How To Transition from CAD to BIM
It may be one of the biggest decisions an experienced small firm architect will make; to BIM or not to BIM?
I have shared on this topic before over at the podcast, but times have changed. Today, I think that question is no longer valid. The decision is no longer whether or not to transition, but how to transition.
I’ve been using AutoCAD since 1995, when I was hired as an intern to learn the software and integrate it into the workflow of an established small firm deeply rooted in hand drafting (as most were at the time). Now, more than 20 years later, I find myself in that same uncomfortable position as a business owner and employer.
I have known for years that the transition from CAD to BIM must be made… but how?
Architectural design technology is rapidly advancing and the firms that choose to remain with outdated software will experience a massive disadvantage. I feel that pain every day as we chug along, drafting line by line, with our latest version of AutoCAD LT. With every “offset” command, the voice in my head is screaming, “There is a better, more efficient way to prepare these documents!”
My residential architecture firm, Fivecat Studio was launched in 1999. It was a time when AutoCAD was king and alternatives were few and far between. BIM was in its infancy. The new software was slow, difficult to learn and not yet adopted as the industry standard.
We missed the “BIM train,” as our firm matured and our systems were developed around AutoCAD. We were growing quickly and switching software was not practical or financially appropriate.
Then the recession occurred. We shrank our staff and our workload, and continued on with AutoCAD. We were in “survival mode” and investing the time and money in adopting a new software was not possible. We were simply trying to keep the bills paid and the doors open.
We are recovered from the recession and now we’re growing again. Its time to make the change.
Its time to transition from CAD to BIM.
My brain aches at the thought, because making the decision to transition is not the hard part. Executing that transition while performing services for several active projects with looming deadlines, monthly expenses requiring payment, a growing staff and a growing family, is where this struggle begins.
Does that sounds familiar? I know that many of you are experiencing that same struggle.
I have made the commitment to transition. I am already deep in the process. I am continuing with the first step as I plan to move to step 2. As I move through this process, I will share my experience along with all my struggles and success.
So how will I successfully make this transition?
Here is how to transition from CAD to BIM in 4 Not So Simple Steps:
Step 1: Educate
The first step for making any big decision is to educate yourself. Research all your choices. Read the reviews. Ask your friends. Take courses. Attend webinars. Make a list of all the functions that you want and need for the work you perform. Which software is best suited for the market you serve? Which will be the most efficient? Which will be the most cost effective? Become an expert on understanding the many options from which you have to choose.
Step 2: Experience
Once you have educated yourself on your many options, narrow your list to the three best choices for your firm and experience each one for yourself. Most software companies offer free limited time trials of their full software package. Download each one and spend some time experiencing the user interface. Try each one with an actual small project. How intuitive is the process? How complicated is it to use and understand? Sometimes the package with the least overall capability is the best choice. Which software is best for you and your workflow?
Step 3: Elect
Its time to make your decision. If you have invested well in steps 1 and 2, your decision will be easy. Don’t make this an agonizing process. Decide on which package is best suited for your firm and just pick one.
Step 4: Execute
As difficult as it is to proceed through the above 3 steps, this step, “Execute” is the most challenging. It’s now time to actually transition from CAD to BIM. This will take courage, consistency and dedication. There is no turning back. In step 3 you made a commitment. You elected to proceed and integrate BIM into your systems and workflow.
No worries though. We’re not giving up on CAD “cold turkey”. Many of our active projects are using CAD and, if you are working on fulfilling your profit plan, many more will need to continue using your current processes.
We do need to commit to the transition though.
Invest in the required training to learn the new software. Then pick one project. Use your new BIM software from beginning to end. As difficult as it may be, don’t give up on it. You will be temped to switch back to the comfort of the platform that served you so well for all these years. Resist, and work through the process. With each new project, the transition will be made and eventually your reliance on an outdated tool will be weaned.
Commit to the transition as a goal.
Make a plan for a successful transition. Set deadlines and develop action plans. Break down the steps and add them to your calendar. Step by step, the transition will be made.
As I write this post, I have narrowed my firm’s choice between two.
Will it be ARCHICAD, which appears to be better suited for the residential additions and alterations projects we perform? Or will it be Autodesk Revit, the clear “industry standard,” which comes with a generation of young architects, fully trained and ready to get to work as we continue to grow the firm?
