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A New Landscape for Designers and Contractors

BIM is a game changer for the building industry. Experts say it will dominate big architectural firms within five years and affect companies throughout the design and build process within 10. Everyone from architects to trade contractors to facilities managers will need to adapt. ThatÆs because BIM is different from any building design technology that has come before it.

A BIM model is more than a new type of computer-aided design. It's an assemblage of intelligent objects linked to a database that includes pricing, specs, water and energy use, and much more. BIM is designed to facilitate collaboration between team members -- architects, AEC firms, engineers and trade contractors -- and can greatly improve accuracy and save money by automatically generating construction documents.

Benefits come with challenges
Some challenges need to be overcome before the benefits of BIM can be widely realized. For instance, architects need training in BIM software (examples include Autodesk Revit, NavisWorks, Bentley, Vico and Tekla. Manufacturers need to offer BIM-enabled product files. And giving team member's access to the BIM model raises technical, legal and financial issues for construction pros to consider and manage going forward.

The technical challenges are already being overcome. Software companies are working to ease integration while also developing mobile applications that will let team members access the model from the field without having full BIM capability, and building product manufacturers (including Moen) are offering downloadable product files compatible with specifications created for use with BIM software programs.

On the liability front, contracts have begun to evolve much as they did to accommodate design-build. "Contracts used to be a roadblock to design-build, but they have caught up," says Gordon Holness, president of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). "The same is happening with BIM."

One reason for this progress is the number of organizations advocating for BIM. For example, Holness says ASHRAE and the International Code Council are both developing software that will read a Building Information Model to determine compliance with their standards. Another driving force is "green" building. "BIM will allow efficient energy modeling, and documentation to meet LEED and other programs," says Stan Cairns, a partner with Cope Linder Architects in Philadelphia.

Changing staffing and business models
The ultimate driver is BIM's proven time and money savings. Plaza Construction, a large New York City AEC firm, recently completed two nearly identical buildings. In one, it created a model for the lobby area. The time needed to solve design conflicts in that area shrank from 12 weeks to two, a savings the company's Christopher Mills call typical.

BIM also cuts staffing needs. "I used to have a 10- to 20-person staff that did $400,000 to $500,000 per year in business," says Finith Jernigan, a Maryland architect and author of BIG BIM little bim, an award-winning book on the subject. "Now I can do the same volume with two or three people."

In fact, most BIM users report greater ROI and more efficient building processes with fewer errors. Taking advantage of those benefits might require companies to adapt their business practices and think creatively about revenue. "I now price for value, not for hours," says Jernigan. "My fees have to be competitive, so I have gotten more efficient in the way I work."

For architects, emphasizing creativity might be the key to thriving in a BIM-dominated world. The major benefit of BIM is greater ability to visualize the physical, geometric representation of the building, and to analyze how the buildingÆs systems work.

"When I ask architects what their biggest value is to the client, they often talk about their drawings and specifications," says Holness. But with BIM increasingly commoditizing that part of the design process, Holness says architects need to understand that their creativity is their real value. "What the owner wants is your intellectual property," he says. "The rest are just illustrations of that."

BIM resources:
Moen.com
All Moen Commercial products have BIM files available on the product detail pages. For more information on how to access these files, click here.

The American Institute of Architects

Construction Specifications Institute

The Whole Building Design Guide

Journal of Building Information Modeling

BIG BIM little bim: The Practical Approach to Building Information Modeling