AEC From the Ground
Up — State of the AEC Industry
BIM implementation slow, but inevitable
May 1, 2005
By: H. Edward Goldberg, AIA
Note: Other company profiles were
omitted to shorten the article.
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I'm so close to the AEC industry, I often think that architects and engineers are more aware of
industry trends than they really are. It amazes me how often I get a blank stare when I mention BIM (building
information modeling) and information extraction. True, the AEC industry has moved to CAD, but that's really
only electronic drafting. Few have pursued full 3D modeling with great vigor, and even fewer have embraced
BIM and information extraction, even though the AEC software industry has spent much time and capital
creating and promoting BIM software.
I attribute this lack of adoption to the fact that 2D CAD systems are capable drafting tools and many know how
to use them well. BIM software, on the other hand, is much more complex. Though it's more challenging to use
BIM software, once mastered, BIM software solutions increase productivity immensely. They provide
visualizations, sections and elevations virtually free, and incorporate information that can be culled for use
downstream in the construction process.
In today's AEC climate, two major impediments block the widespread implementation of 3D and BIM. The first
hurdle lies with the liability issue associated with the extraction of digital data directly to the product acquisition
stream. For example, if the architect accidentally places two windows in the same location and the contractor
purchases them electronically, the architect may have to pay the extra cost. Then there's the question of who
will pay the architect for the additional information and the effort required to produce it.
The second problem lies not with the capability of the new BIM software, but with the need to train
professionals in how to use these programs. BIM programs are complex, and professionals often don't have the
time required to implement new software solutions. In addition, the new programs have created a need for a
master builder operator—someone who has intimate knowledge of how buildings are built—but few exist.
Herein lies the conundrum—older AEC professionals know how to construct buildings, but generally not how
to operate the software productively. New architecture college graduates are much more computer savvy, but
are novices when it comes to construction practices. In addition, architecture schools sometimes don't have
room in their schedules or knowledgeable professors to teach effective use of software.
Despite these obstacles, it's inevitable that the AEC industry will move to a 3D virtual or BIM modeling
solution. The question remains open as to how long will it take and which software solution will become the
industry standard. To boost 3D implementation, many companies and organizations have become involved with
the 3D virtual model concept.
The GSA and its BIM Mandate
In December 2003, the GSA (General Services Administration;
www.gsa.gov/) issued internal guidelines to its
regional staff stressing the need for on-time, under-budget project deliveries in the capital construction program.
It determined that new and emerging technologies such as 3D/4D and BIM have the potential to dramatically
improve the outcome of projects and improve customer satisfaction.
As a result,
earlier this year GSA/PBS solicited information on the use of IFC-based BIM technology from all
firms in the design, construction, facility management and real property industries. According to GSA/PBS, the
information will be "used to assist the government in establishing potential sources in the marketplace with
knowledge and experience in the use and practices of this state-of-the-art technology."
GSA has indicated that, beginning in July, the delivery of IFC-based BIM will be required for the preliminary
design phase of all new fiscal year 2006 projects.
1ST Pricing's mandate is to transform the $3.9 trillion building industry by streamlining the construction
process from design to procurement. In April 2000, the company launched
1stWindows.com, a Web site dedicated to online distribution of fenestration products. In the fenestration industry, few suppliers carry
inventory—virtually every order is a custom order. Windows, in particular, are a complex product with
dynamic, formulaic pricing because each manufacturer has a different approach.
With its extensive industry experience, 1ST Pricing was able to create customized databases with proprietary
algorithms to deliver precision pricing. The site is free to registered members, who can receive comparative
pricing at the click of a mouse from up to five different window brands with delivered-to-the-jobsite pricing.
The company next embarked on creating a CAD/BIM interface for its products. This interface begins at the
design phase and ends with material jobsite delivery.
The 1ST Pricing technology links to parametric symbols that 1ST Pricing has developed. When a design is
complete, the drafter enters the zip code for the project and clicks a button. The technology assembles a list of
materials and sends the list to the 1ST Pricing Web site. In turn, the Web site sends a detailed bill of materials
complete with comparative pricing. Each line item in the bill of materials has real, delivered-to-the-jobsite
prices for up to five different brands that meet the precise specifications of the drawing. In the future, 1ST
Pricing expects to provide pricing for up to 70% of the materials in a house plan.
Although the service is mostly limited to California, the company is working on licensing the technology with
national distributors to provide pricing and fulfillment all over the country and, potentially, outside the United
Right now, 1ST Pricing technology is currently available within TurboCAD. Downloads are available at the
company Web site for AutoCAD, Architectural Desktop and AutoCAD 3D Map, with more platforms on the
way. 1ST Pricing currently requires users to insert its own blocks, but the company is working to implement the
concept within the Architectural Desktop intelligent object system.
The implementation of 3D modeling and BIM is inevitable, but the AEC industry still must jump several
hurdles. Once those have been conquered, the full monetary potential of the 3D virtual model and BIM can
begin to be achieved.
H. Edward Goldberg, AIA, NCARB, is a practicing licensed architect and AEC industry analyst. Ed's full-length
book, Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2005: A Comprehensive Tutorial (Prentice Hall;
now available. Look for the 2006 version this fall. Contact Ed for online Architectural Desktop training
sessions delivered directly to the desktop. Visit www.hegra.org/ for more information, or e-mail
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