Building information modeling (BIM) is becoming commonplace; however, the value it can deliver is a long way from being fully realized.

It is hard to put a price on what BIM can offer, but a recent tragedy provides some insight into its potential value. When Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral suffered extensive fire damage in April 2019, it looked as if the world had witnessed the end of a treasured landmark. Though much of the building had been destroyed, the dimensions and measurements of its intricate construction had not.

Under the guidance of Belgian art historian Andrew Tallon, nearly one billion points of data were scanned, making it possible not only to recreate the building as a computer model, but also to physically rebuild the cathedral exactly as it was before.


3D scanning for retrofit projects has increased in popularity because of the time and money it can save by streamlining, or in some cases, eliminating time-consuming manual measurements.  High-quality scans then allow these data points to be imported to design software.

A critical first step in this data collection process is to simply walk a jobsite to understand where congestion and obstructions may pose challenges; optimal scanner placement is identified for each scan. If something is not visible to the eye, it is not visible to the scanner. In some cases, scans must be taken from multiple angles to ensure the entire work area is appropriately captured.

Once the scans are captured, the next step is to transfer the data for use in creating designs.


Scanning uses a mix of software and hardware to generate a 3D representation of the work area, meaning all the equipment and programs need to communicate so data can be easily shared. Moving from the 3D scan to the BIM model is not always smooth, but it can be simplified. Efficiencies can be best achieved when technologies are integrated holistically to allow software programs to speak to one another.

For example, during modeling and coordination, the direct integration of Autodesk Revit with collaboration tools allows teams to work in the model, together, in real time, which removes confusion and delays from the process. Being able to see a drawing in 3D gives designers an immediate advantage, allowing them to quickly identify and resolve issues that may not come to light immediately using traditional BIM approaches. Exchanging ideas and information in real time eliminates approval bottlenecks and delivers cost savings.


With scanned data, there is never a need to decipher handwriting or second-guess the location of a dimension. Without scanning, if a measurement is missing, it means a trip to the jobsite. With a scan, all the necessary dimensions are readily available.

Similarly, the level of visualization is enormously improved. By looking at the model and the scan overlaid, designers can immediately see where adjustments should be made and make modifications with increased agility.


As technology evolves, advanced capabilities are extending the value of BIM. One of the most impactful of these is virtual reality (VR).

Today, models can be pulled directly out of 3D modeling software and placed into a virtual environment that enables teams to “enter” the design space and walk through the model. It lets them see how equipment is positioned, where interference is likely, and where functionality could be constrained. By accessing information in a shared environment, teams can identify potential problems early in the design process and quickly make adjustments to the shared model in real time.

The value of VR reaches beyond the scope of the internal design team. VR allows clients to experience the project virtually as well, which means they can see how the finalized building looks and feels and, more importantly, visualize how the space will function. Walking through the building, clients can discern the smallest of details, such as whether a specific piece of equipment will fit in a given space. Designers can integrate this feedback and modify the space before construction begins to more closely match the client’s expectations.


For some companies, the cost of 3D laser-scanning equipment and BIM software, in addition to the necessary investment in training, are barriers to adoption. Nevertheless, experience shows that over time, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

For example, on a recent project, Victaulic, a global pipe manufacturer, performed a 3D scan on a 14,000-square-foot facility segmented into three areas. The team spent 16 hours shooting 40 separate scans that were automatically imported into Victaulic’s Revit software, making them immediately available for use in developing project drawings using proprietary products. The accuracy of the scans (within 3/8 inch) facilitated the creation of precise designs, and the overall collaboration enabled by the BIM software allowed the design team to rapidly move from design to construction.

While there are obvious reasons to embrace BIM, obstacles remain. Some companies that attempted adoption and failed are reluctant to travel the same path again. Yet, as more companies embrace this approach, examples of success are hard to ignore.

With every passing year, BIM continues to advance the industry, whether through the availability of integrated intuitive technologies or through the adoption of smaller and more robust equipment on the jobsite.

In addition, BIM is cultivating a pool of people with expertise and comfort within this medium.

The construction industry is aging, but it is also evolving—and that is the very thing that will encourage younger people, who are typically more comfortable working in augmented reality, to join the ranks.

By Amanda Comunale | Construction Executive | Tuesday, September 3, 2019

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