There are stories behind every community member, program and insight we uncover, and here is where you’ll find them. Read on to learn more about how we think, what we’re up to and what drives us.
The Deeper Story
This builder's experience shows how BIM adapts to an evolving business.
Although Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a relatively new concept to many in the homebuilding industry, the technology has been available since at least the early 2000's and has proven itself in the AEC world. But while most early adopters were focused on commercial construction some homebuilders also jumped on board.
One of these is S&A Homes, a State College, Pennsylvania company that currently completes about 100 homes per year on customer-owned lots. Their experience demonstrates that scalable BIM software will adapt as the business responds to changing market demands.
Back in 2002 S&A was having problems getting their plans done accurately and on time. "Our designers and estimators were struggling," recalls Bob Shoemaker, the company's Construction Tech Services Manager. Designers were using a 2D drafting software and were also doing some hand-drawing. The result was a lot of plan errors as well as 100 homes in a drafting backlog. Shoemaker believed that a 3D design program would reduce the errors and the backlog.
The Importance of Scalability
The builder wanted software designed specifically for single-family construction that would not require their designers to take any time-outs during implementation. They also wanted something they could begin using quickly at a basic level that included advanced functions they could adopt as the business grew.
“We were positioned for serious growth back then and in order to grow successfully we knew we would need state-of-the-art software,” he says.
After meeting with several vendors, S&A asked Simpson-Strong-Tie builder software (it was CG Visions at the time) to implement a system for them and to train their people on how to use it. Although Simpson Strong-Tie has its own software portfolio, they partner with many other providers and their consultants help builder clients choose and implement the most appropriate solution for their needs. "They offered a level of training and support we had not gotten from past software partners,” says Shoemaker.
S&A ended up choosing Vertex BD, a 3D design software for medium to large residential builders that includes scalable BIM capabilities. Designing in Vertex creates a BIM model that, when paired with the right companion software, can automate the generation of lot-specific architectural and structural drawings, marketing renderings, and material takeoffs. Vertex also integrates with the software used by many panel and truss manufacturers.
Rather than embracing all of Vertex's capabilities at first, the builder decided to start with 3D design and options management. "Simpson populated our base plans upfront and worked on creating options for new plans,” says Shoemaker.
Those pre-defined options greatly reduced errors. Within a year S&A’s design error rate had dropped by 80%.
They also eliminated the drafting backlog. "With 3D BIM modeling, if someone wants to add a 10 x 14 room or add two feet to the side of a home, it’s just the click of a button," says Shoemaker. “Our goal has always been to turn plans around in 10 working days. We had been six to eight weeks out but quickly got back in line."
Surviving Market Changes
But while Vertex helped position S&A for growth, those growth plans got sidelined when the housing market crashed in 2007.
The company was one of few builders to profitably ride out the recession, something they accomplished in part by adapting their offerings. In the early 2000's they were basically a production builder with options. As the market crashed they transitioned to semi-custom and custom homes. They restarted the production line when things rebounded and today build all three types.
Shoemaker says that the 3D BIM software has made it easier to adapt their plans during this evolution. “It has given us a confident ability to pivot our business, knowing that our design technology was one less thing to worry about,” he says.
The company is also beginning to implement some of those advanced functions that originally drew it to Vertex. They are using the model to create 3D customer visualizations. They are also working on incorporating Simpson's Pipeline software, a material management and estimating system that uses BIM data to create detailed material take-offs.
Shoemaker says that the platform has earned its keep on all three of S&A's housing types and he sees the company using even more of its capabilities going forward. "Simpson has been a tremendous partner, and we're looking to continue our growth with BIM," he says.
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