Just about everywhere you look, building information modeling (BIM) is in the headlines. Service providers, software developers and equipment manufacturers are all eager to tout their capabilities in this rapidly burgeoning field. But is BIM just another marketing ploy, or is it a sustainable growth market?

Jody Lounsbury, PLS, associate and section manager of 3D laser scanning for the multidisciplinary firm CHA based in Albany, N.Y., believes BIM is here to stay. “We started getting involved in BIM about three years ago, and we’ve been actively incorporating it into more and more projects in the last 18 months,” he said. “It’s really become part of our workflow.”

CHA, which uses both time-of-flight and phase-based laser scanners from Leica Geosystems, has particularly seen an increase in BIM projects related to building mechanical systems as more contractors have begun asking for 3D deliverables that can be used in streamlined design/build processes. Contractors are also asking for more information—or, more accurately, intelligence—in their models. “Intelligence is a key component of BIM, and the level of intelligence needed in each model continues to rise,” Lounsbury said. “Contractors are increasingly using BIM as a 4D and 5D management tool, and they’re looking for information that supports these initiatives.”

Technology advances have been key to driving this demand. Although laser scanning has been around for more than a decade, the software to make full use of laser scan datasets has lagged. Until a few years ago, the conversion process from point clouds to final deliverables was cumbersome and time consuming and often required several intermediate steps with multiple software packages. Today, that process has improved substantially. “Tools such as CloudWorx for Revit allow us to work directly with the point cloud data, which streamlines our workflow and allows us to provide a faster turnaround on deliverables,” Lounsbury said. “It also reduces the risk of error by eliminating manual conversion processes.”

It’s a far cry from the days when all as-builts were modeled as plumb. “Now that the software allows you to get in and work with the real data, everyone is realizing that in an existing 100-year-old building that you’re retrofitting, nothing is perpendicular and parallel,” Lounsbury said. “That’s been a big stepping stone. And as the software has improved, confidence in the data has also improved, which helps boost demand for BIM.”