Posted on: September 8, 2021
Building Information Modeling (BIM) is an advanced digital technology that is gradually, but inevitably, changing the way things are built. BIM can dramatically improve the design, construction and management of skyscrapers, roads, tunnels, ships and even towns.
The BIM approach enhances communication and coordination among various disciplines, enables project managers to spot and resolve clashes digitally before they cause problems on real-world construction sites, and drives substantial cost savings. For example, the Los Angeles Community College District recently reported savings of $12 million on a sustainable building project using BIM. The potential for efficiency and savings is so substantial that the U.K. and France have mandated the use of BIM for publicly funded projects. Mandates are under consideration in many other countries in Europe and beyond, as well as local jurisdictions in the U.S.
Jonathan Ingram, often referred to as the “father of BIM,” summarizes the importance of this new approach in his comprehensive book, Understanding BIM . “BIM is seen as one of the greatest technological innovations in the construction industry,” he writes.
Beyond Drawing-Based Construction
To understand why BIM is such a radical advance, it’s worthwhile to review how earlier approaches handled the challenges of communicating the information contractors need to build a structure. For centuries, the primary means of conveying information about a building was through drawings. These drawings eventually evolved into blueprints, which, although highly formalized and based on strict rules, were nonetheless drawn by hand using a physical pen and ink — a laborious manual process.
The biggest problem with this system is that even a simple residential structure requires dozens of drawings, whereas a commercial building or a factory can require hundreds, if not thousands. Ensuring that each of these drawings is consistent — internally as well as with others —is virtually impossible. As a result, people in the construction industry spend an inordinate amount of nonproductive time checking to make sure that drawings match and resolving variances when they occur.
Beyond consistency problems, different professionals require entirely different sets of information from drawings. An HVAC engineer, for example, has a completely different set of information requirements about pumps and ducts than the workers who install them, and much of this information isn’t even graphical.
Computer-aided design (CAD) software was the next step beyond blueprints. CAD computerized the drawing process. This greatly boosted the efficiency of architectural firms, but the ultimate output of these systems was still drawings — with all their difficulties. Another deficiency of CAD is that it’s ultimately a system for creating and connecting lines. With only lines to work with, there’s a limit to how much information a CAD-generated drawing can convey.
The BIM Advantage
In contrast to CAD systems, BIM systems deliver output by storing and linking objects, not lines. An object can be a wall, a door, a light switch – whatever’s required. Beyond shape and dimensions, these objects often include many other data points, including supplier, delivery data, thermal properties and so on. (For this reason, they’re technically known as “parametric objects.”) Different drawings are extracted from these objects based on specific requirements. For example, a light switch might be drawn symbolically in a plan, represented by a different symbol in elevation, and an actual drawing of the light switch in 3D.
These objects are all stored in a single database, which in itself eliminates an enormous amount of the trouble builders experience when drawings from one source don’t match those from another. Furthermore, these objects are intelligent, that is to say, they “know” what they are and how they relate to other objects. For example, a wall with a door embedded in it will “ask” the door for dimensions so it can adjust the cavity detail.
Even more important, when components are changed, the entire structure adjusts. For example, if a door in a wall is replaced by a different one with different dimensions, the wall will automatically adjust.
To sum up, in a BIM system:
- Building components are represented by objects that know what they are and can interact.
- The information about these objects extends far beyond what they look like, to include performance specifications, supplier, cost, delivery dates and more.
- These objects are stored in a single database so there is only one, consistent “version of the truth.”
- Changes made to any object are reflected throughout the structure.
A Proven Solution
BIM dramatically improves coordination among different disciplines, buildability and efficiency throughout the entire design and construction process. It has proven itself over and over in important construction projects worldwide. Here are some examples.
- One of the earliest structures of note designed using BIM is the iconic National Tennis Centre in the State of Victoria, Australia, built in 1988. It benefited from a number of BIM features including costing, coordination, massing and environmental impact studies.
- Building the Tianjin Chow Tai Fook Financial Center in Beijing was an extremely complex project that included the construction of a 103-story tower. BIM reduced construction time by 60 days and material and labor costs by more than $2 million USD.
- The Chase Center in San Francisco is a $1.4 billion sports and entertainment complex that is home to the Golden State Warriors. BIM was used to drive stakeholder meetings, enable timely decision-making, improve communication to meet project milestones and drive community buy-in through accurate visualizations.
These examples prove the value of BIM and indicate why its acceptance is growing worldwide. Architects, engineers and construction professionals who wish to know more about BIM will find answers to all their questions the authoritative work on the subject — Understanding BIM by Jonathan Ingram.
Download a Free Chapter: Implementing BIM
Jonathan Ingram explains the applications of BIM and its use in the construction industry.