What Is BIM And How Can It Benefit The Design And Construction Process?

Posted by Claire Hodgson on June 15, 2018

What is BIM

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Over the last few years, there’s been a great deal of talk about 'BIM'. But what exactly is BIM and what does it involve? There’s actually no simple answer - because there are a number of words someone might be referring to when using the acronym BIM.

The aim of this blog will be to offer a definition of BIM, explain how it benefits pretty much everybody involved, and explore which tools and technologies are needed to allow for the true collaboration BIM promises.


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What Is BIM: What Does It Stand For & What Does It Involve?

Before diving too deeply into a conversation about BIM, it’s important to define what exactly we’re talking about. The UK Government provides the following useful definition:

'Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a collaborative way of working, underpinned by the digital technologies which unlock more efficient methods of designing, delivering and maintaining physical built assets. BIM embeds key product and asset data in a 3D computer model that can be used for effective management of information throughout an assets lifecycle – from earliest concept through to operation…

...At the planning stage it enables designers, owners and users to work together to produce the best possible designs and to test them in the computer before they are built. In construction it enables engineers, contractors and suppliers to integrate complex components cutting out waste and reducing the risk of errors. In operation it provides customers with real-time information about available services and maintainers with accurate assessments of the condition of assets.'

It’s a common misconception that by designing a building in 3D using software such as Autodesk Revit or Bentley MicroStation, you’re doing BIM. But that’s just not true – BIM is about so much more.

In many ways the adoption of BIM is a journey from traditional two‐dimensional drafting through to full building information modelling. This progression is represented in the graphic below.

BIM Maturity Model

The UK maturity model has a couple of alternative names: the iBIM model (the name of its highest level) and the BIM Wedge (due to its famous shape). It was developed by Mark Bew and Mervyn Richards in 2008. There are many versions of the base model, with subtle but meaningful differences. The one shown in Figure 5-1 appeared in the UK Government Construction Client Group (GCCG) report in 2011.

Move from left to right and the first thing you see is the replacement of 2D CAD with 3D modelling. Then comes the inclusion of additional information into the model, such as time-based programming information (also known as 4D), as well as cost/quantity surveying information (also known as 5D). The idea is that this information will remain accessible through the full lifecycle of the building, from inception to demolition.

We also see a move from design and construction being carried out in distinct silos, with documents being transmitted between parties, to a collaborative working environment where all team members have access to a central repository of information. That leads eventually to a situation in which everyone on the whole project team has access to a central model, which contains or references all the pertinent information needed to design, construct, operate, maintain, and eventually demolish the building or asset.

If you take all this into account, a good way of thinking about BIM, is that it’s the process of creating a digital representation of the physical, functional, and other data required to build and operate a building or other asset. This representation will be accessible to, and developed by, all the stakeholders, through collaborative processes, during the lifecycle of the asset from inception through to demolition.

How BIM Benefits The Design And Construction Process

Benefits of BIM

BIM has lots of benefits to offer, with savings in all aspects of the process. As BIM adoption increases and moves from level 1 through to 3, there are more and more benefits, and bigger benefits, too.

Benefits for designers:

✓ The reuse of standard components in the model can lead to time savings.

✓ Object‐based design significantly reduces the risk of drafting errors.  

✓ When all designers are working in BIM, there will be different models for the architectural, structural, HVAC, and electrical elements. These models can be compared and coordinated together (that’s a process known as federation). Any clashes between models are easily identified, and that prevents costly errors.

Benefits for contractors:

✓ Design errors are reduced or eliminated, which means no costly rectification.

✓ The use of models can more accurately identify material quantities and costs. 

✓ The use of models means that buildability issues are more readily identified and overcome. 

✓ Models can contain scheduling data and even simulate the construction sequence. That makes it a lot easier to predict and overcome difficult access problems and sequencing issues.

Benefits for clients and end users:

✓ Fewer errors and defects means lower overall costs. 

✓ There’s greater certainty earlier in the process about what the completed building will be like. 

✓ Operational costs are reduced because the design, construction, maintenance, and operation information is available throughout the life of the building.

The Challenges Of BIM

Challenges of BIM

How big of an industry change does the adoption of BIM represent? It’s at least as significant, and perhaps a good bit more so, than when work moved from drawing boards to CAD. There are multiple reasons.

✓ Designers must learn to use the modeling software (as well as 2D CAD for the time being). 

✓ Working practices need to change so that models can be shared and federated, not just at design stage but throughout the life of the project. 

✓ Contractors need new skills to be able to consume the model information and utilise it fully. 

✓ Clients and end users need to adopt different working practices to benefit from the information in the model. 

✓ IT infrastructure needs to improve to provide the tools needed to share and collaborate effectively.

Moving Towards Collaboration

If you’re really going to take full advantage of the many benefits of BIM, you have to get the whole project team onboard. Collaboration is the foundation for effective use of BIM, and there’s a need for better tools and IT infrastructure to support this improved way of working.

The most fundamental requirement is for a central repository for information, in particular documents, so that all team members can access the latest information. Of course, there are inherent risks involved in sharing information that’s not yet ready for widespread dissemination. That means it must be possible to configure the shared environment in a way that restricts access to some people while allowing access to others.

Beyond this basic shared information repository, effective collaboration relies on tools that help control document visibility, tools that notify users of new or changed content, and tools that allow interaction between users.

A Project Information Management Strategy Can Support The BIM Process

For more information on how implementing a Project Information Management strategy and system will benefit your business and your BIM process, download our Project Information Management for Dummies eBook.

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