The Lowdown on BIM

Mark L. Johnson / February 2021

An important shift is underway in building design and construction. McKinsey & Company says that more projects are using 3D modeling for real-time project management. The design community is even starting to issue 3D construction drawings in place of 2D drawings. As time goes on, more construction documents will come directly from building information models. BIM is in.
Of course, modeling lots of details—the fastener and cross-tee placements to within 1/32” on a specialty ceiling, for example—consumes a whopping amount of BIM resources.
“Adding the detail of where to place fasteners along the grid could literally crash everybody’s machines,” says Robby Ball, CAD drafter at ceiling manufacturer 9Wood, Inc., as quoted in the Foundation of the Wall and Ceiling Industry white paper, “Technology Impact on the Means and Methods of Wall and Ceiling Construction.”
So, the questions arise: Will we ever do true information modeling? Or, just 3D modeling? In other words, is BIM going to work on all levels of wall and ceiling construction? Let’s find out.

BIM Is Here to Stay
While architects, engineers and contractors don’t yet have a common BIM platform, information modeling is here to stay. Here’s why:
BIM has already helped AWCI member contractors do better work. “Revit has helped us be more precise and allowed us to prefabricate things offsite better,” says Cameron Wies, estimator and lead technologist at T.J. Wies Contracting, Inc. in Missouri. “It has allowed the quality to get better. There is not as much rework.”
BIM is helping to streamline construction timetables. California Drywall worked on the Sutter Van Ness Medical Office Building in San Francisco, and used proprietary 3D software to design, manufacturer and install fully customized, prefabricated interiors. According to the 2018 FMI/CURT/CII Owner Survey, the 3D software helped to collapse the project delivery schedule by three to four months, saving approximately half a million dollars for the owner.
BIM is a project visualization tool. The wall and ceiling industry has developed virtual reality projection systems known as BIM CAVEs (Computer Aided Virtual Environments) and BIM CUBEs (Collaborative Ultimate Building Environments). The systems allow subcontractors to show clients their structures in three dimensions and on a human scale. You literally walk into a room, see the visualizations, manipulate designs in the BIM authoring tools and instantly experience the changes.
Tool manufacturers are hanging their hat on BIM. Hilti introduced Jaibot, a construction robot, in November last year. Jaibot uses BIM-derived data to locate where to drill and mark holes in concrete decks. That will save time for plumbing and electrical contractors—and presumably for other trades that follow.
BIMs can create safety simulations. This may be blue sky-ish, but in 2019, Trevor Symbal, a student at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, co-presented an Autodesk University class entitled, “Improving Safety Training with BIM and Virtual Reality Technology.” The class showed how to use BIM technology to develop safety training models and videos. Imagine your crews anticipating potential safety hazards, virtually, before they begin their work.

Syncing Up
While computer hardware may have its limits in presenting BIM data at all levels of details, that probably won’t always be the case. Anyway, I hear about more and more wall and ceiling contractors getting a seat at the construction pre-planning table. They’re making use of BIM, working out prefabrication options and talking about potential conflicts among the trades early on in projects. That kind of collaboration is a very good thing.
“BIM has the reputation of being a big 3D model that builds itself,” Ball says. “But BIM is more than a model. It’s so much more than just 3D. It’s about syncing up the trades.”
So, what do you need to do? Set up a virtual design and construction department this year. Or, partner with third-party 3D modelers to start making use of 3D drawings in the field and in off-site construction processes. Work toward the goal of being a BIM-capable company.
This is an exciting time to be a construction subcontractor—3D modeling, information sharing and collaborative efforts will make for some great and profitable projects.

Mark L. Johnson writes for the wall and ceiling industry. He can be reached via