3D Models Will Never Replace 2D, NEVER!

May 3, 2017



“It’s a little bit like, is the Albanian army going to take over the world? I don’t think so.” Time Warner CEO Jeffrey L. Bewkes, when asked in 2010 what he thought about the company’s [Netflix] push toward licensed content.

The world is a vastly different place than it was 20 years ago because of technology. Today we can use our smartphones to get a ride from Uber or Lyft. We can connect with friends who are thousands of miles away. We can send and receive cash, stream movies and shows, send emails, and shop all from our pockets. However, despite countless examples of how rapidly technology can transform daily life and business demands, when a new product comes along to disrupt the status quo, many leaders are quick to dismiss it as a novelty that will never have a meaningful impact on its space.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer famously shrugged off the iPhone, saying “$500? Fully subsidized? With a plan? I said that is the most expensive phone in the world. And it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn't have a keyboard. Which makes it not a very good email machine.”

Of course, the iPhone went on to be one of the most revolutionary and pervasive pieces of technology ever. Unfortunately, some of this same denial of disruption can be found within the AEC industry. Specifically around the adoption of 3D models. In 2002 there were hundreds of thousands of engineers and technicians making a good living as draftsmen. The advent of BIM and 3D programs around 2003 saw many AEC leaders respond the same way Ballmer did, denying their potential impact, choosing to believe nothing could change the industry’s reliance on 2D plans. Today there is very little design work being done exclusively in 2D, while construction firms use BIM to gain a more comprehensive understanding of building plans and logistics than 2D could provide.

“While recent stories and reports of a new entity competing with the three major carriers in the United States grabs headlines, the reality is it would be a daunting task requiring tens of billions of dollars in capital and years to build sufficient scale and density to replicate existing networks like FedEx,” Mike Glenn, VP of FedEx, speaking about Amazon in 2016

The disruption to the AEC status quo brought on by 3D models didn’t stop there. Once the use of 3D models spread, Navis Clash Detection capitalized on the trend creating a solution that could use the models to more accurately perform constructability analysis. Clash Detection allows teams to see interferences between objects, as well as to create customized clash reports. The ease and automation of Clash Detection has completely replaced the drawing based review that had once been common practice.


Now, the innovations keep coming, especially as products that had been prohibitively expensive drop in price. Scanners and point cloud that cost $100,000 in 2012, are now selling for between $15,000 and $30,000. More recently, scanners that can quickly manage medium size rooms under many conditions sell for as low as $400. 2005 saw robotic total stations starting to be sold, replacing the manual surveying and layout techniques requiring 2 or 3 person teams. Many are now using robots and drones for surveying and layout, automating much of what used to be done with manpower. It might seem easier to ignore these industry updates, and say they will never replace the old way, but those who are constantly learning and adopting new methods will be the ones who remain competitive.

Though once discounted, today these BIM models can be used for 2D documentation, 3D constructability, 4D schedule automation, 5D takeoff (of most items).  The same model can drive robotic total stations and accept point clouds for real time review of work in place. Despite the clear possibilities and benefits of 3D models, some still question if model based estimating could ever replace 2D takeoff. Sound familiar?

Underestimating the power of 3D in favor of older 2D methods will end up being a huge mistake in terms of staying competitive. The above quotes downplaying the effectiveness of Netflix, the iPhone, and Amazon seem wildly misguided today. Don’t make the same mistake in your business.

don hDon Henrich is an accomplished technology veteran in both the MCAD and the AEC industries.  As President and CEO of Assemble he brings an distinguished track record of innovation, winning strategies, team building, and the ability to quickly grow revenue and market share.  Don and his wife Noel have three children, reside in Marblehead, MA and spend as much time as possible sailing on Massachusetts Bay.


See how Stiles Construction Combines 2D + 3D

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