How Building Information Modelling (BIM) is transforming the construction industry

For years now, BIM’s data-driven approach to construction has been changing the way we design, build and manage different aspects of the building process. The benefits are seemingly endless, enabling more streamlined operations, higher levels of collaboration and lower budgets.

About 75% of companies that have adopted BIM report positive returns on investment, accelerated building processes, less paperwork and decreased material costs. With results like these, it’s not surprising that an increasing number of countries have adopted the practice:

  • 73% of UK construction companies use it, and it’s mandatory for government projects.
  • Finland, Singapore and South Korea made it mandatory for some or all public projects. 
  • 70% of German companies use BIM, and it’s mandatory for projects worth over €100 M.
  • Over 50% of French construction companies use it, and it will be mandatory in 2022.
McAuley, B., Hore, A. and West, R. (2017) NICP Global BIM Study

In the US, BIM is close to becoming the industry standard, with 100% of large architecture firms and over a third of small firms using it for billable work. It all boils down to one inevitable conclusion: BIM is disrupting the industry in a big way.

To give you a better understanding of how BIM works, we’ve created this handy guide covering what it is, its history, its benefits, its use for on- and off-site construction and what it means to be BIM-compliant.

Let’s kick things off with some basics.

What is BIM? 

BIM, which stands for “Building Information Modelling”, is a smart, 3D model-based methodology that combines different processes, agreements and technologies to plan, design, build and manage construction projects. It creates a “digital twin” of the structure, enabling different stakeholders to collaborate, access vital information and move forward based on informed decisions.

BIM models are created using “BIM objects”, which are digital 3D representations of physical products, complete with geometrical information and technical characteristics. BIM objects can be:

  • Component objects - with fixed geometric shapes (e.g. windows, doors, boilers, etc.)
  • Layered - Without a fixed geometric shape (e.g. roofing, walls, ceilings, etc.)
BIM Drawing

All information is shared through an online space known as a common data environment (CDE), making it more accessible than traditional options. By centralising the information related to each step in the construction lifecycle, BIM facilitates a more coordinated and efficient workflow among architects, engineers, developers, contractors and other service providers.

The history of BIM.

Like most disruptive methodologies, BIM isn’t new. It dates as far back as the 70s when professor and computer-aided design (CAD) pioneer Charles M. Eastman first described it as a Building Description System (BDS). The concept was a far cry from traditional 2D blueprints. 

The 80s brought several early CAD applications like Really Universal Computer-Aided Production System (RUCAPS), Sonata, Reflex and ArchiCAD. These applications are regarded as early forerunners of BIM as it is today. 

It would be over a decade later before new tech advances really put BIM on the industry radar. In 2002, Autodesk published a white paper entitled “Building Information Modelling”, which standardised the term and prompted interest from various vendors and software developers.

Since then, new advances in software and wider tech adoption have heightened BIM to a whole new level. New areas of interest include combining BIM with AR, modular construction, 3D printing and reality capture.

What are the benefits of BIM?

Here are just some of the benefits BIM brings to the table:

Cost-efficiency

The technical information provided by BIM objects makes it possible to use calculation software to optimise almost every aspect of the project during the design phase. This approach enables stakeholders to make valuable iterations and explore more options without spending the time, money and effort it would take to actually rebuild.

Speed

BIM enables quick information exchanges, more efficient information reviews and speedy iterations related to structure, architecture and engineering. 

Centralised information

With BIM, every step of the building process is captured and centralised in one comprehensive 3D model, making it easy to find, revisit and consult every step of the way.

Precise calculations

BIM objects provide detailed information that can make normally complex engineering calculations related to things like ventilation, heating and plumbing quicker, easier and more precise. It can also make energy calculations using geometric and spatial information previously input to the model.  

Benefits of BIM

Lower carbon emissions

Precise calculations enable architects, engineers and contractors to make more accurate calculations of the materials required. The result. Less waste, less travel time and energy spent on unnecessary materials.  

Accurate cost estimates

BIM makes it easy to integrate cost and scheduling data, making accurate online estimations so costs are easier to predict. 

The use of BIM in on-site vs off-site construction.

Although BIM can be an extremely useful asset in both on-site and off-site construction, the traditional scenario does present a few challenges.

The usage of BIM for on-site projects provides stakeholders with almost complete control during the design phase, but things become harder to manage as the life cycle progresses. This is because, as the project advances and more people join in, it becomes harder to track things that don’t go as planned (e.g. the plumber might go a bit off script, the contractor might place a wall using different measurements, etc.). 

