By now, you’ve heard more than you could have imagined about the possibilities of BIM for structural engineering. You might even be convinced of the benefits: intelligent models, auto-generating floor plans and sections, and better collaboration with clients. But how do you actually get started?

BIM is complex—a giant sea of potential. And if you leap in without proper preparation, you could drown in the details. Instead, with a little thought and planning, you can chart a course that will carry you safely across the BIM ocean. (Too many water metaphors?) Here are six tips to help ease your transition into BIM.

Choose Your Timing

There’s always a good reason to put off making your transition. But if you wait for the perfect time, you’ll be waiting forever. That said, there are some factors that can affect the timing of your implementation.

1. Look for a Pilot Project. Do you have a client that wants to move to BIM? Is there a new project starting that looks like a good candidate for BIM? My favorites for those are new steel-frame buildings—not renovations—with a consistent column grid and regular floor plans. (Depending on your focus, you may have several projects that would be a good fit…or none, in which case you’ll have to set your own criteria.)

2. Look at Your Schedule. The learning curve for BIM software can take up a little extra time on your first few projects. Do you have some projects wrapping up soon that will free up a bit of time in your day? Is December usually a slow month, or January? Is your local reseller offering a training class that you have time to attend?

3. Look at Your Budget. BIM doesn’t always require an initial cash outlay. Many programs offer free 30-day trials, and some, like Autodesk Revit LT Suite, are now available as a rental. Will you need any new hardware to support BIM software? Thinking about the learning curve, can you afford to absorb some non-billable time?

transition into BIM

From 2D to 3D

What about the technical side? You’ve spent your entire career creating 2D drawings. The total leap into a fully articulated 3D model might be a little overwhelming. By implementing one feature of BIM at a time, you can explore the possibilities without sacrificing too much time or sanity.

1. First, Floor Plans. I call this approach “2.5D.” You’ll need some 3D information, such as levels, in your model, and you’ll use those to place walls and columns. Floor elements will be placed flat on a level, just as if you were creating a 2D CAD plan. Even if you don’t have full 3D capabilities, you will still be able to take advantage of 3D grids, intelligent tagging of elements, and smart dimensions. (Note: If you use this method, continue to send CAD files—exported from BIM—to your clients and consultants. You can’t use a 2.5D model for 3D coordination.)

2. Next, Add Schedules. Schedules are one of my favorite BIM features because they draw on the information in the model. All the data that you used to enter into tables by hand—such as size and reinforcement for footings, walls, beams, and floors—can now be extracted directly from the model and put on a sheet.

3. Next, Cut Sections. You’ll notice that I didn’t say draw sections. When you’re modeling in 3D, you can cut a section, and the geometry will already be there. Of course, this level does require that you’ve accurately modeled your elements in plan and elevation—true 3D instead of the 2.5D of step 1. Getting to a fully developed model is often more work up front than a 2D drawing, but it pays off in coordination and a real understanding of element interactions.


Floor plans, schedules, and sections, as powerful as they are, represent only the beginning of BIM. I haven’t even touched on integration with analytical models, clash detection, or photo-realistic renderings. All that and more is out there—you just have to set sail.

For more tips on transitioning to BIM, check out Ensure Success in Your Transition to BIM.

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