Long before construction managers of the new Yankee Stadium gave the go-ahead to break ground, they knew exactly how the massive project would play out. Even before the earth movers dug up the first mound of dirt, engineers and architects had identified multitudes of possible snags. And even before physical work began, they were able to address them, saving thousands of man hours and enabling construction to finish months ahead of schedule.
“It’s a very sophisticated building,” says Paul Sullivan, a spokesman for Autodesk, which creates 3D design software for engineering, construction and civil infrastructure, and which designed the software for the stadium project. “We were able to identify thousands of clashes.”
The project’s managers credit the time saved in constructing the new ballpark to the use of Autodesk and similar products, which fall under the umbrella of “Building Information Modeling” software.
BIM technology makes it possible for engineers, architects, managers and other key construction players to virtually design a building, including all of its mechanical and electrical systems, in 3D, then detect possible problems and make needed adjustments long before a shovel hits the ground. Above all, say architects, engineers and construction industry executives, using the technology saves time, materials and lots of money.
But BIM is more than about just technology. It’s a collaborative process backed by cutting edge software, technology and mobile tools that make construction much more efficient. The software also enables building teams to make key updates on construction sites in real time.
What It Is
BIM largely consists of software and 3D technology. To create and market their solutions, companies like Autodesk hire a wide variety of professionals, and technical background is key, even for marketing and sales people. Sullivan says tech specialists or software developers in the space could also work in customer-facing roles, such as support. C# and .NET software developers will find opportunities. So will project managers, design engineers and application support engineers.
According to Pike Research, worldwide revenue for BIM products is expected to rise to $6.5 billion by 2020, up from $1.2 billion in 2012. In addition to Autodesk, big players in include Tekla, Bentley, Nemetschek and Gehry Technologies.
The technology continues to evolve and, not surprisingly, is increasingly available on mobile devices. As a result, notepads, long rolls of drawing plans and small wooden building models are gradually disappearing from construction sites. They’re being replaced by iPads and other devices loaded with BIM applications that help engineers and construction managers make adjustments right at the building site. This not only saves time and money, it boosts profit margins as well.
Although the technology has been around for about a decade, much of the industry didn’t embrace it right away. It was the construction’s consistently weak financial performance in recent years that forced many to overcome their resistance.
“The downturn (in the economy) has accelerated the use of BIM,” says Tyson Cadorette, BIM manager for Weidlinger Associates, a New York City structural engineering firm that specializes in building and transportation design. “Budgets are getting tighter. People want to build projects for less money.”
Business aside, many engineers, architects and project managers see BIM as a dream tool because of its precision. “You can model everything in the building, from columns and walls, to the façade,” says Cadorette, who’s used BIM on projects ranging from little banks to bridges to skyscrapers. “You can specify the finish on walls. You can model pipes, sprinklers, sinks and doorknobs. Everything that will be in the project will live in the model as well.”
Cadorette says one of the technology’s best features is its ability to create a variety of models that capture different aspects of the building. “This allows us to take these models into a software package and slam them all together. Then the software will tell you where a conflict happens,” he explains. “You can identify those problems in a 3D world and fix them so you don’t have to actually run into them.”
Scott Main, products specialist manager for Worldwide BIM 360 at Autodesk — which helped pioneer the technology’s use — says a recent study shows that 74 percent of contractors and 70 percent of architects now use BIM.
Before BIM became widely used, many contractors bidding for jobs could only count on profit margins of 1 to 3 percent. Today, BIM’s efficiency allows them to realize margins as high as 8 percent, says Autodesk’s Main.
In addition, BIM has led to streamlined construction of smart buildings, a trend that makes it easier to produce more energy-efficient structures and has long-term ramifications for their maintenance.
“These buildings are starting to become a lot smarter, much more predictable in their behavior,” says Sullivan. “We can have much more complex buildings today than we had 15 to 20 years ago. We are able to alert building owners or maintenance workers about things to be fixed or the way things need to be fixed. That drives down the cost of maintaining the building.”