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Building Information Modeling (BIM): What Contractors Need to Know

The emerging and increasingly important technology know as Building Information Management (BIM) was the subject of a well-attended session on March 14th at the 94th annual Canadian Construction Association conference held in Savannah, Georgia. ..dBrian Gauthier, the senior account representative at IMAGINiT, Brian Soutar, the executive director of project services for Alberta Infrastructure, and Mark Johnson, senior vice president at Ledcor Construction Ltd, all weighed in on BIM and its uses in the construction industry.



Gauthier began by explaining how BIM allows builders to explore a project’s key physical and functional attributes prior to actually building.


The information component of BIM is what distinguishes it from simple 3D modeling, since it allows the user to simulate different approaches right in the software.


Conflicts are worked out in the software rather in the field, which can lead to lower budgets and less errors once the project takes physical form.


BIM works in three phases: modeling, leverage and integration. Creating a 3d model allows builders to visualize before construction, and test out different approaches. But once that model is built you can leverage the data you already have on later projects. You can also integrate with other projects and data.


Leveraging precise model data can also be used to increase pre-fabrication. Gauthier
explained how on one project the use of BIM and pre-fabrication meant workers could be paid less, the work was safer since it was all on ground level, and waste was much more easily disposed of.


BIM also helps those who aren’t able to extrapolate from 2d drawings, such as clients, to understand how a building will come together since they have a 3d visualization in front of them.


Obstacles to BIM adoption include a lack of adequate training, as well as not knowing how to use the tools in order to maximize collaboration and integration.


Brian Soutar of Alberta Infrastructure explained how the province implemented BIM to take their infrastructure initiatives forward.


Soutar said staff has increased at a rapidly increasing rate, and the average age of the staff is 51, all of which isn’t sustainable. As a result AI looked at ways to get the
project done in a smarter way.


BIM offered efficiencies in design, construction, operation and maintenance.
Soutar cautioned that different departments can have different perceptions of BIM so
communication is key.


Alberta Infrastructure started with BIM by creating a rough implementation plan, but
interest soon grew throughout the country about the Alberta strategy, and so the move
towards BIM accelerated.


Soutar said training was key to proper implementation of BIM, as was use of the software immediately after training was completed.


Several of AI’s pilot projects include the new Royal Alberta Museum and a new remand centre, Another upcoming project is a new dome for the Alberta Legislature Building, and BIM models are now being constructed in anticipation of building the dome.


Mark Johnson of Ledcor explained BIM from a general contractor’s point of view.
Ledcor sees BIM as a tool, and the tool is sometimes appropriate and sometimes not.


BIM is only as effective as the people using it and the skills they possess.


When Ledcor first looked at BIM they regarded it as a disruptive technology. To ignore BIM would be a mistake.


BIM is also a way to engage everyone across a project and can improve understanding at all levels.


BIM is also very effective in reducing design and construction timeline, which brings
greater cost certainty and minimizes mistakes.


Examples of Ledcor’s BIM projects include an HVAC retrofit to a Toronto office building, where they were able to visually communicate to project stakeholders how they would retrofit the building in an easy to understand way.


Ledcor also worked on the Van Dusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre. The building roof had a very unusual shape modeled on a lotus leaf, and BIM 3D representations proved to be much a more effective way to communicate to subcontractors what was needed.


The University of British Columbia Pharmaceutical Sciences Building was another project where the ability to show how each floor would be built was invaluable.

BIM is an excellent tool for buildings with complex mechanical systems, such as hospitals and other institutional buildings, Johnson said.


BIM is also useful for ironing out conflicts in plans between various departments. Johnson again pointed to the UBC ..dPharmaceutical Sciences Building, where mechanical and architectural plans were not compatible and were more easily massaged into compromise before construction began.


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