Sample BIM Design

The issue becomes even more magnified in large on-site projects that require Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Precise and accurate planning is a challenge due to the unreliable and often unpredictable nature of on-site projects.

The outlook is radically different for off-site projects because the entire process is automated and much more precise. In most cases, off-site projects replace the “plan” phase with a “manufacturing” phase that takes place off-site in a factory setting. This reduces the margin of error, enables users to get the full benefits of BIM and results in buildings that are constructed exactly as they were originally drawn.  

What are BIM levels?

BIM levels provide standard terms that make it easier for people in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) community to collaborate. There are currently four BIM levels (starting from 0), each with its own set of specific capabilities and advantages that indicate where you’re operating on the BIM spectrum. However, before we get into each of the BIM levels, it’s important to understand the dimensions in which they operate:

BIM Dimensions

2D BIM 

2D represents the most basic type of construction model, usually made by hand or using CAD drawings. 

3D BIM

3D BIM shows structures three-dimensionally, using the X-axis, Y-axis, and Z-axis (2D only uses X and Y). The process entails sharing things like project schematic designs, drawings and documentation in a common data environment (CDE). The benefits of 3D BIM include enhanced visualisation as well as better coordination and communication among different profiles involved in the project.  

4D BIM

4D BIM brings time into the equation, making it possible to operate with the added benefit of scheduling data.

5D BIM

5D BIM includes budgetary capabilities that enable teams to track costs, create accurate cost estimates and track their spending.

6D BIM

6D, aka “integrated BIM”, implies that teams can estimate their energy consumption before the structure is built. This makes it easier to comply with government regulations and enables stakeholders to add sustainability into their planning. The data provided through 6D BIM also supports facility managers, making it easier to know where maintenance is needed and how much they should budget for it.  

Now that you have a better understanding of the BIM dimensions, here’s a brief explanation of each of the BIM levels:

BIM Levels. Credits: United BIM

BIM Level 0 - Computer-aided design (CAD) and no collaboration 

This level indicates that you’re working with 2D CAD, paper-based drafting techniques and digital prints. As the level indicates, there is zero collaboration happening digitally at this level. 

BIM Level 1 - 2D and 3D with partial collaboration

This level indicates that you’re working with: 

  • 2D drafting for things like approval documentation and production information 
  • 3D CAD to develop your concepts

Data is shared electronically using a common data environment (CDE), usually managed by the contractor. Collaboration at this level is still basic and limited to giving each stakeholder access to the CDE and enabling them to share and manage their own data. The downside is that work can still be delayed if even one stakeholder fails to share an important piece of information. 

BIM Level 2 - 4D and 5D with full collaboration

This is where the real collaboration begins. At this level, 3D CAD is the norm with the possibility for 4D and 5D. Although the team isn’t necessarily working on one shared model (there can be separate ones), it does involve the use of a central database. This enables each stakeholder to make their files accessible using common file formats and cloud computing. 

BIM Level 3 - 6D with full integration

This level indicates the whole team is working on a single model and sharing all project related information. This means each change or new piece of information is reflected in the entire project, making it visible in real-time and reducing the chance of mistakes.

What does it mean to be BIM compliant?

Being BIM compliant basically means that your company can deliver projects that meet the requirements of a given BIM level. For example, in the UK, Level 2 compliance is a compulsory requirement for all government construction projects.

Being BIM compliant for Level 2 means your company can provide and follow all the key elements of that level (e.g. collaboration, 3D CAD models, CDE, etc.). Companies that don’t comply with standard requirements might end up being excluded from the tender process and miss out on lucrative opportunities. 

The Future of BIM.

Klein Veldekens by Astor

With an ever-growing number of countries working toward making BIM the global industry standard, becoming BIM compliant will be a significant competitive advantage moving forward. Companies that adopt the practice will be leading a whole new era in construction, making the process more transparent, collaborative, cost-effective and efficient. 

Furthermore, the methodology is highly compatible with some of today’s most exciting industry trends, including:

  • 3D printing for building construction
  • Robotics
  • Sustainable construction
  • Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR)
  • Modular or off-site construction
  • IoT

As these technologies continue to expand and evolve, so will their applications in the construction industry, leading to endless possibilities. 

Are you trying to get your projects to be fully BIM-compliant? Need to boost your Autodesk Software? We’ll help you leverage the power of Revit to create state-of-the-art structures.



Author:
Keith Cotter
Global Business Development Manager