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Why Blueprints May Soon Disappear

New Building Information Modeling (BIM) ‘5D’ technology is rapidly being adopted in the architectural world, requiring integrators to improve their CAD expertise to compete and close more sales.


BIM software allows you to drop individual 3D renderings of products, like this VMP mount, into a CAD file to give a customer a complete visualization of the project. It can even simulate changes in light based on the time of day.

Will blueprints soon go the way of the Dodo bird? Yes, according to some new data from McGraw-Hill Construction, which reports a 71 percent adoption rate (up 17 percent over five years) among construction contractors, architects and engineers for Building Information Modeling (BIM) software that replaces the use of blueprints.

The report, entitled “The Business Value of BIM in North America: Multi-Year Trend Analysis and User Ratings (2007–2012),” also predicts that eventually 90 percent of those in the construction industry will use the software.

Traditional building design has been largely reliant upon two-dimensional drawings (i.e. plans, elevations, etc.) whereas Building Information Modeling extends this beyond 3D to a virtual “5D” platform by enhancing the three primary spatial dimensions (width, height, and depth) with time as the fourth dimension and cost as the fifth, making the use of BIM a crucial factor for design, implementation, and sustainability with equal importance placed upon manpower and profitability.

“BIM allows all the necessary elements to be integrated into a project during its initial planning stages and flow through to proposed future development, before a hammer or nail are ever used in the project,” says Keith Fulmer president of Video Mount Products, a mount manufacturer based in Stevensville, Md., that recently had BIM files made for 30 of its products to assist architects.

In a nutshell, a BIM file allows an architect to present an impressive three-dimensional CAD file to a client that can be manipulated, moved, tweaked, etc., right on the spot; something that cannot be done with an ordinary traditional blueprint.

And it’s not just a technology destined for commercial projects. Fulmer anticipates widespread adoption among residential architects and integrators, especially for large projects. He cites McGraw Hill Construction data saying there is already 74 percent adoption among contractors in 2012 compared to just 28 percent in 2007. Also, 70 percent of architects are using BIM and 67 percent of engineering firms. He says the study notes a 62 percent perceived positive ROI.

“BIM technology and acceptance has grown significantly over the past several years,” he adds. “The addition of BIM content to the AutoDesk Seek repository is not just another tool in the toolbox, but a viable solution supporting the architectural, engineering, and contracting communities.”

Faster, Slicker for Architect
It’s not only impressive to the client, but helps the architect create the file faster and more accurately than by using blueprints. Using individual BIM files for every product grabbed from a cloud-based repository—from a TV mount to a light fixture—the architect can simply drop the 3D rendering into a CAD file, move it, tilt it, twist it, etc. and output a design document. When the project design is OK’d, the BIM software also immediately generates a materials list for purchasing.

Not only that, the BIM project file itself is hosted on the cloud, so the architect, integrator and other contractors can all have access to a single, living, auto-updated design file. There’s never a risk of multiple designs floating around or a chance that one or more contractors is using outdated blueprints.

VMP is one manufacturer that sees the writing on the wall. Fulmer says the company spent a substantial amount of money to create BIM files using AutoDesk Seek for its 30 most popular products. VMP’s products are also available on InfoComm iQ as well as on its own website.

“It enables you to design faster, it allows for better communication, faster build times, fewer change orders and fewer items on the punch list,” says Fulmer. “Imagine the reaction from a client when you walk into their home with a dynamic 3D rendering of their project that they can make changes to and visualize. Then the next guy comes in with an armload of 3 X 4-foot blueprints that the homeowner cannot decipher. Who do you think is going to get the job?”

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Article Topics

News · Business Resources · Displays · Commercial · Mounts and Lifts · All topics

About the Author

Jason Knott, Editor, CE Pro
Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990. He joined EH Publishing in 2000, and before that served as publisher and editor of Security Sales, a leading magazine for the security industry. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He is currently a member of the CEDIA Education Action Team for Electronic Systems Business. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California.

14 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Ernie Gilman  on  02/09  at  01:11 AM

Blueprints are already gone.  The blueprint, a copy method using light exposure and development with a process that outputs ammonia fumes, is long gone.  These days we use printouts from printers or plotters.

Well, call me a Luddite, but I’m a bit skeptical.  A couple of months ago I was on a job site where the GC flipped back and forth between views of two adjoining rooms, with three guys standing next to him, and he pointed out details that were the answers to their questions.  This is typical of “blueprint” use.

Have you ever tried flipping back and forth between “pages” on a computer?  This computer must have a display large enough for several people to be able to see the details.  Seen that? 

And then the GC picked up his pencil and made a note on one page.

Yes, this can all be done on a computer, but computers are not appropriate for group work… unless, of course, the theater is the first room finished on the job!

It takes more time to add a note to a page using a computer, especially a note ON the page at a relevant location, than to whip out a pencil.  Every GC I’ve seen has been too busy when this is needed to stop and open an editing screen, making everyone wait before he moves on.

I agree this software is wonderful, but there’s a physical layer in the construction space where the markup paradigm is at cross-purposes with the plurality of file editing rubrics.

Posted by joe  on  02/09  at  01:46 AM

The guy getting the job will be the one that can prove the structurally integrity and soundness of design to the people who sign the permits. uptake for presentation is great, but it will be a long and slow process to get through the courts.

