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Thursday, June 12, 2008

BIM and general contractors

BIM entrepreneur Arol Wolford addresses the GCAO meeting in Ottawa. The association paid to fly Wolford to Ottawa for his presentation.

The General Contractors Association of Ottawa (GCAO) invited me to their semi-annual meeting today. For our business, this association provides the highest level 'connecting' opportunities possible -- the GCs provide us with our key revenue generating source -- references to company profiles and projects where we can earn significant amounts of advertising revenue through the supply chain.

But I don't go there to sell; I go there to learn and write, and enjoy both special privileges and responsibilities as a journalist. I have the privilege of hearing what people really think -- at least within their group --with the understanding that I will use some common sense in what I report. When names are named, directly, I have enough sense to respect that I should only publish the information that will do no harm.

With a membership of 60 general contractors, the association represents most of the major contractor in the city -- and one of its main functions is to act as a conduit for concerns when developers and architects tread too far from conventional industry practice with onerous and unfair bidding rules and conditions. Individually, of course, a GC would face business suicide to raise concerns directly -- so the association handles these issues collectively. (Obviously everyone understands that they are still competitors, and pricing and other issues are never discussed, or anything that would violate anti-competition laws. In fact, the argument is made that by encouraging construction clients to follow standard bidding practices, they'll receive more competitive and compliant bids -- thus saving money.)

The association invited Arol Walford, one of the pioneers in Building Information Modeling (BIM) to speak about the trends in technology and the importance of BIM in the construction industry.

Reed Construction Data acquired Tectonic Partners Inc., a leading developer and service provider of Building Information Modeling (BIM) for the architectural, engineering and construction industries, in February. Walford had been Tectonic Partner's president, another in a series of successful construction industry information ventures.

Reed wants into BIM because the opportunity to feed data into these new systems creates incredible marketing opportunities for building product manufacturers and technology developers. BIM is the fully integrated evolution from CAD where every element in the building is absorbed into the database and the 'virtual building' is constructed before anything actually gets built.

The advantage of BIM, Walford says, is that if any change is made in any aspect of the building, it will 'catch' inconsistencies and ensure that everything still works. The classic change order problems occurring when inconsistent designs from different systems are not properly integrated are avoided -- and various design and construction options can be tested and costed out before the project begins. The BIM model also becomes a powerful resource for building operations and maintenance -- any future changes in the completed building can be tested to ensure that there are not unintended consequences.

Walford estimated that GCs using BIM can achieve a cost savings of at least 10 per cent by the time they've learned the system -- usually by the third project -- and that the BIM software can be purchased for about $4,000.

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