As it plans $50 billion of new construction over the next few years to expedite troop relocations and new missions, the U.S. Army is moving headlong into building information modeling (BIM). But the push to a single-vendor platform has many industry firms worried over huge costs and little compatibility.
The concerns arise as the Army Corps of Engineers, which is executing the service’s mega-building program on bases across the U.S., moves to mandate a uniform approach to BIM among its districts and the industry firms needed to accomplish the construction mission. But contractors, engineering firms and architects worry that the Corps’ apparent BIM vendor choice, Bentley Systems Inc., Exton, Pa., is not compatible with the software many use for other construction applications— Revit, now owned by Autodesk, San Rafael, Calif. The Army is moving to foster a software truce as it anticipates mandating a single BIM approach by as early as next year.
Joe Tyler, Corps deputy director of military programs, told attendees at a March 28 military construction briefing in Falls Church, Va., that the service has embraced Bentley, a longtime Corps vendor, as a cost-cutting strategy. “We could not afford to have different platforms, so we have chosen Bentley,” he said. Tyler noted the Corps has used Bentley for computer-aided design support for 20 years and is now seeking to migrate systems to BIM.
But industry firms at the briefing claimed the Autodesk/Revit system has become standard. “Our company’s experience with Revit as a virtual design and construction tool for builders has been very good because it can interface with subcontractor software like steel erection and mechanical programs to allow us to use it as a real building tool, modeling the building exactly as we intend to build it,” says Patrick A. Burns, vice president of M.A. Mortenson Construction Co., Minneapolis, a retired U.S. Air Force general and the civil engineer of air combat command.
Added another senior design firm executive, “The impact on AEC firms with the majority using modeling platforms other than Bentley is a choice between spending millions of dollars on new software, hardware and training or walking away from bidding Army construction projects until they go back to vendor-neutral BIM models.” An executive of a small engineering firm worries that costs “per seat” plus training needed to switch to the new platform might be prohibitive for small construction jobs and that compatibility could be a longer and costlier process than the Army predicts.
The Army’s BIM mandate elicited a particularly strong response from Arlington, Va.-based Associated General Contractors. Ronald B. Brown, chairman of AGC’s governmental affairs committee and a senior vice president of Sundt Corp., Tempe, Ariz., says his group “is pushing the service chiefs to move away from Bentley” and added that AGC is even considering seeking intervention from Congress.
James Dalton, a Corps engineering and construction executive and its BIM transformation point person, noted that the service does not intend software changes to be as onerous as critics claim. But he and Tyler called on vendors and users to find common ground. Dalton said the Corps is convening a workshop in June in Washington, D.C., to “push interoperability.” Tyler told attendees the Corps is “encouraging vendors to come up with a national standard.” He added that it is imperative for industry officials “to get their heads together so the different platforms can talk to each other.”
Bentley officials claim the issues are related to changes brought by the continuing switchover to BIM and that the value advantages of Bentley’s system “far outweigh” the costs. “The Corps is happy with Bentley BIM,” says Huw W. Roberts, global marketing director for the building sector. “We’re more interoperable than anyone else.” He contends Bentley has supported the Corps in its BIM transformation through training workshops. “We would welcome the opportunity to similarly support those working with the Corps,” he says.
Autodesk officials maintain the firm is similarly “committed to interoperability and supporting a broad range of industry standards and file formats,” says a spokesman, and that its software has a role in the Army’s program. “Autodesk recognizes the need of AEC firms to not be restricted in format for construction documentation or BIM delivery. Many firms continue to use Revit and other Autodesk products on current and completed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects.”