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What to Expect on Your First Cold-Formed Steel BIM Project

Building Information Modeling is being used on more cold-formed steel projects. If it’s your first time working on a BIM project, what should you expect?

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Building Information Modeling (BIM) is gaining popularity — and for good reason. Using BIM can foster communication among stakeholders, resolve issues early in a project, and save time and money during the construction process.

Architects, engineers, and contractors (AEC), the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) trades, and wall and ceiling subcontractors are increasingly modeling projects that feature cold-formed steel (CFS) framing. If you’re involved in your first BIM project, what can you expect? How involved will you be with the other building professionals? Will everything go according to plan, or will you need to iron out kinks along the way?

While each situation is different, here are five things you can expect during your first BIM project.

1. Expect to define BIM’s value

BIM is not a computer program that takes CAD files and spits out 3D visualizations. BIM is a collaborative process. You have to plan the anticipated BIM benefits before working on models. The more planning you do upfront, the better.

“If you want to play the BIM game, you can’t get hired one day and start modeling the next,” said Megan Washnieski, manager of design and engineering at South Valley Drywall, Inc.

On your first BIM project, think about your firm’s processes and the role BIM can play to improve them:

  • Architects: How can BIM improve your designs and reduce requests for information submitted by contractors?
  • General contractors (GCs): How can BIM help you better plan construction sequencing and workflow?
  • Subcontractors: How will BIM help you resolve conflicts and increase efficiencies?
  • Fabricators: Can BIM improve your CFS panelization processes? How so?

As you get started on your BIM project, come with a clear understanding of how BIM can benefit your work. Otherwise, modeling can waste time and money, and be counterproductive.

2. Expect your first project to have kinks

Even with BIM’s value established by members on the AEC team, the BIM process may not go smoothly. Here are a few examples:

  • BIM implementation may be poorly executed: 
    • “There have … been examples of projects where the team did not effectively plan the implementation of BIM and incurred increased costs for the modeling services, schedule delays due to missing information, and little to no added value,” according to “Building Information Modeling Project Execution Planning Guide” from the Computer Integrated Construction Research Group at Pennsylvania State University.
  • The goals for BIM may be fuzzy
    • To make sure you’re aligned with the other stakeholders, strive to communicate early and often with the key design team players. This can help clarify BIM’s role for the team and how your company can contribute meaningfully to the model.
  • Your software tools and the team’s tools may clash
    • “The challenge is interoperability,” said Robert M. Leicht, Ph.D., assistant professor of architecture engineering at Pennsylvania State University. “You need BIM tools that work well together.”

3. Expect to attend pre-construction meetings

Planning meetings begin once an owner, the design team, and the GC agree to use BIM on a project.

Architects and engineers usually begin modeling schematic designs. Pre-construction meetings can use these models to facilitate discussions on engineering and construction. 3D and 4D models can help illustrate design ideas and workflow sequences.

On most BIM projects, the GC invites the MEP trades to pre-construction meetings to discuss their work. Expect these meetings to take place months ahead of construction. However, CFS framing subcontractors are not always “invited to the table,” said Mike Heering, president, F.L. Crane & Sons. This is largely due to habit. CFS framing falls toward the end of the construction cycle and has perceived low-cost consequences. But that view is changing.

Heering explained that a recent stadium project experienced “tons of change-orders.” The CFS framing subcontractor was not part of the BIM process, and the GC later realized that including the CFS framer earlier in the discussions could have contributed to a smoother process and better results. The GC has now vowed to include framing subcontractors in pre-construction meetings.

So, if you’re not invited to attend pre-construction meetings, ask if you can attend.

4. Expect to update models you receive

Architects author schematic models that may include only enough information to express their design intent — not installation details. CFS framing subcontractors and fabricators should expect to update such models.

“When we get a model from the architect, we explode it into information we can build off of,” Washnieski said. “We’ll say, ‘OK, architect, there’s a beam in the way. There’s a duct coming through that’s not going to line up. Your windows are not aligned floor to floor.’”

Each trade needs to follow their respective BIM Level of Development. But you may need to clarify systems and substrates. You’ll want enough details among models to identify conflicts. For best results, some CFS framers build their models from scratch — so they have the information they need.

5. Expect weekly coordination meetings during construction

Subcontractors should expect to meet in the job trailer weekly to discuss their BIMs. GCs usually drive these meetings. But sometimes, a CFS framing subcontractor has to jumpstart the effort.

Justin Robbins, BIM department manager at F.L. Crane, said he has called meetings of the trades to share plans. Robbins takes the shared information and adds it to his models. This way, his company can fabricate CFS panels and install them without any conflicts.

BIM is big, and it’s being used for more and more projects. With a clearer idea of what to expect on your first BIM project, you’ll have a greater chance of making the experience and the project successful — while recognizing the full benefits of this up-and-coming design tool.

To learn more about BIM and determine if it’s right for your next project, download our eBook, “BIM for Cold-Formed Steel Framed Projects: Benefits, Drawbacks, and How to Succeed.”

If you have further questions or would like to talk through your project’s planning or design process, reach out for complimentary project assistance.

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