Geo Week News

January 11, 2012

BIM: Starting to pop?


BIM got some good press this week, perhaps buoyed by EcoBuild Conference in Washington last month. No fewer than four long-form stories touting BIM’s benefits popped up on my radar in the last seven days (and one of them even hinted at using laser scanners – but I’ll get to that). 

Perhaps most promising of all is this one in the Boston Herald. When tech starts hitting mainstream tabloids that means it’s got some serious legs. It’s basically got to be so obviously beneficial that even reporters not paying particular attention to an industry start to notice it. 

The headlines are certainly nice: “Tech revolutionizing building industry.” Nothing like a little hyperbole to catch people’s attention. But maybe it’s not hyperbole. Interviewed in the piece is Bond president Robert Murray, who puts BIM’s benefits at a 10 percent overall increase in project completion speed. That’s not a small number. He doesn’t say it’s 10 percent cheaper, though, which is a notable omission. Those efficiencies must correlate to cost savings, though. Plus, he delivers the money quote:

“In the future, we’ll build the whole building in sections, not just the systems,” he said. “That’ll be the standard, almost like Legos.” 

Isn’t that the promise of using laser scanning and 3D data capture in the renovation market? That everything can be pre-fabricated? The scanning industry needs to get this Lego message out there more and more. 

These university students at EcoBuild might be BIM’s future (if they keep their eyes open). Photo by James Grundvig.

An even better way to get more BIM out there? Good old-fashioned nationalism. I love this quote from an Epoch Times’ article with a headline that’s sure to grind teeth: “New wave of BIM modeling.” Ack. Is that like a new wave of ATM machining? Semantics aside, the article comes out swinging. After calling the construction IT sector “laggard,” the author, James Grundvig, delivers this:

A European engineer told me that the fragmented, manual way of managing projects in the U.S. architecture-engineering-construction (AEC) industry is “primitive.” 

Kapow! Although, truth be told, after running conferences in both the United States and Europe, there’s something to be said for arguments that the European AEC industry is a little bit ahead in the technology department. Presentations that might still be considered cutting edge in the States were getting something of a ho-hum response on the Continent. Just saying.

Good news is on the way, however, says Grundvig, in the form of college kids:

California Polytechnic State University, University of Oklahoma (OU), and Auburn University got together to share BIM programs, each with student teams budgeting, scheduling, and modeling a hospital project in their area. 

Their presentation was impressive at EcoBuild, he reports, and there is good reason to be optimistic about the talent being developed, and the skills being fostered, in American universities. 

Speaking of universities, Ohio State University is embarking on a building program that led Building Design + Construction to announce: “BIM: Not Just for New Buildings.” Ya don’t say? I guess not everyone is hip to the scan-to-BIM phenomenon. And, really, the folks working at Ohio State don’t appear to be either. It’s sort of unclear from the article. 

Once the funding was pulled together and an official process was mapped out, the project officially kicked off in the spring of 2011. Five students were trained in Revit and began the conversion of the AutoCAD drawings, covering 5.7 million sf of building property.

In addition to tracing the original drawings, the conversion team is incorporating an additional level of detail into the Revit models, including exteriors, roofs, and window placement, height and volume, ceilings and floors, and GIS location data.

So, first, is BIM for new buildings just converting AutoCAD files to Revit files so you can export pretty pictures? I’m thinking not. How do you know if you’re even documenting real as-built conditions? The AutoCAD files might not even reflect real life! “Tracing the original drawings”? I’m glad there’s some addition to that! So, they’re incorporating “exteriors, roofs, and window placement, height and volume, ceilings and floors, and GIS data.” How are the doing that? Seems like that’s an important part of the process you might want to illuminate for people, no? (Okay, yes, I’ll make a call on that…)

Also, there are many, many uses of the term “BIM model” in this article. I’ve defended that in the past – sometimes you need to differentiate between the BIM model and, like, the whole BIM process, for instance – but in most of these cases simply writing “BIM” would have been fine.

Regardless, I think this is a step in the right direction. Just for it to be widely accepted that BIM is something for as-built conditions is a great thing if you’re in the laser scanning business. They’ll see the value of real-world data eventually.

Another good sign is that secondary technologies are being released to support the BIM industry. If start-ups sniff revenue in a growing industry, that must mean something’s going right for the major players pushing the technology forward in the first place. In this Constructech article, “BIM getting bigger,” we’re told, 

“One area that is creating an information explosion in the AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) industry is the movement toward BIM (building information modeling).” This information explosion requires new software to manage that information and encourage collaboration, clearly, and there are companies ready and willing to sell you such information management software. I saw something similar in the security industry, with the proliferation of PSIM (physical security information management) software. 

Theoretically, the big BIM makers, Autodesk and Tekla and Bentley, etc., should be incorporating such information management and collaboration tools into their base offerings, but early on, that might not exactly be happening. Should companies like Aconex be willing to step into the void, good for them. 


So what have we got here just in the past week? Clearly, BIM is bubbling up. It’s hitting mainstream publications, causing international competition, rippling through the universities, and leading to ancillary business development. 

What are we not seeing? That’s right. Not one single mention of 3D data capture (well, maybe those OSU kids are doing it, and I’m looking into that). No laser scanners. Not photogrammetry. Really, nothing but software on a computer. It would have been nice for someone to ask someone in that Boston Herald article how they make sure what’s being built matches the plans. Those college kids working on BIM at EcoBuild – isn’t it more eco-friendly to renovate existing buildings than to build from scratch? How would you use BIM there?

These are questions that the 3D industry needs to be asking of the AEC community right now if it wants to capitalize on this BIM movement. 

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