Building Management

How Electrical Contractors Can Benefit From BIM Now

In previous posts we presented an introduction to Building Information Modeling (BIM), how it has brought building and facility projects into the computer age, and what it has to do with electrical contractors. First we explained what a powerful tool BIM is both during and after the design and construction of buildings and other entities. We also explained why electrical and power distribution equipment has taken so long to find its way into building models. Next we described the potential for incorporating electrical design and specification information into the building model, which also helps transform the building model into a virtual owner’s manual, complete with much, if not all, the information needed for a facility’s ongoing operation and maintenance.

In this post you’ll learn how electrical manufacturers like Schneider Electric are helping electrical contractors contribute to the building models on BIM projects—and use those models, too.

Any electrical component has two types of information associated with it. One type defines the electrical performance, which is the starting point for electrical system design. The other type includes an array of specification data, such as the physical dimensions and clearance requirements, as well as other pertinent information such as part numbers and sourcing information.

Dimensional, identification, and specification data have been relatively easy to include in BIM all along, but with two significant caveats. First, even the most popular BIM programs, for example Autodesk’s Revit, do not include the product libraries needed to include specific information about electrical components. But the use of openBIM®, for programming, and industry foundation classes (IFC), for describing BIM elements, have made it possible for manufacturers to provide libraries of product data that plug into IFC-based BIM programs.

One example is LayoutFAST, which provides cloud-based data for all Schneider Electric products. LayoutFAST is available as a free download plug-in for Revit and allows designers to quickly insert–or update–electrical elements in the building model, including every bit of pertinent data about those elements. And because the information is cloud-based, it is always current, both now and after the building is operational. That means clients will continue to have access to up-to-date maintenance and replacement data as needed.

The second caveat is a somewhat larger hurdle–electrical system design. The ideal situation would be able to design the entire electrical network within BIM, but that may be too much to hope for in the near future. Think of it this way: a BIM program is like a Swiss army knife–a great all-purpose tool that lets you do many different things. It’s very useful when you are in a bind and don’t have your full tool belt handy. But it’s not something you would want to use for high-production applications.

Similarly, computer-assisted electrical system design is more likely to be handled well using a program designed expressly for that purpose, rather than in a BIM program. BIM has been fundamentally designed to best handle a very different task, namely, keeping track of physical and virtual components and their associated parametric data. Of course, there are many online tools to help with electrical design, such as those offered on the Schneider Electric electrical contractor partner portal. And at least one company offers electrical system design capabilities that integrate into BIM to produce installation drawings, material lists, and more. Although actual system design within BIM remains a hurdle, the tools are getting better all the time.

So what should an enlightened electrical contractor do to become BIM-ready and run a BIM-friendly operation? First, learn all you can about the building model on any project you’re involved with. The good news you don’t have to invest in a BIM workstation to do so. Just Google “BIM viewer” to find a free download that works with the program being used on the project. That will allow you see what information is already in the building model and available to you.

Second, get in the habit of collecting all the information related to your project designs in digital format. Come up with a logical, organized system that mirrors the current way you work, and keep it up-to-date. Then, when the invitation comes to be part of the BIM team, you’ll be ready.

For more information, please visit our BIM page.

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