Building information modeling (BIM) is a digital process that optimizes the life cycle of a project, from design and construction all the way to operation and maintenance. Bundling all the information relating to planning makes construction more efficient and cost-effective. But how does BIM work in detail?
Not long ago, stacks of files dominated every architect, engineer or planner’s office: the physical evidence of past and present projects in document form. Then, building information modeling changed everything.
BIM refers to a technology designed to automate every work process of every trade involved in construction. All the information relevant to planning is fed into a synchronized database. It’s then combined and recorded so that all project partners can access it.
The Benefits of BIM
BIM transforms digital collaboration in order to accelerate the construction process and even save resources for a more sustainable planet. Ultimately, it’s about cost-optimizing the entire life cycle of a building. “With BIM, we can detect errors such as collisions long before they reach the construction site,” says Yannic Brandstetter, BIM project manager at the Swiss engineering and planning company Gruner AG. “This gives us better control over both costs and deadlines.”
In the past, those involved in construction tended to work in silos, and information was exchanged primarily via email. Today, they work where all data converges: in the cloud. Brandstetter believes this will significantly improve both communication and security.
The Standard for Public Construction Projects
All over the world, there are plans to make building information modeling compulsory by introducing BIM mandates. The Scandinavian region is globally recognized as a leader in this. In Finland, Senate Properties—a significant government entity responsible for managing the country’s property assets—mandated IFC compliance and BIM models on projects as early as 2007. That same year, 93% of architectural firms and 60% of engineering firms in the country were routinely using the technology.
The UK was also an early adopter. In 2011, the government’s construction strategy mandated that BIM Level 2 must be used on all public projects by 2016. According to the NBS 2020 BIM report, this has had a widespread effect. In 2011, 43% of the country’s respondents had not heard of building information modeling. Today, awareness is almost universal, and 73% use BIM. Increased productivity, reduced risk, and more profitability are consistently recognized as benefits of adoption, with nearly half of designers reported as saying that BIM helps foster better working relationships on collaborative projects.
Other countries are following suit. Adoption is also rising across North America as well as the Middle East, where a study revealed that 80% of the region’s respondents experienced a positive ROI from their BIM implementation. From December 31, 2020, the use of building information modeling will also be a binding criterion in awarding public contracts for German infrastructure and infrastructure-related building construction.
What Is a BIM Model?
At the heart of building information modeling is a cloud-based 3D model—a digital representation of a building or structure. This 3D model combines both geometry and information: integrating multidisciplinary data for all elements of the project. This could include costs, material specifications, design details, and more. Thanks to the cloud, any architect, engineer, or contractor involved on a project can access the common shared model and make changes that are seen by all collaborators.
BIM is often an important component of a “digital twin.” To better understand the differences between these two concepts, it helps to think of building information modeling as the process of managing data, and the digital twin as what makes that data useful.
Building information modeling helps professionals to design, construct, and maintain a project. A digital twin builds on BIM by providing a connection to the real world. It allows professionals to better understand, optimize, and manipulate the performance of a physical environment.
To do this, digital twins are informed by live data collected from sensors within the real structure they replicate. This real-time information can provide insight into how assets like HVAC might fail or even help cater buildings to the behavior of their occupants.
BIM models and digital twins are created using software such as Autodesk BIM 360 and Revit, which links project teams and data in real time (even in the construction stage) and ensures precisely predicted results.
As well as 3D, you occasionally hear about 4D, 5D, 6D, and even 7D or 8D BIM. This all depends on how advanced individual countries or companies are in the field of building information modeling. These levels of dimension refer to management processes and design phases that go beyond the usual 3D software model and can be defined as follows: 3D BIM is the three-dimensional digital building model.
4D BIM adds time-related information and specifies both the duration of the project and the construction schedule so that all those involved in the various construction phases are kept in the picture and can understand what is happening or should happen on the construction site.
5D BIM introduces factors such as the cost and quantity of materials, as well as their effect on the design. 6D building information modeling goes a step further by optimizing the final building management based on sustainable criteria. 7D addresses the topic of facility management.
Why Do Companies Need BIM Management?
As that many dimensions can make things very complex and because computer-aided modeling still requires people to provide and control information, it is necessary to coordinate the BIM project team. This task is usually performed by a BIM manager trained for this purpose. The BIM manager defines the workflow and monitors both the development stages and any existing guidelines. The role also includes the maintenance, structuring, and management of the building data model as well as controlling the sub-models.
BIM managers provide support when hurdles and questions converge: They are the digital site managers, so to speak. They can, however, also be brought in as part of a company’s building information modeling strategy, act as consultants, or provide support for what is probably still an inexperienced team in the implementation and integration of the method.
When the Construction Department at the Fraunhofer Institute for Casting, Composite, and Processing Technology (IGCV) recently implemented its first BIM project as a client with the construction of the new Foundry Technology Center in Munich, the BIM manager was an integral part of the process. “We met with the architect and specialist planners once a month,” says Qian Chen, construction manager at the IGCV. “The BIM manager always provided an overview of all stakeholders, milestones, and challenges as part of a regular meeting using the BIM model.”