Engaging Structural Engineers in the BIM Process

“………….. engineers work under a fairly structured environment, both in term of organisational structure and workflow….”

This is a sentiment that I have heard from architects again and again in Building Information Modelling case studies and presentations. It is basically a nice way of saying the traditional division of tasks in structural engineering offices is preventing the designs of senior engineer staff from being represented in the model at the appropriate time.

Seven or 8 years ago the same comment would have been would have been true about architectural firms. Senior staff weren’t able to interrogate or add to models, which meant that their ideas weren’t represented in the model in the early stages of design. This meant that the whole concept of the MacLeamy Curve was rendered useless. The design process wasn’t being shifted to an earlier phase, all that was happening was that junior staff were spending a lot of early time on projects, injecting their inexperience into the design, before senior staff produced their more thorough design at the same time as usual.


It became apparent, even from outside these companies that some senior staff were being ‘cut out’ of their own internal review process.

These days things have changed, the junior and mid-level architects who became involved with Building Information Modelling 10 years ago now hold senior design positions, and unlike almost every other industry, architectural firms actually laid off some senior staff who were unable to ‘digitally contribute’ post-global financial crisis.

Change of any sort is often unwelcome in Engineering offices, any shirt that is not vertical blue strips is often seen as radical and subversive.  BrisBim (Brisbane’s Building Information Modelling Forum) is currently running a Poll at the moment to see ‘who on your project team has the most positive approach to BIM?’ last time I checked Structural Engineer had two votes.

There are definitely some exceptions to this rule, in Australia and overseas several prominent Engineers have become heavily involved in Building Information Modelling, both technically and as lobbyists for BIM legislation.

The industry best practice is for engineering design and analysis models to be fully integrated with building information models using software such as ETABS or Robot Structural Analysis, where preliminary models are exported from the design software to Revit Structure and then imported back at regular intervals.

What is the ‘plan B’ when this is not possible due to financial, technical or organizational culture limitations? Here are some ideas to get engineers to dip their toes in the water and break down the division between modellers and engineers:

  • Export some simple schedules from Revit to Microsoft Access. The Engineer can easily update some framing sizes or preliminary reinforcement rates. These can then be imported back into the model
  • Involve the engineer in designing complex bespoke elements of the building in Rhinoceros and Grasshopper, these elements can be exported to space gas or strand for structural analysis. The principal is the same as using ETABS or Robot Analysis but the scope is limited to several smaller elements within the building. These bespoke elements can be exported to your building model as SAT. files.
  • Involve the Engineer in the Navisworks or Solibri clash detection process. The best person to decide if a beam penetration is advisable is a structural engineer.


All these strategies are entirely voluntary, however it is worth noting that when your company signs up to the BIM execution plan you are making a commitment to providing a model that contains additional information to the construction drawings.  In Australia at least this means the Structural Engineer is legally bound to conduct a comprehensive model review at crucial points of the documentation process.  This is the unavoidable minimum requirement for all Engineers on Building Information Modelling projects.

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view in any way. Also – Anything that mentions AutoCAD, NAVISWORKS or REVIT or any other Autodesk product is a registered Trademark of Autodesk.


Revit Structure to Robot Analysis


Analysis in Revit Structure using Robot Analysis


Revit Structure to Robot Analysis




Rhinoceros 3D modelling software to Revit


Understanding the MacLeamy Curve



Why a good BIM Statment can make a difference

What is a Building Information Modelling statement? Is it just a list of capabilities and some marketing material to let other firms know what you can do or is it something more?

A BIM statement refers to a company’s future planning and culture. Unlike BIM Execution Plans, BIM statements are poorly understood. BIM Execution Plans have been refined over time, there are some excellent templates out there for small, time poor firms. Natspec is the obvious example. BIM Execution Plans apply to individual projects. However a good BIM Statement, can be more important than an execution plan because it locks in BIM to the ‘DNA’ of a firm.

The last 10 years have shown us that firms who haven’t approached Building Information Modelling in a thorough way haven’t got very far.

“many users become ‘partial adopters’. BIM becomes a way of exploring in 3D for design only and real documentation is still done in the traditional way. In our experience these users have a short lifespan as eventually projects arise which demand a fully integrated workflow. In these circumstances it pays to be the firm who has adopted BIM as an integral way of working as the firm with the most skills tends to set the rules.”

Stewart Caldwell, Russell and Yelland Architects and  Michael Clothier, Walbridge and Gilbert Engineers

Making sure this implementation is thorough is why BIM statements are important and can be crucial in:

  • Making sure that the organisation is working to a long-term plan
  • Making sure employees understand the plan
  • Making sure Clients, and other consultants understand the plan

In my opinion a BIM Statement should be a set of values and goals, mapping out a company’s direction in the years to come, similar in tone to an equal opportunity statement,  or a statement of corporate responsibility. Would you be more likely to believe a firm that claimed they could deliver everything now, or a firm that aimed to deliver LOD 300 Building Models now, with modelled earth works in two more years and underground services in the year after that with LOD 400 live collaborative models being delivered soon after?.

Autodesk released a set of documents called a ‘BIM Deployment package’, which I guess is what you would expect from a software company, in their minds changing organizational culture is like slipping a USB into the back of some ones head. There is however lots of useful information in this package, and instead or referring to a ‘BIM Statement’ they use the term ‘BIM Vision Statement’ which is a lot more descriptive and clears up some of the confusion.

“Your BIM vision is the first thing prospective and/or existing clients will see. In addition to aligning with your overall business model, it will need to be real.”


The following is an extract from the American Department of Veterans Affairs Building information Vision Statement:

“………. conversion to BIM is to deliver higher value and maximize life-cycle building performance to support VA’s mission to deliver excellent medical services. Just as the VA’s digitization of patient records has greatly improved the business and management process of care delivery for patients, so the digitization of building data will improve the design and management of VA
buildings across their life-cycle”

The statement mentions future goals, and ties these goal to the central focus of the organisation.

In summary, get it right and you will build long-term relationships with your clients, get it wrong and clients will smell ‘BIM Wash’ (refer below) and be unwilling to enter into long term relationships.





The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view in any way. Also – Anything that mentions AutoCAD, NAVISWORKS or REVIT or any other Autodesk product is a registered Trademark of Autodesk.