My first impression of BIM was back in 2009. I have to tell you the truth: I thought the benefits were awesome, but I was slightly confused on how it would exactly work for our everyday projects. I was lost in an ecosystem of tools and file formats.
I started investigating what the established BIM software solutions (ex: Revit) to identify their potential. At this point, I knew BIM wasn’t just a buzzword and I started figuring out how we were going to do what we wanted to do to improve our project processes. However, there were still missing links in the chain to achieve the full benefits of collaborative BIM.
Having your first "BIM enlightenment" when exposed to the potential benefits is great but, it can get flat pretty quickly if you don’t get beyond that point. A famous quote says:
"Ideas without execution are hallucinations"
- Thomas Edison
You truly achieve BIM enlightenment when you start doing it. It’s when you start separating it into steps, analyzing data flow, breaking down the workflow, etc. It’s probably during that phase of your BIM development that you discover add-ins that are available for many of your BIM needs.
An add-in is an extension or module that is added to a host (well-established software, usually) to provide features that the host doesn’t provide. Software programs like Revit and Navisworks have an Application Programming Interface (API) that enable this to happen. APIs have been used by many developers who have created these extensions or modules to enable new workflows (a good example is flux.io).
Why are APIs good for the evolution of BIM? This environment allows different add-ins to be used for precise tasks at the right time. The developers behind these applications have smaller operational structures; they are lean and can adapt quickly to users’ immediate needs. The add-ins can interact with external file formats or software. For example, BIM Track’s add-ins connect to a web application hosted on a cloud server, allowing data to be published directly from Navisworks or Revit using a web interface.
It is beneficial for established software programs to have open APIs. As the number of add-ins grows in the market, customers have access to more features, generating interest in the established software. It’s like the apps found in Apple’s App Store. Part of Apple’s attraction is the variety and the number of apps available.
Free add-ins take an important part in democratizing BIM. Often smaller and more focused on a few functionalities, they allow users to solve non-productive tasks that are common in a BIM-oriented environment. This is not a secret: to achieve the maximum success with BIM, you have to reduce inherent time-consuming tasks. By sharing add-ins for free, companies or individuals are giving the community an efficient toolkit. BIM One, BIM Track’s parent company, is already sharing five add-ins for free and recently took over 40 Case Inc.’s free add-ins distributed with our add-ins manager. One good example is the BIM One Excel import/export add-in. With this add-in, users can now modify model parameters without having to input them manually into the models. It’s not only saving them a lot of time, it’s also helping them accomplish tasks they thought were just too time-consuming to do.
With BIM Track’s add-ins for Revit and Navisworks, users can work directly “in-context” (in the software program) to solve issues assigned to them. Data is synchronized through the cloud to the web platform. Time is spent on providing better model quality instead of managing emails and Excel spreadsheets. Furthermore, with BIM Track, project managers have direct access to online 3D models; they can review the issues list or follow the coordination evolution with the metrics provided.
This is just a few of examples why add-ins are so important in the BIM ecosystem of tools. So, go ahead and discover what you can do now with add-ins to make your BIM process more efficient!