What Is Building Information Modeling (BIM)?
Building information modeling (BIM) is a process for digitally representing a facility’s functional and physical characteristics. It also provides a means of sharing information that can be used to make decisions throughout a facility’s lifecycle, from conception to demolition. BIM includes the use of software to generate and manage data and information on a facility, often in a proprietary format. Many organizations today already use some sort of BIM software to plan, design, and construct a variety of facilities from commercial to healthcare and education to industrial.
A facility’s design team uses BIM to create a virtual model of the facility, which in turn, is reviewed by the owner and handed off to contractors and subcontractors for construction once finalized. Even beyond construction, BIM models can be turned over to the facility’s operators, who will conduct its daily maintenance and operations (O&M). Each of these parties may add data to the BIM model that’s specific to their discipline, reducing the loss of information that often occurs when a new team takes ownership of a structure.
History of Building Information Modeling
Despite the concept being around for some time, interest in BIM has just taken off in the last several years. In fact, the concept of building information modeling originated during the early 1970s, when it was initially known as the Building Description System (BDS). A paper on computer-aided drawing and design published in 1985 was the first time the term “building model” was formally used within the context of architectural design. The term “building information model” was first used in 1992, when a paper on automation in construction was published. However, this term didn’t enter common use in architecture until 2002, when more resources were published specifically on BIM.
Other software developers have used similar terms to describe their solutions for architectural drawing and design. For example, Graphisoft used the term “virtual building” when it first released Radar CH in 1984, which was renamed to ArchiCAD in 1986. Industry analysts consider ArchiCAD 3.0, released in 1987, to be the first true BIM implementation.
How Is BIM Different from Traditional Modeling Systems?
Traditional models for designing buildings largely rely on two-dimensional drawings. BIM uses the three spatial dimensions at a minimum, which consist of depth, height, and width. Modern BIM plans are also increasingly likely to include additional dimensions for time and cost. These properties allow construction specifications in BIM to cover spatial relationships as well as other characteristics such as lighting, geography, and details of building components.
BIM is composed of a combination of objects, which may be defined to varying degrees of detail. Software tools allow users to extract different views from BIM plans that are automatically consistent with each other since they’re based on a single definition for each object. BIM software also defines objects as parameters that are related to other objects, allowing the software to automatically change dependent objects when the user changes a related object. In turn, this provides a real and accurate visualization of construction and design data, as well as estimations and materials with the right applications and integrations.
Who Uses BIM?
BIM has been heavily used on the design front but its usage is becoming more valuable for a wide range of roles that expand beyond design. In construction, teams are increasingly pressured to complete projects with short schedules, limited manpower, and tight budgets. The various disciplines in the field must coordinate their activities carefully since they must often be performed one at a time. BIM helps to detect conflicts between activities before they bring a project to a complete halt.
As mentioned, BIM is also being increasingly utilized by facilities teams. With detailed visualizations of the inner workings and data of the buildings they are managing, they are empowered to make better decisions to save money in the long term.
Clearly, building information modeling’s impact now extends across a wide range of stakeholders in design, construction, and operations.
Why Is BIM Important?
The importance of BIM lies largely in the fact that construction is one of the least digitized sectors, according to a study by McKinsey. This study also shows that large construction projects take about 20% longer to complete than originally scheduled. BIM can cut both schedules and construction costs by providing the visualization of components, allowing for changes to be made early in the design process.
Early adopters of BIM have been quick to recognize its benefits. Another study by Dodge Data & Analytics, 82% of BIM users say they achieved a positive return on their investments, primarily as a result of shorter completion times and reduced material costs.
Furthermore, the report shows that 69% of the contractors using BIM report an improvement in project safety due to the ability of BIM to identify potential hazards during the design phase.
With the right BIM strategy, there are endless opportunities and benefits, including:Improved Communication and Collaboration
- Model-Based Cost Estimation
- Preconstruction Project Visualization
- Improved Coordination and Clash Detection
- Reduced Cost and Mitigated Risk.
Role of Safety in BIM
Safety is usually forgotten in the implementation of BIM.
The benefit of using BIM in safety becomes obvious when we know that current industry practices rely heavily on the experience and judgment of the safety planners using 2D drawings. With the new advancements in 3D and 4D BIM tools and spatial computational methods, it’s finally time to move on from manual safety processes and trust new technologies. The implementation of safety in BIM is possible in these two phases:
- Live safety tracking: BIM has the ability to host all of the live data for tracking objects, crews, and construction processes. Various data sets like the amount of dust in the construction workspace, congestions of workers in hazardous areas, the path for workers and equipment on the job site, the area occupied by workers, equipment, and materials, the amount of noises in certain areas of the construction site and so on can be captured using the state-of-the-art technologies such as sensors and tags. This information then can be used as basis to monitor safety models in BIM.
- Building Safety Models: After capturing the required information, this data can be used for generating safety plans in BIM design and authoring tools. Using the computational methods to generate safety algorithms, we can then create dynamic plans to control important safety aspects, like congestion of workers and equipment, preventing space conflicts, recognizing the hazardous areas on the site, etc. All of the related data can be carried in the designer models and the dynamic safety plans can be used for other projects in the future.
Creating an Effective BIM Team
There aren’t a lot of “set in stone” guidelines for recruiting, but there are qualities to be looked for in people who can best leverage the tool set to provide information to project teams.
