How BIM Can Benefit Contractors
By Nancy Clark Brown
Although BIM technology is nothing new to the construction industry, the BIM processes and activities
that contribute to project success are still evolving. When BIM first emerged, the emphasis was on more
efficiency in generating 2D drawings – particularly as the design changed.
As the construction industry began to adopt models for coordination and clash detection, project teams
started to realize the benefits of BIM. Today, the industry has many uses for BIM. Due to the adoption
of cloud-based solutions that distribute consistent information to all stakeholders, BIM helps teams
leverage models throughout the project life-cycle for activities such as continuous estimating,
scheduling, and variance tracking to differentiate their construction services.
According to McGraw Hill Construction’s 2014 report, The Business Value of BIM for Construction in
Major Global Markets SmartMarket Report, contractors in the world’s top construction markets report
that BIM helps them to improve productivity, efficiency, quality and safety on their projects,
as well as their own competitiveness. Particular benefits of implementing BIM, such as reduced
errors and omissions, minimizing rework, and the ability to introduce new services, are seen as
powerful advantages for contractors. In fact, 40% of contractors with very high BIM engagement
levels report that BIM significantly reduces the need to rework projects, which results in
meaningful cost savings.
Some of the benefits that contractors are realizing include:
Bid Accuracy with Model-Based Estimating
Estimating the costs of building systems, materials, and equipment is nothing short of an art.
Expertise in applying unit rates, completing takeoffs derived from specifications, drawings, and
lists (and accounting for corresponding materials and equipment requirements per unit), and
incorporating various quotes from vendors, are all required to successfully win work. As a project
grows in size and complexity, so does the estimating process.
Traditional, manual approaches to estimating – including those assisted by 2D takeoff tools –
are not up to the task of today’s complex projects. Manually locating and counting objects from a
2D drawing is tedious, time-consuming, and prone to misinterpretation and error. And, the areas in
which the estimator has less expertise have an even greater chance of error.
Estimators conventionally spend weeks doing manual takeoffs and quantifications in order to
produce a final bid. Plans and specifications convey only partial design intent. General
contractors and estimators can review the BIM model to understand scope, complexity, and
constructability – and therefore gain full understanding of the project and any potential risk.
Using BIM solutions, estimators can further add validity to the numbers pulled from 2D drawings
and identify any gaps and areas of risk that can be detrimental to winning a job. Estimators are
freed up from the tedious task of manually counting objects, since the data is constantly reflected
in the model in real-time and counts and quantities can be checked quickly.
Model-based estimates not only lead to greater bid accuracy, they’re also much faster.
The time saved by extracting quantities from models can be devoted to high-value activities
such as reviewing constructability, exploring options, and finding other methods of improving
bid accuracy by reducing risk.
Greater Efficiency in Change-Order Management
In an ideal world, all changes would be clouded and easily identified on 2D drawings, but, unfortunately,
that is not always the case. Missing a significant change can be the difference between making and losing
money on a job. Many estimating teams use traditional 2D takeoff programs to manage change orders, which
lack the ability to intelligently identify the additions, subtractions, and modifications on the project.
The 2D programs compare changes by overlaying two different images, which can result in false results due
to scale modifications or image alignment. Another challenge is the inability of the 2D programs to
identify any type of changes, which can have a significant impact on costs.
In construction, change is constant and the opportunities for projects to get off track are endless,
so project managers must be constantly vigilant. Relying on the traditional, manual approach to
change-order management doesn’t cut it. Today’s complex building environment demands much greater
insight and control of change than ever before. Tapping into the latest BIM-based technologies allows
companies to easily compare multiple iterations of the model to successfully handle changes.
BIM data management solutions can display design changes visually, along with associated quantities,
to provide better insight into required changes than you can get with a traditional 2D program.
Estimating teams can easily highlight or isolate the components in the model that have been added,
deleted, or changed. General Contractors can easily review the quantity variances with BIM to validate
subcontractor change orders and verify the cost submittals without taxing a lot of internal resources.
Improved Coordination with Schedule Visualization
A huge advantage that comes with BIM data integration in a construction project is the ability to
visualize the expected progress and actual progress throughout the entire process. Communicating a
project schedule visually is a useful tool for coordinating with subcontractors on the job site.
BIM data gives you a window into the progress of jobs at any given moment, helping you identify
and proactively address potential delays before their impact spreads to other areas of the project.
Connecting the schedule to the model data allows teams to build the project virtually before you
even break ground. Schedule visualization helps convince the owner of the General Contractor’s
understanding of the project, and can be extremely useful when working on a project following a
strict timeline. Owners can be kept well informed as to when they can move into different buildings
within a project. This insight is extremely useful when working on educational or medical facilities
that still remain active during construction.
In the past, creating transparency and collaboration among all stakeholders in a project was seen as a
tall order. Today, however, BIM gives General Contractors the ability to share model data with
subcontractors and other key stakeholders. This visual representation of the data helps project
teams simplify and improve overall efficiency and coordination.
With the advent of cloud and mobile technologies, all stakeholders in the office or in the field
are able to access data over the course of a project – further expanding the value of BIM to a
project. As BIM data becomes easier to access and even more ubiquitous during all stages of a
build, contractors and subcontractors are more likely to increase their involvement and value
in any given project where they have used BIM-related methodologies to their fullest potential.
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