Getting on the BIM bandwagon

Afraid you'll miss out on the world of virtual construction? Fortunately, there are resources to help

Alberta Infrastructure will take significant strides towards making building information modelling-simply BIM in industry parlance-mandatory for major government projects later this year, but it will ensure the construction industry can keep pace.

"Alberta Infrastructure is currently developing its BIM implementation strategy, with completion scheduled for the spring of 2010," says Brian Soutar, executive director of the program management branch of Alberta Infrastructure. "We are working closely with the architectural, engineering, and construction associations to ensure that our strategy supports their ability to provide the required services."

Early adopters of BIM, such as the Edmonton Construction Association (ECA), have been educating peers and members about how to get into the BIM mindset.

"We don't want to revisit what happened when [the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, green building standards] came into effect," says Darlene La Trace, executive director of ECA.

"Industry wasn't ready. So we're trying to stay ahead of the curve and give our members some time with BIM before there are any big announcements from Alberta Infrastructure."

To ensure all its members are ready for BIM, La Trace's group built a room that houses 10 terminals and has offered BIM 101 courses to its members this year. (The ECA also received funding under an Alberta Employment and Immigration program to offer free BIM 101 training to qualified skilled immigrants.) The courses cover what BIM is and its benefits, BIM for construction, where does BIM fit for workers, and basic navigation in BIM software.

Other early adopters, such as HIP Architects' Allan Partridge, view BIM as an opportunity for different parties on a project to work more closely together.

"BIM is not CAD [computer aided design] on steroids," he says. "It's a different way of working. It's an opportunity to create the building virtually before it is created physically." He adds it's also an opportunity for the architects, engineers, and contractors to work together as an integrated team.

By creating a virtual building in three dimensions, the team can simulate performance, allowing the team to digitally troubleshoot problems and manage risks.

Although most major construction companies have been working towards the adoption of BIM for years, some of the smaller players lag behind because of the steep costs associated with BIM software.

According to Soutar, there won't be any surprises. Alberta Infrastructure plans to ease industry into BIM with pilot projects: "Careful selection of the initial projects is critical. Presently we are considering small- to intermediate-sized projects, with a mix of one-off and standardized designs."

As a new member of The Canada BIM Council, Alberta Infrastructure will learn about best practices from early adopters such as Partridge, EllisDon, and PCL Constructors Canada Inc.

PCL's Warren Tutton, a construction engineering manager, reports that PCL has been researching and evaluating BIM for a number of years and has noted a measured change in its adoption over the last seven to eight years.

After implementing BIM, PCL learned the software had the potential to help teams work more efficiently and effectively.

"Building a project in virtual space before it is physically built means you can find problems before they become an issue in the field. It'd also a good communication tool for all project stakeholders," explains Tutton. "Both these points equate to potential cost savings for our clients, our partners, and the company."

Like any other new thing, there will be challenges. New technology can be disruptive, notes Tutton, and BIM is no exception, especially as each member of the multidisciplinary team tries to understand how it fits into and affects their scope of work.

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