BIM – Building Information Modelling – Can it really help?

  • Building Design Expert
  • 8 years ago

For anyone that has used a 3D CAD package I am sure you will be used to a certain way of working. For those of you that don’t read on.

3D CAD enables us to construct a virtual building model. Translating the content of the designer’s head into a series of walls, slabs, roofs, any combination thereof, and probably a lot more besides. It’s a way of working that some simply take for granted, and what’s more it just gets better and more capable every year. Brilliant. Doesn’t everyone do this?

No, it appears not. But this is the basis upon which the latest industry buzz acronym is founded. Yes 3D modelling is in. De rigueur. The dogs B*!!*^!s. But then you might find that – No, it isn’t, BIM is being dragged kicking and screaming into building design consultants lives. Looking at the stats. – 75% of architectural practices still design and produce their drawings in 2D. TWO DEE!!! – I couldn’t believe either. So there’s a small gang of several thousand practices, of varying shapes and sizes that are leading the way in BIM. If only they knew it.

So what is BIM? …… Building Information Modelling: First of all it has been around for a long time, but it seems it’s still scary enough to limit the take up. Even now it’s sort of – “well alright then, show me what it’s about”. Why? Because it swallows whole – money, time and commitment. It positively demands a level of co-operation from the building design team a few rungs up from where many are now.

BIM is ‘The Design team working together towards a common goal’. Wait a minute. Isn’t that what we trying to do now? and have been trying to do ever since ‘Design Team’ became a buzz phrase. Yes it is. But BIM is the way the design team works together. It’s the unreserved collaboration of Architectural consultant, Structural and Services Engineers, Quantity Surveyor, Health and Safety advisor…….. etc. etc. and the one that no one can do without – the client.

The client (the larger, corporate types anyway) is now beginning to demand his/her design teams work under the BIM umbrella. Why? Because BIM provides a level of information and detail about a building, hitherto as rare as hens teeth. But in order to do so they must make some key decisions extraordinarily early in the design process. Decisions relating to exactly what they want in their building. Either that, or learn not to complain when their delegation gets it wrong. BIM is reliant on the production of design information in 3D. Not just from the architectural consultant, but from the structural engineer and services engineers. Each produces a virtual model of their design and these are the constituent parts which are architecturally brought together to form a combined whole.

So now we have the most amazing virtual building model that not only has information concerning the architectural design, but also the main building structure (steel / concrete frame) and then the complete services design, with ducts, pipes, cable trays. All working together to show client and contractors how the designers see it. Of course this is the end product – the building ‘working together’ bit. But it’s got to get there, and it is BIM as a process that allows this. Because have no doubt BIM is most definitely not an off the shelf software package you just order from Amazon.

What are the advantages of achieving BIM status for a construction project?

CLASH DETECTION – One of the greatest advantages of BIM is it’s ability to highlight any design clashes. You can see below a simple example of a pipe and a duct running through a beam. Not only would this cost additional money to physically resolve on site, but design it out now and arguably you have saved time on site (more money) and contribute to the contract running more smoothly. On a large project there could be any number of these to deal with.

Clash detection

Services clashing with the building structure is such a common problem – but it need not be

So you name it. Any building element (particularly those designed by separate disciplines) has the potential to clash with another in a way that cannot be sustained in reality. But the processes involved with BIM can spot these before they become a problem.

MINIMISE WASTE – Of course a unique and direct by-product of the process is the minimisation of waste. If we can spot the problems on a computer screen before they happen on site, it will potentially save hundreds to thousands of pounds of materials being undone and thrown away, and a few grey hairs into the bargain.

COLLABORATIVE WORKING – Just think a complete design team working so closely with each other that they have to buy in extra coffee and biscuits. BIM will ensure that all project drawings are complete, totally accurate and totally unambiguous.

ENTRY QUALIFICATIONS – BIM is currently limited to those willing to embrace the requirement to proficiently use a 3D computer aided design application. Not only that but the exchange of 3D information required must be in a format that the ‘designers’ CAD packages can understand. Not always an easy one!! – Consultants must be able to integrate their systems otherwise the whole process is sunk.

BIM will undoubtedly lead to greater cost control, more efficient site operations and procurement. Now who would argue against that as a premise? But even though technology has changed, arguably for the better, working practices largely have not.

Is BIM only useful on larger projects? – Well yes, and no. –
Yes it becomes much more useful on larger projects because there is far more information to assemble, and to have it all assembled and ordered is massively useful.
No, that usefulness can be realised on any sized project if the designer is willing to put in the time. A small office building, or medium sized house full of ventilation ducts and modern services could really benefit. We could probably draw the line at my granny’s front porch extension though.

The 3D virtual building and BIM were made for each other. It is the biggest legacy from the past that still forms part of the future and the industry needs to do something about that. BIM will promote inter-design team communication by default. We won’t even have to try, it will just happen.

Design consultants who continue to ignore Building Information Modelling are probably the same ones who are still sending faxes. We invest in BIM now like we invested in email ten years ago. It’s never too late, but one day you might just find it is.

Want to know more about Building Information Modelling? Try the BIM Handbook