I have downloaded the free trials and plan to commit a small project to each one. I expect to quickly learn which package is right for my firm. I will then move on to step 4 and I will keep you posted on my progress. Stay tuned.
Question: Are you struggling with the transition from CAD to BIM? Have you made the transition with your firm?
Share your tips and strategies in the comments below or over at our Facebook Group.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock / 3DDock
Marcus Weber says
Hi Mark, we are on the same page here at our firm, pushing this transition against all odds, because there’s no way out. Specially when you see that there’s already another shift in movement when we talk about BIM – take a look at this article: http://www.aecmag.com/59-features/1241-autodesk-project-quantum-revit-bim
Edward Shannon says
I hope you have looked at Soft Plan and Chief Architect programs. You might find them to be a better fit for your small, residential practice!
Craig Herrmann says
I was learning Revit when the recession hit while working for Jacobs in Boston. I eventually got laid off and started consulting for an architect on a contract basis. I purchased a license of the software and started using it on his projects. I was still on the learning curve and willing to invest the time and push through.
I think your approach to trying the software on an actual project is great. It is critical to commit to it and see which product is right for you. I believe the return on investment happens after the fourth project. Goodluck and keep us posted.
Jarod Hall says
I worked at a large office that tried to half transition, left detail sheets in Autocad and did everything else in Revit. It was a mess. As soon as they committed and had all of the standard details properly converted to revit everything was so much easier.
With all due respect, the title of this post is misleading. It should of been called How to purchase architectural drafting software that’s not called Autocad. I’ve been using Revit for the last 14 years on everything from a residential front porch to a 100 million dollar hospital, so I’m biased as far as which platform.
My quick transition tips however, would be the following for a small firm:
1. Buy 1 seat of Revit LT ($400) and rebuild a typical architectural construction document set (without using drafting lines or field regions). This may take 3 weeks to 3 months. Choose your standard building typology. Start with what you know how to do, go to forums for what you don’t know how to do, or hire a consultant hourly to advise you.
2. Don’t waste your money on out of the box generic training. There’s books/YouTube videos/ online lessons for that. If your going to pay, pay for focused help on specific topics/challenges.
3. Content, content, content. Build it, revise it, own it. It’s nearly impossible to master the I in BIM if you don’t know how or why the content was made.
4. Check your past preconceptions of what a CD set is at the door. Just like you wouldn’t use a nail gun like a hammer, don’t use BIM like Autocad or you will fail. You don’t have to compromise quality or completeness, but be willing to modify your standards in accordance with the tools you have rather than force the issue with the tools you used to have.
5. Be patient. Your Autocad standards didn’t create themselves overnight. You had decades to revise them. Don’t set your standards too high in the beginning. Concentrate on your contractual obligations. That may mean your lineweights lag behind. That’s ok, most architects don’t get sued for that.
5. Realize the true value comes when you leverage the model and the Information in all the other orbiting tasks we do. Analysis, coordination, visualization, etc.
6. Have fun. 14 years in, and I’d never consider going back to Autocad.
Oh I almost forgot the most important point.
Take your rebuilt project in step 1 and delete the modeled elements. This is your template. Every dollar you invest in your Template is one less dollar every project afterwards does not have to spend in documentation, visualization, analysis, etc. 25% of every project should be done before the project is even started with a good Template. I can’t stress this enough. Your template is the repository for best practices, lessons learned, tips and tricks, etc.
Treat it well.
Mark R. LePage says
Brian; Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Your list will be very helpful as I make the all important transition.
David Duarte says
1. Make sure you have workstations running your old CAD software so years after the transition you can still print a set of completed projects for past clients who may ask for them. Not so much an issue if you are transitioning from AutoCAD to Revit, but we transitioned two offices from CAD on a MAC environment to BIM on a Windows environment.
2. Most BIM applications still support CAD habits. Example: Revit has Text Notes, but it also has Tags, a more parametric option. It’s not just about transitioning software platforms, it’s about shedding CAD habits.
3. Your asking people to change so be patient with them and let them know ahead of time what to expect, if you (or your consultant) know what to expect.
