Taking BIM to the next level

Electrical engineers are being pushed toward using BIM.

By Gene Candela, Schneider Electric, Kennesaw, Ga. November 16, 2015

The engineering landscape is changing rapidly. Consulting engineers are faced with challenges including the increasing speed and complexity of projects, evolving codes and standards, and a continual push for the electrical discipline to advance in BIM.

While BIM has been around for 20 yr and is used regularly by architects and both structural and civil engineers, adoption by mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), and fire protection engineering firms has only started to take off in more recent years. Today, as more architects require all parties working on a project to engage with BIM, consulting engineers are demanding the tools necessary to advance BIM in the electrical space, such as the ability to access more information online and easier access to BIM models and manufacturer support and expertise.

BIM for electrical systems

The value of BIM is that it gets the right information to all the right people at the right time, enabling collaboration, productivity, and insight. However, there are some challenges, particularly in the electrical space, that must be overcome for BIM to reach its full value.

One key challenge to BIM adoption in the electrical space is the lack of accurate, relevant, and standardized BIM content. To date, to move forward with BIM implementation, many firms have had to develop their own content libraries—often by downloading from a repository of manufacturers’ products online.

This poses challenges, as many products are subject to frequent manufacturer updates; which means that maintaining an up-to-date content library becomes difficult. For example, if a user downloads an electrical panelboard and leaves it on his or her hard drive for several years, the product information in the BIM environment will quickly become outdated as the downloaded content remains static, yet the actual product continues to evolve.

It’s critical that product data remains up-to-date in BIM models. BIM is not just a design tool that stops being used after the construction phase of a project; rather, it is an overall lifecycle tool that uses the information from conception through design and commissioning and into operation and maintenance of the building. The power of BIM lies in the information. At any point in the lifecycle of a project, the information must be accurate to help reduce time-consuming errors and rework. Additionally, it must be accessible from virtually anywhere, at any time, and by all the project stakeholders—and it must be actionable to help inform the decision-making process with simulation and analysis.

Bridging the gap between BIM environments and product data is critical to the advancement of BIM in the electrical space.

Looking forward

Advancements in technology for collaboration and communication and through the prevalence of social, mobile, and cloud technologies are transforming how people can work together. The use of models for virtual design, construction, and collaboration is becoming standard as end users and regulatory agencies increasingly seek to use BIM on new building projects and leverage it as a tool to help manage building lifecycle costs and environmental footprints. BIM is clearly the way of the future—a study from McGraw Hill Construction found that 81% of U.S. companies indicate they consider BIM capabilities when making their selection for project teams. Leveraging the capabilities of the cloud to deliver real-time product data to BIM environments is what will take BIM to the next level, making it easier to adopt for the electrical space and ensuring that BIM models are always accurate and up-to-date.

There is a growing expectation of closer collaboration among building design, engineering, and construction disciplines. By leveraging BIM techniques to develop more accurate analysis and simulation of designs and projects, engineers can facilitate more efficient collaboration, design, construction, and operation of buildings throughout the entire lifecycle of a building.

Gene Candela is the BIM solutions manager at Schneider Electric and designer of LayoutFAST, a plug-in for Revit in the electrical space. His mission is to create a unique BIM environment and innovate how manufacturers, architects, engineers, and contractors interact with Schneider Electric solutions.