By Treighton Mauldin
We are at a turning point in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry -- a technological revolution -- and it can become quite overwhelming once the salesmen grab hold of something that they will be making 30 percent commission on per sale. These salesmen are not bad guys, and we all have families to feed, but I have seen, time and time again, many people get burned out and frustrated when it comes to this new technology of 4D (scheduling) and 5D (estimating) modeling because of a few simple misconceptions. Fortunately, I can demystify the following misconceptions for you:
That it’s easy -- One of the biggest misconceptions of 4D/5D and building information modeling (BIM) is that the computer does all of the work for you. While it’s true that using 4D/5D will make your life much easier in the long run, it does, however, require some up-front time and effort. The time and effort required to make a useful and effective 4D/5D model can vary drastically based on skill level, the software, and the quality of the models that are being used. The best way to ensure smooth and efficient progress is to have solid standards and workflows (i.e., consistent origins, naming conventions, and clean models).
That it’s too expensive -- One thing that I hear all too much from my upper management is “We would love to use 4D, but we just don’t have the budget for it on this project.” This is a major misconception. It’s true that there are costs associated with creating a 4D model (software, computers, time), but think about this: If it takes one guy four hours to put together a 4D model at, say, $60 per hour and that model saves one hour in the sub meeting with six guys at over $100/hr., was that expensive? That does not even take into consideration time saved in the field due to better communication.
That you need to 4D the “whole” project -- Many professionals encounter hurdles with their projects when trying to implement 4D because they believe they need to have every aspect of the project in the schedule and the model. This is not at all true. Using software like Synchro allows you to build a schedule right in the 4D software, which allows you to match the schedule to the level of detail in the model. Synchro also allows you to do basic modeling, which can be very helpful in the case of 4D logistics plans. Some of the best uses I have gotten out of 4D are production control for specific areas, virtual first-run studies and mock-ups, and 4D logistics plans.
That it requires a highly skilled technician -- Your run-of-the-mill “BIM guy” will have you believe that his job is very difficult and that only he is technically savvy enough to handle it. This is completely false. There are software programs out there that run on simple machines and can be operated by people who are nearly computer illiterate. Software such as Navisworks and Synchro are very user friendly. I have seen superintendents who can barely check their emails grab the reigns of these software programs and navigate the models like a 15-year-old playing Xbox.
That it is a panacea (cure all) for projects -- As with all new technology that is being pushed heavily by fast-talking salesmen, many people believe that simply purchasing a piece of software will enable their projects to magically come in 20 percent ahead of schedule and 30 percent under budget. You may be wondering where I came up with those numbers. That would be a great question to ask your salesman prior to purchasing his software.
Don’t let these few misconceptions destroy your view of BIM; there is a vast amount of amazingly useful technology out there. All software and technologies have their upsides and their downsides, and it is your job as the consumer and user to make sure that you understand them clearly and have a proper workflow in place to get the most of the new technology.
Treighton Mauldin currently works as a planning engineer for Turner Construction. He has worked as a project engineer, assistant superintendent, building information modeling manager, scheduler/ consultant, and as head of training, support, and implementation for a construction technology company in North America. He has worked with some of the largest companies in the industry on all kinds of projects across the United States.