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BIM in Real Life – The Learning Gap

It has been roughly ten months since I graduated as an undergraduate in Civil Engineering. Ten months since I joined Summit BIM. And, ten months of eye-opening experiences as I have witnessed first-hand how technology advancements can reshape even the most traditional of industries like construction.

Learning is a lifelong process. Yet, we expect our learning to happen within an educational institution. In civil engineering, as in all professions, what we learn in school doesn’t necessarily prepare us for what we will meet in the real world. Civil engineering is a broad discipline, and even with a narrowed focus, it can be difficult to fully grasp one’s stream. There are simply too many things to learn in too little time, and the fast-paced improvements in technology only make it worse.

Educational institutions try to bridge the gap between theory and its pragmatic real-world application.
Practicing industry speakers, projects focused on the use of BIM, and hands-on experience of virtual construction projects all provide a glimpse of what it is to be part of the industry. They cannot, and nor should we expect them to be able to, replicate the complexity of implementing BIM on a real-world project.

My first few months at Summit BIM weren’t easy. The learning gap is steep and, at times, overwhelming. Assumptions that I had taken for granted needed to be examined and ejected.

First and most importantly, BIM is not an elixir that one can apply to solve all the issues on a project. People around the world have developed tools and software that enable us to work well and work smart, but meticulous human effort, from all disciplines, remains the pre-requisite for a successful project.

Secondly, BIM is not perfect, and in fact, it is far from perfect. One should not assume that data acquired from the BIM process is inherently better just because it uses newer technologies. If the purpose of building a 3D model is simply to create 2D drawings faster, this shouldn’t be considered as a BIM. Fundamentally it does not satisfy what BIM is aiming for, and the data this model contains is likely to be unorganized and meaningless. Though convoluted, the quality of the data must be monitored as it will be generated and shared among project participants from different disciplines.

The one thing that I learned over and above everything else is that it is the digital data that drives this BIM process and that the 3D model is merely one way of viewing that information. Relying on data requires a quality control process to ensure that the data being generated is fit for purpose.

My colleagues have been incredibly helpful, and they provided immense help for my transition to the new position, allowing me to see the picture from different perspectives. Although it was difficult to grasp in a short period of time, they showed me how the data workflow for project delivery could be changed and improved with innovation. Within a few weeks, after I joined the organization, I was assigned to different projects and was asked to complete different tasks such as progress reports, model auditing, and occasional involvement in PEP preparation to quickly improve my overall understanding of the BIM process.

There are two skills that I wished I had polished better during undergrad to better prepare myself. Programming skills are particularly beneficial when dealing with the data that resides in models, and it would have been a nice addition to my skill set. It changes the way in which normal users interact with the model data and allows the data to be organized as we please. Knowing how to use Revit is also beneficial. Fortunately, Summit BIM provided additional support to help me understand the software better. Once understood, the knowledge can potentially be applied to different software since the technologies are similar, though presented differently.

All in all, bridging the gap between learning at university and the skills demanded in the real-world requires continuous learning. Over the next ten months, I look forward to continuing to set my foundation by immersing myself into the deeper end of BIM, understanding how and why the PEP is organized the way it is, and the importance of building structured data to support digital transfer of information through to facilities maintenance and operations.

Hanye Lu

Hanye Lu

Hanye Lu provides support to senior team members on project progress reports, audits, data transfer and standards development requirements. He holds a BEng in Civil Engineering from McMaster University.

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