BIM for plumbing design

The use of BIM in plumbing projects creates deeper project knowledge, delivers a more robust product, and can reduce total project costs.


Learning objectives

  1. Understand the basics of how BIM can be used in plumbing and piping projects.
  2. Learn the advantages of Autodesk Revit MEP software.
  3. Anticipate some of the challenges faced by plumbing designers using Revit, and gain knowledge of potential solutions. 

This Revit model of the plumbing design for a commercial office building is used for metric modeling and coordination. Courtesy: GHT LimitedBuilding information modeling (BIM) is a powerful tool that is transforming the design and construction industry. As more building owners become familiar with the technology and even mandate its use, successful architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms understand that they must embrace the BIM revolution if they want to stay competitive and keep pace with industry trends. Consulting engineers need vision and commitment to integrate BIM into their practice as it matures for mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), and fire protection design. 

Across the MEP disciplines, designers voice common challenges related to BIM. MEP software is typically a generation or two behind software for structural engineering, and further behind that for architects. Designers need intensive training to start using it, and the skills they develop are of the “use it or lose it” variety. Breakdowns in project team communication can jeopardize drawing quality and project schedules. However, with upfront planning and a focus on collaboration, there are solutions. The plumbing discipline has the farthest to go in terms of software development, but there are a few simple shifts that designers can make to dramatically increase productivity.

Don’t let the learning curve of implementing BIM distract you from the bigger picture. The use of 3-D modeling software creates deeper project knowledge, delivers a more robust product, and can reduce total project costs.

Big-picture guidelines 

The cylinders on the bottom left show placeholder objects for equipment not available in a Revit loadable family. Courtesy: GHT LimitedGHT Limited, Arlington, Va., uses Autodesk Revit MEP software. It’s important for designers to understand that Revit functions very differently from AutoCAD—it’s not just a 3-D version of the drafting software. In addition to the X and Y coordinates, you have the Z coordinate and material data collection information, as well as the potential to integrate time, cost, and lifecycle management data. Designers must show the plan view of X and Y; the Z coordinate will be decided by the cut plan view set by the user. 

One of Revit’s unique features is the Families function. Families are divided into three groups. The first group is the System Families, which are pre-existing within the software. The second group is the Loadable Families. This group is customized by the user, based on the project needs. The third group is the In-Place Families, which are loadable but can’t be exported out of the project in which they were made. All families have one thing in common: They are 3-D parametric objects. 

Traditionally designers draw a rectangle, square, circle, or other type of shape to represent an object for 2-D AutoCAD drafting. Some of these objects are available in Revit format from the material or equipment manufacturer, but not always—design teams should check availability at the beginning of the project and plan to create them in-house if they don’t exist yet. Be aware that when an object is provided by the manufacturer, it may contain much more information than what you require, which may slow down productivity due to the files’ large size. As software development is progressing, firms should plan to allow design teams research and development time for creating efficiencies for their Revit projects, which will cut costs in the long run. 

Owners are understandably excited about BIM software, though they are not always aware of how its use will affect the project budget and scope, leading to challenges later in the job. Engineering consultants can make the process more successful by educating their clients about the impacts of using BIM during the proposal and negotiation stage. Help them understand the benefits they will gain to offset their concerns that it might add a premium. To support this effort, designers must vocalize how the use of BIM impacts their workflow to their firm’s executives. 

Revit is a collaborative tool, so allocate time for collaboration. The use of Revit typically requires more team coordination than do projects in AutoCAD, and this should be reflected in project planning and cost estimating for design. On a Revit project, getting consultants on board and involved earlier in the project, potentially in the concepts or schematics phase instead of the design-development phase, should lead to a better coordinated finished model, resulting in fewer problems during construction.

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