How BIM Fails the Trades People

As John and I sit here at the United Brotherhood of Carpenters International Training Center, I have had time to reflect on BIM and its role with the trades. I think the trades people are the group that could benefit the most from BIM but are currently benefiting the least. The rest of the BIM world is too caught up in PxP's and LOD to really address BIM's greatest failing: Getting BIM into the hands of the trades people putting work in place.

Some would say they are doing a great job at getting BIM to the field. They have drawings and shop drawings being derived from models. They have models able to be viewed in Kiosks in the field. They have iPads where they can markup drawings and fill out reports. They push model info to their surveying equipment. But at the end of the day is this really providing much more to the general trades person than they already had? Aren't these really tools for project management? The advantage that we have given to date is the promise that the drawings and survey data that the trades people work off of is more accurate (Questionable) and some limited model viewing. I'm not impressed. There is no reason every trades person should not have an understanding of BIM and how it is being applied on the project.

Where are the BIM tools? Where are the items that we are putting in the hands of the trades people that allow them to interface with the project's models in the place where they are working? Who's focusing on this? Our hardware and software vendors have failed us. I've been asking this same question for over two years and still the focus is on project management.

Don't get me wrong. I understand that many of us are coming up with new and interesting ways to achieve this. But this is happening in isolated instances. Contractors have ridiculously small R&D budgets. I applaud the efforts of all of the contractors who have developed new and interesting ways to bring BIM tools to the field. But until contractors R&D budgets start to be the same as the manufacturing sector we are heavily dependent on the hardware and software vendors. As an industry, we need to stop being so easily satisfied with the half measures we receive. We need to push our hardware and software vendors to give us more.

But we can effect change in other ways. We can go to our trades people and start to help them with BIM education. It would really be beneficial for other trade unions to take the same initiative as the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. Right now, we are helping them develop the training curriculum that will start to give all union carpenters an education in the BIM process, how it applies to their work, and how they can use it to their benefit. I would like to see this happening for all trades. As the process of construction changes, we need our trades people to be on the same page as the individuals that are supplying them with the designs they are expected to construct. This process is not necessarily going to give them new tools but it will help them integrate into new processes and be able to hit the ground running when some real BIM tools become available.


  1. dead thread alive…

    Hey, just found this thread while searching for information on BIM and trades. I spent a couple weeks at the UBC curriculum development table and can't agree more with this article.

    My opinion. BIM for trades will develop separate from BIM for managers. They are so different, there is minimal cross over. It will be the android to micorsoft. It will just happen. The best use of our time is to develop rules for how the manager will share their BIM data with the trades. And, how the trades will share their BIM data with management. And then, shake hands on it.

    As yourself this. As a tradesman. Can I bring my own BIM tools to work, same as I bring my own hammer. Or must I use the company's power tools and I can only bring hand tools.

    That is the discussion. And, apparently a bit of a more controversial discussion than one would think.

    good job

  2. Anonymous

    The disconnect between the field and office is there for a reason. I have long tried to be a part of both realms and have found barriers at every turn.

    My conclusion after 20 years working and studying the engineering and construction industry….. BIM, is better than being a bum. A funded and skilled tradesman would rather have materials, tools, and job over a computer program any day of the week. Chances are if he/she is on a computer it is to play video games with a child.

  3. Kevin Sobrakan

    Seems to me you're forgetting that BIM had to start somewhere. It kinda makes sense that it started where ti did with project design and management. That's the easiest place for improvement.
    Your frustration with BIM not being in the hands of tradespeople is understandable but kind of misplaced. There are plenty of real BIM tools, just not where you feel they're needed.
    Welcome to what's called innovation. Sure, push the hardware and software companies to do more, but for every good idea out there, there's tons of bad ones, so it takes a while to get good tools.
    You're on the right track educating the trades but what else can we do? I'd love to hear your take on some tools that you think tradespeople would benefit from.

  4. Some people never learn. Mr. Mik van Leeuwen's comment was removed because he wanted to sell software.

  5. Guys, really interesting conversation. It caught my eye as this is the first time I have heard anyone (apart from ourselves) talking about enabling BIM for the trades. We have a really great case study of capturing BIM data from a pile driving foreman, in real time, and sharing throughout the project team – next step is to develop this technology to push BIM data into the hands of the guys and gals on the ground – the challenge is the UI – we want to deliver BIM via SMS as this is the technology best understood and most widely available to the trades – and most affordable for the SMB's.

    Would love to learn more about your specific needs – you can get me on We are the dreaded software vendors but are construction people at heart!

  6. Sorry Connor and John… I had to laugh. You guys are awesome to work with! Probably the most open-minded folks I have ran into in the construction industry. I am personally grateful for the work you both do.

