This article by my coworker, Bill Lawliss, appeared in last month’s issue of Doors & Hardware magazine.  In case you’re not a subscriber and are interested in BIM, I’m sharing it here (or you can download the reprint here)…

Similar to most large families, John’s was renowned for their yearly reunions. But this one, unlike any other he had attended in the past, held special meaning. He hadn’t been to a reunion since he bought the family business three years ago, and his grandfather was going to be there. He had only spoken to his grandfather by phone a few times since he had retired to Florida, leaving the family business he had started in John’s hands. During their phone conversations John never talked shop with his grandfather, but the business was doing well and the company and industry were changing; he was looking forward to updating both his grandfather and his dad on the company’s success and the changes he had implemented.

After only a few steps into the restaurant where the reunion was being held, it didn’t take long for him to be called on by a familiar, friendly voice. “Junior!” With a smile John turned and there, sitting at the head of the long dining table, was his grandfather, Marty. “Come over here, son,” he laughs while patting the unoccupied chair next to his. John obeys, but only after giving Marty a hug hello. “We have a lot to catch up on.” The old man eyes his grandson with a glimmer of curiosity. “It has been a while since we spoke last. Tell me. How is everything going?”

John grins confidently. “We’re very busy—we’re bidding an average of 8 to 10 projects per day, and we’re winning….”

“Hold on Junior.” His grandfather frowns slightly before cupping a wrinkled hand around his ear and leaning forward in his chair. “Either I’m becoming more deaf than I thought I was, or did I just hear you say ‘per day’?”

“Yes, sir!” John nods proudly. “8 to 10 projects per day. I’m expecting a dozen requests and bids on Monday alone.”

Marty raises his eyebrows at John in shock. “Requests and bids on the same day; what do you do—weigh the plans?”

“Oh, Dad.” Both men glance up to see John’s father, John Sr., standing behind them, a serious-yet-amused look on his face. “They haven’t used plans for years. Bid documents are emailed in PDF format.” At this, John smirks.

“Sorry to burst your bubble, Dad, but we don’t use PDF documents or email for bidding any more. We’ve entered the BIM world now!” Within seconds John watches as his grandfather’s eyes grow as large as golf balls.

“BIM!” he asks. “What the he—?” But before he could finish, John quickly cut in.

“Hold on Grandpa,” he warns with a small laugh. “Gram is in the next room and, even though it has been a while, I still recall her bionic hearing.” John looks at both men and, in a business-like manner, adjusts his tie. “Now…let me tell you about BIM.”

“BIM is an acronym for Building Information Modeling,” John says and then turns to Marty. “Remember when you used to take me with you to architects’ offices Grandpa, and I was fascinated with the scale models made from cardboard and foam board?” Marty smiled, causing small wrinkles to crease near his eyes.

“Yes, I do. You loved the miniature trees and cars they had on display!” He laughed. “You wanted to build a model of your house for your Matchbox cars.”

John chuckled before continuing. “Well, today, architects and contractors have been using the software I mentioned to model the building and components in 3D. They can compare different designs, run cost estimates, mock-up a room, and check for conflicts or clash detection before they actually build anything. They can even create actual models using 3D printers.”

Suddenly, almost in unison, his dad and grandfather both ask, “That certainly sounds interesting, but how do pictures of doors and hardware affect your business and your ability to bid 8-10 jobs per day?” Laughing again but this time at their impatience, John tells them, “It’s all about the ‘I’.”

John Jr. then dives back into his explanation. “The ‘I’ stands for information. Architects used to draw a door in the floor plan with pencil, pen, or using 2D software. The door schedule provided information about the size, material, and fire rating, and referenced the elevation and details of the door and frame, and the assigned hardware set. As I’m sure you both recall, these are all disconnected so we found errors or conflicts between the door schedule and plan or the details; unfortunately, sometimes we didn’t find them until it was too late. Then you interpret the specification for the product information which could cause more conflict.”

