What BIM means for steel detailers and fabricators


About BIM

The key idea behind BIM (Building Information Modeling) is to have all information related to a facility organized in one application-independent model. Ideally, this model is started at concept stage and expanded during each phase of construction and operation of the facility.

While BIM is centered around a 3D model, it is not limited to geometry. Other possibilities are costs, maintenance information, manufacturers, materials, names, dates and times, position and assembly numbers, phases, revisions, and so on.

While any application storing these properties with the 3D model often claims to be BIM software, for it to have practical benefit the software should support the free exchange of data with other applications. While there are several formats available, in the last few years the IFC file format has emerged as the best way to exchange BIM models.  IFC stands for Industry Foundation Classes; it is an open-source file format developed by the independent organisation buildingSMART, and it is supported by all the major CAD vendors.


Why is BIM so important?

Information management is key to completing a project on time and within budget. Yet it is information that poses a recurring problem in the construction industry. Throughout all stages of a project a wide variety of different document types are generated by different tools and different teams, and at each stage the data is being manually reworked to fit the task at hand. Challenges include incompatible file formats, 2D/3D conversions, communication problems, limited transparency and more. This results in more errors and inefficiencies, ultimately increasing costs and causing delays.

Instead of moving and mutating data throughout the process, BIM methodology proposes that all teams work off the same data from start to finish, regardless of which BIM software is used. This not only facilitates communication and collaboration, but allows information to flow between the various tools used by the construction industry.


What are the main BIM benefits?

While the initial effort to set up a BIM model can be a bit bigger, there are benefits at each stage of a construction project. Even at the concept and design stage, the 3D aspect can help with visualization and communication with the client. Different variations can be more efficiently explored, and even at this early stage the client will have an increased understanding of what the end result will be.
This improved insight will also support better decision making early on, which helps the project progress smoothly.

The resulting model is an excellent communication tool for the next phases – either in-house or for external contractors. In addition to re-use of data and visual checking, the BIM model can be used for early-stage collision detection when data from different applications is combined.
The rich data model is also an excellent base for improved cost estimation for pricing, bidding or planning.

Model-based communication means improved collaboration and results in less friction and mistakes. Because some types of errors are avoided and some are detected sooner, fewer changes and revisions will be needed. The same 3D BIM model can be accessed on the field – by tablet or laptop – eliminating all doubts should any issues arise.

All of these result in better time and cost estimations, faster project completion, faster delivery and better business relationships.


Avoid vendor lock-in with IFC

A major benefit not often talked about is avoiding of CAD vendor lock-in. Most vendors use proprietary file formats, limiting data exchange between your preferred applications, and ensuring you would need to keep licenses of their software just so you could still access your own data.

If you design your BIM strategy around the widely used and open-source file format IFC then you escape this kind of vendor lock-in. Not only can you choose which application is best for each aspect of your project, you are free to change your mind in the future, switch to a different application and still maintain access to the BIM models of your older projects.

This freedom of choice is especially important when outsourcing parts of a project. No longer is a specific application a job requirement – BIM is the requirement and that greatly expands the number of parties you can work with.


What BIM means for steel detailers

These days BIM is increasingly becoming a requirement for many jobs. Not only are companies realizing the benefits but some governments have mandated the use of BIM in public projects in order to speed up adoption. It is advisable to plan accordingly in order to remain competitive in the future. Getting on board sooner will help you get more jobs and finish them more efficiently.

Detailers that are still working in 2D or using a generalized 3D modeling application (without BIM information) will have a steeper learning curve because switching to a 3D steel detailing solution is a requirement, but they also have the most to gain. A specialized steel detailing application can save a lot of time and money over manual methods.

You certainly should not fear 3D. While some 3D applications are certainly very complex to use, Parabuild was designed to be intuitive and it may be a lot easier to pick up then you think. A lot of your repetitive work will become automated, allowing you more time to focus on the important things.

For detailers that are already using specialized 3D steel detailing software, changing to a BIM mindset will not be difficult. Most modern 3D steel detailing software already have all the required BIM data in a proprietary file format, and should support IFC import/export so the detailer’s work can integrate with the rest of the data. There are also free tools available to help you combine, visualize, check and manage BIM models.

You will be able to use BIM data from Revit Structure and most structural analysis software, and once detailed the model will serve for collision detection with HVAC, piping, mechanical objects among other things.

On a side note; a format other then IFC used to be more popular in the steel industry – CIS/2- but that format was deemed too specific to structural steel and did not support enough of the other aspects of construction. Currently it looks likely that IFC will remain the dominant BIM file format for a very long time.


The LOD of steel detailing

When you’re getting involved with BIM you will hear about LOD: Level Of Development (or a while ago Level Of Detail – which was deemed not adequately generalized). LOD describes the amount of information in a BIM model. It goes from LOD100 (conceptual data) to LOD500.

Steel detailers work at nearly the final level of development; LOD 400. That means the structural steel model is fully specified down to the nuts and bolts, and it is ready for fabrication and construction. This is just a matter of terminology – detailers have been documenting at this level for a long time. Now this work is defined and stored as LOD400 within the BIM model. The next level LOD500 is for use during and post-construction, it specifies data on the state of the project as it was built.


BIM in Parabuild

Parabuild has been an information-rich application right from the start, long before BIM/IFC was around. By working with Parabuild, you are automatically constructing your BIM model! We are proponents of keeping your data freely accessible and easily shared, so we support the best BIM file format IFC for both import and export. Try the free Parabuild trial to experience it first-hand!