How the Seabees taught me about BIM

It is kind of misleading, but the Seabees did teach me about BIM, even though I never heard about it while I was in. They taught me teamwork, how to build a building, and most importantly how to overcome and adapt. These three skill sets are the foundation of every BIM project.

Teamwork is important because with out it you can't get the job done. When everyone talks about BIM they talk about collaboration; collaboration is just another word for teamwork. In order for project come together you have multiple disciplines that need to work together from architecture, structural,MEP, the contractor, and ultimately the owner, who without we wouldn't even be building the project. Let's face it in todays world of fast paced projects with project teams spread across the country and sometimes beyond teamwork is key. A project can still get done without teamwork it just leads to frustration, animosity, and added cost. Why do you think there is a big shift toward IPD contracts? IPD and BIM go hand in hand and they force us out of or adversarial shells of design team vs. construction team, we all share in the risk and reward on a project.

Anyone can model, its the truth. In fact my daughter spent last year modeling for a school class. Her models, while looking good, lacked one thing: the understanding of why the parts needed to go together in the way they did; she just followed the direction. We all know if we read the directions they will tell us everything we need to know, or will they?

If I build a concrete column in Revit that goes from the foundation to the roof, it's right. Right?

Not if I intend to build it. It does show design intent, but not how to build it. How many lifts to pour that column? Are there capitals that tie into the deck?

Those things are very important in the downstream uses of BIM. Just because it can be modeled, doesn't always mean it can be built, you need that fundamental foundation of how a building is built, to model it the correct way. I have been on some projects where one guy draws the floor plans, one the building sections, and another the details; if ever the phrase lost in translation applied it was here. It is important to know why items like brick ties and vapor barriers are important to the building envelope especially how they come together.

Like I said, the ability to overcome and adapt is important, even though I learned this in the Marines, the Seabees reinforced it. One of the phrases I have taken to heart from my military experience is, "Semper Gumby, Always Flexible." Projects are ever changing in the fast pace world of construction, sometimes we are starting construction before we had construction documents. Now add in BIM where what we were doing on the last project six months ago has been replaced by a new way. This has caused me to not implement BIM based on the software's capabilities and limitations but to adapt the software to conform to my needs. Sometimes this means going way outside of the box and using a different tool. I am not advocating using a tape measure for a hammer. Yet sometimes it is okay to kill a fly with a sledge hammer. The BIM process should be looked at in a 12 to 18 month window so that you are prepared to adapt and overcome.

If I was given all of the latest tools then I would just rely on them. It is the same way with BIM, if you just rely on the software to work but don't know your processes you may fail. The Seabees taught me less is more by providing me with the same tools my forefathers were using in 1942. It forced me to look at new ways to use these tools and rely on the process not the tool its self. BIM is about your processes not the tools used to develop the model. Your processes are going to need some tweaking to incorperate the software but they should drive your BIM process not the software. Sometimes your process may need to evolve in other ways too, just don't forget where it came from.

While the Seabees never taught me how to model, they gave me the foundations to build the future on. Semper Gumby.

1 Comment

  1. I'm an architect, and I'll take the bait. As I have experienced them, "Adapting software or changing software" and "fast-moving project" don't go together. For me, a fast-moving project design develops in stages each lasting a week or two, and is being priced and in for jurisdiction review in six weeks or less.
    I would either be hiring new modelers (surplus staff) and training them to office procedures, or training existing employees to operate the new software. Halfway through the project, productivity might be up to 50%.
    By the end of the project (which I cannot imagine finishing on time, given this handicap), I would still have surplus staff or existing staff with advanced apprentice-level skills in the new software.
    Software is a tool, but not like a hammer, shovel, plane, or even like an automobile is a tool. Instead of fewer than 50 controls, like many tools, modeling software has thousands. One does not become facile with it in a day, or a week.
    Keep it simple? I wish.

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