John Brunt says
In 1984 we were looking at making a transition from hand drafting to CAD. There were just a few desktop based CAD programs available, DataCAD, AutoCAD and a few others. We were trying to decide which to go with and I conferred with Ted Smith, a pioneer in computer use in Architectural practice. He told me that they were similar and leap frogging each other with each release. He suggested that I go with which ever was most current. When we pulled the trigger AutoCAD 2.0 had just released so we went with that. We consider ourselves fortunate because AutoCAD was rapidly developed and eclipsed the other programs in features and compatibility hardware.
Fat forward to 2000. We tried Revit from a small software developer in Massachusetts.
John Brunt says
Fast forward to 2000-2001. We tried a program from a small software company in Massachusetts called Revit. They said they were going to kill AutoCAD. It was impressive, exciting to draw walls, windows, doors, roofs, etc. that were walls, windows, doors, roofs instead of lines and circles. They knew how to interact with each other. Dimensions were accurate and elevations and sections were created automatically and updated each other automatically when changes were made. It was fun thinking and drawing in 3D.
There were other 3D CAD programs out there but we went with Revit while keeping AutoCAD for production. A few years later Autodesk bought Revit and continued it rapid development.
Again we consider ourselves fortunate to have chosen the program that had users who were easy to find and hire.
John Brunt says
Fast forward again until now. Because of the interactive and parametric features of what is now called BIM I can do with one or two contract consultants what I used to do with CAD and half a dozen employees.
Brian’s comments above are spot on and recommended.
Rod Kazenske says
I agree with a lot of the comments above, particularly, that I would never go back! But here’s a few things about my process, my struggles, and some ideas that I eventually used to make the transition successful.
I first decided that I would try to make the switch in 2001 or so with REVIT 3.0. I purchased one seat and then signed up for a four day beginner class through our software provider. What a WASTE OF TIME AND MONEY! I feel like I’m a pretty quick and focused learner but by lunch on the first day, the buffers were full. There is no way you can absorb and retain all the information that they throw at you over a four day period. Sure, you’ll get wowed by all the great benefits and features that REVIT is going to provide, and you’re so excited to do your first project – but you’ll never remember it all.
Immediately after the class, I jumped right in. It was more than frustrating. I could remember just enough from the class that I knew something COULD be done, I just couldn’t remember HOW to do it. After spending most of my time flipping back and forth through class tutorials; frustration set in; and I just fell back to what I knew and wrapped up the project in AutoCAD – with the thought: “I’ll really do it on the next project”. Well, several projects later and a ton of time struggling through a couple more projects and I didn’t feel I was getting anywhere.
Here’s what I realized: the other programs that I were used to using had become crutches! It was too easy to fire one of them up, like AutoCAD or Sketchup, and crank out what I needed. I was keeping myself from learning and using REVIT to it’s potential. I found I would always take the easy way out. Note: if you’re going to make the jump, commit to it. It will make the transition happen much quicker. It’s still going to be painful but at least it will be quicker.
Then one day, I was working in REVIT, on a roof for a project. It was a fairly complex roof that I was trying to lay out and realized, at one point, that I was actually thinking of changing my design because I couldn’t figure out how to model it in REVIT! I was designing my project around my ability (or inability) to model! WTF!
It was at that moment, I almost abandoned REVIT altogether – but here’s what saved me.
My wife and I were considering a renovation and addition project for our own house, and I decided that I would use REVIT. I was my own client, no real deadlines, and I didn’t have an architectural budget anyway, what did I have to lose? So, I started modeling my existing house – every detail. My house was built in 1917 by a farmer so there were some pretty interesting details. It forced me to really figure out how to model a lot of complex geometry and details – odd angles, weird over-framing, out of square walls, weird winder stairs to the basement, etc. – stuff you’d never intentionally design. And, it really forced me to learn how to use the tools and push them.
The second part of the solution came when I couldn’t figure out how to do something in REVIT. I’d force myself to struggle with it for a while and then if just couldn’t seem to find a solution – GOOGLE IT! If you have a problem in REVIT, I can guarantee that someone else has had the same issue too, figured it out, and posted a 30 second video on YouTube showing you how to do it! Watch the video, implement the solution, and move on. No expensive class and no leafing through a reference tutorials. And, once you’ve struggled a bit, found the solution, and implemented it; you will not forget how to do it the next time! Remember, if something isn’t challenging you, your brain will not make the effort to store that information.
So here’s how I’d recommend making the transition to REVIT:
1: Don’t start on a paying project. You’ll just get frustrated with how much money you’re losing.
