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Technology Benchmark: The Time for BIM Is Now!

October 14, 2009
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Building information modeling (BIM) is here and coming up strong. Architects are asking for BIM models from engineering and surveying firms. The engineers don’t add much to this task since we are usually happy if we can deliver a clean 3D data file. So it falls into the realm of the surveyor to provide this service.



Figure 1. A laser scan of a structure. Image courtesy of Langan Engineering and Environmental Services Inc.

Building information modeling (BIM) is here and coming up strong. Architects are asking for BIM models from engineering and surveying firms. The engineers don’t add much to this task since we are usually happy if we can deliver a clean 3D data file. So it falls into the realm of the surveyor to fulfill this task.

If your clients aren’t asking for BIM, why not learn how to produce what they could use and then offer it to them? It is only a matter of time before they realize its value.

So where can surveyors capitalize on this value?

One area is construction review. Surveyors are usually the last people who manage the data prior to the start of a construction project, so why not apply BIM to the task? Identify the errors for the client, and charge a fee for the effort. BIM will allow you to inspect the project in 3D, identify all of the components of the job and analyze where conflicts exist. Information will be attributed to the data in the job so you can ascertain what that offending object is. You will know whether the amalgamation of piping being jammed into the conduit or opening will--or won't--fit properly. You will know whether the trades will be able to access their locations appropriately, whether the conduit will exist by the time the electrician needs to install their lines, etc. Many developers (public and private) value this type of review because it helps them avoid conflicts and errors, thereby saving time and money.

Laser scanning is another area for surveyors to pursue in the BIM world. For example, consider the structural construction of a high rise. You could scan the steel as it is being placed, then use BIM to convert the point cloud into a BIM model. Build in your HVAC, utilities, piping, building services and such and assign the correct BIM information to the data. Then deliver this fully constructed BIM model to the architect for their use in completing design, updating, error checking, modifications and refinements. What’s more, this BIM model can also be a valuable tool for the building owner in lifecycle management.

Joseph Romano, PLS, and Michael Cotreau, PE, at Langan Engineering and Environmental Services Inc., provide just such a service for their architectural clients. Figure 1 shows a point cloud of the structural components of an office building. Figure 2 shows the converted 3D model onto which the BIM information is applied. The 3D model is then delivered as a turnkey deliverable for immediate use.

Figure 2. Conversion to 3D model and BIM. Image courtesy of Langan Engineering and Environmental Services Inc.

As another example, consider a project in which a building is being expanded. A surveyor could overlay the 3D building expansion plans onto a laser scan of the structure and compare the as-built information with the design to find potential conflicts-such as a major bearing wall in a different location than originally thought. Consider how much time and money could be saved in avoiding a change order! The surveyor’s labor costs remain relatively low-the scan might take two days, and converting the scanned point cloud into a 3D BIM model might take one week. But the end product from this fairly low-cost analysis will be valuable to the client.

It’s important to note that BIM is not just an applied technology; rather, it is a process that helps ensure success. This process creates a data-rich 3D model. The ability to enter this data is streamlined by the software, thereby creating a cost-effective data entry environment.

BIM offers an extended visualization capability, hyperlinked data, improved project coordination, instantaneous quantity takeoff computations and scheduling information. BIM cultivates the use of data beyond design and created information for the downstream processes such as manufacturing, construction, operations, maintenance and inspection.

Many architects would be very pleased to have a 3D BIM model delivered in a turnkey fashion to their door. It has value for the client and saves enormous amounts of money in construction and review by minimizing change orders.

It is also the latest buzzword for technological competence. By becoming a leader in your region for performing BIM tasks, your firm will likely see new application opportunities emerge.


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What do you think? Does BIM present significant opportunities for surveyors? Please share your thoughts below.

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