Building information modeling (BIM) is continuing to grow and evolve in commercial construction to help manage projects more efficiently with better coordination, greater productivity, and less product and employee resources waste.

In fact, it’s growing so rapidly that many large firms with their own in-house BIM departments are now outsourcing work because of resource constraints. This trend is becoming so popular that even some pipe manufacturers are offering their own BIM services departments to meet the growing demand.

However, while the trend is not slowing down, some smaller firms are still grappling with the return on this large investment that requires significant upfront costs for software programs, hardware, and tools as well as ongoing costs for staff and their continued training to keep up-to-date on the latest BIM innovations.

So, before diving into the question of should you offer BIM services, let’s answer a few basic questions about what BIM is and how it works.

What is BIM?

BIM is a collaborative process supported by teams, technologies, and tools to generate and manage digital assets that represent the physical space of a building to be constructed. Starting this process at the very beginning of a project offers greater efficiencies and productivity during the construction process due to the higher-quality 3D models generated from the BIM process.

From these accurate models, engineers can detect conflicts or issues in a virtual design and resolve them before a new project ever breaks ground or a remodel ever begins demolition.

What do BIM Services departments do?

BIM services departments are typically led by a vice president or director and include project managers and business development managers who work one-on-one with clients to provide modeling and coordination, laser scanning, BIM coordination management, BIM training, on-site collaboration, template development, and workflow optimization.

For modeling and coordination, they can provide hanger layouts and structural supports, in addition to spooling and fabrication detailing along with shop, install, and as-built drawings. Their laser-scanning services can include everything from scanning of existing buildings for renovation, scanning completed projects for documentation, and scan-to-BIM services.

How does this benefit construction projects?

By utilizing BIM or partnering with a BIM services provider, a contractor can increase workflow efficiencies to help identify issues early on in a project to maximize productivity and minimize waste.

For example, a company can leverage 3D models to validate designs from the onset of design to improve overall project execution and collaboration. This leads to reduced design errors, which result in higher design accuracy that saves money and time by reducing rework and change orders.

Accurate and well-coordinated designs also lead to improved job costing through more accurate quantities and estimates, resulting in reduced job site waste. Site logistics can be more precise by leveraging accurate models to create model-based schedules or sequences.

Additionally, look-ahead plans, work-in-progress models, materials planning, equipment and rigging locations, site traffic patterns and controls, and even location-based schedules can be derived from well-coordinated 3D models to optimize daily job site activities.

Should you outsource BIM services?

As stated previously, putting a skilled BIM services department together requires significant upfront and ongoing costs. For many small or medium-sized firms, it may not be an option to offer a full-service BIM services department in house.

However, there are a couple options to consider when deciding on a BIM strategy for your firm — one is training for your staff and another is outsourcing to a third party. Or, you can try a combination of both.

Because BIM is a relatively new concept to the construction industry, experience is in short supply. Looking to established BIM services providers to augment or train your staff is a smart solution for trying the process without the large upfront costs. Training your staff is also a good consideration for employee retention while also adding value to your company and professional brand.

One of the most important points to consider when choosing a BIM services provider is their location. Some companies are located overseas, so the opportunity to have live interaction or even in-person collaboration is very challenging or impossible. Be sure to go with a provider located in your region, or at least in your country, so collaboration can happen in real time.

Make sure they have knowledgeable experience with the codes and standards in your jurisdiction as well as the construction practices in your area. It’s important to note that certain commercial projects, such as hospitals, may have specific construction methods that must be adhered to for code. It’s vital the BIM services team you’re partnering with knows these important details.

In addition, it’s essential to work with a team that has affiliations with industry organizations, such as the American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE), ASHRAE, and the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), to ensure they’re up to date on the most current trends and information in the industry.

Finally, it’s important to consider cost when it comes to choosing a BIM services provider. You do get what you pay for in this area of expertise. So, when researching providers, consider the experience of the team and the support they can provide when weighing how much you want to pay.

Keep in mind, cutting corners in this area can prove to be much more costly down the line when it comes to putting your design into reality. Pay for the experience to either gain the knowledge needed to get your team up to speed or to supplement your staff. You’ll sleep better at night knowing your projects have the expert resources needed to be more efficient to keep clients coming back for your services.