Building informationg modeling (BIM) uses 3-D, real-time building modeling software to increase productivity and accuracy in design and construction. But what specific role does the technology play in the design of a building’s security system, and what can electrical contractors contribute to the process by using BIM?

“BIM provides improved visualization and enables the electrical contractor and security system design team to have more finely tuned control over the design process as well as get realistic feedback on how the security system will actually operate after installation,” said Ryan Taylor, CEO of TRUSYS, Seattle.

Bob Middlebrooks, industry program manager, buildings, for Autodesk Inc., San Rafael, Calif., said that a BIM environment allows the electrical contractor and security system design team to physically locate individual system devices, coordinate them with all the other devices or objects in the design, and ensure that the devices are strategically and aesthetically placed.

“The security system devices represented in a BIM environment are intelligent, enabling the design team to connect them, coordinate placement and analyze performance,” he said.

And it is by understanding system performance in advance of construction that continual modification and improvement to the security system’s operation will be made.

BIM also makes integrating the security system with the rest of the building’s operating systems easier, since the technology allows the contractor to visually demonstrate system design and enable the owner to make better decisions. The very modeling capabilities at the core of BIM are what enables the contractor to see how the security system relates to the entire building and how the devices relate to space, people and activities.

“BIM also helps in getting all the trades involved in better understanding the nuances of the facility’s security system and how the components get embedded and integrated,” Taylor said.

Overall, BIM’s proponents recognize the technology’s benefits as improved visualization and productivity, increased coordination of construction documents, the ability to link together vital information about building objects, devices, and systems; faster project delivery; and reduced costs.

“BIM provides the owner with a better operational understanding of the security system and provides better security at the site for the tenant,” Taylor said.

In addition, Huw Roberts, global marketing director for Bentley Systems Inc., Exton, Pa., noted the design and construction teams gain improved efficiencies and accuracy, which mitigates risk and enables the team to deliver a higher quality, more cost-effective security system. The electrical contractor, in particular, benefits from BIM’s design coordination capabilities.

“The virtual model helps eliminate conflicts before the project enters the installation phase, creating fewer change orders and delays and enabling the contractor to provide a more aesthetic and cost-effective security system,” Middlebrooks said.

BIM in security system design
Before electrical contractors can engage BIM in security system design, they must understand that security is an overarching strategy that is applied to a facility to protect life and property, Taylor said.

“Once the security strategy is defined, the electrical contractor can help design a plan that mitigates the owner’s risk. That’s the point at which the contractor examines how technology can fulfill that plan,” he said, adding that the challenge for the electrical contractor is that deploying a good security strategy is both an art and science. “The contractor needs to ensure that technology decisions are well-justified and in accordance with the customer’s strategic security needs.”

Roberts said that, like the building’s other components, the contractor needs to understand the security system devices’ performance attributes and how they connect to other systems.

“That knowledge enables the contractor to better handle the devices in the field and manage construction activities in a way that suits the security system installation,” he said.

In the past, the contractor would have to place the security system devices and run conduit based on little guidance, except perhaps for the ultimate location of the control panel.

“In a BIM environment, coordination is key. Many general contractors are now telling their subs that those who use BIM modeling to coordinate their conduit runs get to work their portion of the project first.

Those that don’t use BIM will go later in the schedule and experience more effort and increased labor cost, making the ability to work with the software integral to being an effective part of designing the security system,” Middlebrooks said.

By examining the BIM model, electrical contractors can leverage their expertise to demonstrate constructability and support the security system design by exposing different construction opportunities and challenges shown by the model.

“BIM enables contractors to contribute their construction field knowledge to the design process, thereby avoiding costly changes and errors during construction,” Roberts said.


BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 and darbremer@comcast.net.