Building Management

Make Building Information Modeling Work for You

Let me tell you a story that eventually had a happy ending. Electrical engineers were working on a building project, and there were design changes made along the way. But as happens all too often, not everybody got the project updates.

So the poor electrical engineers (a confession: I was one of them) were often left scrambling and had to redo things on the fly. And on the fly sometimes meant after walls were already up and wiring done.

That was expensive and inefficient. So the engineers convinced management to buy a costly software tool for Building Information Modeling or BIM. Then they could tie together the architects, mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) consulting engineers, construction people and everybody else.

That worked. But it wasn’t an ideal solution. Before getting to what is the best solution, let’s look at the problem.

When building projects are in the design stage, every discipline has input. The architect lays out the building plan. Then the MEP teams work out where wiring, piping and the like should go. Then the building gets built and everybody celebrates.

That is how things are supposed to go. In the real world, walls get moved after the design is supposedly done, and suddenly there’s no place for the wiring to go, to give just one example. And if the electrical engineers don’t know about this, then there are expensive construction delays while new plans are developed. Even if they do know, it may be costly to reassemble a team, go back in, and see what it means to the overall electrical plan when that one wall is altered.

That’s just one situation. The changes can be much more extreme. Maybe a building gets repurposed from a supermarket to a more boutique shop. Then everything has to be redone.

So that’s where BIM comes in. The notion is to put the building information data in a digital format and keep everybody updated when changes are made. The goals are better coordination and anticipation of design risk.

Now, ideally this building information modeling would be done in familiar tools and it would be affordable. Years ago the solution we had was costly and required learning a new setup.

Who has the time or money for that? Maybe big design firms and big contractors, but not anybody else. And not even those organizations want to make that kind of investment, if they don’t have to.

Also, a BIM solution should have everything ready to go. For electrical engineers, this means, for example, medium and low voltage switchboards, transformers and other equipment, all ready to drop into a parametric building model, like Autodesk Revit. Having a complete and comprehensive component library is important. Otherwise, instead of just dropping in what’s needed, you spend time constructing and verifying items.

Of course, data should be kept in the cloud, so that architects, MEP engineers and other building professionals can design, document and update a project as needed. Then if a wall gets moved, everyone knows and the system adjusts adjoining walls, floors, and ceilings to account for the change.

Today, a solution like that doesn’t have to be some fairy tale full of fantastic elements. There are tools currently on the market that are helpful now. They will continue to get even better with further refinement. For an example of what a BIM solution library for electrical engineers should look like, visit our Building Information Modeling web page.

With such tools, maybe your story will also have a happy ending.


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