What is BIM? An Overview of Building Information Modelling
The construction industry is changing. The days of contractors operating in silos are slowly disappearing and being replaced by a system of collaboration and communication, spearheaded by Building Information Modelling, or BIM – a popular topic in today’s construction industry, but it’s also a grossly misunderstood one.
Contrary to popular belief, BIM is not merely a technology. Although there are technological components that make up the BIM process, the technology (the software) itself is merely a component of a broader system. In its essence, BIM is a way of doing business; a method of collaboration between architects, engineers, manufacturers, developers and contractors that improves the efficiency and accuracy of the design, construction and management of construction projects.
In an overly litigious, high risk industry such as construction, the emphasis for years has been on risk avoidance, to the detriment of collaboration (and budgets). Typically this meant an architect would pass on risk to the general contractor, who would pass it on to the subcontractors, and so on. The result was too often the same: lots of change orders, and incorrect construction processes that led to long delays and budget overruns. This was not a sustainable way to do business and overtime this began to be recognized by industry leaders.
As a result, we’ve slowly started to witness changes in the way the industry conducts its business, leading to the acknowledgement that a better job of collaborating and communicating early on in the design process was required in order to avoid delays and other factors that drive up the cost for the owner.
A project life-cycle system that results in a virtual information model passed from the design team (architects, surveyors, engineers, etc.) to the contractor, to the subcontractor and then on to the owner, BIM’s strength lies in its ability to identify conflicts upfront, which in turn eliminates cost prohibitive changes required later on in the construction process.
For example, BIM can be used to identify spatial conflicts, like where the plumbing doesn’t line up with the space planning or where there’s an electrical box in the wrong place according to the plans (say, the middle of a lobby). The architect and engineer design to the BIM standard, then when the plans are passed on, the general contractor uses BIM software in concert with estimating software to identify these conflicts.
Additionally, cost benefit analyses can be done much faster with BIM, allowing multiple options to be considered before the first brick is ever laid on a project; ultimately, enabling contractors to provide accurate estimates to owners on specific ways they can save money (e.g., if you use this material, you will save $X million). At its core, BIM provides the ability to see the exact outcome based on any changes to construction plans. It’s therefore not surprising that we are starting to see owners require BIM programs as a prerequisite for bidding on construction projects.
However, like any system in its infancy there are challenges. For BIM, it’s about ensuring best practices are in place and that everyone (owner, architect, designer, general contractor, subs, etc.) is using the technology in an agreed upon manner. Failure to do so will lead to a collapse of the entire BIM process, and a reversion to budget overruns and project delays.
At the end of day, BIM results in a much better designed project because you have people collaborating from the project outset, and have the ability to understand how changes at each project phase might impact the end result.
BIM is here to stay and the only question is, do you understand it and are you ready for it?
In future posts, we’ll delve deeper into the specifics of the software and other aspects of BIM.
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