Increase BIM Engagement to Remain Competitive

When Building Information Modeling (BIM) was first introduced, it initially gained traction with design professionals because it enabled them to iterate more fluidly, analyze multiple options more objectively, communicate design intent more clearly, and produce more reliable and constructible documentation. As this modeling matured, contractors and fabricators have also embraced BIM for its exceptional value in downstream activities such as estimating, detailing, fabrication, installation, and handover — integrating the complete design-to-construction workflow as an efficient, collaborative digital effort.

These companies know that BIM is best played as a team sport, and that widespread adoption is key to scaling its benefits across all projects and the entire industry. But how can more firms be encouraged to get involved with BIM? 

A recently published research report called Connecting Design and Construction from Dodge Data & Analytics, sponsored by Autodesk, includes an examination of two critical elements of this evolutionary process:

  • architects’ perceived level of BIM adoption and capability among the engineering firms available to them in the markets where they work; and
  • architects’ use of BIM Requirement policies to encourage or mandate its use by the engineering firms they evaluate and hire. 

Architects’ perceived level of BIM engagement by engineering firms — To benchmark the current status, Dodge asked U.S. architects currently active with BIM about their perception of overall BIM adoption among five types of consulting engineers in all of the areas they practice.

  • Structural engineers scored highest, with almost three-quarters (73 percent) of architects reporting either a high or very high percentage of BIM-capable firms in their market.
  • High/very high ratings for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineers range from 52 percent (mechanical) to 29 percent (electrical).
  • Civil engineers trail, with only 15 percent of architects reporting high or very high availability of BIM skills.   

These findings are not surprising, as structural firms have been working in 3D for decades, so a shift to designing with 3D intelligent objects was relatively straightforward. The higher capability levels of mechanical and plumbing engineers compared to electrical relates to the industry’s focus on BIM for clash detection, since these elements are physically larger. It also aligns with other Dodge research findings about the rapid growth of BIM among those two trades compared with electrical. Lastly, BIM practice has traditionally focused on building architecture and systems, and has only recently begun to incorporate civil considerations, so naturally, BIM-skilled civil engineers are rare by comparison.      

Architects’ BIM Requirement policies for civil and structural engineering firms — In most cases, architects have a lot of control over the selection of consulting engineers for their projects and can evaluate candidates for their BIM capabilities as well as other more traditional attributes. 

Dodge asked architects currently using BIM about their BIM policies for engineers, and the feedback ranged from “strict mandate that BIM be deployed” to encouraging BIM implementation, but not requiring it, and those that simply have no BIM policy in place. Data in each of these categories for civil and structural engineers is further broken down by the level of BIM engagement of the architectural firm (high-engagement, meaning more than half of their current work involves BIM, and low-engagement, meaning less than half of their current work involves BIM). More than half of high-engagement architects (53 percent) require BIM from structural firms, yet only 5 percent require it from civil. For comparison purposes, architects’ policies for MEP engineers are nearly as frequent as for structural engineers.

Future

While structural firms seem well on their way to BIM sufficiency, these findings strongly suggest that civil engineers will increasingly need to have BIM skills moving forward — so adoption, training, and skill building will be critical. For those that are already BIM-capable, they should continue to leverage it as a competitive advantage and will be best positioned for future success.

The full report is free here.

This article first appeared in Civil + Structural Engineer in the September, 2018 issue.