BIM and the Art of Engineer Oversight

Just over 15 years ago, computers took over the way civil and structural Engineers did their jobs. Everything went from drawings on paper to structures on a screen. The software packages available for these Engineers grew and continues to grow in availability and computational power as the technology allows more and more elements to be rendered on a screen with speed, accuracy, and ease of use. However, the one thing that has not changed is the NSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers.

Pre BIM engineer drawings

This latest version available on nspe.org was updated in July of 2007. That update was shortly after the computer revolution in Engineering began and the term “BIM” became mainstream. But so very much has changed since then. The most notable change is the generation of Engineers overseeing the work that used to be done on paper.

The Times Have Changed

BIM model engineer drawingHow do we reconcile the movement to BIM with Rule of Practice 2.a. of the Code of Ethics?

Engineers shall not affix their signatures to any plans or documents dealing with subject matter in which they lack competence, nor to any plan or document not prepared under their direction and control.

So Have The Methods

To be clear, let’s break down 2.a into the various parts that are applicable to this situation.

  • Engineerthe Engineer licensed and regulated by each state or province to have had the proper training in his or her field, and whose signature bears the responsibility and liability for the structural integrity of the structure in question;
  • Plans or documents – the items created either on paper or in a computer program by the Engineer him or herself or by an employee of the Engineering firm reporting to the Engineer;
  • Direction and Control – aka responsibility or supervision, which used to mean regularly distributed paper (original or copies) of the drawings created by the Engineer or the Engineer’s employee(s)

NSPE Code of Ethics Rule of Practice 2.a for EngineersTwo of these three items have changed drastically. The third is changing, but has not yet completely changed. The “Plans or Documents” are no longer created on paper. Someone who knows how to use BIM tools creates them using one more more BIM software packages that do what the Engineer used to do on paper with pencils and slide rules.

Direction and Control has completely changed. The Engineer creating the design(s) may or may not be in the same global hemisphere as the signing Engineer. Therefore, “direction”, while remote, may still apply. How do we now interpret “control”?

How Can You Sign Off?

Konstru CEO, K.P. Reddy, poses this question: “How can you provide oversight when you can’t even open the BIM model?

Raymond Daddazio, President of Thornton Tomasetti, provided the answer: “How can you be competent in a specific technical area, provide direction, and have control over the stamped plans/documents when the BIM model and analysis models derived from the BIM model are more complex and just plain harder to keep your arms around them? Enter Konstru. Konstru is the platform for the engineer to display the model and have a complete log of changes to the design.”

We asked 100+ Engineers (a) how they get notified of changes to their projects’ BIM models, and (b) how they shared their BIM model designs with their supervising Engineer.

BIM model change notifications BIM model sharing methods

Structural Engineers are creating 3D BIM models. Supervising Engineers are signing off on 2D paper printouts. There’s a gap.

The Next Generation Engineer

These two elements of Rule of Practice 2.a have changed. The third – Engineer – is changing, but has not changed. In 20 years, a new generation of Engineers’ signatures will be on the legally binding plans for a structure. This is the generation of Engineers who grew up using BIM tools instead of pencils, paper, and slide rules. However, today, the Engineers who sign off on the designs are signing off on a 2D model on paper. But the real model is in 3D in a BIM tool.

If the Engineer is not signing off on the actual 3D BIM structures, do the terms “direction and control” apply? And, if they do, how does the Engineer “sign off” on a 3D BIM model if they don’t utilize BIM?

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