How building information modelling is changing the construction industry

The Cabinet Office says that by 2016, “collaborative 3D building information modelling will be required on all government projects”

In 2011, the UK Cabinet Office published the Government Construction Strategy. In this report, the government stated its intention that, by 2016, it would require “collaborative 3D BIM [building information modelling] (with all project and asset information, documentation and data being electronic) on all government projects”.

This statement was part of the government’s plans to modernise the construction industry, with the ultimate aim of achieving a 20% reduction in costs in the construction and operation of new buildings. Central to achieving this goal is the employment of building information modelling (BIM) to create a more efficient construction sector.

BIM is not a single piece of software or model, but a new form of information processing and collaboration, with data embedded within the model. Each discipline or organisation creates its own model, and these are subsequently amalgamated to provide a combined view of the entire project. Data is added directly to the model, dictating materials, functions, size and associated information. As documentation remains part of the information set, data can be linked to the elements of the model that it pertains to.

For many years, it seemed that every institution had its own definition of BIM. However, the UK BIM Task Group defines BIM as “value-creating collaboration through the entire life-cycle of an asset, underpinned by the creation, collation and exchange of shared 3D models and intelligent, structured data attached to them”. Essentially, BIM places information management and data exchange at the heart of the design process.

Previously, the design process in the construction industry relied on the systematic multi-stage issuing of drawings and specifications to contractors, from concept design to final construction and beyond. With BIM, it is about bringing together the data and different components to form a coherent set of information.

According to Paul Hill (pictured), BIM lead, UK, Middle East and Africa at civil engineering professional services firm Arup, the interconnected nature of BIM overcomes one of the problems in construction, of “working in isolation and having problems with co-ordinating during the design process and construction”.

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This is achieved through the information management at the core of BIM. The co-ordination and collaboration process overcomes the previous lack of cohesion between parties.

The key to an effective implementation of BIM is to ensure that all parties are working from a common basis. Often, this is achieved through a document of understanding that is issued at the start of a project. Such a document details the tools that are to be used, methodologies for information interchange, and the level of detail required for each stage of project delivery.

Initially, BIM does come with a cost. Personnel need to be trained in the new processes and the adaptation in their design processes by the company. However, applying BIM should ultimately become a normal affair. “For a business-as-usual project, applying the same process will result in a more efficient and cost-effective project,” says Hill.

Because of the complex nature of information collaboration throughout a construction project, computer-aided design (CAD) packages, such as Revit and VectorWorks, have been developed to fully harness BIM functionality. This new breed of CAD allows for a greater amount of information management within the model.

However, just as a building or site grows throughout the project's life-span, so too does the amount of information. Engineers and contractors will not want to subject the client to information overload. Hill says clients need to be provided with “the right information and the right data, and that includes the right amount for what they need”.

The successful implementation of BIM requires two roles to be assigned for the purposes of project management:

  • Information manager: responsible for instituting BIM throughout the project and ensuring that all people involved are following the established protocols.
  • BIM model manager: ensures all the participants’ models are coherently shared and co-ordinated across the project.
With BIM, we are putting information at the heart of the project. Everyone who consumes that information within the project environment is changing the way they work

Paul Hill, Arup

The use of BIM continues through to when the building (or site) is completed, with contractors on-site contributing to the model. Those on-site can interact with the model by using hand-held devices, such as tablets, providing contractors with location and on-site information. Some contractors have built temporary BIM huts while on-site, enabling them to interrogate the model on a larger screen under cover from the weather.

Contractors can also contribute to the BIM model by attaching copies of the warranty documents to the appropriate components within the model. Likewise, contractors can confirm the as-built construction of the project, specifying any changes that were made and the approval documents they received, thus preserving the audit trail long after the project is complete.

The change that BIM offers the construction industry has been seen as even bigger than the transformation CAD brought to traditional drawing practices. While CAD was simply a new tool for producing engineering drawings, BIM requires a greater change. “With BIM, we are putting information at the heart of the project,” says Hill. “Everyone who consumes that information within the project environment is changing the way they work.”

BIM continues to function long after construction is complete, because the BIM model then becomes a system that maintenance engineers can interrogate to obtain specific information about individual components without having to directly view the parts.

As with the traditional issuing of information, BIM is equally subject to quality assurance to ensure the data is correct and appropriate. This review process usually takes two forms:

  • Virtual design reviews: Performed throughout the design process, where the design team regularly shares its work to ensure the design is fully co-ordinated.
  • Formal design team reviews: The model is reviewed as a whole. Comments are electronically recorded within the model environment, thus ensuring that feedback remains connected while preserving a robust audit trail.

Like any new process, change takes time, especially in an industry as fragmented as construction. However, the streamlined and cost-effective design process of BIM offers proven cost reduction and quality improvement. The sooner that construction companies commit to BIM, the greater the benefits will be.

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