2: Draw you’re own house. Unless you have a 1500sqft ranch. In that case, pick the three story Victorian in town, with the cupola, corbels, and turned spindles! (Who knows, maybe the owners will pay you for a set of “as-builts” when your done).
3: Force yourself to model the whole house, especially the difficult areas, and all of the details to put together a full set of CD’s. (If you are planning an addition, you can even get to work with phasing and options too.)
4: Use Google and YouTube! The best way to learn is to struggle with a problem for a bit – when you need help, watch a quick video, implement the solution, and move on!
I agree with Brian above, once you commit to REVIT, you’ll never look back! No, I’m serious. I occasionally still need to open CAD drawings from consultants in AutoCAD, and now find myself frustrated from the other side, saying: “Wow, this would be so much easier and faster to do in REVIT. I can’t believe I have to deal with this in AutoCAD!” Admittedly, part of that is the “if you don’t use it, you lose it” syndrome. But not all of it!
I hope this helps.
Bill Morris says
Thanks for writing about your experience. I have tried a few times to ‘softly’ transition using a few course videos but it hasn’t ever stuck. I have always reverted back to AutoCAD in the end since I’m so familiar and faster with it. I liked your idea about learning ad-hoc by just quickly jumping on Google or Youtube for the task at hand.
I know I still want to make the transition, and have a few upcoming projects that I could use it for. Perhaps I’ll get an early start on some that are yet to (and guaranteed to) enter the next phase and try to keep the entire thing in Revit. Wish me luck!
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Jono James says
Great article and even better comments from those that are currently in the 4 steps if not at step 5 onwards.
I never had to transition from hand to 2D CAD, that happened whilst I was studying and I exited with CAD ability and basic 3D form modeling skills. (No i just B and M in BIM.)
I learnt Sketchup on the job but That was always then reduced to AutoCAD documentation. In my first job I had access to Revit 8.0 and fiddled with it but got frustrated as by that stage I could operate Sketchup very well. (Photo matching etc) and Revit couldn’t compare. But I was thinking visualization again not documentation.
Fast forward to my own company some years and more studying later.
I had been lecturing the basics of Revit and AutoCAD I had also dabbled with ArchiCAD at undergrad level but was a firm Sketchup and AutoCAD user. I partnered with an Architect friend who was well versed in Revit and we completed a residential adds n Alts on it as our first project. My partner did all the drawings and documentation on Revit I provided Sketchup visualizations to the client and consultants.
When we formalized the company we went MAC hardware. A good IT cost saving, great portability, and longevity. But more pricey initially. The software choice then was hinged partly off that. Revit did not offer a MAC version, AutoCAD had just been re released on MAC 2005/6 I think. So we went ArchiCAD.
However this wasn’t the only reason. ArchiCAD had better prospects for the I in BIM. There was local manufacturer integration happening with the BIMbakery® And it was fully committed to compatibility with other softwares using BIM mentality through structures like IFC where ones source file and IP isn’t compromised, all can collaborate on an interchange format. ArchiCAD is a complete offering. Revit somehow still seems to drag AutoCAD along for some reason with their suite offering.
As a small firm (4) running MAC, ArchiCAD is the only real choice. My Partner adopted ArchiCAD really well from having used Revit for years and we use it from retail interiors to adds n Alts residential to warehousing and recently to a large apartment block which wouldn’t have been possible without a system like ArchiCAD.
Our biggest frustration has been consultants in engineering or other AEC disciplines talking BIM but not able to deliver. The number of times we get 2D line drawings over our work that we’ve had to AutoCAD export out is amazing and befuddling at the same time, perhaps it’s due to slow adoption or just lack of interest.
In any case I’d make sure that you have the “I” figured out. That’s where it’s going and that’s where it always was in the time of Master Builder – Architect. We had the Information. Some where along the way we became drawers of lines only. We’re reclaiming the information and wielding it correctly – at least we’re trying to.
Great article awesome comments. Love the podcasts.
Andrew Kratochvil says
It’s always challenging for small architecture firms transitioning to a BIM platform from CAD. The transition can take considerable time and expense to happen. Your given tips for Bim are really important and I am sure it will help a lot many users like me. Bim is a future of construction industry so everyone should take bim knowledge to make more benefit from it. Thanks for the article!
Mark R. LePage says
Thanks for your thoughts Andrew. To be honest… I’m still working on making the full transition : )