Christian Broendbo, AV System Designer for Atea

From the moment I was first set up to work with a project in 3D, and together with multiple utilities (electrical, plumbing, carpentry, etc.) I wanted D-Tools’ System Integrator to help me keep track of all products and objects in that process.

What is BIM?
BIM is an abbreviation for Building Information Modeling, a process involving the generation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of places. This demands that all involved utility systems work with some common and shared rules, such as model coordinates, exchange formats and so on. In most cases, all use the architects’ model as a base and then Xref this into whatever is being engineered. Since there are quite a few software platforms out there to handle BIM—including Autodesk Revit®, AutoCAD® (to some extent) ArchiCAD®, AutoScheme®, Solibri® and others—the AV industry has agreed on a common file exchange format named Industry Foundation Classes, or IFC. This file format will ensure (in theory, anyway) that all critical design elements such as geometry, materials, shared coordinates and much more can be communicated to all parties with highest accuracy, greatly reducing costly errors.

What can we gain from this in AV?
For those of you that work in the residential AV business – I would say that there will be a long time before you will meet a builder that requires you to work in a BIM process. Having said that, there are some very interesting and exciting features and upsides to the tools used for BIM that can really help you stand out as both an expert in the field and a differentiated service provider. As the competition is gaining momentum, you need effective weapons in your arsenal that you can deploy at any time. Using tools that are familiar across trades ensures you know what you are doing and helps those clients that don’t know anything about AV get a glimpse as to what the resulting installation will look like. The best way to do this is by 3D drawings and photo rendering, and the good news is, there’s no need to spend thousands of dollars on a dedicated software suite. Instead you can use SketchUp with rendering add-ons for a fraction of the price. In many cases, that will be more than good enough. However, any time your work is integrated with that from other trades, using software with industry standards and well-founded third party support is a good idea. I have created a little video that shows you how easy and fast it is to can create a room drawing and photo rendering by using the proper tools.

“Well, I can do all of that just as fast and easy in SketchUp,” you might say, and I totally agree. Yes, you can—and if creating cool 3D sketches and renderings in no time is your only objective, you’d probably not find other software offerings in that price range that will do the job with anywhere near the same result. What’s more, the SketchUp 3D Warehouse is LOADED with all kinds of models that will fit most of your needs.

That said, keep in mind 3D renderings are only a small part of the total consideration. If you want to become a BIM specialist, product related data that comes with the renderings will become critical components you will need to provide. Structural engineers can use this data to calculate building structures and reinforcement. HVAC engineers will use it as a design aid when calculating the cooling and vent capacity. Electrical engineers will use it to calculate power requirements, place the outlets, trunks, ladders and conduits, and the architect will get an idea of what all of this will look like and make adjustments to fit everything into place. They’ll also ensure sprinkler tubes aren’t running through the middle of the cutout you made for the recessed screen.

As the name implies, BIM is all about sharing as much relevant information as possible to all participants on a given project. A very neat side effect of this is that in most cases, engineers will relate and adapt to elements already in the model. Therefore, if the AV components are already there, they will usually work around them unless there are very good or critical reasons to why they can’t.

Entering this level, we are bordering into what you might have heard referred to as “Lean engineering”. In its ideal form, this means that all engineers are working together in early stages of the project to discover all possible issues, collisions and interferences before the physical installation begins. To put it this way: It is much cheaper for the contractor to discover beforehand that there’s a huge duct running behind the wall through which they want to run the cable ladder than when they’re onsite. In our world, this translates into us being able to communicate efficiently with other engineers AND that we can pull all necessary data out of the model to make sure that the ceiling mounts are the right length, what beam clamps we will need, how long the conduits from the floor box to the projector will be, and so on.

BIM ImageInfocomm has been working with BIM in AV for quite some time. This article  is just about a year old and the number of available 3D BIM models is closer to 4,000 than the 830 mentioned here. That tells us something about how fast AV manufacturers are moving to provide 3D models. InfoComm also made a very good 26-page brochure on BIM that you can download here

Personally, I think that BIM in will revolutionize the way we do our design, our planning and our cross-discipline collaboration in the not so far future. The key to success is a well-defined plan and— this is extremely important—proper training of your staff.

As the D-tools staff is brave enough to publish this article, I must seize the opportunity to put some mild pressure on these good people to jump on the BIM-train and provide an SI integration with Autodesk® Revit sometimes next year.  I feel it’s important, but what are your thoughts?

For more information on Atea visit