Building Information Modeling: A game-changer for the NC construction industry

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 Building Information Modeling, or BIM, is a tool to reckon with.

Three-dimensional modeling of construction projects is what BIM offers. It can show details about a structure and help owners, architects, engineers, general contractors and subcontractors understand how they work together or, in some cases, clash.

Demolition and waste management professional Gary Olnowich hasn’t used BIM yet, but has been around people who like it. Olnowich is vice president of the Linda Construction Company of Charlotte, which is involved with the Queen City’s 32-story Bank of America tower and the 52-level Duke Energy structure.

“It’s going to take the participation of everybody to make it work,” he says, “which sounds like the hard part.”

Last fall, Linda Construction worked on a federal stimulus job at Fort Bragg and didn’t encounter BIM, but that experience may be an exception.

The director of professional services for the US General Services Administration Region IV, which includes the Tar Heel state, says his agency requires architects, engineers and construction people to use BIM on all new, major projects. A GSA project coming soon to Charlotte is a new federal courthouse, designed and constructed completely with BIM.

“Using BIM coordinates all the systems, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and architectural,” says Brian Kimsey from his GSA office in Atlanta. “Anecdotally, we think we’ve reduced errors and omissions and resulting change orders by 90 percent. That’s a pretty radical improvement.”

Contractors like BIM, and have accepted it faster than architects, Kimsey says, because it improves coordination and eliminates re-work in the field. For architects, the benefits are less obvious, he thinks, and it’s more a matter of using BIM to avoid competitive disadvantage.

Not so fast, say a couple of Greensboro construction professionals.

BIM is popular on construction manager at-risk projects that generally involve larger contractors, says Ron Kiser, vice president of Brooks General Contractors in the Gate City. He acknowledges that federal contracts often specify BIM.

But in the hard bid market, where his smaller firm tends to operate, “you rarely see it.” That’s because of budgetary concerns and tight time frames, he believes.

“I trust BIM to be accurate in the private sector,” Kiser says. “In the end, it’s going to give the client a better product. It takes a while for everybody to adapt. When they do, it’s going to be a great product.”

Not adapting yet is Jody Efird, the principal at Efird Sutphin Pearce & Associates, P.A., in Greensboro. Her boutique architecture firm concentrates on schools, medical office buildings and, lately, church work.

Efird is aware that the American Institute of Architects has studied BIM’s legal and copyright issues.

“BIM is very expensive,” Efird says. “And it is so cumbersome.”

Hit by unemployment of 25 percent or more, many architecture operations have put buying programs and computers on the back burner, she thinks.

Meanwhile, her company and its consultants are using a computer-assisted design tool called AutoCAD and her firm is considering an upgrade for it.

“From a contracting point of view, BIM may be working great, but to what extent does that translate into a design savings?” she asks.

With an answer is Michael Sproles, division manager of TPM in Charlotte. It’s a Greenville, SC, firm that sells BIM software and trains people to use it.

“BIM has the potential to eliminate or reduce inefficiencies in designing and constructing a project,” Sproles says. “In any project, there’s a lot of time, material and effort wasted on mistakes, errors that just weren’t caught before they got out in the field. BIM allows us to help reduce that impact through coordination, making sure that mechanical piece of equipment is not in the way of structural steel work.”

Acceptance of BIM has jumped, Sproles says. The drivers are large contractors and project owners. “We’re seeing a lot of Department of Defense projects specify BIM as well as universities and other institutional customers,” he says.

Younger people seem to accept BIM faster because they grew up with 3-D and video games, Sproles speculates, while the older generation shies away.

“Young guys who might be great in the technology don’t have the experience of how to put a building together,” he says. “You need to have the older, experienced crowd, as well, because they understand how this stuff is actually going together.”

Chiming in is Paul Zytnik, a TPM account executive who sells Revit software to facilitate BIM use. “It seems the ones that have been most successful in architecture are the project architects that have both characteristics – knowledge of technology and the practical know-how about building,” Zytnik says.

To be continue

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