Finding the best mobile BIM apps to put to work on your jobsite

Screenshot of Autodesk’s Buzzsaw for the iPadScreenshot of Autodesk’s Buzzsaw for the iPad


Thomislav Zigo of Clayco Inc. spent an hour during the first day of the Associated General Contractors of America IT Forum Conference discussing how to get the most out of Business Information Modeling applications for tablets and smartphones on the jobsite.

“There’s so much stuff available out there you really need to be careful what you pick,” Zigo said.

He took some time to discuss exactly what BIM is for the uninitiated and defined it this way: “The process of information management (that enables a business to get the) right information to the right person at the right time.”

He said “And that definition really screams to put this (information) in somebody’s hand 24/7,” via a mobile device. “With the vast amount of useful information at users’ disposal, now the industry is focusing on how to access and utilize the information using mobile technology during construction, material and progress tracking, commissioning, handover and operations maintenance.”

Zigo recommended that before implementing any mobile apps, first define your task process by identifying the application and the pathways the participants will take to accomplish it. He recommended making a flowchart of the process to identify areas where BIM can decrease wasted time and effort. 

His talk sought to define the mobile workflow on the jobsite by identifying BIM applications currently being used in the field by Clayco and showing conference attendees how to best leverage mobile devices themselves.

“I want you to understand the range of currenlty available mobile solutions for design and construciton and I want to describe the capabilities of mobile apps being used at Clayco and how to use them to their full potential,” Zigo said.

He started out by establishing the basic needs and uses that surround the use of mobile apps on smartphones and tablets:

  • Incerased collaboration
  • Process enhancement
  • Accuracy of information in real time
  • Elimination of redundant processes
  • Ease of use
  • Focus on content viewing and collaboration
  • Field data capture
  • Virtual manuals
  • Limited content creation and sharing
  • Project management

He then laid out what Clayco expected of these apps when put into use:

  • Increased speed accuracy and quantity of info captured
  • Realtime visual schedule verification and look ahead
  • Realtime job progress reporting
  • Increased field awareness and involvement in the process
  • Increased safety
  • Reduction in rework
  • Eliminated information loss
  • Eliminated information redundancy
  • Reduced complexity for filing and tracking documents
  • Reduction in paper use
Screenshot of Vela Mobile for the iPadScreenshot of Vela Mobile for the iPad


And using the following apps, Zigo said Clayco has been able to check each of these expectations off the list.

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Each of the below apps allow you to view both documents and models in the field. Zigo said the capability to view models is these apps’ most useful feature as they provide a great visual aid, element data available at your fingertips, the ability to control presented content, coordination reports are a bit more legible.)

  • Vela Mobile – Clayco uses it for mobile field management. It allows for whole building commissioning, safety and quality commissioning checklists, issues lists and reports. Click here to see Vela in the iOS App Store. 
  • Buzzsaw by Autodesk – Tracks the project data lifecycle. It is a mature product with a wide user base that supports RVT and NWD file viewing with an extensive set of workflow features and ERP integration. Cons include: high cost; less features are enabled in mobile apps than on the desktop; versioning, redlines not supported. Click here to see Buzzsaw on the iOS App Store or click here to see it on the Android Play Store.
  • IPM Viewer by Autodesk – (Zigo skipped over this one. He did mention Clayco uses it, but did not go into any detials.) Click here to see IPM Viewer on the iOS App Store or click here to see it on the Android Play Store.
  • Design Review – Offers convenient model sharing, built-in 2D and 3D viewing capability and limited markup capbaility. Cons include the inability to share markups. Click here to see Design Review on the iOS App Store or click here to see it on the Android Play Store.
  • Citrix Receiver – Offers realtime model access. Sotware use optimization. Access to production environment. Singular data set. Bandwidth implications, addistianl licensing, ergonomic concerns, substantial in-house support. Click here to see the Citrix Receiver on the iOS App Store or click here to see it in the Android Play Store.
  • Autodesk AutoCAD WS – Pros mentioned by Zigo: Speed, 360-degree view of RVT files, NWD model viewing. Click here to see AutoCAD WS on the iOS App Store or click here to see it on the Android Play Store.

Zigo said there are still caveats to all of these apps.

“I’m still not aware of a really, really good app that allows you to create content,” Zigo said. The current offering of BIM apps for mobile devices only allow collaborators to view models. Creation of the models has not yet been implemented on smartphones and tablets.

Zigo also noted that each app has its own separate interface for cloud storage. “Somebody needs to get out there be smart about it and” combine the many clouds, he said. “We need cross-pollination of data.”

And because we’re early on in the lifecycle of BIM mobile apps, Zigo pointed out that he sees occasional crashing in these apps and noted that the user interfaces could be tweaked to improve navigation.

And of course, because these apps depend upon the cloud, access to the content within is still spotty because you depend on the jobsite’s bandwidth. If it’s not great, that can severely affect loading times of models.