Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a process for combining information and technology to create a digital representation of a project.
The process integrates data from many sources and evolves in parallel with the physical delivery of the project across its entire timeline. From design and construction, to in‐use operational information, BIM utilises data from each and every stage of the process.
BIM is commonly misconceived within the industry as predominantly 3D modelling. However, 3D modelling is a fairly minor section of the overall BIM process as there are numerous other processes involved in the total virtual modelling of a building.
BIM dimensions and levels
There are four industry accepted model dimensions adopted by BIM. These dimensions can help to classify the BIM level the project is working to.
2D – Two Dimensional line work (Drafting)
3D – Three Dimensional (Object Modelling)
4D – Time (Construction programming)
5D – Cost
The UK Government has adopted four maturity levels to define BIM:
Level 0 – At its simplest, unmanaged CAD (Computer Aided Design), likely 2D, with paper (or electronic paper) as the most probable data exchange mechanism.
Level 1 – Managed CAD in 2D or 3D format using a common data environment, and potentially some standard data structures and formats. The majority of organisations are operating to this standard.
Level 2 – Managed CAD in a 3D environment. Stakeholders each utilise 3D tools, however are unlikely to share a single model. Data is exported from individual tools in standardised formats to ensure users can work collaboratively. The approach may also utilise 4D programme data and 5D cost elements.
Level 3 – A single shared model that incorporates full collaboration with all stakeholders. Data is stored centrally, allowing all users to access and modify elements of the model.
The future is digital
Technology has evolved in most industries, however the building industry has been somewhat left behind and still relies on traditional paper based procedures. The implementation of BIM projects above level 0 requires a commitment to adopt new tools, software and the digital future. In order to successfully make this shift, a firm foundation of efficient systems for communication, information exchange and data transfer are required. The shift also requires interoperability. Put simply, this means ensuring that you can use the outputs that someone else has produced because you are all using standardised formats.
The UK government has embarked on a vast plan of modernisation and has stated that BIM must be adopted by centrally procured projects in order to meet targets of reducing capital costs and carbon burden by a fifth. Despite the regulations surrounding BIM being in place, uncertainty surrounding its benefits have seen it fail to take off. However, there are signs of growth, as companies managing large scale projects begin to adopt this collaborative mind set and work more efficiently.
The benefits of BIM
BIM can be a costly process in terms of computer hardware, computer software and man hours involved in progressing a contract from inception to completion or demolition. However, if utilised properly, users can take advantage of a whole host of benefits.
One of its main selling points is that BIM promotes a greater level of collaborative working. The digital management BIM provides allows all partners to share critical and standardised information, that ultimately leads to greater levels of communication and clarity. In turn, BIM makes informed decision making easier and can contribute towards creating a more efficient process for everyone involved.
Access to improved information
With all parties working on the same model concurrently, BIM allows users to test and validate processes more quickly. As the model evolves, instant awareness of the impact of changes at any point in the project leads to a better assessment and quicker decision making process.
BIM can also help to avoid data loss over the course of a project. At many points of information exchange, you can use project data more collaboratively with little waste from duplicated effort. The multiple stakeholders involved can use the same data throughout the project, aiding cooperative working with the supply chain and participants further down the timeline.
Throughout the design and build stages, BIM can help organisations get to the bottom of waste and stamp it out. Information is input into the model to track the lifecycle of each individual building component, allowing users to schedule and coordinate maintenance more efficiently.
By mapping out every component of the building, a virtual environment can be simulated to inform stakeholders early on in the design process if modifications are required. This not only reduces waste materials, but also ensures projects remain on schedule, as costly miscalculations are minimised. The beauty of BIM is that you can continuously adapt designs, making it easier than ever to craft the perfect model and project timeline.
The fact that BIM allows different parties to work together means it helps to cut out mistakes and discrepancies. Ideally, a single portal of information is implemented to ensure all stakeholders in the process are working with the same information and are all pulling in the same direction. It also helps to align plans and ideas from disparate departments, ensuring designers, construction experts and operational employees are working in harmony and in the best interests of the overall project.
For facilities managers in particular, BIM allows them to become involved from the early design stage. They can have a real impact on the outcome of the finished structure, lending key advice and experience to how the building would be used on a day-to-day basis, ensuring designs are fit for purpose.
Health & safety benefits
By improving information at the front end of BIM, great insight can be gained into areas of risk in the project, especially where dangerous activities will take place. With this heightened level of awareness, counter measures can be implemented to reduce risk and improve health and safety during the lifecycle of the project.
Ultimately for any business, customer satisfaction should be top of the to-do list. The visualisation and project planning capabilities that BIM offers, helps to secure buy in from the customer at each stage of the process. Not only will they be able to easily picture the end result, but they’ll also feel confident that it will be delivered on time and to the highest standard.
The shift towards more advanced levels of BIM will certainly not come easily. Implementing applications and processes at each stage of the project lifecycle, as well as incorporating time and cost variables, will require full commitment and buy in from all stakeholders. Those that persevere and adopt a unified system and collaborative mind-set, can expect to successfully streamline their processes and execute project plans with greater efficiency.
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