The Five Essentials for 5D

  • Feb 12, 2020

This column is featured in Constructor magazine.

By Brent Pilgrim, Destini Applications Director


If you’ve worked in the construction industry for any significant amount of time, chances are you’ve been asked what kind of work you do — which is usually code for “I know you don’t swing a hammer, but have no idea what your actual job is.” When discussing the various career opportunities available, the conversation can run the gamut: from the trades to technology and engineering to accounting. There are jobs and roles today that did not exist 10 years ago which is a testament to how exciting it is to be part of the industry’s transformation. This change is a result of forward-thinking people who desire to become better and are rich with ingenuity.

Today, teams are exploring a variety of new technology concepts, including computational design, AR/VR, and drone technology. Others are pushing to bring manufacturing-related standardization along with design and engineering advancements. While you are working feverishly toward tomorrow’s deadline, others are relentlessly pursuing inventions that will change how we work in the next five years. And lest you’re one of those disbelievers who say, “that (fill in the blank with your favorite innovation) will never work because…” at least admit that the potential for change exists and that the limitations lie only in the realities and barriers of our present industry.

In reality, innovation is incremental, and change is challenging. Much of this work happens in small-scale “pockets of innovation” and not as wholesale industry movements. And dramatic change doesn’t happen on its own. It requires innovation and early adopters as well as the ability to be broadly implemented and scalable.


One area of the industry gaining momentum and undergoing dramatic change is estimating and preconstruction. More specifically, integrated estimating, model-based estimating, and automation, or what is known as “5D”.

To date, 5D is loosely defined as “model geometry + the element of cost,” similar to how the industry refers to 4D as a reference to “model geometry +the element of time.” But, 5D is a more challenging standard to achieve than extracting model object quantities for cost estimating.

And even the best model quantification workflows are not maximizing the value that comes from a 5D process because these workflows lack some of the qualities that comprise 5D.

A 5D process is an innovation as transformational as the assembly line was to the automotive industry or smartphones are to our generation. 5D will help our industry leapfrog over current incremental improvements. Therefore, we need to be clear about the standard for 5D so that we can hit the mark on this high-value change.


Georgia Tech University is using a 5D process on its new campus center project, which is providing insight into what a progressive owner of the future will want and expect from our industry.

As part of the project, Georgia Tech wants a connected, single source of truth: a model-based process they can provide insight into the health of the project. To achieve this requires intentionality, integration, and automation that doesn’t exist today. Going through the process with the university exposed several gaps that must be overcome, as an industry, to achieve this level of connectedness.

Imagine preconstruction teams no longer performing the manual process of counting widgets, assigning a cost, and evaluating disparities in estimates. Imagine, instead, that our teams are experts in statistical analysis, wizards wielding artificial intelligence, and masters of risk model simulation.

For example, what if we quantify and build the models with such intentionality and accuracy, we no longer question the content or resulting quantities? What if we automatically link cost items to model data based on intelligent tagging and automated mapping features in the software? And, what if we refine the process of estimating to the point of a universally accepted standard such that the estimating means and methods are consistent in the industry? If this were all true and we can get past the “That’ll-never- happen- because-of mentality,” then let’s call this transformational innovation “5D”. To get to this level of seamless integration and functional efficiency, we need significant innovation.


For 5D to be possible and achieve its fullest potential, we must meet five specific criteria. Some are workflow related, some are software related, and still, others are resource related.

First, we must create model geometry with intentionality and be deliberate in how we convey the scope, scale, and quality. It’s best to leave it others to discuss how, and by whom, models of the future are created. However, let’s agree that there are construction firms creating models with intentionality for constructability reasons. Architecture firms are also willing to collaborate with estimators to ensure models are created using specific guidelines that benefit the estimator.

Second, model geometry must contain the necessary attributes and properties that enable it to be quantified and qualified. In other words, there can’t be random objects representing floor slabs and walls because precise quantities will rely on proper objects representing certain model content.

We also need classification codes and family descriptions that are true to the real-life content to sort and categorize the model data efficiently. These two examples are only introductory in terms of the depth of the data side of the model. However, with agreement around proper data definition, the 5D process has a much stronger foundation from which to start.

Third, estimators must be able to link cost directly to a model object (or the data that represent the object). There can no longer be a manual exercise of transferring quantities from a takeoff tabulation to a cost item if we are to automate the estimating process. The two are inexorably linked.

Fourth, an industry-accepted estimating standard must be applied to the quantification process. This means the estimating industry must collaborate and produce a standard, or at least the guidelines, which indicate universally accepted practices for estimating various scopes of work. These estimating guidelines should correlate to an industry-accepted modeling standard such as the BIMForum’s LOD Specification.

Finally, there must be an automated way to achieve all of this. Software vendors must come together with industry experts to understand what functionality is required from a feature perspective to accommodate true 5D workflows. Thankfully, vendors have been pushing this industry and have led the way for many years with innovative concepts. However, now is the time to push pause, gather the leading super-users in this field, and collaborate to determine where to focus software development efforts. Everyone will stand to benefit from this thoughtful collaboration.