Skip to main content

How Civil Contractors Can Use BIM Collaboration in the Design-Build Process to Win More Contracts

Trimble BIM collaboration software

The traditional construction delivery method of design-bid-build is a dying trend. Growing in its place are alternative contracting methods with design-build leading the way.

The Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) says the method delivers nearly half of all U.S. projects. A 2016 survey found that design-build had grown faster in transportation than any other market sector, with 87% of respondents saying they would use it again in the future.

Why is design-build in high demand? According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), it accelerates project delivery — often reducing project durations by at least 1-2 years — lowers project costs and improves project quality.

On the contractor side, the DBIA says design-build can bring higher profit margins, decreased administration burdens, and less litigation. But it’s not risk-free — the design-build partners incur most of the costs related to developing a design-build submission. This prevents many small and mid-size firms from pursuing such projects because of the time and expense that goes into creating a proposal they may not win.

But with the growing popularity among state DOTs, market demand for design-build civil contracting teams is increasing. FMI Corp. predicts that design-build construction will be a $324 billion industry this year, 18% higher than 2018.


What is the Design-Build Process?

The main difference between the traditional delivery method and design-build is in the contracts, says DBIA. Instead of the owner having two separate contracts — one with the designer/engineer and one with the contractor — the engineer and contractor work together under one contract.

This combination is where projects see significant time-savings, as it also allows design and construction development to happen concurrently. The DBIA says design-build delivers projects 102% and 61% faster than traditional design-bid-build and construction manager at risk (CMR), respectively.

The I-35W bridge is one example of this. FMI reports that by using design-build, the Minnesota DOT replaced the roadway in 13 months and avoided around $400,000 in daily lost revenues.

The state of New York saw similar results with the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. It was one of the largest infrastructure projects to employ design-build and saved an estimated $1 billion, according to the DBIA.

But with design and construction phases overlapping, it changes the construction proposal process. Often state DOTs use a process known as Alternative Technical Concepts (ATCs) to find contractors who can introduce innovative, cost-effective solutions. Once the DOT approves an ATC, design-build teams can use it in their proposals, but finding a winning solution always involves multiple rounds.

BIM Collaboration Software Keeps Development Moving

BIM in infrastructure

Because design-build is a collaborative process, it’s critical that engineers and contractors are on the same page and kept up-to-date on all changes.

The challenge is there’s typically a disconnect between the different design-build roles, primarily due to incompatible software. It’s not unusual for contractors to have to take the data from the as-designed model and put it in their own program to make it constructible, then provide feedback on what’s possible to the engineers.

Design-build teams can eliminate these additional steps with the use of BIM collaboration software.

An acronym for “Building Information Modeling” or “Building Information Management,” this type of construction software allows all individuals involved in a design-build project to plan, design, and construct a structure within one intelligent 3D model. This means the model reflects any changes made and contains all information gathered throughout the construction process.

When BIM is collaborative, it requires a common data environment (CDE) that allows for the continuous sharing of models between all stakeholders. Engineers can continue designing in their preferred tool, but the CDE delivers the data in a format that integrates into the contractor’s software.

This speeds up alignment between the engineers and contractors, allowing them to deliver ATCs much faster and receive feedback from the DOT. Once DOT agrees on an approach, it will award the design-build team the contract and move forward with construction.

With construction beginning, now the software serves the vital role of ensuring all stakeholders receive the latest updates and changes, especially as design and construction continue to evolve together. Additional value is the built-in tracking of who did what and when within the model, which mitigates risk for all parties.

The Future of Civil Construction

A decade ago, the FHWA launched the Every Day Counts (EDC) initiative to identify and rapidly deploy “proven, yet underutilized innovations ... to ensure roads and bridges are built better, faster, and smarter.” Design-build was added to the list in its second round and is now used by the majority of state highway agencies, says the FHWA.

With market demand growing, using a CDE that shares real-time information between all parties can allow design-build teams to submit winning proposals and execute their construction projects faster with better outcomes and greater cost savings.