Currently Reading

Switching to BIM?

Switching to BIM?

User groups can help smooth the transition.

By By Jeff Yoders, Senior Associate Editor | August 11, 2010
This article first appeared in the 200806 issue of BD+C.

In Nebraska BIM users share tricks of the trade at RUGON. In Kansas City they discuss Revit at KCrevit. In Toronto ArchiCAD East users gather at ACE. Online user groups are helping individual users and whole firms make the switch to BIM less painful and more profitable. At the recent 2008 AIA Convention and Design Exposition in Boston, Autodesk announced that Revit had crossed the 300,000 seat threshold, while Bentley claimed high penetration at the bigger AEC firms. As BIM gains greater acceptance, BIM and CAD managers are turning their experiences into websites and online communities.

“When we started this group [in 2006] you could tell how many people were using the program by how they pronounced the name: a lot of people would say 'Reevit' and only a few would call it 'Revit,'” said Patrick Davis, co-founder of and national CADD/BIM manager for HNTB. “But it has really taken off here in the last two years. There are a lot of smaller, more agile firms here using the technology. They can adapt to change more quickly, and we're seeing that in the user group.”

KCrevit was created by members of a BIM/CAD manager roundtable of major firms in Kansas City, among them Davis, Sandy Price of 360 Architecture, Todd Williams (who was at HOK+Sport at the time), and Chris Tschirhart of JE Dunn Construction (check out their pictures at The group answers questions from users at and rotates occasional presentations from Revit-compatible technology providers such as RISA Technologies (a maker of 3D structural design software) and Integrated Environmental Solutions (sustainability analysis software) through the member firms. KCrevit does not charge dues and is completely independent of resellers. “We don't collect any money at all. We don't have a president or a sergeant at arms or any of that,” Davis said. “We all have jobs. But I can tell that I've benefited from the dialogue we've developed. I now have friends at other firms who have shared success and failure stories with this technology, and they know all of mine now, too.”

Davis said the biggest issue his members have is BIM training and how to implement BIM in their firms. Users also frequently ask about the best project types to use as first BIM projects.

In Toronto, Andy Thomson of Altius Architecture and Sustain Design Studio has had a similar experience. Thomson would visit different firms in Toronto and help train and establish office standards for Graphisoft's ArchiCAD BIM program. He repeated the same groups and meetings at several different firms before realizing he needed to get more systematic about it.

“I started blogging just for my own records,” Thomson said, “and then I realized, Why not share this with the community?”

Thomson was inspired by the support community that had been built among ArchiCAD users and their firms in California, but there was nothing like that on the East Coast. Thus, in 2005, ArchiCAD East was born. The ACE community now has members from Toronto (Altius, Architects Alliance) to Atlanta (CUH2A).

“Design firms are so busy these days that they don't have the time for training,” Thomson said. “We can answer those common, mundane questions that always come up like 'How do you do a photo rendering (with artificial-looking light) in ArchiCAD?'”

Thomson developed—and shares for free—Electrigon, a parametric ArchiCAD electrical energy modeling object. For years there were hundreds of electrical symbols used in ArchiCAD to simulate light and electrical loads. Electrigon made it possible to throw them all out. Instead of just putting a light object in your model, Electrigon's parameters have all the energy and output requirements smartly built in. You can enter a light fixture's Energy Star rating, its wattage, and how long it will be on during the day. Electrigon can simulate almost any electrical appliance and its performance in an ArchiCAD model.

“If you put one Electrigon object in for every appliance, you can use ArchiCAD's scheduling function to see how much energy the building uses and what its carbon footprint is,” Thomson said. By creating useful tools like Electrigon, users can push software developers like Graphisoft to enhance their programs. “We're saying, 'Look at what we did with your software. Can't you give us more tools like it?' We want to put that kind of pressure on the developers.”

ArchiCAD East has shown users how to use the scheduling function in ArchiCAD to develop budgets and scheduling. Many firms are developing internal BIM user groups to address questions related to budgets and integrated project delivery. HOK has an internal BIM website that shares BIM success stories and tips. The 24 BIM managers from all of HOK's offices meet regularly with SVP and firmwide CAD director Mario Guttman to exchange ideas.

Leo A Daly is using BIM on most of its projects today and has completed several BIM projects, including a hospital at Georgia State University and several GSA Immigration Centers.

“Inside the firm we would always have a hard time getting the people who were happy with CAD and didn't want to learn BIM to come to the table,” said Craig Thomas, Leo A Daly's BIM practice leader in the firm's Omaha, Neb., headquarters. He's also on the National BIM standard committee and founded RUGON, the Revit User Group of Nebraska.

“We quickly learned if they're getting training and not using it, it's not useful. Now we train everyone on a project and that makes the acceptance come faster. On our hospital work the projects are complex enough to need BIM but also have tight deadlines, so they're really perfect for BIM and the architects trained on them come out converts.”

If you're addressing firmwide change, as HOK is doing with its BuildingSMART initiative and integrated project delivery (, it's probably better to use internal groups than to rely on local user groups. “IPD isn't something I'd tackle with the user group,” KCrevit's Davis said. “I wouldn't know where to start.”

Jacobs Engineering Group of Pasadena, Calif., has been using BIM for two and a half years and has developed five different BIM working groups within the firm, including a vendor group that works directly with their Bentley and Autodesk software providers. BIM guru Gary Koah says the firm has completed 20 BIM projects and has 50 more in the pipeline. As with Leo A Daly, all training at Jacobs is done on actual projects. The firm's internal Quickstart program trains new users for at least a week on a project.

“People are more passionate about their projects,” Koah said. “It drives home that placing a wall in a model is better than placing a line in CAD. For us it's getting as many people as is humanly possible working in the process and practice.”

Magazine Subscription

Get our Newsletters

Each day, our editors assemble the latest breaking industry news, hottest trends, and most relevant research, delivered to your inbox.


Follow BD+C: