BIM is the present and future of construction.
More and more construction companies are using building information modeling (BIM), according to the Associated General Contractors of America report 2018 Construction Hiring and Business Outlook, which means more contractors are in the market for BIM engineers.
BIM is a software-based 3D tool that allows architects, engineers and contractors to create a structure's design on a computer — then make sure the design is constructible and check for (and solve) design conflicts that might not otherwise emerge until midway through a project, when a fix is more expensive. It also facilitates communication because it puts the entire detailed structure, in virtual form, in front of everyone on the team, including the client.
What does a BIM engineer do?
"BIM engineers are entry-level virtual builders," said Mike Stapf, vice president of design integration at McCarthy Building Companies. "They build computer-generated models of important building components, such as concrete walls, steel beams, ductwork, piping, etcetera."
Alex Belkofer, virtual design and construction (VDC) director at McCarthy, said the company refers to BIM engineers as VDC engineers because of their involvement with the entire VDC program at McCarthy. “Their role is much like a Swiss army knife,” he said. "Anything from design model creation to leading 3D trade coordination is within the daily responsibilities of a VDC engineer."
These workers are in high demand, Belkofer noted, because of the unique skills required to understand both the physical construction management aspects and digital construction assembly and sequencing.
BIM engineers with field experience are especially valuable because they can combine their real-world knowledge with their technical abilities to add value to VDC operations, he said. So armed, they can visualize risk mitigation through 3D site logistics plans, review the constructability of 3D models and sequence 4D scheduling models.
At a higher level, Stapf said, demand for BIM engineers is being driven by BIM’s usefulness in overcoming industry challenges, including the labor shortage and the increasing number of owners expecting accelerated schedules. "Virtual building allows us to plan our jobs more precisely and, in some cases, even prefabricate portions of the building to make the construction process more efficient. Our VDC engineers modeling the work are the beginning of that virtual building process."
What background do you need?
The bulk of a good BIM engineer's education happens on the job. Stapf said there are schools that provide students with a basic understanding of the process and a place for them to hone their BIM and VDC software and hardware skills. "From there," he said, "what makes a really good BIM engineer is being involved during the construction process [so that they] understand real-life challenges that we deal with during construction.”
Stapf added, "The combination of technical skills and what we call constructability experience allows BIM engineers to thrive and advance their careers."
Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.
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