For Owners, BIM Has Vim

Nov. 20, 2009

Richer data is reducing costs for owners and facility managers

Interoperability remains an issue. So does calculating its contribution to the bottom line. Nevertheless, building team members are finding more to like about building information modeling (BIM), even if owners – BIM’s primary beneficiaries – aren’t entirely convinced that the software is useful for operations and maintenance.

Or so concludes a study by McGraw-Hill Construction, which performed an exhaustive survey of owners, designers, and builders to evaluate the value of BIM (particularly the financial and operational benefits).

The study, The Business Value of BIM, finds that 50 percent of the industry uses BIM or BIM-related tools – a 75-percent increase in just 2 years. It also reports that two-thirds of users are achieving a positive return on their BIM investments, even as it acknowledges that “tracking ROI on BIM projects can be a tricky proposition, given that users require a sufficient library of data on similar projects to make a comparison.”

BIM by the Numbers

According to The Business Value of BIM, a study by McGraw-Hill Construction:

  • 20 percent of users who measure ROI see returns greater than 50 percent.
  • 33 percent of users employ BIM on 60 percent or more of projects.
  • 42 percent of users are at an “expert” or “advanced” level.
  • 70 percent of non-users say client demand would impact their decision to use BIM.

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), the nation’s largest building owner, has plenty of data, and is using it to dispel the notion that BIM doesn’t extend to facilities management. Among other functions, the GSA uses the software to determine whether new and renovated building systems are hitting their marks, with data generated during design serving as the benchmark, says Charles Motta, the GSA’s director of strategic programs and professional resources.

Jay Bhatt, senior vice president with Autodesk, says he isn’t surprised, given recent government emphasis on energy consumption and sustainable design. “Ten years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to support those types of analyses, but the proliferation of 3-D modeling has allowed us to generate richer design data, then leverage it to determine whether design intent matches system operation.”

The GSA also intends to use BIM as a diagnostic tool, says Mark Levi, a program manager for GSA’s western region.

One scenario finds the facility manager discovering evidence of a leak, then accessing BIM data to locate valves in the vicinity – along with corresponding data on valve size, manufacturer, and part number.

For now, owners say BIM provides them with a clearer understanding of the initial design intent, and allows them to identify information gaps that arise as schemes pass from design team to construction team to owner/facility professional. As a result, team members are less likely to encounter problems in the field.

One example cited in the study involves the use of BIM to construct a research center (known as R1) identical to another center (R2) constructed without BIM. “Although significant planning and verification took place up front ... significant schedule gains were realized. When completed in June 2008, the R2 project was 2 months ahead of schedule and 6 months ahead of R1.”

Among other challenges, the two projects called for “multiple complex systems to be packed into tight spaces.” Accordingly, owner representatives used BIM “to ensure that the project would be maintenance friendly upon completion.”

Comparative data on that particular value proposition isn’t in, although the results could shed additional light on the value of BIM to the facility manager.

John Gregerson is a freelance writer living in Chicago.

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