Volume 43, Issue 5 - May 2008
by Ellen Rogers
“This is definitely the biggest thing to happen in my career and I’ve been in this business almost 30 years.” That’s what Steve Jones, senior director for McGraw-Hill Construction, says about building information modeling (BIM). McGraw-Hill Construction operates the online Sweet’s Network, a site where companies can post their modeled products. And what, exactly, is BIM? Simply put, it’s a tool that allows planners, designers, manufacturers, contractors, glazing subcontractors and owners to work from the same object-related database. In other words, instead of project drawings of lines, arcs and texts, everyone involved with the construction is able to visualize the entire building with a 3D model representation.
And with a growing interest in the technology, Jones says this year is the year for BIM. In fact, according to McGraw-Hill Construction’s 2007 Interoperability SmartMarket Report, the construction industry will exceed the tipping point for BIM in 2008. “That doesn’t mean the majority of firms will be using BIM,” says Jones. “It means there’s no going back.”
The architectural and design communities may be jumping on the BIM bandwagon, but contract glaziers have been slower to begin using the tools. But Jones says it’s just a matter of time before contract glaziers begin adopting the technology.
“Traditionally, trade contractors are reactive. They deal with the contract documentation they receive, which has always been 2D drawings and text specs, and conduct their business according to the procurement process of the general contractor. Some glazing contractors use sophisticated tools to do their estimates and fabricate their finished work, but the value of that technology isn’t shared [with other team members]. It is a local benefit just to them.” Jones continues, “With this emerging [technology] they will have the opportunity to leverage their industry expertise and their supporting technologies to play a greater role earlier in the design process. Those who are willing and prepared to step up to this new role will thrive, and that will influence everybody else to get involved.”
So BIM is here to stay. But just where did it come from? Who are the key players and just where does the glass and glazing industry fit in? Jones talked with USGlass about BIM, how it’s used and also how contract glaziers can benefit. And as far as glass fabricators and curtainwall suppliers? BIM has a role to play with them too. See the April 2008 USGlass, page 28, to read more about how they are getting involved.
Q: How long has BIM been out there?
Q: What is it that’s been bringing BIM to the forefront?
Q: Are they the only two software programs?
The fourth player is called Graphisoft and it’s owned by a German company that has bought up a lot of the building information modeling tools in various European countries. It doesn’t have as big of a footprint in the United States because it’s difficult to come in and compete with AutoDesk. So, as opposed to going after the architects, they’ve gone after contractors. That tool is called ArchiCad, and it’s a 3D-design tool that also has integrated scheduling and budgeting so you have a full 5D-offering [Note: 4D is time and 5D is cost]. We’re seeing a lot of contractors picking up these tools and using them because their fabrication can be so much more efficient.
Q: In addition to these programs, there are also BIM libraries. What are they for?
The problem with a product line that has a lot of different alternatives, such as a curtainwall or storefront system, is that it’s not very practical to model in advance every possible size, every possible configuration and have that waiting on a shelf. That’s one approach of doing this.
We’re [Mcgraw-Hill] also working with a company [DeMichele Systems] that’s going to launch a product for the glazing industry during the AIA show in May and what that does is allow the designer to configure online what he wants, the sizes and types of glass, metal and hardware that fit the job (see April 2008 USGlass, page 30). Then he presses a button and the BIM content for that design is created on the fly. He can then put that information into the BIM model itself. That’s a far more efficient way going forward, rather than thinking you have to build every single product you have in advance.
Q: With so many different programs available, does that mean everyone on the project team has to be on the same program? If not, how do they work together?
Its Triforma tool is fully integrated for architectural and design, and they also have mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire, life safety, civil and structural programs. So, yes, it will increasingly become possible to work within one player’s tool. However, not everybody always wants to do that, and there can be problems with interoperability.
There is a tool called NavisWorks, which allows the various models from different software companies to be viewed as though they were all the same. As a result, clash detection has become the low-hanging fruit for BIM. People enjoy the fact that you can take the different designs, at least to view them, and find the clashes in a virtual space before [you’re in the field]. That doesn’t get to the core of interoperability, but it does at least provide a faux version of it that is very practical. Now, late last year AutoDesk bought that NavisWorks program, which had been an independent entity. Everyone became afraid when AutoDesk stepped in and bought it, but so far they’ve done all the right things, letting everyone use the tool … they are not making it proprietary. And that’s good.
Q: What happens if you have a project team in which not everyone is using BIM?
They could know that within a 16th of an inch, for example, they are absolutely perfect. A lot of architects are modeling, but not really anybody else is. Modeling also allows for better communication [with everyone on the job] because it’s such a powerful visualization tool.
Plus, any of these programs can still pump out a set of 2D drawings if you want them to.
Q: How can the contract glaziers get involved and start using BIM?
This tool will allow the contract glazier to do a cost estimate and a structural design analysis with all of the products that have the ability to meet that specification. This way they know in advance what their “equals” are. Also, if they favor a particular manufacturer they can put that information in, get a printed report and prove to the architect that a [particular product] is equal to the one specified.
I think that as this industry matures you will see the model staying in its native 3D format. Further down the supply chain, glaziers will be asked to consume, if you will, a 3D model opposed to 2D drawings. And those contract glaziers that are able to do that will be favored by these project teams because they are the ones able to play in this new space.
Q: What are the greatest benefits for contract
Q: What are the challenges and concerns for contract glaziers?
It’s never about whose fault it is, it’s only about how we can solve this problem together because we all rise and fall as a group. It takes a whole new way of thinking; you have to be ready for that and willing to work in this new way as opposed to thinking totally about letting the contractor protect your interest against any kind of problem.
Q: What advice would you give a contract glazier working toward making this transition?
Find out how they can get involved earlier or in a different way than they have in the past. Also, it would be good to start putting a bit of pressure on their industry associations and organizations to help them as a group get smarter about this.
Ellen Rogers is a contributing editor for USGlass magazine.