Building Information Modeling Catching on in Construction Industry
March 10, 2009

By Justin Carinci, Daily Journal of Commerce
Appeared in For Construction Pros

Building information modeling lets members of a project team see nearly every detail of a project in 3-D. But first, team members need to agree how much detail they want, John Tocci Jr. of Gilbane Building Company told an audience at the Associated General Contractors of America's national convention last week in San Diego.

"You can take this and grind it to a screeching halt if you expect too much from your partners," Tocci said. "You can model everything down to the paint, but you're going to get way out of control. "

General contractors can benefit from using 3-D modeling, Tocci said. However, if the rest of the team doesn't use the system, it can actually hinder communication.

That's why it's vital to agree to a plan that lays out expectations from each team member.

"If you don't know your end game, it's going to be like a Family Circus cartoon," Tocci said. "You're going to be running around, distracted, doing random things that don't relate to your objective and don't add value. "

Gerry Hartford of engineering firm Syska Hennessy and Dave Morris of mechanical and electrical contractor EMCOR joined Tocci on the panel, at the San Diego Convention Center.As an early adopter of BIM, things got lonely at Syska Hennessy, Hartford said. The rest of the industry is now catching up.

"Success ultimately depends on (an architecture-engineering) team that gets it," Hartford said. "Builders have been way ahead of the curve. Now we're starting to see the contractors coming back to the table and saying 'we need to be working together to make this successful. '"

An integrated BIM project requires more collaboration than some firms are accustomed to.

"We spend more time now communicating and working together as a true team than we ever have in my career," Hartford said. "And I've been in the business 33-plus years.

"We're getting an updated model twice a week from the architect," he said. "Before, we would maybe get an update once a month. "

Morris, EMCOR's director of virtual construction, is working on a project with Syska Hennessy.

"We've watched as the industry has slowly evolved," he said. "It is a fantastic opportunity as a sub and installing contractor to work with an engineering firm (that) has embraced the technology to this degree. "

As more firms adopt BIM, they'll bring along their project team members, reluctantly or not. Morris told the story of a construction manager who was debating whether to save money on a project by not using BIM. The general contractor's CEO said no BIM, no project.

"The mechanical engineer said we won't do it; we don't want the pain," Morris said. "Everyone knew the success of the project depended on it, and the savings (from not using BIM) would be offset by the litigation and court costs later. "