A Model Is Worth a Million Words

As contractors know, the job clock is always ticking. Driving jobsite efficiency and productivity gains is essential to profitability and competitiveness.
Prefab has emerged as a key answer in that quest. Many contractors are now using varying degrees of prefabrication to improve productivity and reduce install time on the jobsite. Thanks to disruptions in the industry like workforce shortages, budget stress, and tighter schedules, they’re also showing a greater interest in prefab’s close sibling: building information modeling (BIM).
Considering the potential increase in assembling and manufacturing speed, labor savings, safety, schedule flexibility, and waste reduction, prefab is a nobrainer. In fact, research shows that contractors using prefab on more than 50% of their projects are more effective (FMI, 2017) than those who don’t.
Many are struggling to make it work. According to a survey on prefabrication by FMI, almost 90% of all respondents perceive their prefab process as ineffective or in need of improvement. The catch for most contractors is culture change – a multi-step process of adoption that requires a new way of thinking throughout their organization.
Regardless of where they are on their prefab journey, contractors do agree that adopting BIM can be a critical accelerator for their prefab strategy. 
It’s easy to see why when thinking through some of the key advantages of BIM:
  • Creating an accurate, automatically generated, and updated bill of material (BOM).
  • Improving spatial coordination among all trades, especially mechanical, electric, and plumbing (MEP). With metadata and real-time information, for each change, related objects are updated in a centralized model and all stakeholders are automatically notified and can virtually review those changes in real-time.
  • Confirming with virtual design that the project is, in fact, constructible. You can virtually spot interferences, as well as test, rule in or out, and validate alternative solutions.
  • Providing faster 2D- and 3D-point layout by exporting the model directly to total stations for field layout and importing reference data points captured by the total station in the field.
  • Supplying a foundational “single source of truth” model not only for design and construction, but for building operation and maintenance for the life of the building. For operations, this rich model can be leveraged by Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) and other facility management solutions.
There are some disadvantages, too; mainly those associated with startup pain:
  • The steep learning curve of modeling and implementing BIM on a revenue-generating project has a cost associated with trial and error.
  • The initial added costs of software, hardware, and training can add up before you reach BIM efficiencies.
  • Over-modeling and applying BIM when there’s little value or when BIM is not mandated.
Even so, after the first couple of projects with BIM, the benefits start to outweigh the costs. Most BIM proficient firms say they find it most profitable to use BIM on all of their projects – large or small.
The promise is great, but getting started can be an uphill battle. Contractors interested in adopting prefab and BIM should carefully weigh the best path. And that starts with considering some of the lessons and best practices other contractors have learned through their own journey.
Here, then, are the key steps we’ve learned from working with contractors who have figured out the prefab and BIM puzzle.
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