Moving on to the next meaningful iteration of BIM will involve analysis, which requires manufacturer-specific objects.

Architects are embracing BIM, but it is building product manufacturers who can play a significant role in advancing the technology to its next meaningful iteration. Building product manufacturers have the opportunity to transform the current state of building information modeling into what could become building intelligence modeling.

Currently, most BIM buildings are limited by the garbage-in, garbage-out state of “dumb” generic objects that are incapable of providing intelligent analysis of the BIM model. There is a place for simple, generic BIM objects early in the design process; however, if the BIM model is going to be used later for bidding or building purposes, then a generic object representing a manufactured object contributes to the formation of a brainless model.

Imagine BIM objects — windows, doors, pumps, fans, chillers, and lighting fixtures, for instance — packaged with their specific product attributes. If building product manufacturers were to share their product expertise through high-quality, manufacturer-specific BIM objects that allow transformational BIM analysis, we would see a more intelligent BIM model that’s of greater use to designers as well as building owners.

The addition of intelligent BIM objects from building product manufacturers will significantly contribute to project cost reduction in two ways: first, with the automation of the quantity survey, and second, with an empowered green design in which objects are embedded with relevant sustainability properties.

Quantity surveys

Enhanced BIM quantity survey power will be achieved when architects and engineers begin using manufacturer-provided BIM objects. Large amounts of money could be saved by owners, building product manufacturers, and subcontractors because the costly quantity survey would be done only once by architects and engineers, not the hundreds of times currently required by bidders on the same project. The savings could be substantial since a large portion of the $30 billion currently spent for the 100,000 design-bid-build projects in the United States annually is for quantity surveys. (Design-bid-build projects are up in numbers the past few years while design-build is down because non-government funded projects are down.)

Currently, more than 90 percent of the manufactured building products specified for design-bid-build projects are identified on plans or in specifications with symbols and model numbers. Although architects and engineers take time to select the appropriate building products for the project, each manufacturer representative and subcontractor must perform the time-consuming job of conducting a quantity survey in which they identify, count or measure, schedule, and locate the appropriate models for all manufactured products on the project. This contributes to much wasted time and money.

When this duplication of efforts is corrected, at least $20 billion of savings can be passed on to owners, building product manufacturers and their representatives, general contractors, and subcontractors. Architects and engineers could be charging additional fees of 1 percent to 2 percent of total project cost — perhaps $3 billion per year — for doing the quantity survey while still allowing other project participants to realize major cost savings.

At $30 billion, the money spent for quantity surveys in design-bid-build projects in the United States annually is substantially greater than the approximately $20 billion in fees to architects and engineers. Unfortunately, every year more money is spent on quantity surveys: For each project bid, there are at least 350 building product manufacturer representatives and suppliers with at least 300 trade contractors, and more than 15 to 20 general contractors conducting quantity surveys. The average project size for design-bid-build projects is about $3 million. If we estimate a 10 percent cost to do the quantity surveys, then $300,000 is incurred by the more than 665 companies that price the project. It’s hard to conceive.

The reason there are more than 350 independent building product manufacturers bidding on a relatively small $3 million project is that there are 6,000 national building product manufacturers being represented by independent representatives, who typically represent about five different manufacturers; therefore, there are more than 1,200 independent representatives who could be bidding the job (6,000 manufacturers divided by five representatives each equals 1,200 in a given geographic territory). They are responsible for submitting a bid to the appropriate general contractor or subcontractor on each applicable project in their territory.

An example of the quantity survey redundancy: Each fan in a building project is counted by more than 10 mechanical manufacturer representatives and 15 mechanical contractors. Each window, carpet, ceiling type, door, fan, air conditioning unit, diffuser, lighting fixture, etc., must be redundantly counted or measured in the more than 100,000 projects bid each year in the United States.

It becomes apparent very quickly that quantity surveys could be done more efficiently with intelligent BIM models.

Green analysis and simulation

Architects, engineers, and consultants need tools to measure and simulate environmental factors such as building location and orientation, HVAC systems, solar shading, solar equipment, and water conservation measures such as gallons per flush. The BIM model created for most projects is based on BIM objects that do not contain the actual manufactured products used in the real building and is therefore nearly useless to the owner for quantity surveys, sustainability analysis, or life cycle simulation. But by incorporating objects with product manufacturer-supplied data, BIM software can provide quantity surveys that can be used to create a green quantity survey and life cycle green costing.

Connected to a cost-related database, green quantity surveys and life cycle green costing allow architects, engineers, and contractors to perform what-if scenarios to compare and balance cost, quality, and sustainability. Architects and engineers who have been criticized for focusing on design at the expense of cost sensitivity will be able to have real data they can apply to cost and sustainability checks.

BIM is now in a 1.0 phase in which models with generic objects are capable of providing good visualization but not thorough BIM analysis, especially for bidding and facility management. Moving on to BIM 2.0 will involve BIM analysis, which requires manufacturer-specific objects along with generic objects. The type of object used will be dictated by the phase of design or construction, with early design requiring only generic objects. Later, manufacturer-specific BIM objects will be used for contract documents, bidding, construction, and facility management.

Adding the dimension of time to the BIM visualization and analysis creates BIM 3.0, which is BIM simulation, the Holy Grail of sustainability and life cycle management.

The speed and automation of a BIM quantity survey solution allows architects and engineers to check or refine costs for a project as they go, eliminating expensive and time-consuming efforts to redesign projects to meet budgetary demands. As a project changes, architects and engineers have the freedom to run estimates for multiple design options to facilitate what-if scenarios. After an estimate is created, any line item can by edited manually, allowing users to input their own costs or further refine the estimate using BIM software with industry cost data and the BIM quantity survey.

In order to perform these processes, it is necessary to have tens of thousands of BIM objects that are generic and manufacturer-specific. There are good BIM library managers that allow architects and engineers to keep track of these objects and access them easily.

BIM users also want tools that allow them to assess the environmental impact of their designs, especially the degree to which their designs comply with various third-party green ratings systems and the cost-benefit of this compliance on a building life cycle basis. It is still difficult for owners to make long-term investments in green design, but intelligent BIM can help architects and engineers clarify the owners’ decision-making for sustainability analysis.

Final analysis

In the final analysis, with the help of building product manufacturers supplying their BIM objects along with advances made in BIM quantity surveys, architects and engineers can earn profitable fees while providing the much-needed quantities for manufacturer representatives, general contractors, and subcontractors. The quantity survey is also becoming a very important part of sustainability in terms of LEED and other certifications because knowing how many windows or how much carpeting will be used is critical in the sustainable design of a new or existing building.

Architects and engineers are greatly empowered with BIM tools such as the quantity survey of BIM objects that contain relevant sustainability data that is readily available to be counted, measured, and evaluated via a connected cost database. They can design buildings that could potentially save 30 percent of their energy in a measurable way. With 40 percent of the energy, 40 percent of the CO2, and 38 percent of the water being used in the United States by buildings, this BIM model-facilitated breakthrough is significant. Owners are starting to raise the bar by demanding high-performance buildings that are beautiful, energy efficient, cost-sensitive, and occupant-attuned, all of which can be achieved with an intelligent BIM model.

Arol Wolford is CEO and co-founder of SmartBIM, having been an entrepreneur in the building products information industry for the past 30 years. Wolford is a senior fellow of the Design Futures Council and an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects. He serves on the Design Futures Council Executive Board.