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From Paper to Digital: Why Estimators Are Adopting BIM Technology

Estimator using computer and pen and paper

Project estimation has come a long way in the past ten years. Thanks to evolving BIM technology, estimators are improving day-to-day workflows, reducing overall project costs, and saving money by reducing time and resourcing.


If you’re still a pencil and paper holdout estimator, listen up: BIM is more than just a buzzword. There is real-world ROI to BIM technology, and that’s why it’s being embraced by the industry as a whole. In fact, many countries even legally mandate BIM these days:

  • USA:  BIM is legally mandated for all public building service projects. Some states are even following suit — Already in 2010, Wisconsin became the first state to require all public projects with a budget of $5 million or more and all new construction with a budget of $2.5 million or more to use BIM.
  • UK: As one of the international leaders of BIM adoption, the UK requires all centrally-procured construction projects to achieve BIM Level 2.
  • Germany: Although there isn’t a significant legal push for adoption, one study found that 90 percent of project owners often or always require BIM.
  • Scandinavia: Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden were some of the earliest adopters of BIM technology. Denmark has mandated its state clients to adopt BIM practices. In Sweden, while there are no legal requirements, companies utilize BIM technology at a high rate — making it 2nd only to the U.S. in BIM-focused academic papers.


The popularity of BIM within the construction industry permeates all disciplines, and estimating is no exception. BIM has become one of the estimators’ most important tools on the job.

How can 3D integration help estimators cost a project more effectively and accurately, and how can it improve interaction with clients and colleagues? It’s simple really — the value of 3D integration for project estimation can be boiled down to two primary benefits: model-based estimation and virtual reality.


The value of 3D modeling

Model-based estimation is one of the hottest trends in preconstruction today, and for a good reason. Bringing drawings to life through 3D modeling helps estimators better analyze data and gives them the contextual insight necessary to do their job.

Sound complicated? Well, it isn’t — integration is easy. A program to create 3D models from conceptual drawings can be easily added to an existing software ecosystem. This results in faster, more accurate building cost estimates.

The utility of 3D modeling is fairly intuitive: by (literally) adding a new dimension to otherwise limited computer data, estimators can better understand project parameters and produce a more accurate bid. Other practical payoffs of 3D modeling include:

  • Data interactivity — With the ability to manipulate 3D models within a virtual environment, estimators can interact with data in new, intuitive ways.
  • Increased production — With only one model to work from, as an estimator, your productivity is increased. Say goodbye to looking through several models of different viewpoints.
  • Reduce project cost — Save operational costs by decreasing time and resources through improving job site efficiency.
  • Communication — Pictures speak a thousand words. With the help of visualization technology, estimators can easily communicate complex ideas to clients, and other workers, who might lack technical understanding of the estimation process.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) completed the Mitchell Project,  a project aimed at the larger 94 North-South Freeway Project intended to improve the design of interchanges and roads. They have estimated that using 3D modeling during the planning stages could have saved them approximately $9.5 million. Now, WisDOT has recently implemented 3D modeling into their Zoo Interchange Project, a roadway construction project for a freeway interchange on the west side of Milwaukee. 3D modeling has the ability to reduce WisDOT construction costs during excavation, earth moving, and compacting and finishing to drainage, bridges, and other features.


Virtual Reality

Virtual, augmented, and mixed-reality applications are picking up steam within the construction industry. This technology blurs the line between virtual and physical workflows, and its mounting popularity is evidence of its growing utility on-site.

Estimators equipped with VR technology can visualize project logistics long before breaking ground, which is — put simply — groundbreaking. With this added insight, estimators gain improved context for structural data. For example, within a mixed reality application, estimators can geo-reference assets by overlaying them onto the real world — effectively bringing ideas to life.

The Mortenson Construction firm utilized VR technology to construct the University of Pennsylvania’s new rock climbing facility. They utilized VR in the initial client consultation throughout the entire project workflow. By using VR, they were able to primarily focus on the client’s objectives and amend the design easily in real time. The project was so successful that the client requested to use VR for their projects moving forward.

The utility of virtual reality on the jobsite is evolving as quickly as the hardware itself. Estimators should recognize VR as the industry game changer it is, and not disregard it as a passing fad.



Estimators are always looking to strike a balance between cost control and project efficiency — that is no small feat. That’s why estimators must bring their jobs into the third dimension. If you leave here having learned one lesson, let it be this: BIM technology should be embraced, not feared.

BIM is an intuitive way to make estimating more precise. At the very least, this technology improves the quality of information estimators use to do their jobs — at best, it completely rewrites the rulebook on establishing a project bid.

With the ability to visualize and manipulate complex data in a virtual space, estimators benefit from greater analytical precision and can uncover new ways of understanding project bids. 


Discover how to generate quantities faster and more precisely with a constructible model.