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building information modeling

Building 201: What Is Building Information Modeling (BIM)?

At the start of any project, it can feel a lot like piecing together the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle. Projects start off as a concept and it’s up to the team members to determine if this concept can actually be built and how. No set of conditions are ever the same, and even in the unlikely event that an exact copy of a building has already been replicated next door, construction could be carried out completely differently due to a variety of unique environmental impacts and even the team members executing. Nonetheless, projects can begin to be standardized and enhanced if more information is known from the beginning. One way to help piece together the puzzle of construction is with the use of technology like building information modeling (BIM).

BIM is way more than a three letter acronym–and doesn’t refer to just one set of tools or technology. As its full name implies, building information modeling involves data on a building’s specifics. Although BIM can benefit all stages of construction, when first utilized before construction begins, the data can be used to set up a project’s foundation for success starting in design. The technology is so powerful that according to a survey from the National Building Specification (NBS), 78% see BIM as the future of project information.

In our “Building 101” series, we’ve been providing insight and background on common terms and processes in construction. Now, we’re building upon the concepts in 101 and diving deeper for our “Building 201” series, starting with building information modeling. Whether you’re new to BIM or just beginning to use it on your projects, in our post, we’ll explore the past, present and future of BIM. From novice to expert, with a thorough and refreshed understanding of the concept, you’ll get a better idea on how you can implement or enhance the technology on your next job.

What Is Building Information Modeling?

Building information modeling 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.

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 2016 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. A 2014 study by McGraw Hill shows that 75% of BIM users achieve a positive return on their investments, primarily as a result of shorter completion times and reduced material costs. Furthermore, a 2017 Dodge study 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.

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.

Further Reading:  These 4 Job Markets Are the Future of Construction Hiring

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