A Fresh Look at Building Information Modeling for Masonry
Ready or not, Building Information Modeling for Masonry or BIM-M is changing the masonry industry.
By Jim Cook
It’s of little surprise that implementation of Building Information Modeling for masonry moves slowly in an industry where things are literally set in stone. But change is inevitable, however slow it may come, and building information modeling (BIM) is set to finally have the impact in masonry that it has in other construction-related businesses. Improved technology, pressure from contractors, and a new tech-savvy generation taking the reins at masonry firms are combining to promote greater adoption of BIM throughout the industry.
This year may be a major milestone for BIM’s use in the industry as market pressures result in greater use of the technology and some initiatives by proponents of BIM in masonry come to fruition.
The Building Information Modeling in Masonry (BIM-M) initiative has been in the forefront of helping masonry catch up with other segments of the construction industry with regard to BIM solutions. The organization has enlisted the help of The Digital Building Laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology to develop a roadmap to promote BIM in the masonry industry.
David Biggs, Building Information Modeling for masonry program coordinator, says that two recent developments from the organization will have a big impact on BIM adoption in the industry – the completion of a masonry unit database (MUD) for BIM software developers and a new plug-in for Autodesk Revit that makes the program more useful for masons.
Biggs says the MUD results from intense efforts to categorize various masonry units by shape, size, texture, finish, weight, thermal properties, sustainability data and more. According to BIM-M initiative documents, the new database should help designers using BIM software find the exact units needed for projects and allow them to design using masonry cuts and partial units, helping to reduce costs.
With the new database, designers should be able to achieve a level of development sufficient for construction documents and shop drawings.
Tom Cuneio, president of Cad Blox LLC and 3DiQ Inc., helped develop Masonry iQ, a new add-on for Revit, a popular BIM application. The new add-on provides many masonry-specific features for Revit that make the application more useful for masons.
Masonry iQ allows Revit users to create wall types with masonry-specific properties, create custom bond properties, conveniently add bond beams to a model, create specific bond patterns, easily place windows and doors, and automatically generate wall sections, among other features. Cuneio says the add-on provides masons with needed features that had been missing from Revit until now.
The development of the MUD and the add-on for Revit, Biggs explains, provide masons with critical tools they need to take advantage of the benefits offered by BIM.
Technology limitations and the size of the masonry industry compared to other segments of construction have limited BIM implementation in masonry, until now. Cuneio says that previous BIM applications were not capable of handling the complexity of creating building information models that were useful to masons, due to of the wide variety of product types used in masonry.
Biggs says that until recently, masonry just wasn’t considered large enough to be of interest to BIM developers.
“Their position was, ‘We already have 70 percent of the market,’” Biggs says.
BIM-M is sponsored by the Brick Industry Association, the International Masonry Institute, the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, the Mason Contractors Association of America, the National Concrete Masonry Association, The Masonry Society and Western States Clay Products Association. Biggs says these groups saw the need to develop BIM for masonry and have committed substantial resources to a multi-year effort.
Biggs says masonry’s late entry into BIM was actually beneficial as the delay allowed BIM technology to catch up to the needs of the industry.
“If we had gotten into it earlier, it would have been a wasted effort,” Biggs says. “The tools needed weren’t readily available.”
In addition to design programs and a new database, other modeling technology is also having a major impact on masonry. Jamie Davis, president of Ryan Biggs | Clark Davis says laser scanning and modeling is becoming increasingly useful to masons. New laser scanning and modeling software are making it easier to convert images into BIM models that designers can examine and manipulate. Davis says laser scanning and modeling can keep mason contractors from having to spend time manually measuring and examining stone, rebar and other materials in restoration and renovation projects.
“The next great leap is going to be laser scanning,” she says. “It’s a huge time-saver and keeps us from having to go into crawlspaces to pull sizes.”
Davis’ firm recently used laser scanning technology in a restoration project for Syracuse City Schools in New York. Davis says the technology reduced the time needed to develop estimates and greatly improved accuracy.
“It makes for a much tighter bid,” she says. “It takes a lot of the guess work out of it.”
Improvements in technology aren’t the only force driving BIM development for masonry. There’s a growing push among builders and contractors to require masons to provide BIM models for their work. The motivation is simple – the use of BIM helps masons better coordinate with other construction professionals and also provides for faster and more accurate design and estimates. The technology even helps designers better plan the construction process, allowing for better phasing of the construction process and placement of scaffolds and delivery of materials.
“The biggest change we saw last year was more contractors getting in or being pushed into it by contract specifications,” Biggs says.
Cuneio adds, “Masonry contractors are going to be contractually obligated to provide coordinating models.”
Third-party BIM providers help smaller masons
Hurdles still remain to the widespread adoption of BIM in the masonry industry. Many software applications remain too expensive for small masonry firms. Even if they can afford the software and justify the expense of purchasing it, not all firms have the time and resources to devote to teaching an employee how to use it.
Allen Crowley, director of business development for On Center Software, says that many large and small masonry firms are contracting out BIM work to third parties. Crowley says this allows them to obtain the expertise they might need for a job for which a contactor may require BIM without having to expend resources obtaining software and training or hiring employees. One of On Center Software’s specialties is takeoff software, and Crowley says that BIM applications have the potential to vastly improve the speed and accuracy of takeoff estimating.
Third-party BIM services are a major part of Cuneio’s business. He says that demand for these services has grown in the last year as an increasing number of masons are compelled to provide models to general contractors.
Crowley says some resistance to Building Information Modeling for masonry may be generational, as masons close to retirement feel they can get by for a few more years without picking up the skills needed to use BIM technology. Younger masons taking over their firms, or owning firms that will absorb older masons’ business once they retire, need to familiarize themselves with the technology, however.
Even older masons who have less than a decade left in the field would do well to at least become comfortable with BIM applications, so they can better work with third-parties they may hire to perform BIM-related services. Cuneio says that being conversant with BIM allows masons to better explain what they need to their third-party service providers and also helps them better understand the work product these providers create.
“This isn’t going away,” Davis says. “This isn’t going to reverse itself.”
Jim Cook is a freelance writer based in Dothan, Ala.
Top image: Laser scanning (reality capture) allows exact field conditions to be captured in a surface model with incredible accuracy. These scans can be combined with models of new construction to verify field conditions and asses clearances and proper fit before units are produced.