This weeks workflow discussion on BIM was prepared by Skyler Thomas who works with Topcon Positioning Systems as the BIM Business Development Manager.


I think we can all agree that BIM is a loaded and somewhat confusing acronym. I want to start by saying that there are varying degrees of knowledge around BIM as a whole and conversations can run deep and wide. For purposes of this post, this is not a deep-dive into BIM itself, but moreover how BIM is leveraged in the field. Why? Because gaining efficiency in the field via technology is my passion.

I will touch on (at a high level) how models are a) created, b) coordinated via collaboration, and c) consumed – with the latter being where I will place heavy focus. I think it’s highly important to touch on how we (general contractors, mechanical, electrical, plumbing contractors, etc.) can consume this data and leverage Building Information Modeling to build the building.

Ok, let’s stop.

You may be reading this thinking, “I don’t use BIM. My company doesn’t use BIM.” And potentially even “BIM is stupid”. The reality is that, yes, there is a time and place to use or not use BIM, but you should at least be briefed on the topic and how it may help you.

We are going to discuss 3 overall topics – aka, the three C’s.

  1. Creation – What is BIM and how is this Building Information Model created?
  2. Coordination via collaboration – Who’s involved and how, through coordination and collaboration, does this model become dependable and something you can actually use to your benefit?
  3. Consumption – How is this model shared for everyone’s consumption (how can we use this thing (BIM) in the field)? This is the fun part.


So what is BIM and how is it created?

I want it to be clear that Building Information Modeling is a process. It is often times looked at as a small entity that serves one particular purpose in the lifecycle of a job. In reality, that’s not the intent of a Building Information Model. To truly see value, BIM should be leveraged at all stages of construction – planning, designing, constructing, and managing the building through its entire existence.

So, how did we get here? The evolution looks something like this:


First, pencil and paper were the means by which we drew our structures. When the computer was invented, this was quite revolutionary for our industry in particular. This then allowed us to use computer aided drafting (CAD) to draw our structures in 2D. From there, CAD went 3D, allowing better visualization of what we were drawing.

Finally, here we are today – BIM. This is not to say that CAD is out of the picture. Don’t get me wrong, we are still using CAD in conjunction with the BIM process. BIM, however, gives us the ability to draft in 2D and, with the click of a button, view our 2D information in 3D. Not only that, BIM authoring software also uses objects and geometry that have the ability to hold a significant amount of data – both at the surface level and in the background (e.g. ability to tie submittals, cut sheets, installation data, maintenance data, etc to a particular light fixture in your model).

To wrap our heads further around how BIM differs from traditional CAD workflows, let’s talk about how each of these modeling methodologies (hand drafting vs. CAD vs. BIM) would simply handle the action of moving a wall:

  1. Moving a wall by hand drafting – This would be utterly painful. I don’t think we need to expand on this one anymore.
  2. Moving a wall with CAD software – This would take a bit of time. Not to mention, everywhere else that wall exists, you’d be responsible for changing dimensions, etc. at all locations. This is a manual, labor-intensive process.
  3. Moving a wall with BIM software – Because of how parameters are set in BIM software, the knowledge contained and tied to a particular wall allows for the auto-movement of that wall on every other sheet or view that wall appears within.

This quick example shows you in its simplest form how time is saved and productivity is increased when using BIM software.

Now that we understand how BIM data is created, how does it become reliable and actually worth something to all of those involved in a project?


Who’s involved and how, through coordination and collaboration, does this model become dependable and something you can actually use to your benefit?

For purposes of this post, let’s say we have a project-wide BIM initiative. Who should be involved? Everyone – from owners, to architects, to GCs, to subcontractors. Again, it’s a process, not just a tool used for a specific purpose. It takes the input and collaboration of all of those involved in the lifecycle of a project.

How many people are sick of hearing the phrase “garbage in, garbage out”? Well, it’s true.

Traditional workflows have existed (even within today’s BIM workflow) where all project stakeholders are all modeling in their own silos. This isn’t good for anyone. It’s like telling 4 people to go into separate corners of a room, design one-fourth of a puzzle, cut all of the pieces, and meet back up expecting the puzzle to fit perfectly together….?! Crazy, right?

On the same token, let’s say you’re modeling the structure of a building in your silo and you have a Mechanical contractor modeling ductwork in his own silo. If you guys never work together and/or collaborate, inevitably, there are going to be problems in the field.

Luckily, there are several software platforms (Autodesk Navisworks and BIM 360 Glue, for instance), used in conjunction with people who understand model management, to help bridge this coordination and collaboration gap. This allows the model to become reliable by continual model conditioning. These softwares solve a multitude of problems – a few of the major ones being:

  • A) Clash prevention and management – Yes, not just clash detecting, but proactively preventing clashes in the 3D virtual environment before they happen in the field. This, of course, reduces rework, RFIs, etc.
  • B) Cross-Platform Collaboration – Let’s say your MEP trades are modeling in AutoCAD (CAD), but your drywall subcontractor is modeling in Revit (BIM) – how do all of those files talk to one another?
  • C) Visualization + 3D, 4D, 5D (Crazily enough, it doesn’t stop at 3D?) – Once all building components and trades are successfully compiled, these platforms allow you to visualize what your building looks like – Not only giving you an overall picture, but also allowing you to tie time/schedule (4D), cost (5D) to your model.

Through coordinating via collaborative platforms, we solve a lot of problems. Just as importantly, though, this takes our model to the next level, allowing us to feel confident that we can leverage this data out in the field to actually build the building. This is where it gets fun!

We will continue this workflow discussion next week.

About the Author:

Skyler Thomas

Skyler Thomas comes from the construction industry where she worked for a large healthcare general contractor, specifically involved with Integrated Project Delivery & Lean Processes. Her industry experience includes providing support to all field and office staff through Building Information Modeling, BIM enabled layout, BIM 360 Field & Glue implementations, iPad deployment, BIM box product development, and serving as an IT/Low Voltage systems project manager. Being a direct end-user of multiple mobile technologies and responsible for project specific and company-wide technology roll-outs, Skyler then joined the Autodesk channel as a core founder of a Technology Group where she streamlined sales and service efforts along with marketing, researching and developing partnerships, and continually searched for new growth opportunities for the group and organization. As of March, Skyler joined Topcon Positioning Systems as the BIM Business Development Manager to strategically grow Topcon’s BIM hardware and software offerings and to further cultivate Topcon’s presence as a hardware leader in the vertical construction industry.