What is BIM? What manufacturers should know about Specs, CAD, BIM and AEC marketing
By: Robert Weygant
Understanding BIM can be a daunting challenge to those who aren’t involved with it on a daily basis. As both a specification writer and long-time veteran of BIM content development I hear a lot of BIM content queries from building products manufacturers:
- What is BIM? Do I need BIM?
- Can’t I just covert my CAD to BIM?
- Will BIM get me specified?
- What does Parametric Mean?
These are just a few of the questions that are often asked and sidestepped by many who will say anything to close a sale.
What is BIM?
I’ll start with what BIM isn’t: BIM is not software and BIM is not Revit, but Revit is one of the most common BIM software packages. It’s not the only software used, but I’ll get into that later.
Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a technology, more specifically a method for architects and engineers to design projects in the most efficient and effective way. Often, the most popular brand blurs the line between technology and tool (MS Word®, Adobe CC®, AutoCAD®, Sawzall®, Kleenex®, Band-Aid®, you get the idea).
Put simply, BIM is CAD with bells and whistles. It’s a 3D design method preferred by many architects and engineers and combines 3D geometry that represents project elements with relevant product information. I reference “project elements” because architects and engineers don’t typically design around named brands, rather the performance aspects of a product.
The core difference between CAD and BIM is its inherent ability to analyze a building’s design: interference checking, energy efficiency, lighting studies, flow calculations, structural loads and more. These analysis tools are what separate the wheat from the proverbial chaff. BIM software is different from CAD by adding intelligence to each piece of geometry. A BIM component is programmed to know what it is, and how it interacts with other components and how it affects the building as a whole. CAD software is not designed to include this kind of intelligence, so loading CAD files into a BIM project creates a “weak link” in the overall data set, which leads to inaccuracies that are unacceptable to many designers.
There are several BIM software packages on the market – which software is most important to your brand depends on the market you are in and the type of projects that you sell into (Commercial, Residential, Industrial, etc.). Contrary to popular belief, not all architects use Revit. Primarily used in commercial construction, there are several other design packages from Bentley, Trimble, Nemetzchek and Graphisoft that are preferred for residential, industrial design, plant design, and infrastructure projects.
What is BIM? So do I need BIM?
Short answer: Probably; but not for the reasons you may have thought. Perhaps you’ve heard that you need BIM to get specified, or that architects won’t buy your products if you don’t have BIM; neither are entirely true.
Providing BIM files provides an architect or engineer with the shortest path from product to project; conversely, without BIM, you provide the longest path. This means that providing BIM will either offer a competitive advantage or level the playing field within an industry.
With the exception of a few specialized areas, most building product industries have fully embraced BIM, so if you haven’t offered BIM content yet, you should start investigating sooner rather than later.
What is BIM and how will it get me specified?
BIM is not going to get you specified… Only the specification manual, a project document written by a specifier will do that.
Three-part “CSI” specifications are technical documents with a specific format governed by the Construction Specifications Institute. They are written by architects and are the only way to get “specified”; everything else is product assistance tools and relationship building that leads up to that moment when your name is listed in the project documents.
Specifications are contract documents that outline how a building project should be built. They convey specific administrative construction requirements from architect to contractor in order to allow them to accurately determine the cost of construction
How much specific product information is included in these documents depends on the architect and the project requirements. Publicly funded projects generally don’t include any manufacturers names to minimize the opportunity for collusion.
If it won’t get me specified, why should I have it? – Two words: “Marketing Gold”. BIM is arguably the best opportunity for manufacturers to cater to a wide range of prospective customers with the most robust content. Even when it’s not used as “BIM”, the 3D content and attached product data embodies what Content Marketing could be. Configurable, interactive 3D visual displays coupled with copious amounts of relevant information, bundled up in a neat package that’s understood by influencers and customers alike.
By positioning your BIM as only a tool that caters to architects, you have a loss-leader that ensures that architects and engineers know who you are and have the information that they need. If you position it as 3D content that can be experienced by everyone, it can become an interactive experience that educates and inspires influencers, partners and customers.
The geometry underneath a BIM file can be tasked to do many things – 3D visualizers, product configurators, photo-substitution and creative work, Google Earth presentations and more. You just need a way to convert the files to the formats that each task requires.
I can convert my BIM files to CAD, can’t I just “convert” my CAD to BIM? – The short answer is no. BIM contains information and logic that CAD doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean that you need to toss the baby with the bath water. It just means that there’s no easy button that will automagically turn your manufacturing design CAD files into BIM files.
Your internal design files are your intellectual property and should be protected. Taking a native Solidworks, Creo, Inventor or other design file and handing it over as a STEP or DWG is dangerous. It includes way too much information for designers and opens the door to creating knock-offs and commoditizing your product.
Historically, the easiest way to create BIM was to hire someone to create simplified versions of your product models in Revit. The downside is that, unlike CAD, none of the BIM software tools play well in the sandbox together. Revit files allow you to be useful to those that use Revit, but not much else.
CADENAS PARTsolutions has found a better way. Rather than designing graphics and geometry for one software platform, the PARTSolutions software communicates with other CAD and BIM software to create native files on-demand for various software packages in the cloud. Simply put, it’s a parametric 3D design tool tied to cloud-based CAD and BIM generator.
Parawhatric? – “Parametric” is just a fancy term for adjustable. Parametric modeling allows variables to be used instead of fixed values. Modelers can use the same geometry to represent many similar components, which cuts down the effort required to create them. This is a tremendous benefit to products that are adjustable in size, such as windows and doors, as the same geometry can often be used to create hundreds of available sizes.
Building models parametrically turns the BIM file into something of a portable product configurator that can work inside of a project. The downside is the lack of safeguards from modification – they cannot be protected from being adjusted after being downloaded. Unlike a neutral file format like STEP, parametric files can be adjusted by anybody, anywhere, anytime. While this may not be a major a concern, it does leave room for human error and improper product selection when the files aren’t built correctly.
The ability to compute options isn’t perfect in these cases, and in many cases has serious limitations. With developments in cloud computing and website capabilities, a more viable solution is to let a website do the heavy lifting of complex configuration and just tell the software what to do. This allows very specific options to be selected and keeps the downloaded file secure.
At the end of the day…What is BIM?
BIM is an essential tool for most companies that are catering to architects or engineers. Just like other advertising and marketing materials, it’s inherently a loss leader and more of a liability than an asset to a manufacturer. There are certain categories of products or marketing strategies where it’s required that manufacturers interact directly with the design or construction team, others where you just need to have BIM at the ready, and some where BIM serves no purpose whatsoever. In deciding which tools you need to be competitive in your market and how best to attract your audience, consider talking to someone familiar with the technology, tools, market, and most importantly, your products.
BIM is constantly evolving, and the needs of the design and construction teams are expanding rapidly, so I urge manufacturers not to look at BIM as a one-and-done initiative. As customer-facing technical documentation, your BIM, CAD, specs, and technical data sheets are the résumé for your products and have crucial industry requirements that you may not be aware of. If you’re not well versed in the needs of architects and engineers, hire a specialist that you trust to help sort out what you really need.
Trust is everything in the BIM business. Many manufacturers walk into a BIM initiative with zero understanding of what they are buying into, and once completed, have bought a black box which they cannot review for accuracy (or even open) themselves. Make sure that whoever is developing your BIM is honest, objective, and transparent about the services that are truly essential to your market. There are many subtle requirements that architects and engineers place on their content needs, so it’s important to find someone that will steer manufacturers with their expertise rather than simply trading on “the customer is always right”.
Good content is not built for a manufacturer, rather for the end user on behalf of a manufacturer.
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