BIM report offers look at industry 
information exchange

Architects, engineers and contractors are embracing online meetings and cloud storage.

The first edition of what promises to be a new series on BIM advancements courtesy of Dodge Data & Analytics outlines many of the benefits that architect, engineer and contractor (AEC) community readers have of heard before.

Improved labor productivity? Check. Reduced costs? You bet. But, a further look at how AECs are exchanging information offers a great glimpse at what everyone is doing, and not doing, right now — and how this information will increasingly rely on digital means in the future.

The December 2015 report, “SmartMarket Brief: BIM Advancements 01,” includes answers from some of the largest AEC companies in the U.S., and, broadly covers three areas of interest.

Success factors

The section of BIM success factors verifies both the measurable benefits achieved from BIM, and the factors considered most critical to deliver those benefits.

“The benefits of BIM make it clear that it is a competitive advantage for companies that use it,” the report says.
Consider the following bullet points:

 

  • 48 percent of all respondents see a 5 percent decrease or more in final construction costs because of BIM. 
  • Over half (51 percent) see the same level of reduction in their project schedules.

“Shortened schedules and lower final construction costs have been two of the most anticipated outcomes for BIM since its introduction,” the report notes. “The fact that half of the respondents now report at least a 5 percent impact on both is an exciting finding and harbinger of greater future gains.”
Engineers are the most positive of the respondents about the impact of BIM to reduce material waste – with marks 23 percent above the overall average for all respondents. 

Meanwhile, contractors’ strongest variation at 10 percent above the overall average is for lowering final construction costs.

“This finding makes sense because of their direct involvement with and responsibility for the final cost,” the report explains, “which would put them in the best position to appreciate the positive impact of model-based processes.”

In the largest percentage of impact, 31 percent of contractors reported a 25 percent improvement in labor productivity, particularly in regards to prefabrication.

“This trend can be expected to continue as further industrialization of the construction process gains traction,” the report states.

“In an industry facing increasingly critical labor shortages, these positive impacts of BIM on labor confirm its benefit as a force-multiplying resource enhancement,” the report says.

The study also determined the factors that have the greatest impact on achieving that level of success with BIM, including BIM planning, platform capability and BIM-integrated meetings.

“Time and again, our research has demonstrated that BIM is most valuable as a means to enhance collaboration,” says Steve Jones, senior director of Industry Insights at Dodge Data & Analytics, in a news release announcing the report. “These findings demonstrate that you achieve the best results when BIM is at the heart of a transformed process built on sharing information, rather than simply the deployment of software.”

Construction modeling

The study also demonstrates how underutilized construction modeling is:

 

  • Less that half (41 percent) of the respondents currently see construction modeling on their projects.
  • However, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of those who use it, report high value in putting construction modeling into place.

The findings reveal that general contractors do the majority of construction modeling, and that the activities considered the most valuable are construction work packaging and sequencing, as well as project site logistics.

However, modeling among the trades is still emerging. The greatest areas of unmet demand according to the findings are for interior, building envelope and electrical trade contractors to engage in construction modeling.

Mechanical contractors, meanwhile, are at the forefront demonstrating rapid adoption of modeling from the perspective of previous BIM research by Dodge Data & Analytics. This new study shows a nearly unanimous rating — 93 percent for HVAC modeling and 91 percent for plumbing/piping modeling — for their values to the BIM process.

“It can be expected from these ratings that modeling by mechanical contractors will be a baseline expectation across the industry in the near future,” the report says.

Information mobility

For our money, the section on information mobility uncovers a number of interesting trends. As the quote above from Steve Jones suggests, BIM is really a philosophy rather than any one particular tool reserved for only one specific type of project.

“BIM was confused with parametric modeling, sometimes associated to a single asset type or perceived as a product or service,” the report states. “It is none of those things. Rather, it is a technology-enabled methodology used to manage the processes associated with the design, construction and operation of an asset.”

To that end, 70 percent of the respondents use information/document management systems and online meetings. More than 80 percent expect to use them in two years. The greatest increase in use is expected for cloud storage services, which increase to 89 percent in two years from the current 56 percent.

Contractors see the greatest benefit from these modes of enhancing information mobility, with nearly 43 percent reporting that they have experienced a “very high degree of improvement” in information mobility in the last two years compared to 37 percent of engineers and 28 percent of architects.

Among all of the survey respondents, 70 percent place a high importance on having improved devices for jobsites, more reliable connectivity, more standardization of data platforms and a greater ability to store and access project information in the cloud. 

Meanwhile, once-popular ways to share information are on the way out. For example, FTP sites are still being used by 63 percent of the respondents, but expected to show a decline in the near future.

“ … the predicted decline of this mode is likely to accelerate as more convenient and sophisticated workflow tools continue to proliferate,” the report explains.

This may be no surprise, but the most dramatic forecasted reduction is for good, old-fashioned handwritten documents. In the two years, the study predicts that their use will drop to 32 percent.

“[Handwritten documents are] being rapidly displaced by electronic documents,” the report states. “ Their virtual extinction is a near certainty, especially on larger, more complex projects, many of which have gone entirely paperless.”

To be sure, these rates of use and disuse are subject to variances when examined more closely.

For example, the biggest increases among any group for any mode of communication are shown by engineers in their plans to increase the use of cloud storage services. Engineers are also leading the way in dropping handwritten documents, followed closely by contractors.

“Because they deal with distributed teams on jobsites, contractors are probably eager to move away from informal, one-of-a-kind documents that are easily lost or damaged in the fray of constructed activity,” the report notes.

Overall, engineers and contractors alike are bullish on continually improving levels of information mobility.

“Clearly, this is the group that has been impacted the most, which makes sense because of the large number of companies that need to coordinate this work over distributed jobsites and a far-flung network of fabrication shops and supplier locations,” the report concludes.

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