was responsible for multiple sites, remote access to data proved very popular.

4. Before BIM, as-built data was important. Now, it’s essential

Previously, as-built’s were only carried out as part of the hand-over, usually as an afterthought and slight annoyance. The BIM process allows for feedback, and actually requires this to keep the scheduling on track. By using regular as-builts, errors can be spotted early and accounted for, minimizing impact on the rest of the project. As-builts also provide a perfect tool for communication and visualization of site status, optimizing day-to-day site operations.

5. Is VDC the new BIM?

About a dozen of the people I spoke to were from a newly formed VDC department, usually located at the top-end of the larger construction companies’ corporate structure. VDC has become a buzzword recently, maybe even out-performing BIM as a fashionable way to promote company capabilities. VDC (Virtual Design and Construction) has been criticized as being a new form of BIM (just like BIM was previously associated with CAD), however, the conversations I had really convinced me this isn’t true.

BIM includes everything good about CAD, but adds the processes and certification. VDC takes all this and adds the emerging technology concepts that are improving actual site work: such as wi-fi enabled tablets in the hands of on-site work teams, giving them access to the latest design drawings and associated data. The overriding comment from the VDC people was: we need regular as-builts more than ever if we are to keep the BIM model updated and for the VDC workflow to be effective.

This started as a simple exercise to find willing and qualified early adopters. We certainly achieved that, as you can see by the social media posts of crane camera installations. These discussions confirmed that our project concept and value proposition was on the right track. Routine as-built data collection, visualization, sharing and verification is necessary in this new age of BIM. Many people are still finding their way, but possibilities for individual projects, careers and the construction industry as a whole are very much enhanced by BIM, and I guess VDC will be in the future.

To learn more about the Pix4Dbim solution, CLICK HERE. Or, visit our booth at Bau (Munich) in January, or Conexpo (Las Vegas) in March.

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