ConstructionPro Week, Volume: Construction Advisor Today - Issue: 129 - 10/13/2011

Number of Projects Using 3D-BIM Expected to Increase Slowly

The number of projects using three-dimensional building information modeling (3D-BIM) will increase slowly, Design Master Software Inc. recently concluded after surveying engineers and designers in the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) industry about their use of the technology.


For the second year in a row, almost two-thirds (62 percent) of survey respondents reported that they use 3D-BIM on less than half of their projects, and about one-quarter of respondents indicated that they do not do any projects using 3D-BIM. However, like last year, about three-quarters (75 percent) of respondents said they expect to use 3D-BIM on at least half of their projects in the next three years.


About three in 10 respondents expect to be using 3D-BIM on all of their projects in three years, according to the survey, which included 84 respondents, 74 of whom indicated that they are located in the United States or Canada. Like last year, most of the respondents reported working at consulting companies and at large corporations.

“Our original purpose for the survey was to be able to compare trends between years,” Design Master stated. “We now have two years of data and can compare the reported use of 3D-BIM in 2010 and 2011, and the predicted use of 3D-BIM in 2013 and 2014. The reported use this year is also one year closer to the predicted use from last year. Has the industry moved toward or away from last year’s predictions for the future use of 3D-BIM?


“The current use of 3D-BIM changed very little between 2010 and 2011. It actually decreased slightly, but not significantly compared to the margin of error in the data. The predicted use of 3D-BIM three years in the future also changed very little. The expectations for 2013 in 2010 and for 2014 in 2011 are basically the same. Either expectations are wrong or there will soon be a huge jump in projects requiring 3D-BIM.”


“Most projects will not be modeled in 3D. The number of projects using 3D-BIM will slowly increase, but it will not be as dramatic as our respondents expect. High-profile projects featured in case studies -- such as stadiums, hospitals, and skyscrapers in Dubai[, United Arab Emirates] -- will continue to feature 3D collision detection. Routine buildings that do not benefit from 3D-BIM -- such as strip-mall remodels, banks, chain restaurants, and veterinarian offices -- will not use it. These routine projects that do not require 3D-BIM will outnumber complicated projects that do.”


Design Master also asked survey participants whether firms are able to charge for the additional time required on projects that use 3D-BIM. According to last year’s survey, 40 percent charged more. This year, that figure increased to 56 percent.


Survey results are accessible at

Design Master President Provides Additional Details toCPC/BIM

In an email interview with Construction Project Controls and BIM Report (CPC/BIM), Design Master President David Robison provided the following additional information:


CPC/BIM: About how many engineers and designers in the MEP industry received a survey questionnaire? What lists of these types of professionals were used for distributing the questionnaire?

Robison: We sent the survey to our Design Master Newsletter email list, which has about 1,000 addresses in it. Those are mostly customers who use our software. We also posted a link to the Autodesk AutoCAD MEP forum, the AUGI Revit MEP forum, and various MEP-related LinkedIn groups. We don't know how many people would have seen those links, unfortunately. About half the respondents were from our mailing list, and half [were] from the various other sources.


CPC/BIM: How would you respond to an argument someone could make that the results of the survey should not be considered representative of what the overall industry believes because only 84 people responded?

Robison: That is a fair argument for someone to make -- the sample size of the survey is small. You should definitely take that into account before making any major decisions based upon these results. However, the alternative to our survey is no survey at all. The information might not be perfect, but it is most likely better than the small slice of the industry most MEP engineers see.


CPC/BIM: How may the survey results be used and by whom? Could lawmakers reference the survey findings when deliberating about whether to require BIM for public projects within their jurisdictions?

Robison: The survey results are really for MEP engineers and designers. They keep hearing from architects and software vendors that ‘Revit is the future; BIM is the future; everyone is modeling in 3D.’ But we’ve had a really hard time finding anyone who is actually using 3D-BIM on projects. We wanted to know, and to share with engineers, just how widespread the use of BIM in the industry actually is. Lawmakers using this to determine BIM requirements for public projects is probably a bit of a stretch. As mentioned in the previous question, the sample size is small. It is good enough to give MEP engineers a better understanding of their industry. I would be uncomfortable with public-policy decisions being made based upon the results.


CPC/BIM: Which survey result surprised you the most and why?

Robison: The most surprising result was when a project is modeled in 3D, more of the systems are being modeled significantly more frequently than last year. The number of projects using 3D-BIM has not appeared to change in the last year, but when a project does use 3D-BIM, everybody involved is producing a 3D model.

CPC/BIM: The survey asked whether firms are able to charge for the additional time required on projects that use 3D-BIM. The percentage charging more when doing 3D-BIM increased from 40 last year to 56 this year. To what does your company attribute this increase of 16 percentage points?


Robison: I don't have any compelling stories to explain the change this year in charging more for projects that require 3D-BIM. My feeling is that including 3D-BIM increases the cost to the engineer to design the project. The hope, of course, is that the extra time spent by the engineer saves money during construction. The question is whether engineers can pass those costs along in higher fees, or whether they take a hit in profitability on 3D-BIM projects. The change could be random noise. It could be engineers realizing they are losing money on 3D-BIM projects and raising their fees out of necessity. The economy for engineers has improved a lot in the last year -- it could be a response to having more work.

CPC/BIM: Regarding trends in 3D-BIM, your company stated that either survey respondents' expectations are wrong or there will be a huge jump in projects requiring 3D-BIM. Which one of these two possibilities does Design Master believe to be the more likely case and why?


Robison: We think they are wrong. In talking with customers, this is a trend we feel like we’ve seen for the last five years. Everyone expects 3D-BIM to just blow up in the next couple years, but if you try to find someone doing projects with it today, it’s really pretty hard. I think it is also a case of them misunderstanding the trend. Not every project will require 3D-BIM. But there will be one project they do that does, and that's the pressure they are feeling. Learning how to do one project in 3D is just as hard as learning how to do 10. But really, for most projects, 3D-BIM does not add any value to the design process.


CPC/BIM: Other comments?


Robison: Tangentially related. We also have a comic, MEP Ninja, that we recently started publishing ( 



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