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BIM Case Study: Tilson Homes
BIM required the company's drafters to learn a new approach to design, but the benefits eventually led them and everyone else to embrace it
The Deeper Story
The move from traditional CAD to Building Information Modeling (BIM) is no small task. It's a change management project that requires an investment of time and money and that compels staff to learn new ways of doing their jobs. Seeing this process through is easier for companies with a strong motivation to succeed.
Tilson Homes had that motivation.
The Texas custom builder has been in business since 1932. They will complete roughly 400 homes on dispersed, customer-owned lots in 2019—about $100 million in sales. A company that manages to stay profitable for 80+ years probably knows how to get ahead of market trends, and the trends that drove Tilson to BIM were a combination of demographics and software evolution.
"Younger buyers are frustrated with traditional sales, design and construction processes," says Chris Alarid, Chief Information Officer. "They expect to be able to research and buy products and services online, and that includes when choosing a builder and designing a home." He also got the sense that Autodesk was encouraging users to move from their AutoCAD two-dimensional drafting software to Revit, their BIM modeling program.
"We came to realize that BIM is the way of the future and wanted to get ahead of our competitors."
The company decided to implement Autodesk Revit for architectural modeling, and to supplement it with Simpson Strong-Tie's X-Ray and BIM Pipeline programs. X-Ray converts dimensions and key measurements from the Revit model into material quantities; Pipeline uses X-Ray data to create a detailed bill of materials (BOM).
The transition took 18 months from late 2016 to mid-2018. It included installing and configuring software, training staff, and creating models for each of the company's home plans.
A New Way of Thinking
A big challenge during this transition was helping the drafting team learn a new approach to design. With Revit, drafters don't draw conventional plans and elevations. Instead, they model the house in three-dimensions, "building" a virtual home on the computer screen the same way construction crews build an actual one in the field. This modeling process is one of BIM's great strengths, as it allows designers to identify and solve structural conflicts and other issues that used to require field variances. However, few of Tilson's designers had experience framing houses, which made this concept new.
To help the staff succeed in this transition, Tilson worked with Autodesk, as well as with Simpson's consultants. That assistance proved invaluable. "I don't think you can do this successfully if you don't leverage a third party," says Alarid.
The transition included a time period when drafters were designing some homes in AutoCAD and some homes in Revit. "That tripled our design time for a period of a couple of months, which frustrated everyone," says Alarid. "However, once the staff got comfortable with the new system they really got on board."
Returns on Investment
Once they got through that transition, productivity was actually better than before. Although design time has only been reduced by about 5%, the time required to estimate a job has been cut by 75%, thanks to the detailed BOM created by the software.
As has been true for other builders who have implemented BIM, Tilson also found its options process streamlined. As a custom builder they encourage buyers to personalize stock plans with a variety of standard options but also let them request unique custom options, which they call "extras." The Revit models for the standard options include three-dimensional renderings, which have helped steer buyers toward them and away from the extras. "By having sales start with Revit options, requests for extras have become less common," says Alarid.
Alarid estimates the cost of setting up the BIM system at around 1/4 million, which included the software purchase and setup, as well as Simpson's consulting fees. Since most of the modeling was done in-house, they don't include that cost.
The more accurate design and estimating made possible by BIM have also made Tilson more profitable. "Our margin has increased by 2.5 points, which is an extra $2.5 million to the bottom line," says Alarid. "I'll take that kind of return any day."
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