PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog
bim in the field

Unlocking the Full Potential of BIM in the Field

Pop quiz: How did the Rebel Alliance manage to bring down Darth Vader’s Death Star?

By utilizing building information modeling (BIM), of course. They had access to the digital blueprints and 3D Models designed by the Empire during the Death Star’s construction phase and through that information, they found it’s weakness

Most of the time, of course, files detailing your project’s makeup is more a help to all than a hindrance to others. In fact, 82% of BIM users see positive ROI and an additional 25% note improvement in labor productivity.

BIM has truly changed the design and clash detection world. It has allowed architects and engineers to plan better before anything is built, but its full potential has just begun with other construction verticals. Nevertheless, with the right implementation in the field, BIM allows teams to align the physical processes much more closely to the designed version, making both construction and maintenance far more efficient and cost-effective.

But why has the technology largely remained siloed in only certain phases up until this point? Below, we’ll discuss why BIM has yet to make a significant impact in the field and how construction teams can get more out of the tech throughout a project’s lifecycle.

A Gap Between the Potential and the Reality

In construction, BIM is still viewed first as a design technology and has yet to fully saturate the field. According to a recent study, only 41% of construction companies were using some form of BIM in the field. While the use of the revolutionary technology is steadily growing in the field, larger implementation problems exist that limit its access.

Today, 59% of companies state that their workforce doesn’t have the skills needed to work with BIM, whether or not they’ve adopted it. That means that design and construction are still fundamentally split. Furthermore, the lack of real integration between tech in the office and in the field is a major hindrance to getting BIM in the field.

However, with tools that provide the right access, the rich information available through BIM can make the transition from design to the field and even through facilities management.

How to Unlock the Potential of BIM in the Field and Beyond

The full benefits of BIM only accrue for teams that actually empower full access in the field. At many jobsites, BIM is technically available for use in the field, but often it’s located in a distant construction trailer and stored on immobile desktop computers. As a result, rarely does anyone in the field access and edit BIM models. The lack of access through technology could be a prime reason why 59% of BIM adopters aren’t fully satisfied with their software.

The truth is, teams cannot fully maximize returns on BIM if only a few key stakeholders have the immediate ability to check in on and update docs in the field. Companies need to make it both possible and easy for teams to utilize, edit and understand records. One way to do so is through mobile and cloud-based field software that syncs directed with BIM models.  

In most construction companies, data and information remain siloed. Consequently, a significant portion of data created in design and construction is lost by closeout, causing hurdles in facilities operations and maintenance (O&M). By some estimates, nearly 30% of design and construction data is lost. Therefore, it’s critical for BIM technology to integrate seamlessly with the other technology used in design, construction and even O&M to avoid this data loss. While some programs offer a basic level of BIM in the field, it’s lack of integration between project plans and other field software causes BIM models to be ineffective and outdated fast.

That’s where improving integrations to tried and tested field technology, like PlanGrid’s upcoming integration with Revit, will provide rich information from BIM to be more accessible. With the right access and integration, BIM will provide value throughout a facility’s full lifecycle.

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After Design: The Benefits of BIM in the Field

“Like most jobsite material management processes today, traditional door, frame and hardware workflows involve tedious paperwork, frequent phone calls and faxes, and challenging coordination,” says Construction Executive.

Luckily, it adds, BIM in the field can change all that, “In its early implementation, field BIM’s benefits include saving money, accelerating schedules, ensuring quality, averting rework and controlling risks related to construction field operations.”

How? Because by using BIM in the field, you can incorporate rich data sets from design, construction, to building operations. When it’s available at the fingertips of each field professional from the outset, it opens up massive opportunities to deliver projects faster and more cost-effectively.

Enhances Communication

BIM in the field leads to a more complete exchange of ideas and information. The visual nature of BIM, complete with 3D modeling and field access, enhances collaboration and communication on the jobsite. Additionally, when BIM is connected to mobile construction software, changes are communicated to the whole team in real-time. As a result, more transparency is brought to project progress, and the entire team can be alerted to both the design and the cost impact of changes in real time.

Deepens Visibility

Mobilizing BIM during construction allows field teams to gain visibility and information like never before. In addition to detecting potential costly clashes and conflicts on site, the model can help determine the exact materials and dimensions needed for construction. In turn, simulations and enhanced visualizations can help determine the exact dimensions of fabricated products, as well as optimal building sequences and conditions.

Improves Quality

The right BIM integration can lead to better quality control (QC) and quality assurance (QA). When BIM is connected with systems for construction documentation, teams can immediately compare the actual versus modeled conditions. Using BIM, it’s much more efficient to provide quality from the outset because a higher level of detail is available, reducing the potential for mistakes and errors.

Reduces Rework

Reduction in rework is another clear benefit of using BIM in the field. Respondents to a recent PlanGrid and FMI report shared that poor project data and miscommunication on projects is responsible for 48% of all rework in construction in the U.S. When BIM is used in tandem to field software, design clashes and miscommunication can be mitigated before work is completed.

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Beyond Closeout: The Benefits of BIM in Facility Management

While BIM in the field boasts a huge range of benefits, those advantages aren’t restricted to the construction phase. In fact, when BIM is used in the entire design and construction process, it can make a huge difference in the efficacy of facility management as well.

“As BIM is increasingly incorporated during a building’s operational phase,” explains CNBC, “models with accurate visual representation and product placement will enable new workflows that utilize AR for equipment management, as well as dynamic 3D visualizations to show the interaction across multiple systems and more sophisticated geofencing.”

Generates Accurate Handover Packages

First and foremost, with an updated BIM model, facilities managers receive an accurate and incredibly detailed as-builts at the time of handover. When BIM is revised and annotated in the field, the result is a clearer picture of what happened between the initial design phase and the end of construction. With fewer gaps in documentation or hidden obstructions, the entire operations team are better equipped to manage routine maintenance and even emergency issues should they occur.

Installation field data overlapped with BIM data will go a long way for Owners operating a building.  Linking OM manuals to actual elements in the building will allow facilities team to gather all of the information they need in one place.  

Controls Facility Costs

BIM models that are available for facility teams can make a significant cost impact. In fact, some studies report that introducing BIM for facility management saved on average 5% of operating costs per annum. Lifecycle data helps monitor and identify facility trends for predictive maintenance. In other words, buildings that come with extremely accurate documentation allow for better planning, which reduces both maintenance and procurement costs over time.

Strengthens Decision Making

The level of accurate data that BIM provides also empowers facility owners to make better decisions when it’s time for renovations and rebuilds. Owners with such a clear existing picture of their building have to do far less recon to determine a building’s current state, not to mention any uncaptured design changes that might exist in the unseen reaches of the structure.

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Winning with BIM

While BIM has already made a huge impact in the construction industry, most projects barely scratch the surface when it comes to its full potential. The time has come for construction teams to unlock the opportunities that BIM provides outside the realm of design. By improving communication, reducing rework and enabling smoother handover and maintenance, teams that fully utilize BIM with the right technology, will build better teams and projects.

Ross Wagner

Ross is a Customer Advocate at PlanGrid. He helps implement PlanGrid with companies and projects up and down the West Coast. When not working, Ross loves exploring new cities, talking architecture, and seeing live music. He has a Five-Year Bachelor's Degree in Architecture and a Minor in Business from the University of Texas at Austin.

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