The rationale behind building information modelling (BIM) is to make the entire construction process more effective and efficient across functional and organisational borders. BIM can be used in all stages of a building’s life cycle, not just for the design and construction process.
The concept of BIM has been around for decades, but it has not yet reached the tipping point, where everybody in the construction industry uses it. Why? Because BIM demands that we change the way we work, says Wesley Benn, a BIM specialist and chairman of RTC Events.
“CAD was a major innovation when it first appeared,” Benn says. “It was more efficient than drawing by hand, but really it was just a different media, not a change in the way we think. BIM, however, is a new way of working. It reflects how the builder in the 15th century understood both design and construction. He knew how the object worked and how it related to other objects. That’s how a BIM professional must think.”
Benn explains that we design buildings in 3D, but then translate the model into a 2D model that can be printed on paper - and then go back into 3D to make changes. “We have to overcome the norm of having drawings on paper,” he says. “If we design in 3D, analyse and edit in 3D, communicate in 3D, manage in 3D, then we can escape the incredible waste and error inherent in our current methods. We cannot avoid all mistakes, but we can massively reduce their occurrence and severity.”
However, for BIM to be fully utilised the stakeholders need to change perspective. The construction industry is conservative, and the main stakeholders – the manufacturers, architects, engineers, construction builders and property managers – care mainly about their own needs. But if a majority of the stakeholders truly understand and embrace the big picture, the project stands a better chance of reaping the full benefits of BIM.
Information is key
The biggest opportunities with BIM lie beyond the actual 3D modelling to the information at its core. “The information is central to BIM,” Benn says. “Entrained knowledge, deeper and more precise than ever before, is the true game changer. The issue is how to appropriately access, analyse and act on that knowledge.”
Tore Hvidegaard, CEO of technical consulting firm 3Dbyggeri in Copenhagen, Denmark, says, “BIM turns stupid drawings into intelligent 3D models. For an engineer who calculates an HVAC installation in a building, it means he or she can work faster and make fewer errors, and changes can be updated much quicker.”
A BIM model of a pump provides the engineer with information not only of specific measurements, but also about flow, effect and pressure – data that can be used to help the engineer predict how the building will perform with a specific setup.
“The real change is that the project will be more transparent,” Hvidegaard says. “With much more information about the building at hand, you can make decisions a lot earlier in the process, for instance to optimise energy efficiency throughout the life cycle of the building.”
“The real change is that the project will be more transparent.”
Tore Hvidegaard, CEO, 3Dbyggeri, Denmark
Finding a balance
One of the main challenges for manufacturers like Grundfos is to provide BIM objects with the right amount of data[JJ1] [JJ2] , as content can be used for different purposes. There needs to be a balance between geometry and data, and the content should be appropriate to the stage in which the BIM user works.
“The level of detail is important,” says Benn. “I want to know flow rates, flow direction, the manufacturer’s name, model number, the object’s weight and equivalent data so that I can quickly put it in my specifications. But I don’t need to see the flanges in the pipe in an early design, and I don’t want content that is too ‘heavy’ for the model. As in Revit [one of the most widely used programs in BIM], I should be able to set a model to be coarse, medium or fine, whether this means visually or as regarding information."
Many experts say that establishing a single global standard would contribute to a breakthrough for BIM. For several reasons, that vision seems very far away. Construction regulations and laws vary from country to country. Customers also do not want to be locked in with a standard from a single software company. “A single, universally adopted standard is a grand dream, but it is just that,” Benn says. “Variations in graphic standards, in working methodologies, in language and in building culture make this an impossible task. Without universal buy-in, it becomes just another standard. It adds to the noise, not reduces it.”
“A single, universally adopted standard is a grand dream, but it is just that.”
Wesley Benn, Chairman, RTC Events and BIM specialist
In a very big and global industry, BIM is used in only a minority of construction projects. In some aspects, software developers are driving the change towards BIM, but they are dependent on market maturation.
Geography also plays a role. In North America, for example, large contractors see advantages in BIM related to economies of scale. In Europe, governmental initiatives, which regulate how to work with buildings, are a driver of change.
“Since 2007 there are rules in Denmark that official public buildings have to be designed with BIM models,” Hvidegaard points out.
“That is the equivalent to about 50 per cent of the Danish market. The same development is seen in Norway and Finland.” Benn, who is based in Sydney, Australia, says, “In Australia and New Zealand, architects drive change, while in Asia, and Japan in particular, it is the facility and maintenance people who want BIM.”
Take a virtual tour
Looking into the future, the development of new techniques such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will spur the transformation to BIM, as both make BIM more useful and more adaptable. Microsoft Hololens and Oculus allow a person to walk around in a building, seeing what an apartment will look like or how the pipe work is done, before construction has even started. The virtual tour concept can also be used in the design process, which would bring a whole new perspective on safety in design reviews.
As a constructor you can use a device such as the Daqri Smart helmet to, for example, walk up to a particular pipe on site, look at it and get data about when it was inspected and if it needs to be rechecked.
These techniques will dramatically change how we work with all stakeholders in the building process, Benn says. “Early adopters already use VR and AR technologies to improve design processes, client communications and facilities management. The rapid improvements in technology that have led to reduced size, increased capability and dramatically lowered costs lead me to believe that we will see general acceptance within the next three to five years."
Whoever or whatever drives the change to adopt BIM working methods, it is safe to say that BIM is here to stay. “BIM is the future,” says Hvidegaard. “It’s just a matter of time. If you use something that is 30 to 40 per cent quicker, would you use it just for half of your projects or for all of them? There is clearly no way back.”
Grundfos releases high-quality BIM content
Grundfos launches high quality BIM content available for use in Revit projects. This will drastically increase productivity in the design and construction process where Grundfos products are used.