Canadian Consulting Engineer

Feature

Embracing BIM

If we can have self-driving cars, we can certainly move a lot closer to automating some common engineering tasks.


Although the concept of digital building models have existed for over 30 years, the momentum for full-scale adoption of building information modeling (BIM) is growing as companies in all sectors of building design and construction get on board.

We spoke with Raza Tanveer, associate electrical engineer with DIALOG in Toronto to assess one engineer’s views on the state of BIM in the consulting engineering business today.

The University of Alberta graduate moved into the building design and consulting sector about six years ago and works as a project manager and lead designer.

 

What sparked your interest in BIM?

I still remember the first time someone introduced the concept of BIM to me here in Toronto. I was immediately hooked. The idea that elements in a traditional drawing could be parametric, and that data is stored in a database is such a powerful concept.

It became apparent to me immediately that there were all kinds of things we could theoretically do if those so-called “dumb lines” in CAD were suddenly smart objects.

 

Clearly you consider yourself
a BIM champion?

I’m not a BIM expert, but I think that it adds a lot of value, and as a process manager I understand how it works.

 

What have you done in BIM?

When I joined DIALOG my first BIM project was a very large hospital, new construction. I joined from the design development phase right through to contract documents and now we’re in construction administration, and we’ve been using BIM steadily. It’s really an integral part of the process.

 

What role do you play in BIM?

Leading the design, I had a team of people working on the modeling, but I found myself having to learn it very quickly to be that conduit between the senior engineers and leadership team and the designers working day-to-day in BIM.

It’s complicated software and it’s the younger engineers who are building up that expertise. On the other hand, the classic engineering experience is held within the senior leaders. So there’s a bit of a gap there, and I think it’s very valuable for that middle level of people to really embrace it and get hands on.

 

So BIM is still finding its way in
the industry?

Senior leadership is very familiar with the CAD world. Even if they don’t use it day-to-day, they can estimate how much time it will take to do a certain pass.

With BIM it’s a new world. So for me it was very valuable to be able to bridge that gap and say, “this is a lot easier than you think,” or “we can’t quite do that yet.”

 

Is there a push to adapt BIM?

DIALOG has actually invested a fair bit in both acquiring and developing BIM talent within our firm, as well as making it a habit to not only use it for the larger marquee projects where it’s expected but even small projects.

 

What challenges still exist?

It makes so many things better. I think our team is now at a place where we would prefer to do things in BIM over CAD given the choice.

It takes time and effort to get there, because it can be quite daunting at first. And I think that’s where a lot of people tend to hesitate, because their first experiences might be a little rough. But looking at the long view, there’s a lot of benefit.

 

What are some advantages?

You can really cut down on the level of administrative tasks that you’ve had to do traditionally, and that way you really get to focus on the design—the engineering.

 

Is having in-house BIM knowledge
a competitive advantage?

If you’re doing renovation work or small projects there may not be a lot of impetus to move to BIM.

But for any new build the push is moving to BIM, and then when it comes to doing renovations on those buildings they’re going to be giving you a BIM model. It’s moving there very quickly. It’s not a competitive advantage for firms—it’s a necessity.

 

Where do we go from here?

Because it’s database driven and there’s an API which allows us to write code, scripts and plug-ins, that opens up a world of possibilities.

Now you’re not just hiring an electrical engineer to do design, you’re hiring a programmer. That’s a shift we’ve started to see.

It’s part of a whole other field that’s connected to BIM—automation, artificial intelligence—and there’s a lot of room for exponential changes to the industry.

If we can have self-driving cars, we can certainly move a lot closer to automating some common engineering tasks.