An Essential Guide to BIM for Electrical Contractors

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Building information modeling (BIM) has become tremendously popular over the last few years, but if you’re like most electrical contractors you haven’t had to do any hands-on work with it – yet. But your time is coming, and perhaps sooner than you think. Here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know right now.

The term BIM refers to both the process of creating a virtual model of the building elements, which is then used to generate drawings and otherwise support construction, and the software tools used to do the modeling. Designers, builders, and owners have embraced BIM for a variety of reasons.

Like many tools, BIM can be difficult to appreciate until you actually use it, but it does provide some very specific productivity enhancing benefits.

  • BIM is great for 3D visualization, especially with its powerful onscreen modeling capabilities and the ability to zoom in on details and zoom out to get the big picture. Plus, things can be viewed from any angle.
  • Clash detection is a BIM capability that gained early appreciation. Everything goes into one model, where the high-level coordination of the design drawings makes it relatively easy to spot interferences. That enables potential field problems that likely would go undetected in a traditional drawing review process to be resolved early and inexpensively on paper.
  • BIM handles change management exceptionally well, which leads to faster creation and better coordination among different disciplines.
  • BIM also facilitates data management. It provides and maintains access to a great deal more information than what is represented visually, to include things like specifications and performance data that go way beyond just size, shape and orientation.
  • BIM enables simulation of building performance – structural, of course, but also things like thermal and lighting performance can be simulated through the changing seasons.
  • BIM also is a great cost-tracking tool for the construction phase of a project, but its value doesn’t stop there.

After construction is complete, the BIM can be turned over to the owner as an as-built model of the new building, which can be a valuable asset to those responsible for maintenance and operations. And because the model is actually used and updated throughout the construction process, it’s far more accurate than a traditional set of as-built drawings that may show the most recent design but do not always reflect field modifications.

So, what’s in a building information model? And why does it seem like the electrical contractors are the last ones to be invited to participate?

BIM’s roots go back to the mid-20th century and the earliest efforts in computer assisted machining. Today BIM has spread far beyond the realm of manufacturing to become a powerful high-productivity tool for designers and builders alike.

BIM technology started with structural systems, mostly steel beams and the like. Initially BIM was dimension-driven and focused primarily on better representing, in three dimensions, what traditionally had been shown in 2D drawings.

As the sophistication of the software and BIM users grew, more and different types of objects found their way into the model, things like piping and ductwork. Some creative users actually extended BIM to include ­­– and thus avoid – underground utilities in the vicinity. Today BIM has expanded to include a wide variety of building systems including HVAC and MEP, but that is just the beginning of exploiting BIM’s capabilities.

Manufacturers, like Schneider Electric, are beginning to provide BIM-friendly data, beyond simple dimensions, for things like electrical switchgear, pumps, motors and other manufactured products that become part of building systems. Savvy building professionals are taking advantage of that capability, embedding more information early on that adds a significant amount of long-term value to the model. And that means they’re going to be asking for your input.

For more information about Schneider Electric’s BIM solutions, please click here.

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