BIM vs. CAD – What’s the difference?

BIM vs. CAD: Today’s engineering and architectural space is a thriving ecosystem of software, tools, and terminology. Among the most often confused are BIM and CAD. These two terms are closely related, yet quite different in form and function.


What Is BIM?

Building Information Modeling, or BIM, is a method of using an integrated workflow on a construction project, from the design phase through completion. It can be the construction of any structure, such as a building, house, bridge, or anything that involves the use of building materials.

what is bim computer model

Think of BIM not as software, but as a process maintained by several contracts and technological tools. These contracts and tools all combine in order to create and manage digital representations of a place or space’s physical and operational attributes.

Each BIM model has individual components (BIM objects) that are 3D and 4D geometric representations of individual parts of the project (e.g., building materials and structural pieces). BIM objects comprise the entire 3D model, and each BIM object has geometry and data that lets designers see how it will interact with the real world.

BIM leverages technology for design and construction teams by keeping information organized across the lifecycle of an architectural, engineering, and construction (AEC) project.

By bringing all disciplines of design and construction information into a structured and usable collection of data, BIM software can examine the links among various building components to monitor and report discrepancies.


What Is CAD?

On the other hand, computer-aided design, or CAD, is computer-based software and automated technology that replaces manual drafting and assists with a manufacturer’s product design.

Theia Technologies online lens configurator

An online CAD model from Theia Technologies. By presenting CAD models online for download, manufacturers can turn their CAD models into online marketing content and strategic sales drivers.

Aside from its use in designing manufactured products, CAD is also an integral part of the building design process when used with BIM and serves as a sophisticated drafting tool to create lines and arcs in buildings and other structural designs.

BIM vs. CAD: Simply put, BIM is a process that allows designers to place actual building elements into a design model, which can appear in all views, and it looks deeper into the relationships between building components to search for possible conflicts.

When used in building design, CAD is primarily for drawing floor plans and layouts of sections of the structure. Architects also use it extensively for drafting design plans, sections of buildings, and elevations, and for client walkthroughs.

BIM vs CAD rendering to reality

Additionally, AEC data collection leverages BIM and often incorporates CAD software in a common data environment to support designers, engineers, and contractors in developing efficient building and infrastructure projects.


BIM vs. CAD: Are They the Same?

BIM processes and CAD software are not the same, nor are they interchangeable. There are parallels between BIM and CAD, yet they are very different platforms.

BIM is not a type of CAD software, but rather its own distinct design methodology. Essentially, CAD facilitates BIM, since CAD floor plans and drawings from building material manufacturers are an essential part of a BIM system.

In other words, designers use CAD software to create the 2D and 3D drawings for parts of a structure and for manufactured parts (i.e., roofing materials, electrical components, etc.). BIM combines all of that to create the building design and a comprehensive model of the structure, which ultimately streamlines the architectural drafting and design process.

BIM model conceptual visualization of the utilities of the building

Though CAD is typically used in the BIM method, BIM is the big-picture process. It works by using intelligent insights for the development of the physical features of a building or other structure, and it makes CAD more intuitive and dynamic by combining required project information into the various components of a building’s design.

This means all parties involved in a construction project can work collaboratively because all facets of the design, including CAD models, are in one central database for all parties to access simultaneously. With BIM, architects, contractors, materials suppliers, and HVAC and lighting engineers can all speak the same language.

Product design engineers use CAD software to create a building’s overall construction, while manufacturers use CAD to design building products and equipment, such as HVAC system components, electrical drawings, schematics, and wiring diagrams.

CAD software is used to design many building materials we don’t think of, such as metal studs, in-wall switch boxes, and decorative hardware. Though these products are made by specialized manufacturers like blow molders, roll-formers, hot-forgers, and machine shops, they all become part of the bill of materials, which is integrated into the BIM model as components used in the building structure.

The biggest differentiator of BIM vs CAD in building design is that CAD is used for creating drawings, where BIM assimilates all processes and creates 3D and 4D building model concepts.The collaboration between CAD and BIM saves designers time because they don’t need to draw anything twice. Architectural drawings are generated from the BIM model, so designers don’t have to transfer a drawing from paper to a computer.

CAD’s 2D and 3D design capabilities are used in creating floor plans, sections of the structure on the elevations, fenestration placement in building openings such as doors and windows, roof elevations, and more.

Additionally, as part of BIM, CAD software helps designers create 2D or 3D representations to facilitate the visualization of the construction, and it enables the development, modifications, and optimization of the design process.

With the combination of CAD models and the BIM method, everyone involved in a design and construction project can work collaboratively, which saves time and money by expediting communication.

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Adam Beck

Director of Marketing at CADENAS PARTsolutions | A Marketing graduate from the Miami University, Farmer School of Business in Oxford Ohio, Adam has years of experience in marketing and design for a variety of industries.