    Now about the article… Great read. You are so on! I notice in my travels that I take a different perspective than those that I work with (I will stop there, so I can get my post up) ha. Does anyone really ever go to the end user and ask them what they want? I see so many people stop when they find someone that tells them what they want to hear. Then sit around board rooms saying they have figured it all out and that is the way that it is. All I can say is that some of us are trying to change the game. It's hard and there are many political battles to fight, but together we will get there.

    As a small little subcontractor from Omaha, Nebraska… Go Big Red! I tell this story often; When I first looked at a model (BIM/CAD or whatever the hell you called it at the time), it did nothing for me. Don't get me wrong it was cool, but so were the models that sat in front of a pre-bid meeting under a case. I could never build anything from it. Doing "BIM" is a horrible experience and a ridiculous overhead cost for trades if they can not use it out in the field. They have to build from it! A little secrete (subcontractors look away), subs make their money by building things, everything else is a hit to the bottom line. So if you are selling them something that makes their process more complicated, then good luck. I am sorry (and agree with above) software and hardware vendors have done them wrong. Remember all those trying to create you FM solution, your most important data will come from the subs… sorry GC/CM's. Time to make it right!

    Please keep this blog going, it is insightful to the industry.

  7. Anonymous

    I think we need some details of what the trades are looking for from software companies and not just the failings of the software.
    You ask some very important, but general questions, and then, you don't give even a couple of items that the software manufacturers can add/create/modify to help.
    Now, maybe you are just venting and that's fine, but if you want answers to these questions, then…
    Rob G.

    • Rob,
      You are right that I am just venting. I plan on using this blog to make public the rants that roll through my head on a daily basis.

      Creating solutions is my job. That's what I work on everyday. Some blogs are people's boasting about how great their solutions are. I really don't want to do that. I would rather just raise awareness about the real issues that are out there and try to keep everyone from resting on their laurels.

      Contact me if you want to discuss solutions. But a word of warning, I am just as candid in real life as I am here.

  8. Gary,
    Its not that we are particularly hard to communicate with you just chose the wrong venue. We are going to make the no software rule more visible so more individuals don't get confused. We constantly review hardware and software products and provide what I think many that work with us consider to be very good feedback. Next time contact us by email and make sure to elaborate that this is something new or different than what you have shown on your website. We do so much product review that we need to see something different to make you stand out and catch our attention which the products on your website don't really do. I believe that was John's point just conveyed a little differently.

  9. I am posting on behalf of James Salmon who posted on Linked-In

    • How might they guys with boots on the ground best leverage BIM?

    This is a critical question that deserves serious consideration.

    In western Canada and other areas that are booming painful labor shortages are impacting projects. BIM in the hands of experienced, talented and highly trained craftsmen would, I think, increase efficiency and productivity, somewhat alleviating the labor crunch by enabling fewer workers to accomplish more work in less time.

    By contrast, in the US construction market there are too few projects and the unemployment rate among US construction workers is unacceptably high. Building BIM skills among the craftsmen on the sidelines at the moment seems imminently prudent to me. Further, there are many many skilled trade positions going unfilled because too many young people answered the Sirens' call of a "college education" and majored in Women's Studies, Comparative Cultural Analysis or similar courses in Victimology offered by most colleges while racking up impressive debt loads. Now they are practically unemployable. Meanwhile, 1000s of jobs required skilled workers go unfilled.

    Is BIM education by and among the skilled trades part of the solution to both of these issues?

  10. John,
    I'd be interested to hear your position on what kind of education tradesmen want to see regarding how BIM helps them. THX Andrew

  11. I have removed Mr. Longshaw's comment because he violated our rule. If you have software you want to talk about contact us we will review it and determine if it is good or meet some new way of doing things. Mr. Longshaw put up software that is crap in dealing with the subject the Trades. It was nothing new and frankly not that impressive in fact the software demonstrated our point that software developers just don't get what the Trades need in fact while we are here at The United Brotherhood of Carpenters we asked if any software people have talk to them about what they could provide to their guys. The resounding answer was that none have wanted to work with them in this regard. That is another sad case in our industry!

    • Its little wonder you feel no one understands your needs, we do our best to talk to the guys on the ground, but usually encounter similar attitudes to the one you have jusst displayed in your comment. The topic I referred to was actually brand new, only just launched, and specifically for the trades on site. From your comment you evidently misunderstood entireley what it was about or what it does. I would happily contact you and provide further information freely with the view to fostering better open BIM collaboration across all disciplines. But as displayed, you prove very difficult to communicate with in an open fashion. Please e-mail me your contact details, Id be pleased to call to get a better understanding of what your expectations are i.r.o BIM collaboration tools for the trades. Kind Regards
      Gary Longshaw.

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