Apex Technology



BIM As Team Builder

To get the most from a model-based approach, production companies need to think more like design-build firms.

It’s no accident that some early adopters of model-based building are full-service design and engineering companies. Creating a model requires cooperation between disciplines, and because these companies already have different disciplines working together under one roof, BIM is a natural next step.

That was the case for Apex Technology in Jacksonville, Fla. According to Apex President Mike Kozlowski the firm started with structural engineering for high-volume, single-family homebuilders then gradually added architectural design, mechanical engineering and even truss design.

Kozlowski has become a real BIM advocate over the past few years and his clients seem to be responding. When he first looked at the technology in 2007 it wasn’t yet there for large-scale homebuilding, and his builder clients showed little to no interest. Today, it’s fully developed for residential and they all want to know about it.

What he tells them is that succeeding at model-based building will require a different approach to home design. “When we really started delving into Revit and BIM about four years ago, we quickly realized that the software was more than a tool,” he says. “We saw that it requires a change in the design process,” says Kozlowski.

Specifically, it requires what he calls “relational design,” a team-based collaborative approach that will be new for a lot of production builders.


Relational design itself isn’t new. It’s essentially what design-build firms have always done: get input on the design from everyone who will be involved in the project—builder, architect, engineer, estimator, subcontractors, and so on. These firms claim that the approach yields lower costs, more accurate estimates, fewer mistakes and happier customers when compared to creating a design then sending pieces of it out to bid.

If those benefits sound like the ones BIM providers claim, it’s because they are. In fact one way to think of BIM is as a technology that makes it practical for production builders to capture some of the benefits of design-build. But they will only get those benefits if they make relational design part of the company culture. For many builders that can be a big change-management effort.

That’s because creating the model requires the home to be “built” on the computer, down to the last stud. Ideally, it also means solving as many conflicts as possible before construction begins, rather than leaving them for workers to figure out. As other experts have noted, in order to identify and address those conflicts, the design team needs knowledge that the the trades have but that they might not have shared with the builder.

In his work with builders, Kozlowski finds that those who don’t seek input from all parties make the BIM implementation harder and end up leaving savings on the table. “Trying to implement a model-based workflow without a collaborative team culture is challenging to say the least,” he says. “You need to facilitate good conversations among all parties throughout the entire process.”

While most builders are not doing a great job at that he has met a few who really grasp it. For instance, one builder he knows would bring the design and construction team together to review every new home plan. “He would bring a PowerPoint [with project details] to the meeting and make everyone ask questions,” says Kozlowski.

That builder wasn’t working in a BIM environment, but their approach will make success much more likely if they decide to start doing so.

The payoff for getting better at collaboration is that you will be able to make full use of a technology that saves thousands of dollars in cost per house. “In our work with national builders we found a potential savings of $500 to $1000 per house in materials specs alone,” he says. The accuracy and detail that BIM provides means more accurate takeoffs that actually make it to the field. “You also get visual and estimation data early enough to potentially shave months off your development process.”

But most builders aren’t going to capture those savings just by purchasing software. They need to build a team, and that team has to really work together. “With a relational design approach between owners, designers and subcontractors, I believe we complete better designs faster and save the builder money,” he says.



We’re working on a Roadmap to BIM. View an introduction to the systematic way that we will delayer this key area for innovation in the industry from a production building perspective, and the structure by which we organize and share actionable insights. Learn the big WHY, the what, the how, the who, the investment, the wins, and the risks.