What is BIM? An Overview of Building Information Modelling – Part II

Collaboration and communication is evolving in the construction industry, led by Building Information Modelling, or BIM.

Gone are the days of architects, engineers, and contractors essentially operating independently of one another, offloading their portion of the project and risk to those next in line. Instead, it has now been recognized that early collaboration using virtual information models between all actors in a building project can reduce risks, construction timelines, and overall project costs.

Today’s article will focus on a brief history of BIM software, where it is presently, and where it is going. For a detailed high-level overview of BIM, read my first article in this series, available here.


A Brief History of BIM

To those familiar with the construction industry it may appear as though BIM appeared virtually overnight. In a traditionally slow moving field, the percentage of companies using BIM has jumped precipitously from 28% in 2007, to 49% in 2009, and to 71% in 2012.[i] As of 2014 it can be assumed this number is edging ever higher. However, this recent proliferation of this technology belies a long iterative software development process of over 40 years.

As with most new technologies, the underlying concepts of BIM were first developed by academics before being adopted by industry, and can be traced back to basic 2D and 3D computer-aided design (CAD) research of the 1970s.

As personal computers became more powerful, the usefulness of these tools to architects and engineers became increasingly evident. In 1984, the first commercial version of ArchiCAD was released for the Apple Lisa personal computer, the oldest continuously marketed BIM architectural design tool today.

The next early leap for BIM occurred with the introduction of the 4th dimension, 4D, or “time”. In 1986, the concept of temporal phasing was used for the first time during the phased construction of Heathrow’s Terminal 3.

The dimensions of BIM were further developed to a 5th, or 5D, in 2000. The release of AutoDesk Revit allowed cost to be associated with individual components, thus allowing contractors to generate not only construction schedules, but also cost estimates. One of the first projects to use AutoDesk Revit was the Freedom Tower in New York, which was completed in a series of separate but linked BIM files.


So Where Are We Today?

In 2012 contractors (74%) overtook not only engineers (67%) but also architects (70%) to be the preeminent adopters and users of BIM software. It is virtually assured that all governmental or public infrastructure bid requirements will include use of BIM. The trend is similar in the private sector. All actors in the construction industry, not just architects and engineers anymore, ignore the importance of BIM at their own peril. Improper implementations, poor software selection, or no selection at all places companies at an extreme competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis their peers.

The current practice in BIM is the use of the ‘federated model.’ This refers to the standardized interoperability of BIM files between the different software suites that architects, engineers and contractors each use. On a particular project an architect may use ArchiCAD, the engineer AutoDesk Revit, and the contractor AutoCAD NavisWorks. As each party passes their model off to the next, it must be possible to add or subtract each individual model from the whole. This is so all parts can be combined before construction to run clash or collision detection between the models. If one is detected, the ability exists to take out and re-work specific sections. Thus, it is incredibly important to verify the interoperability of BIM software between working groups.

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all in the world of BIM software. If an architect is interested in the conceptual design aspect, then a product like AutoCAD may be perfect. If a contractor is interested in collaboration, bidding, and construction management then AutoCAD NavisWorks would likely be a suitable option. Correct software selection is highly driven by an actor’s role, and may even change from project to project due to interoperability concerns and contractors dictating the use of specific software.

Thus, the BIM software selection process is not entirely cut and dry. A business needs to approach the implementation of BIM like any other capital acquisition; that is, to completely understand their needs and benefits of specific software offerings, and make a quantitative analysis of return on investment.


Building the Future

Looking forward it appears that estimating and costing options will continue to flourish in the BIM field. Estimating packages like Tiberon and Squarec can now read BIM files and accurately populate scheduling software like Primavera and MS Project.

In addition, construction and BIM software are no strangers to the effects of globalization. The coalescing of BIM into a global set of standards will continue as US, European and Asian firms expand and bid on each other’s turf.

The future of BIM is changing every day, at a frantic pace. It is imperative that those in the construction industry stay ahead of such developments by making wise and informed choices today.

If you would like help making these important decisions reach out to me or Rand Group. We’d be happy to help.

[i] The Business Value of BIM in North America: Multi-Year Trend Analysis and User Ratings SmartMarket Report, McGraw-Hill Construction, 2012

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