Eight Sometimes-Overlooked Issues: BIM

Considering BIM? Here Are Eight Sometimes-Overlooked Issues

A leading advocate shares some lessons he has learned as an architectural and engineering consultant to production builders

This is one of a series of interviews with architects, builders, consultants and software providers that explore what builders need to consider when considering BIM or other advanced software programs.

For this piece we spoke with Hans Bentzon, CEO at Forefront Architecture + Engineering LLC, a full-service Architectural and Engineering firm in Clermont, Florida.

Bentzon is a strong advocate for using BIM in residential construction. He finds that the intelligence and data that make up a BIM model offer great benefits for production homebuilders in particular. He has helped many builder clients implement the technology and has spoken about it at national conferences like the Housing Leadership Summit.

The Forefront team usually creates models using Autodesk Revit, but they have experience in other leading software packages as well.

As a BIM-focused company that creates permit drawing for thousands of homes each year, we wanted to hear some lessons they have learned. While our conversation covered a range of topics, we will focus here on eight takeaways—issues that, for a lot of builders, could use a bit more attention.

1. The Mindset Thing Is A Big Deal

It’s a clichĂ© to say that a BIM implementation is as much a mindset shift as a technological one. But that’s because it’s true, and because so few truly grasp it. You really need to take this seriously.

For a lot of builders, the toughest part of that shift is killing their habitual procrastination. The successful ones understand this and work through it.

Paper plans make it possible to put things off until the last minute. Thinking about mechanicals, for instance, can wait until it’s time for them on the Gantt chart. If the ducts don’t work perfectly with the truss and beam layout, the HVAC contractor can adjust them.

“With a BIM model, however, if it won’t work in the field it won’t work on the computer,” says Bentzon. Decisions that used to be made by the trades during construction now have to be made during design. Otherwise the builder will miss a lot of the potential savings from their technology investment.

2. Concrete Goals Work Best

“A BIM implementation is a big project that takes patience and stamina,” says Bentzon. (We know mid-sized builders who spent a year or two and a million dollars on the project.) Those who stay the course are those who never lose sight of what they expect from the effort.

The benefits they seek should be very specific, and for most of Bentzon’s clients these goals have to do with time savings. “Today people want what they want when they want it,” he says. “BIM helps satisfy that.”

Take the example of plan generation. “The builder might have been drawing 11 versions of each plan: structural, mechanical, electrical, and so on,” says Bentzon. “Now, however, we need only draw it one time. The model will automatically create all those plan sets and if I change one thing they all automatically update. It also automatically generates print and online materials for marketing.”

These and other efficiencies helped him reduce the time from sale to the start for one builder’s division from 120 days to 30 days. “That division became the best performing one in the country for that builder,” says Bentzon.

3. Remember the 80/20 Rule

Most providers and consultants say that BIM is easiest if implemented in stages. And no, that doesn’t conflict with the advice in item #1, above.

“We often start our builders out by modeling the 8 or 10 items that account for 80% of their estimate,” says Bentzon. “Those are big-ticket items like flatwork, framing, drywall and etc.” In other cases he might decide to just model a few of their best selling plans. “Once they gain confidence with the system and see it’s benefits, they will begin adding other items.”

4. Good Tools Ease The Transition

One advantage of hiring an experienced consultant is that they will have a bag of tricks that make the transition easier.

“For example I can create hooks that link data from the model to the Excel spreadsheets that purchasing uses,” says Bentzon. “The BIM software will generate a count of studs or drywall boards then export those to the spreadsheets. It’s a transition step.”

He also says that technology is coming in a year or two that will make the process of converting existing plans to BIM a lot fasters.

5. You Need Jobsite Feedback

When creating a BIM system for a builder, Bentzon always walks jobsites and talks with workers.

“Construction managers have a lot of information that never makes it back to the office,” he says. “These are things they do to make the house work that have always been too expensive to work out with traditional CAD.”

The CM might know that the girder truss on certain plans has to be moved a few inches one way or another to make room for the can light over the sink, or that a dormer needs to be framed differently than the blueprints call for. “In most cases, no one has ever asked them for those details.”

Without this information, however, you won’t be able to create an accurate model

7. Marketing Money Is Fair Game

While the average builder doesn’t consider using marketing dollars to fund the BIM effort, they really should.

Although most discussion about this technology focuses on the design and construction benefits, it will also save the marketing department time and money. “Most builders pay an outside vendor to do their 3D walkthroughs,” says Bentzon. “With BIM you no longer have that expense so you can make a good case for diverting some of that money to the BIM effort.”

But while he has had some luck getting builders to understand this, the marketing people usually resist giving up any of their budget voluntarily. “It’s an example of why the person driving the BIM effort needs to be at the top of the organization.”

8. BIM Is A Killer Recruiting App

Most of us realize that young people prefer to work for companies that use technology to its fullest. Blame the smart phone.

Remember that 2015 Microsoft study that found the average human attention span had fallen from 12 seconds to 8 seconds in the previous five years? (Compared to an estimated nine for goldfish). Things probably haven’t improved since then.

A big reason for the 30% decline in attention is that the the smart phone has conditioned people to instant gratification. At the very least, it creates an expectation that they can retrieve and manipulate information quickly with little effort.

BIM satisfies that expectation. “Old AutoCAD technology is a flip phone and BIM is a smart phone,” says Bentzon. “BIM is a database that puts power at your fingertips and lets you do lots of useful things fast.”

That speed is a great recruiting tool. Compare the builder whose plans and takeoffs instantly update whenever the model is tweaked to one whose staff need to do it laboriously by hand. Who will be more successful attracting young people who seem to have sprung from the womb with phone in hand?