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Bringing BIM to Latin America

BY STEVEN H. MILLER

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is more than just a software program. It is a new way of building – a virtual environment that promotes collaboration and changes the relationship between the team members, as compared to traditional construction. AGC recognized the rising importance of BIM a decade ago and began creating its BIM education program in 2008. The full program and credential – Certificate of Management-Building Information Modeling (CM-BIM) – debuted in 2010. Nearly 850 certificate holders have graduated from it in the United States and Canada, where BIM is increasingly becoming a requirement for larger projects.

In 2015 AGC began offering the program in Latin America, first in Mexico and most recently in Panama, drawing participants from several countries. BIM is not nearly as well-established in Central America as in the United States or Europe. Participation in the AGC program puts these new certificate holders at the cutting edge of their industry, but it sometimes requires huge personal sacrifice to do so. To find out what makes this program so valuable, Constructor talked to Pablo Medina and Ariel Castillo, the two teachers pioneering the southward expansion of CM-BIM.

WHY BIM?

In the narrow sense, BIM is software, a computer database that can contain a vast amount of information about the design, components and functions of a building. It includes not only 3D models of every system (i.e., structural, finishes, insulation, glazing, electrical, plumbing, HVAC,

IT, etc.), but also specifications, submittals, product information, commissioning instructions, operating instructions and operating history, and it integrates all those different types of data.

The U.S. National Building Information Model Standard Project Committee has the following definition:

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. A BIM is a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition.

However, using BIM requires a great deal more than software knowledge, and that, according to Meredith Woods, AGC senior director of education advancement and credentialing, is what the AGC program is really about.

“To have CM-BIM means that you know more than just software, Autodesk, Revit or whatever,” explains Woods. “It means you understand the collaborative BIM process and how to integrate it successfully into your company.” Of the four, eight-hour units in the program, only one really focuses on the software-authoring tools, and she points out that the program is “software agnostic,” applicable to a variety of different software packages. The other three units are about learning what BIM can do for the construction project and how to use it to collaborate most effectively with the other team members.

The program was, at first, only offered in the United States. Then, AGC partnered with Cegep du Vieux Montreal, a college in Quebec, Canada, to translate it and offer it in French. Those were the only places AGC’s course was available.

Pablo Medina, who is currently BIM manager for McCarthy Construction, a member of multiple AGC chapters, took the course in 2015. He was already a self-taught BIM specialist but wanted credentials. A native of Los Angeles and bilingual, Medina had worked on a project in Latin America for his previous employer, where he perceived a need for this kind of training. He approached AGC about adapting the course materials for Latin America.

Medina has now taught the course twice in Mexico. Most recently, he partnered with another CM-BIM graduate, freelance construction technology consultant Ariel Castillo, to teach it in Panama City. As they both emphasize, the situation in Central America is very different than that of the United States, and bringing this education there involves much more than just translating the slide-deck into Spanish.

OVERCOMING BARRIERS

First of all, the CM-BIM manual and certificate examination are only available in English. This means that anyone who participates must be able to speak both Spanish and English. However, this is not necessarily a disincentive. As Medina relates, part of the attraction of the AGC training is that it is a U.S. credential in English, which is perceived as very prestigious.

“Most of the best practices that they use come from the U.S., Britain and Europe.”

Moreover, getting the training involves a much greater relative financial commitment.

“A typical engineer in the U.S. makes up to five times what an engineer makes in Mexico,” relates Medina. In the United States, where BIM is becoming a necessity, training is often paid for by the employer. In Central America, where BIM is still very new, students seek credentials as a way to make themselves stand out over others in the field, and they often have to pay for it themselves.

“People who take it in Mexico typically save up weeks and months of salary to take it,” says Medina. “People say, ‘I took my entire year bonus and took out some loans to take this course.’”

Since the course has only been offered in two locations, some students traveled long distances from other countries and didn’t have the luxury of taking one unit each week. The course was offered on an intensive, one-week basis – four days of classes with the exam on Friday.

The most recent edition in Panama City, though, saw interesting developments. “We got a lot of people who are top-level management from big firms in Costa Rica and Panama,” recalls Castillo. He also notes that the class of 24 was about 30 percent women. “These are the early adopters of Central America. These are the people who will push for implementation in their companies. It will be interesting to see where this will lead in five years.”

BEYOND TECHNOLOGY

“There’s a hunger for good training,” relates Medina, “and many of these individuals do not want technology training anymore. You can buy knowledge on how to use software, but what they don’t have is the foundation for the process. In the U.S., we’ve learned since the 60s how to apply technology to growing industries and how to adapt to disruptive technologies.

In Latin America, it was just thrown at them without any preparation of the industry to adopt it. They don’t have the ecosystem to adopt these practices. The culture is more resistant to disruptive technology. Vendors go to Latin America and sell hard on software. I’ve heard this time and again, ‘I walked out of a vendor’s training course that I paid thousands of dollars for, and I haven’t been able to implement what I’ve learned in my company because there is cultural resistance there.’ They know technically how to use these things, but they’re still failing.”

The AGC course does much to address that problem. Nearly half of the time is devoted to project execution, teamwork, the roles of the players in the BIM environment, adoption, implementation and ROI. Day three, for example, includes an exercise using Legos, where the team has to build a house, but only certain people in certain roles can touch pieces of a certain color, requiring both collaboration and use of the 3D model to solve a hidden problem.

“The explanation of the process, adapted to their culture, is the focus of this course in Latin America,” Medina emphasizes. “We teach them the best practices we’ve established over decades in the U.S. to implement management strategies for technology and BIM, and then we probe: What would be your next step? Where are you in this spectrum of adoption, and what is keeping your company behind? And I’ve gotten all sorts of answers – the legal issues they face, the roles of architects and engineers are different in my country, etc.”

Now that several rounds of the course have been completed in Central America, Medina has been getting inquiries from the associations like AGC in several countries.

“Their palette has been whetted. They’re asking us for training in Lean practices, in design/build delivery methods. I think this has opened up a door for more of what I call ‘non-technical training’ that is severely lacking in Latin America. I’m excited and hopeful that we get better training and quality out of associations like the AGC.”

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