Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a technological process that allows building and construction data to be modeled and managed three dimensionally. The technology can be used to represent a building in ways that the more traditional drawings prepared by design professionals and utilized by contractors and subcontractors cannot. As is often the case with technological advancements, BIM is a technology with seemingly limitless potential to enhance efficiency and reduce errors in the construction industry, but it is not without potential problems and future implications that must be addressed as BIM becomes more prevalent.
As an illustration to the double-edged sword that is BIM, the parties involved in what is believed to be the first major lawsuit relating to the use of BIM recently reached a settlement. Due to the confidential nature of the settlement, many of the facts that gave rise to the dispute are unknown. Here is what we know and what we can learn from the lawsuit.
The First Known BIM Lawsuit
The construction of a life-sciences building at a major university went awry when the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) contractor ran out of room in the ceiling plenum to assemble the MEP system. When the problem arose, the work was approximately 70% complete. The project architect and MEP engineer used BIM to fit the MEP system into the ceiling plenum, but the contractor ran out of room because no one informed the contractor that a very specific installation sequence was necessary for the system to fit.
As a result of this problem, the MEP contractor sued the project owner, the project owner sued the architect, and the architect’s insurance carrier joined the consulting engineering firm that designed the MEP system. Without the benefit of more facts, it is nonetheless obvious that the source of the issues that gave rise to this litigation was a breakdown in communication between the owner, the design professionals and the MEP contractor. Communication is critical in the construction industry regardless of the type(s) of design technology in use. The larger issue that the use of BIM raises is its potential impact on the traditional allocation of risk in construction contracts and documents.
The lawsuit that arose from this project brings to light two undeniable facts regarding BIM:
- BIM can prove incredibly useful and efficient but not without close and regular communication between the designer and the installer; and
- Construction contracts must address the allocation of the risks associated with the use of BIM so that the parties involved in design and construction of the project know their roles and responsibilities from the outset.
As we learn more about this particular project and other projects like it, we will provide a more substantive analysis of BIM’s effect on your businesses.