The Impact of BIM on the Small Architecture Firm

Today our discussion centers around the question of whether a small architecture firm should implement BIM as a software solution.  We will take a deeper look what whether it is cost-effective, the time savings benefit, and what the onboarding process will look when converting to BIM.  Joining our discussion today is the Digital Design Manager of Bar Architects here in San Francisco, Kiran Nayak. 

What is BIM?

BIM stands for building information modeling.  When you talk about BIM it may seem complicated, but it really isn’t.  It is about having a single source of truth no matter which software you use whether it is Revit, ArchiCAD, or any of the BIM tools out there.

What Does BIM Offer?

It offers one central depository modeling tool which serves as your database.  For example, if you are a firm that is using Revit, you may be working with multiple consultants.  If all of these people are building their own models, with BIM they can feed into a central source of truth.  Your model then becomes part of the database for all your consultants and clients.  It is the source of data that comes out.  From the central model, you would have a strand that leads to visualization.  You would be able to export data generating an energy model for sustainability.  You could export all the data to generate your door schedules and send data to manufacturers.  In doing so, you are not spreading yourself too thin drawing details of everything.   When you draw a wall, you have an elevation of that wall.  When you draw a door, you have drawings that correspond to that as well.  This is considerably different from 2D design, where each of these is individual symbols that need to be drafted.

If you do move to a 3D BIM tool like Revit, it can recognize the differences between categories of objects like a wall, door, floor, or roof, then your BIM (model) will inherit all the data that goes with that.  This is moving away from 2D drafting and drawing on paper and then overlaying layers with trace because with BIM you’re building a database.  

What Should the Small Firm Factor in When Considering Incorporating BIM?

The first thing to note is the capital cost of any BIM tool will seem expensive to a small firm.  I have managed small firms in the past, and I know what these costs look like.  If you weigh AutoCAD versus Revit, the costs are significant.  It really depends on where you want to spend your time.  You must ask yourself if your time is worth more than the cost of the software. 

Leverage Technology Skills of New Hires

One of the interesting things about smaller firms is that when you hire the people who typically want to join a smaller firm, they may be people who are fresh out of college or have one to four years of experience.  They come in with incredible knowledge and experience in advanced modeling tools like Rhino or Grasshopper and most of them have experience with rendering tools like Enscape or Lumion.   It is important for smaller firms to leverage the skills of these younger people who come in.  If you take someone who has a lot of expertise in Grasshopper and Rhino and then makes them do AutoCAD, then you are probably not using them to their fullest capacity. 

One of the things about younger staff is that they have a lot of elasticity when it comes to software.  If you’ve understood something that can be as complex as Grasshopper or coding, you can typically pick up something like Revit in a couple of hours.  Learning the fundamentals of Revit doesn’t take that long and there are a lot of courses out there to help you train.  It takes about 10–15 hours to do a fundamentals course which will set you up with the basics and what you need to get started.  Every firm has its own standards and Revit modeling practices which will take a little longer to incorporate, but that is the best way to learn.  Do a project by interacting with your team members.  You learn a lot from working with people. Rely on younger staff’s ability to pick up software fast and give them the information they need to follow your standards. 

What Would be a Timeline to Become Proficient in BIM?

I joke that BIM in any office is a Sisyphean task––you are rolling a rock up a hill indefinitely.  It can take two to three years to fully implement BIM into your firm.   It will only take a couple of days to get into Revit by migrating into projects with junior staff.  It is important to migrate slowly and build your standards and translate those into Revit.  You will need to have an expert(s) who know what they are doing.  You will need a team who collaborates within the office, can discuss from the top down what your standards should look like, and have a broad sense of what your goals are.  Deciding to migrate to Revit without this plan, will take you a very long time.   You should establish the goals first and design a roadmap along the way.  For example, decide what do you want to achieve in the first six months, a year, and then further down the road.  That planning must happen for the implementation to be successful.

Why Would a Small Firm Embark on this Uphill Journey

All firms want to make money while saving as much as possible in the process.  At the same time, all people working on projects want to be as creative as they can.  If you are working in a tool like AutoCAD, you are spending a lot of time doing busy work like drawing walls and making changes.  If someone makes one change, you need to track that change through all your drawings one by one.  You can’t make the change globally.  However, in BIM software like Revit, if you make a material or location change to a wall, it changes it across the model, across all your views, and across all your schedules.  Imagine the timesaving in just that one aspect.  The same would apply to areas of any building element within your model.  The time saving itself frees up so much room for creativity and gives teams more flexibility to wrap up the busy work and spend more time focusing on what really matters in a project.

How Much Time Can be Saved Using BIM?

Any tool you use is only as good as the people who use it. The timeline will depend on your training and how well you communicate in the office.  There is no substitute for good communication. If used the right way, my estimate is that BIM would save 60 percent of the time over traditional tools like AutoCAD and Sketchup. 

That is 60 percent of the grunt labor and busywork.  The firm would then have a choice of how to reallocate that time by investing in their own unique ability or their own flair.  You cut the busy work and use the same cost concepts to build out what you want to be known for or your claim to fame. 

Training is really important.  Junior staff will come in with significant knowledge of advanced modeling tools, so if you are training them, you could get them on board and in projects within 15 days of them joining the firm.  That may seem like a long time to some firms, but the timesaving from using traditional tools to Revit or BIM software is significant. 

Another aspect to consider is you need to set the goals and templets in advance.  These can be works in progress that can continue to evolve as the maturity of the firm evolves.  It is extremely important to have some sort of templating in place.  When you move from AutoCAD to Revit, you also need to migrate your title blocks.  You need to migrate the way you like your details and views and plans to look.  There can be a lot of time spent on details like line weights.  It is important to have a few experts in your firm who can establish these standards to start with.  The training and a certain amount of expertise within the firm or a consultant to help you will set you up for success.

How Soon Could a Savings from BIM Be Realize?

BIM is not just Revit.  There are other collaboration tools, visualization tools, and some plug-ins that make your productivity higher.  If you build a software ecosystem in your office where all these tools work together and you can design a workflow around them, then you can break even within a year.  After that, while it is always a work in progress, you will see improvements. 

If your smaller firm is looking to expand its unique ability, you should consider switching to BIM. 

If you have questions for Kiran, his contact information is:

website: www.kirannayak.com 

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/arkirannayak 

BAR Architects: https://www.bararch.com/ 

email: kiran@arlaboratory.com 

Kiran does BIM consulting and can help point you in the right direction.

ArchIT has no dog in the fight.  We help architect and engineer design firms run their IT, all of their servers, computers, and most importantly people that need to focus on doing their best work and not worry about IT. 

If you have questions or need help please reach out to us.  ArtchIT specializes in providing IT services for architecture, design, and engineering firms