Building Information Modeling –the Future Of Construction

Remote and dispersed teams, while challenging, are often an unavoidable aspect of construction projects. The great news is that Building Information Modeling (BIM) offers a dynamic and collaborative solution

Covering all aspects of building construction, BIM uses cutting edge technologies to replace traditional architectural drawings. The result is high powered three-dimensional project models that can be viewed and manipulated from all angles. BIM helps architecture, engineering, and construction professionals across multiple industries improve the way they design and construct buildings and infrastructure.

“If you consider the old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ a BIM model is worth a million,” says Jim Bratton, Engineering Manager of Virtual Design and Construction for Dynalectric. “It communicates our design intent, so people immediately lock into it. Architects and engineers see our problems, and the general contractor sees where the design needs work.”

BIM helps create and manage digital representations to ensure comprehensive understanding of all physical and functional characteristics of buildings by the construction teams as the plans change and develop. It allows members of the team to electronically communicate using the same model. It also gives instantaneous access to changes which, when checked frequently, can mitigate conflicts and prompt corrective actions before, and during, the construction process.

BIM models, when properly maintained and used in conjunction with other new construction technologies, like data point clouds from 3-D laser scanning, also present an exceedingly accurate as-built record of the project to assist with future facilities maintenance.

In theory, BIM is a boon to the construction industry and clearly the way of the future. Its winning role is to bring teams together to help everyone understand a building through the use of digital models. When used in this way, BIM helps construction professionals accurately predict problems before ground is even broken.

In practice, however, general contractors (GCs), electrical contractors (ECs), and other subcontractors are often invited into the modeling sessions extremely late in the planning process – which gives them less time to collaborate on the BIM models to co-craft fully accurate and efficient designs.

“Often, ECs were brought into a project in progress, many times with the initial building design completed. They were frequently unaware it was a BIM project until a ‘by the way’ from the general contractor,” explains Jeff Burmeister, product manager for an Autodesk Subcontractor. “The design often left little room for the EC’s work. This needs to change.”

Trade contractors are often the downstream recipients of the models shaped by others, with general contractors reporting that high percentages of structural fabricators and mechanical contractors create their own BIM models.

Adam Lega, BIM coordinator for KA Design & Build, agrees. “BIM requires a shift in thinking. Subcontractors should be involved early on in the project. Other partners in a project don’t always place enough importance in what the EC needs.”

Also, with few programs that include all the needed design content, some professionals, like electrical contractors, have begrudgingly adopted the technology – while mindfully aware of its many shortcomings.

“There is no one yet producing a true out-of-the-box program for ECs to create constructible models,” Bratton said. “Today’s packages provide the shell to customize, assuming you have the time and inclination to fill in the blanks.”

The various deficits make it an expensive proposition, considering the potentially dozens of staff members required to fully master it. It’s also an inefficient tool for smaller firms, and certain industry contractors, to adopt and offer. For the most part, BIM is still only being used by larger companies who can afford to put in the time and effort needed to customize their software to make it work for them.

Experts are pushing for the formation of industry groups to inform and educate software engineers in what is needed to make the programs more useful and efficient
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Chuck Eastman, BIM expert and Professor for the Colleges of Architecture and Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, says that contractors should be more aggressive in ensuring that their needs are met.

“Companies can’t guess what ECs need,” Eastman said. “When information modeling was being adopted
by the aerospace industry, committees gathered with programmers to discuss the functionality and needs of such modeling as they applied to their engineers. There is no reason this cannot happen in the electrical contracting world. Why not form an industry group that states what it needs from software developers?”

Dodge Data & Analytics, through its numerous studies on the construction benefits of BIM, consistently finds that larger companies are much more likely than smaller companies to both use the technology and benefit from it. That’s not to say that the technology can’t be utilized by all sizes and scales of businesses, however.

David Morris, Director of Virtual Construction for EMCOR relates that the first BIM surge occurred in 2008. That early adoption choice has proven valuable to their practice.

“We’re committed to the use of 3-D modeling and BIM in our project work because the metrics have shown reduced rework, higher safety, better ability to control costs, and reduced chance of litigation,” said Morris. “We see more designers, contractors and owners using BIM than not.”

BIM is a growing technology that’s begging to be optimized and adopted on a wider scale to improve project management and cut construction costs. According to BIM software producer Tekla, efficient communication between project parties, combined with fluent transfer of building information, results in both a fully integrated workflow and more efficient and accurate project delivery.

“With BIM (Building Information Modeling) technology, one or more accurate virtual models of a building are constructed digitally,” Tekla said on its website. “They support design through its phases, allowing better analysis and control than manual processes. When completed, these computer-generated models contain precise
geometry and data needed to support the construction, fabrication, and procurement activities through which the building is realized.”

Neil Martin, Manager at Timetric CIC explains that the precise digital data utilized through BIM results in reduced cycle time for project activities and delivery, as well as lower project cost. According to Martin, those savings and improved operation efficiency have a positive effect on the perceived return on investment, which will encourage more people to adopt the technology.

Mandates in countries like the U.K. that require level 2 BIM on public projects have helped push adoption along. Russia is expected to follow suit with its own regulations while also striving to position itself as an international expert on the technology.

While there are a few U.S. regulations in place requiring BIM usage by federal agencies, there is not likely to be a mandate comparable to the U.K.’s in the U.S. anytime soon due to construction industry fragmentation. The National Building Information Model Standard (NBIMS-US) Project Committee sees BIM as shared resource and tool for growing stakeholder collaboration – one that needs expanded adoption.

While there are a few U.S. regulations in place requiring BIM usage by federal agencies, there is not likely to be a mandate comparable to the U.K.’s in the U.S. anytime soon due to construction industry fragmentation. The National Building Information Model Standard (NBIMS-US) Project Committee sees BIM as shared resource and tool for growing stakeholder collaboration – one that needs expanded adoption.

In the U.S., a 2004 NIST study showed interoperability deficits cost owners $15.8 billion a year. It’s clear that the U.S. construction industry will benefit from the increased communication and information management that wider adoption of end-to-end Building Information Management can provide.

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