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BIM & Design

BIM for Infrastructure: Looking in the Right (but Unexpected) Places

May 27, 2020

In my previous blog, we were looking deeper into Transportation BIM Lifecycle. I brought up some of the underlying tenets of a project, such as permitting, bidding, payment, compliance, analysis, and others that we may get into, like materials.

To look at the full BIM lifecycle, we need to think in terms of project management. To have a successful BIM project, you must have good project management. In the mind’s eye, it may be difficult to think of a BIM Project as a single project because most of the time, you are looking at many projects within a single project - unless you are an owner or work on a Design-Build or P3 project. I make myself dizzy thinking about it. After all, it is the circle of life and if we spin through too quickly, we will all get dizzy. Moving forward, let’s think of the BIM Lifecycle as a series of projects that can be overlapping but require a hand-off from one to the next.

I started out as a construction engineer building very large power plants. Technology for us was a pager - for any young readers, here’s what that looks like. As a young construction engineer, well before e-Construction and BIM, we hated the final turnover to operations. There was such a wall between construction and operations, each saw the other as a necessary evil. We were very narrow-minded and self-centered. Neither had the ultimate goal in mind. Today, we do not have that luxury. If someone thinks that way, you may not get the next project. Whether engineers want to admit it or not, most of the time we are a service organization. So, it is imperative we understand that we must communicate (collaborate) with all stakeholders before and after our part of the project (or our project within the project).

Let’s look into our BIM lifecycle. Of course, every project begins with the need: replace something old and worn out, increase capacity, meet a new demand, opportunity to make a lot of money… I am not a venture capitalist nor a planner, so I am going to leave that phase to those better qualified than me to elaborate. So, let’s assume our project is approved and budgeted. We are getting ready to go out for bids. Did you not think bid letting was a part of BIM? Of course, it is --- bidding is part of the BIM lifecycle. What goes into that bid package? Contract language, specifications, drawings, project description, research, bidding requirements, project schedules, DBE and other legal requirements. Whether you are bidding for preliminary design, final design or construction, what’s in that bid package that you will not use later in the project?

Next part of that bidding process… are you bidding electronically? If not, you should be! Today’s electronic bidding platforms provide error checking, due date notifications, automatic addendum tracking, automated bid analysis, electronic and digital signatures, and unbelievable security. It’s simple to use for the bidder and bidee. Electronic bidding provides agencies with an efficient system that falls under two key tenets of BIM: Collaboration and e-Construction.

Getting back on track, everything is done in CAD, so you are at BIM Level 0, and you did not even realize it. Now, what version of your CAD product are you using? Remember, I am talking to the transportation guys, so all you mechanical guys, take your nifty little 3D models and let us transportation engineers talk! 90+% of you use Autodesk or Bentley. If you are using one of the later versions from the last 3-4 years of the software, you may not realize it but you are modeling. Yeah, today you are still doing too many plan sheets and cross-section sets, but they are coming from the model. So, you are using CAD and you are modeling, WOW! You are moving into BIM Level 1.

Now, you are doing electronic bidding (if not, give me a call). As the owner and Bidee, you have used CAD and collaborated with electronic bidding. With CAD, models, and collaboration, you are getting real close to BIM Level 2. For the constructors and engineers out there (the bidders), you got everything you needed in that bid package. You have been awarded the contract. What happens to that bid package? Please tell me you did not just print or plot it? Surely you moved that into some project collaboration tool (Doc Express®, Revit, ProjectWise, SharePoint, etc.) and have begun your own project inside the BIM Project Lifecycle. Just like the owner/operator, you have your CAD, most likely some level of modeling, and you have collaborated from bidding to project launch. You also have moved from Level 0 to Level 1 into the edge of Level 2. How well you are doing within each level is determined by you. Are you taking full advantage of the power of design modeling? Are you collaborating at a level that all are sharing and communicating efficiently and succinctly through your collaboration servers? One positive that I think we will get out of the COVID-19 pandemic is vastly improved collaboration and long-distance communication or dispersed communication.

I want you to look at an unintentional mistake I made. I was kind of embarrassed as I looked over what I had written, but I decided not to change and leave in here for emphasis. Let’s restate the BIM acronym in long-form - Building Information Modeling. The modeling we should be focused on is information modeling, not the design model. Yes, the design model can be part of a BIM project, but you do not have to have a design model to have a BIM project. BIM is about information modeling.

WIth information modeling, we are talking about integrating, collaborating, and federating data. Within the design environment, integration is essential. Within the construction management environment, collaboration is key. But within the bid package, we just need it to all exist together in its original form, accessible to all who need access to the data. That's federation of the data. More importantly within the bid package, I must protect the provenance of the data in its original form, which is what we do with electronic bids. We not only protect the provenance of that data, but we go over and beyond expectations in protecting the security of the actual bids. Within the first spoke of the BIM cycle, we have already provided the precept of BIM through information modeling, smartly applying integration, collaboration, and federation as needed. Always remember, BIM is information modeling in which design modeling is a tool if needed.

Let’s skip over the design project within the BIM lifecycle for now while we get into a bigger piece of the BIM lifecycle and talk construction - specifically construction administration. This I believe is one of the areas that really sees the advantages of a well-managed BIM project. In our next blog, we will dig into some of the details of construction administration, how they fit and feed your BIM processes as well as what you could be and should be doing in this age of e-Construction and BIM.


Ron Gant
Senior Account Manager
A graduate of Mississippi State University, Ron Gant, P.E., is a BIM expert with four decades of experience in infrastructure construction and civil engineering.