BIM: The Virtual Jobsite

BIM&ConstructionTechnologyWould you send your superintendent and team to a jobsite without a schedule, tools, or materials? How successful would you expect them to be? I would expect the answers to be, “No” and “Not very.” Yet our industry equips most of our BIM teams in exactly this way.


BIM happens on a Jobsite

We have many names for them: drafter, designer, modeler, virtual constructor. They have spent years perfecting their skills. Each workday they wake, drive to their office, turn on their computer and enter the world of BIM. This is their jobsite…..a high-powered computer loaded with multiple software platforms and two large monitors covering their field of vision. This is a virtual jobsite, but a jobsite nonetheless. They are building walls, erecting steel, installing air handling units and dropping in ceiling tile. Like their counterparts in the field that physically install these components and systems, they require certain items to be successful.


Arming Our Teams

For our field teams to be successful, our experience tells us we must outfit them with the proper tools and materials to get the job done. This same philosophy applies to BIM teams.


  • Tools of the Trade
    • Robust CAD Stations – The BIM models can become very large for complex projects. Adequate hardware is required to handle these files and allow your team to function effectively. Paul Bunyan would struggle cutting down a giant redwood with a hacksaw.
    • Intelligent Software – Parametric modeling is common place today and truly streamlines the authoring process.
    • Collaborative Tools – Leverage cloud-based workflows to allow individual stakeholders in each trade to share models in real time.


  • Construction Materials
    • Complete Contract Documents – At the core of a quality model are design documents that clearly identify the scope of work. Missing information or an incomplete design results in “go back” and rework. In addition, changes to the design after the BIM is complete produces impacts similar to those at the jobsite. The designer must leave his current drawing (our work area) to change previously completed areas of the BIM. This can impact project schedules and create inefficiencies in the process.
    • Equipment and Material Submittals – Part of the BIM is physical representation of the equipment and its access/maintenance requirements to facilitate installation and prefabrication. The lack of accurate and timely submittals results in:
      • Conflict with other trades.
      • “Go back” and rework.
      • Wasted materials in the form of unusable prefabrication.


  • Schedule

The Overall Project Schedule (OPS) of the majority of the projects I have been involved with simply show durations with no thought to complexity, sequencing or other key aspects. It would be similar to a single line item that states, “Build the 3rd Floor with an eight week duration.” This leaves many questions, including:

  1. How long will it take to erect steel and/or pour the slab/structure?
  2. Who will be granted access to the floor first?
  3. What is the sequence of trades or do all trades start at the same time?
  4. How much time does each trade need to complete their scope?
  5. How does this impact the OPS?

Remember, the BIM process includes each of these trades and activities. We must add detail and clarity to each line item to ensure adequate time is allowed to accomplish this. Coordination of a 250 bed hospital does not happen in ten days. I would suggest it is a critical component to the Pull Planning philosophy of LEAN many companies are leveraging today.


Until our industry understands that the “jobsite” we call BIM is in fact “real” and commits equivalent time and resources to its planning as we do at the physical jobsite, we will struggle to realize the full benefits of BIM. This process sets the tone for the entire project and adequate time must be allotted for its execution. I cannot guarantee that a well-supported and executed BIM process will ultimately lead to success in the field, but I can guarantee that poor planning and lack of engagement in the BIM process will wreak havoc at the jobsite.


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About Rick Dustin


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Rick Dustin, PE, LEED AP BD+C is the Vice President of Engineering Solutions at McKenney's and is responsible for leading and directing the engineering operations at our company. He has spent more than 25 years designing mechanical and plumbing systems for a variety of commercial buildings with a focus on sustainability and optimizing solutions for our clients.

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