Leading the Digital Savvy

You may already work with building information modeling (BIM). Perhaps you’ve built a team proficient in this technology or hope to in the near future. At the very least, you suspect one day a project will come your way that will require BIM. The question is, as a manager, do you leave BIM to staff engineers and designers, or do you get up-to-speed on this ever-adaptive process? The second option may help you, your staff and your business.

“Proposals requiring BIM are reaching that tipping point of acceptance in how the construction industry will operate going forward,” said David J. Graue, AIA, LEED-AP, and senior project architect for Los Angeles-based HNTB Architecture, a nationwide provider of architecture, engineering, planning and construction services. “As a manager, you don’t need to become a BIM guru to effectively manage your team, but you should learn enough to know what BIM is capable of and its process.”

Graue has presented seminars to help managers better understand BIM fundamentals.

“BIM may be one area where senior staff is not necessarily attuned. A fair percentage may not be as computer literate as their junior employees. For the younger workers, computer literacy and everything digital is often second nature. That doesn’t leave managers off the hook. In order to be effective, they need to put in the time to understand the concepts and process of BIM tools. The construction industry is quickly evolving,” he said.

A BIM primer
Graue recognizes BIM can be intimidating. His firm addresses this by offering a class for managers.

“It’s a rigorous overview course where managers become students and must build a simple structure using BIM,” Graue said. “By tangibly running through the BIM process, they learn the work flow specific to BIM and the time devoted to each level of design. They discover how BIM allows you to work in concert and interactively with other building professionals. While the technician or designer does the driving when creating and working within the model, managers should be able ask the right questions to help resolve issues. That’s how you can effectively manage and lead your team. Understand what BIM is doing, know its capabilities and learn how your staff works with it.”

David Morris is the director of virtual construction for EMCOR Construction Services, a division of EMCOR Group Inc., based in Norwalk, Conn., a global provider of mechanical and electrical construction services. It was an early adopter of BIM, working in forms of digital building modeling before the process got its name.

“I make sure both the technician and middle to senior manager go through BIM education using training through a course offered by the Associated General Contractors association [AGC],” Morris said.

He serves as a liaison for 83 EMCOR companies that represent more than 350 plumbing, mechanical, electrical and fire protection professionals, including a small in-house staff of architectural and structural professionals.
“In my career, I started with detailing and design work using a computer some 35 years ago and grew with it as it gained broader use,” he said. “I see the value in helping educate everyone from our company CEOs to our journeymen in the field.”

The AGC BIM training program is five full days.

“It gives our managers a foundation in BIM nomenclature, process and terms, so when they hear these phrases rattled off, they have a frame of reference for proper value decision-making,” Morris said. “Selecting the correct software is also covered, as are contracts and risk.”

He added that a stronger adoption of industry-approved standardized contracts for BIM projects would help mitigate risk for all building partners. Such documents are available through different efforts that include AIA E202 2008: Building Information Modeling Protocol Exhibit and the ConsensusDOCS 301 Building Information Modeling Addendum.


Nuts and bolts
Both Graue and Morris stress the importance of learning basic BIM terminology. Terminology is a major component of the training programs geared for managers in both companies. The following are central terms to know.
Parametric refers to the relationships among elements of the digital building model that enable coordination and change management. The software or the designer create these building elements and add them to the design.
Model elements (host and model) are the 3-D geometry of the building, including walls, windows, doors and roofs. Host elements (e.g., walls or roofs) are generally built in place at the construction site. Model elements are items that are put in place, such as windows, doors and cabinets.
Datum elements help to define project context. Grids, levels and reference planes are datum elements.
View-specific elements are displayed only in the views in which they are placed. Dimension tags and 2-D detail components are view-specific. There are two types of view-specific elements: annotation and details.

Drilling down in BIM terminology, you have annotation elements, which are 2-D components that document the model and maintain scale on paper with dimensions, tags, keynotes and more. Details are 2-D items, such as detailing, filled regions and 2-D detail components, which provide attributes of the building model in a particular view. Levels are infinite horizontal planes used as reference for level-hosted elements, including roofs, floors and ceilings. They are often used to define a vertical height or story within a building. An element category refers to a group of elements that you use to model or document a building design, such as columns or beams. Project refers to the single database of information representing the building model and contains all information for the building design from geometry to construction data.

The design process
“BIM is a process that often starts with general or generic content,” Graue said. “As the project progresses, more data is added, and more specific information is assigned.”

Progress is organized into five levels of design (LOD).

LOD 100 is the equivalent of a conceptual design and is designed to perform whole-building analysis, including volume, building orientation and square-footage costs. LOD 200 refers to schematic design or design development, consisting of systems or assemblies and their approximate quantities, size, shape, location and orientation. These models help to analyze defined systems and general performance objectives. LOD 300 elements are sufficiently rendered for traditional construction documents and shop drawings. They can also be used for estimating and for construction coordination for clash detection, scheduling and visualization. LOD 400 is considered to be suitable for fabrication and assembly and is most likely to be used by the trade contractor or fabricator to build and fabricate project components. Finally, LOD 500 represents the project as it has been constructed. The model is suitable for maintenance and operations of the facility.

“Managers need to recognize a culture and workflow shift when managing a BIM project,” Graue said. “For instance, you front-load or give more time to schematic design and design development and less to construction documents. If anything, you can compress the time schedule. As everyone has access to the digital model, you can hold a team meeting in person or through teleconference, ‘pulling up’ the model in real-time to discuss the design and tackle any challenges. For example, in such a meeting, the electrical contractor and the HVAC engineer can discuss possible routing problems.”

For both men, the advantageous cultural shift in the BIM process is how it promotes information exchange, collaboration and more frequent communication. Now, designers, engineers and contractors engage earlier in the process to help ensure the project’s design intent.

GAVIN is the owner of Gavo Communications, a marketing services firm serving the construction, landscaping and related design industries. He can be reached at gavocomm@comcast.net.

About the Author

Jeff Gavin

Freelance Writer
Jeff Gavin, LEED Green Associate, is the owner of Gavo Communications, a sustainability-focused marketing services firm serving the energy and construction industries. He can be reached at gavo7@comcast.net .

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