Both John Sr. and Marty are nodding their heads in agreement. “Now everything is connected. Architects place a door using 3D software and the door, or family; includes all kinds of information about the door, frame, and door hardware. The door families and models they pick aren’t just pretty pictures – they’re data-rich objects that provide information about the opening that become an integral part of the building.”

“When the wall changes type, dimension, or rating it automatically updates the opening or lets the user know there is a conflict to be resolved. Manufacturers and software companies have created plug-ins and web-based software that works with the 3D software to provide intelligence that assists architects and contractors in selection of doors, frames, and door hardware.”

John’s Sr. cuts in. “So what do you use for bidding?”

“Contractors send us bid packages that have the 3D models of the openings,” John Jr. says. “We have modules of the web-based software that we use to import the models, or information, and then we work up a bid. Sometimes it’s just a shopping list since the models are specific, but we bid a lot of projects that we have to convert generic models to specific manufacturers and products. However, since the generic models are in essence records of data, we can convert or map generic product to manufacturer-specific product fairly quickly. So we can bid several projects per day and almost anywhere in the country.”

“Almost,” John Sr. wags a finger at his son. “Sounds like your competition can bid anywhere too, and you’re competing on price.”

John laughs nervously, “That’s what I thought at first too, Dad. But I had to accept that the construction industry was changing, and it made me rethink the business so we could add value. The first thing I had to do is make sure we hired and trained the best people. Expertise on codes, applications, and products is even more important now, but people also need to know how to use technology. The technology is incredibly powerful but it’s not perfect. It still takes people who know what they’re doing to complete and/or check the data. We often work with contractors in developing the models at different LOD’s.”

“LOD’s?” Marty asks. “What are those?”

“LOD stands for Level of Development or Detail,” John Jr. replies. “All the information isn’t needed at the same time or needed by everyone, so information is available when it’s needed and for whom it’s intended at the different levels of development. When the architect starts the design they know they need an opening. At some point they determine they want the opening to be a wood door and hollow metal frame, and as the design progresses the wood door becomes plain sliced red oak and the hollow metal frame is 16-gage cold rolled steel. As you can imagine, the door and frame eventually become a specific manufacturer and model based on the specification, which is also information that’s included in the model.”

“The second thing we focus on is our service. We make sure we provide incredible customer service but have also expanded our door and hardware installation service to include access control, fire door and egress assembly inspections, and maintenance contracts, which support our aftermarket business. So our industry expertise, ability to use technology, and high-end services allow us to make the bid more than just price and win a lot of work.”

With a look of amazement and a proud grin Marty asks, “This sounds fascinating! Please tell me – how does the submittal process work?”

“Very similar,” John Jr. replies with a smile. “We use technology to become more connected to the architect, contractor, other subcontractors, and the owner. In essence we’re all working in the same building model so communication and information is shared across all trades. Since the models are so detailed with actual product or generic product in a data structure it’s very fast for the architect and/or contractor to validate. Everything is done electronically – in the cloud.” John laughs. “Because we’re all connected, approval is more about releasing areas or phases of construction when they’re ready. Imagine Dad and Grandpa, the wall construction and thickness gets locked down when the frames are ordered. So, any change to the wall afterward is a documented change. Basically, what the 3D software allows us to do is create a virtual building to confirm constructability before anything gets ordered.”

“The technology allows the project to move very fast – time is money – which is why it’s important we have experienced people who know how to use the technology.”

Before John Jr. could take yet another breath and continue, John Sr. interjects, “So you’re an integral part of the construction team?”

“Oh, absolutely,” John Jr. responds with enthusiasm. “The technology doesn’t replace us, it just enhances our abilities. Some of our competitors have reinvented themselves like we did, but a lot are no longer around because they didn’t adapt to change.”

Marty smiled and slapped his son on the back. “It sounds like the business is in good hands.”

While the above is a fictional story sometime in the future, the content isn’t all fictional. A lot of the concepts of BIM exist today. I don’t consider myself a BIM expert however I have learned in the past year of working with BIM and 3D software that BIM is information and data with the intent to share knowledge to make decisions. The questions are: How good is the information and data?  And will you adapt to the change to be part of the future?

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