Posted by John Pfahlert  on  02/09  at  08:38 AM

I design lighting and lighting control systems for residential and commercial buildings.  My design packages are intended to supply all the information and instructions necessary for electrical contractors to wire, install, and maintain the complex lighting and control systems being installed today.  As much as I hate paper contractors work with paper and redlines.  I have tried to move my clients away from this mode of operation to no avail so I have given up.  On the job site paper is king and I do not see this going away in the near future without a significant investment in technologh and training on the contractors part.

Posted by Ernie Gilman  on  02/11  at  07:13 AM

how would you handle multiple changes necessitated by the architectural plans being impossible to realize?  This happens so often there are jokes about it. 

For instance, the TV and the narrow mount illustrating this article might be impossible if the mount is ten inches wide but the studs above the mantle are 16” on center and the space, not the studs, are in the middle.  This is the voice of experience.
What is the cost of equipment, on site, secure every day against theft or accident, holding non-paper copies of multiple changes?  When there are disputes and contractors change, what happens to the very ephemeral files?  Paper printouts stand in for the files, which are kept secure on multiple computers in the architect’s office.

Sorry you hate paper.  Can you explain how things have gone wrong with paper so that you hate it?

Posted by Ernie Gilman  on  02/11  at  09:12 AM

Then maybe we can agree that this article is accurate but premature.

When I was a kid in the late fifties, I read that we would have computer-controlled cars by the 1980s.  Accurate but premature.

Posted by Mark  on  02/11  at  02:13 PM

I’m a huge proponent of BIM and will testify to its use over 2D drafting practices any day but I think it’s very premature to make statements like the title of this article. I get annoyed when the tech industry writes/says things like “the desktop computer is dead” simply because the latest and greatest gadget has come out (i.e. tablet), as if millions of companies are going to use touchscreen [fill in the blank] next week.  I would hesitate in letting one’s wide-eyed optimism of the latest technology supplant practical practices entirely. 
Side note: I agree re: GCs in the field to an extent. Companies like bluebeam are trying to integrate “smart” PDFs into the Cds for them on-site so the technology can go hand in hand w/ plotted sheets. We’ll see who adopts these practices.

Posted by Rob  on  02/11  at  05:25 PM

Most contractors don’t even do email….

Posted by Gerry Heatherington  on  02/11  at  06:10 PM

The article should have been titled “Why Blueprints May Soon Disappear—As A Sales Tool”.  Jason’s article is very informative and accurate but it doesn’t address the “on-site” uses for blueprints that are so well illustrated by the previous postings.

Posted by K.P. Reddy  on  02/11  at  07:21 PM

Under most current regulatory requirements a printed-sealed set of CD (Contract Documents) are still required, and will be so for the foreseeable future. The number of “working” sets being printed large format is way down. Redlines are either electronic, or 11X17 sets of required pages to review.
Currently, BIM is a combination of workflow and technology with the end deliverable being CDs. In some cases, it could be a supplemental deliverable but rarely part of the CDs.

Posted by Jason Knott  on  02/11  at  07:25 PM

One thing I didn’t mention in the article is that apparently the BIM software needs more processing power than is possible from iPad or other tablet, according to Keith Fulmer of VMP. So that means the portability aspect of this requires a laptop at minimum be used in order to bring the visuals directly to an architect office or a client’s home.

Posted by Rabbit in Wonderland  on  02/11  at  08:18 PM

Dynamic 3D rendering is awesome! Clients love them!
My contract though still says that I must deliver the “Coordinated set of 2D prints, stamped and signed”.  My 3D model, if required to be delivered, comes with a page long as-is-no-liablity disclaimer.  I don’t mind you taking it to the field, but don’t bring it to the court, ‘cause I didn’t sign it.
Also, “the BIM project file itself is hosted on the cloud, so the architect, integrator and other contractors can all have access to a single, living, auto-updated design file” comes from Autodesk salesman presentation.  In Wonderland, under different contracts, Design and GC teams don’t work on one file, or, better to say, on the same files.

Posted by 39CentStamp  on  02/16  at  07:39 AM

3D isn’t just cool its also very useful for helping clients and other trades visualize things. Elevation drawings are okay but being able to walk your animated avatar around the project is incredible.

But…we still need prints for documentation/planning. A wiring plan or a rack elevation needs to be 2D on paper. We are still pretty far away from holographic information points at the jobsite. We are just now seeing all prints done in CAD software. Some were still hanging on to their drafting pencil.

Posted by Bill Kearney  on  02/21  at  07:49 AM

The article is poorly titled, perhaps deliberately so just to get attention.  It’s fair to say projects designed with just old-school drafting tools on paper are becoming few and far between.  And that it’s also true that presenting renderings and models to clients can go a long way toward helping them understand the project.  But you’re still at the mercy of how poorly the operator of the software is at creating a design that can actually be constructed.  As has been mentioned, what looks pretty on a screen might turn out to be entirely impractical once in the field.  The software might be able to do a lot of things to help avoid this but few of them really do it now.  And even then plenty of times the software gets over-ridden out of ‘design’ needs.

In the end the contractors doing the work in the field are still going to need drawings to build the project and those will still be printed.  Because it’s entirely silly to think using screens on-site is ever going to be as effective as actual prints.  Anyone that’s ever been on a job site knows this.

Posted by Ernie Gilman  on  02/22  at  01:11 PM

“But you’re still at the mercy of how poorly the
operator of the software is at creating a design that can actually be constructed.”

Q: “Why can’t architects get into heaven?”
A: “Because Jesus was a carpenter!”

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