How cost estimators are disrupting the construction industry and enabling full BIM execution


According to McKinsey, the global construction industry at large can boost productivity on projects by some 50 to 60 percent. This includes American construction companies. Here’s the good news: Some GC’s are already deep into new ways of working – and they are tapping into their cost estimators to improve productivity. Let me tell you how.

Every day inside construction companies, estimators are working to understand the entirety of a project, so they can submit successful and profitable bids. Accuracy is a key to that success, as is understanding how the project will be built. The estimator drills down into the plans and specs and must understand the project in all its details--such as work activities and durations, site logistics, labor availability, production rates, design and production quantities, equipment, materials, lead times, lay down areas, permitting, and local regulations. With this information the estimator can uncover the best, most cost-effective construction plan. They will also uncover risk scenarios that could jeopardize the cost or timing of the project and account for them. In the end, estimators make real and difficult decisions knowing the various options, risk factors, and inherit cost.

The estimator knows the “how” of construction. Unfortunately, all this information is often lost in tools like Excel. Lost, because it is not transparent for others, and not connected to subsequent process tools.

New tools, new paradigms

As new tools for cost estimating have become available, some construction companies have begun to tap into the value offered by cost estimators in new ways. One of the most significant opportunities for improved productivity is by bringing data from cost estimation into the BIM workflow.

Figure 1: Adding cost estimating data to the BIM workflow improves productivity and reduces risk.
Figure 1: Adding cost estimating data to the BIM workflow improves productivity and reduces risk.

End-to-end BIM is more than WHAT we build. To deliver on the BIM promise of efficiency, resource optimization and quality, the process must support HOW we build. Which means that the BIM/VDC process must move from the conceptual and design phase and into preconstruction and field execution.

In this new territory for full BIM execution, you need data for Planning, Purchasing, Sub Contracting, Cost Management and information for Project Close Out. If the cost estimator is using a tool like Sigma, integrated with for example Autodesk BIM360 or Revit, all the above data are available at-a-click.

For many in the construction industry, this is a revolution. But it is a readily available solution, already implemented in several large and small construction companies.

This way of working with full 5D BIM represents a potential for significant productivity improvement. But the train is only just gaining speed – we are ready to step it up with a brand-new integration, offering a potential revolution in productivity and putting the cost estimator front-and-center in disrupting the efficiency of the construction industry!

Figure 2: Basically, all buildings are constructs of objects. Now objects in BIMObject® are available in Sigma with full 5D data, making objects available for cost estimating, planning and execution. And the data carries on to the construction process for use on-site.

This promises value to all parts of the construction value chain:

  • Precise Cost estimation is available already in the design phase, saving time and promising to develop projects with lower risk, better alignment with users and lowered project cost
  • Reduced resource in the design phase as object re-usage will increase rapidly, focusing creativity on value-creating differences and mitigating errors from manual processes
  • Improved constructability: Material Sourcing improvements (supply chain gains), site optimization and work force instruction available and distributed as project matures.
  • Improved maintainability: Complete documentation ready for hand-over, including data for maintenance of all parts of the project.

Interestingly, the above is achieved without adding extra resource to the process and at the same time taking tedious manual data re-entry out of the process. The answer is simply to make new tools available to the estimator and integrate the data in the construction management process.

The built world is changing. Want to stay on top of these shifts? Stick with BuiltWorlds, and check out this related content:

Enabling the estimator

We always recommend focusing on the estimator. First, estimating is simply too important to be left with sub-par tools. Secondly, if it doesn’t work for the estimator, you don’t have a source for your 5D data! Four important factors are required of a modern 5D BIM estimating tool that can evolve and keep pace with the changing technology:

  • A familiar and user-friendly interface is needed to make the switch trouble-free and to make sure all skill levels and roles can use the tool successfully. Therefore, a modern user interface for estimators means an Excel like user interface on top, with a built-in data structure hidden beneath with the database.
  • A platform for all roles and disciplines. Making data available for all is a vital part of BIM and this also transfers to the 5D workflow. The tool not only needs to support all trades and disciplines of estimating, it also needs to deliver transparency for other project team members to utilize the valuable 5D information.
  • Configurable and flexible are important qualities so the tool can fit into the company’s specific workflows and setup. This means having the ability to adapt to regulations, company standards, project requirements etc. All performed in the same tool, so all team members are able to share and have access to the source data.
  • Integrations and an Open API ensure a smooth data flow with a direct and real-time connected live link. For example, a live link integration to the 3D model means that the 3D and 5D model is updated and viewed simultaneously. Changes to the BIM workflow happen frequently, with companies taking advantage of new processes and tools. The ability to develop new integrations, with an open API, to other solutions outside the 5D estimating has significant impact on long-term viability of the solution and on Total Cost of Ownership.

Learn more

There’s plenty of ways to become acquainted with tools for new ways of working, better estimating and 5D BIM. Thousands of estimators around the globe already use Sigma, from day-to-day estimating to specialized, 5D BIM with integrated workflows.

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This article was brought to you by Sigma Estimates.