- Great Communicators. A recent customer made the observation that as BIM tools are rolled out across a company, the BIM team plays a role in every single department. For that reason, communication is a huge factor in creating an effective BIM team. You have to effectively communicate the data inside the system you’re in. When I interviewed BIM professionals, seeing that they can talk about something intelligently when they are not involved in it on a daily basis was a huge plus.
- Speaking the Languages. BIM tools are relatively new, so when a project executive asks you for something, they know they need something specific, but you have to be able to translate that request into the data you need. It’s not quite speaking two different languages, but being a good interpreter is essential. Team members who can read between the lines and translate those needs into data and back again are necessities.
- Believing in BIM. Guys like me are completely sold on the concept of what these tools provide. The process and technology are driving change in the industry and being leveraged from the beginning to the end of any project. But they aren’t being used as comprehensively as they could be, particularly with professionals who are 20 or 30 years into the business. There’s no reason for them to want to change because BIM has a learning curve, and it is easier to use a comfortable process instead of trying something new. That’s why I sought after evangelists when it came to BIM – people who will preach the process to customers because it’s not only good for them, but also for the industry.
- The Sum of the Parts. BIM straddles aspects of design and construction. Sometimes you’re creating plans and designing the model, and other times you are just analyzing how to do it better with the tools that you have. You have to rely on the experience that each of your team members has. Diversity in experience opens up a lot of doors where you see contributions based on different ways of interpreting information. I came from a construction management program where I took classes in scheduling, estimating, and project management. There were a couple of people on my team that knew all about computer software and had a special emphasis on the applications for construction.
- Sharpen Your Tools. As I’ve said before, the tools and products we use are changing constantly, and it’s easy to get locked into a consistent process. What I really like seeing are people who are looking forward and thinking about what we can be doing differently. Ideally, managers are looking for people who have a deep understanding of all the tools so that when they have a new project with different requirements, they can instantly look it over, pick the right tools, and get to work.
BIM and Project Logistics
When developing construction activities for major projects, it’s important to understand the role BIM plays in planning and logistics to ensure safety regulations are met, potential roadblocks are avoided and an overall smooth construction process is achieved.
Although there’s plenty of heavily detailed 4D and 5D BIM planning and logistics guides available on the internet, there are five essential ideas to remember when implementing BIM for project planning that are designed to help you save time and avoid complications.
- Include the subcontractors in the process. It’s important to keep this team abreast of major moments in the construction process. Their insight and feedback can fill in necessary gaps and details to help set up the best plan for executing.
- Set the model up for playing through different options. In most planning meetings, whenever someone inquires, “What if we…”, it has always been extremely helpful to be able to quickly swap out equipment or activity sequences to help answer that question. When setting up the model, add in (or be prepared to add in) other equipment or components that you might need.
- Consider the resource requirements. Set up necessary resource graphs for labor, materials, and equipment that can be referenced as you run through the different options during the project. The model data can provide quantitative data that can be used to help understand the resource requirements.
- Don’t forget stored materials. Extremely well run projects put tremendous consideration into setting up a laydown yard as well as the location where materials are stored and how it is staged. This means that when things are ready to be used, they’re readily accessible, cutting down time looking for them. The model can help with this because you can set up volumes of space that you can allocate for the laydown space to make sure everything is properly planned out.
- Isolate any potential hazards. Make sure to isolate any potential site hazards and be sure to pay special attention to work around these areas.
BIM and Modular Construction
BIM’s natural strengths run towards upfront planning and coordination, and that fits in perfectly with what modular construction is all about – you’re working through all of the ‘what-ifs’ and ‘little fixes’ on a computer screen or in a factory, thus cutting down significantly on time and costs once the workers are out at the construction site.
In their BIMForum presentation “Maximizing Off-Site Modular Construction using Lean Tools”, R.J. Reed and Matt Vanture of Whiting-Turner expounded on the concept, detailing the process of refurbishing and expanding the Grand Floridian Resort.
While there were plenty of growing pains in such a large-scale project, the overall process moved at a more rapid pace than could be expected with work done on-site.
It’s an exciting process to see because each of these components gets completely designed inside of BIM and they have to be set up in a way where you can basically just plug and play them. With traditional construction, you have to build or fabricate around what’s there, but with modular construction, as you stack these units, you essentially need the ability to bulk it up and move on to the next thing.
There’s such a considerable amount of work up front that the role BIM plays is crucial, handling this special coordination so you know where these connection points are and making sure the system can handle it.
What Is the Future of BIM in Construction?
The construction industry has yet to fully embrace BIM’s potential, even though the concept has been around since the 1970s. BIM software already uses the technology needed to make it an essential design tool, but construction companies still aren’t making effective use of it in most cases, especially in the field. The primary reason for the slow adoption of BIM is that the construction industry is generally risk-averse, so few companies are willing to explore possibilities of investing in a robust building information modeling platform with no guarantee of returns.
Nevertheless, the introduction of construction collaboration software is allowing companies to place all of their resources for improving productivity in one place, which is improving BIM’s adoption rate. But the construction industry still has a long road ahead to fully realize the benefits of BIM in the field and beyond.
If you’re interested in learning more about how building information modeling will revolutionize the field and O&M, read our latest blog.