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The case for BIM in construction projects

Frank Italia
June 17, 2013

Does my BIM look big in this? This could well be the question the building and construction industry is asking itself as it struggles to contain the myriad of interpretations of what constitutes building information modelling (BIM).

In Australia, as federal, state and local governments start to slowly contemplate their position on BIM, industry has already decided that BIM is the new norm. Most stakeholders in the design and construction process already have some level of inherent BIM capability. In some cases, head contractors are mandating BIM—or at the very least encouraging key aspects of BIM—to release efficiency in the design and construction process. Interestingly, this occurs even if the client has no interest in BIM and, in some cases, despite the client having reservations about BIM and that somehow its implementation may adversely impact their project.

What the industry is missing are clear examples of what can be achieved as part of the BIM process that will impact in post-project handover phase. The costs in the operational stage of a project lifecycle are widely accepted to range from four to six times the actual construction cost. While these numbers can be debated, there is no question of the tremendous savings in the facility and asset management sectors.

While BIM design software certainly requires mechanisms which allow different software vendors products to be included in the design process, the same issues exist in the post-construction industries where we can argue that is possibly more important to agree on open standards in post construction. At the post-construction stage we have numerous vendors such as IBM, SAP and many others that use asset information from the base design and build to maintain constructed facilities at high levels of operation. This information links to financial systems, warehouse and logistic systems, resource planning systems, operational maintenance systems and other support systems.

The design and construction industry has accepted that there are clear benefits to BIM, albeit varying opinions within the industry itself, as an industry we are starting to accept that the only way to realise those benefits is to collaborate. The facility management industry however continues to grapple with this transformation: the change from what is in many cases undocumented changes, or changes that are documented in 2D paper based systems and largely disconnected database driven systems, to a future where they too can benefit from the handover of the various BIM outputs.

Leading through efficiency

To quote Chuck Mies, Autodesk’s BIM business development manager in his opening presentation at a recent facility management industry function: “Ours is the only trillion dollar industry in the history of the world where clients demand inefficient processes… Handover generally leads to information loss.”

Eliminating this data loss and removing duplication of effort in the design, construction and facility management industries needs to be the focus of government, industry and software vendors. BIM is, by its very nature, about managing the complexity and volume of data contained in the various design and construction models.

There are parallels to what occurred in the IT industry where data consolidation created massive efficiencies by allowing data from one process to be combined with other data resulting in cost and production chain efficiencies. This is the type of watershed moment that will transform BIM.

Standards provide robust parameters to define, particularly in the realm of data exchange. The IT industry for example, has long developed and proven standards for a range of criteria from HTML for web content to the many different of XML schemas for data exchange. By contrast, the design, construction and the many companies involved in the operation of facilities are, by and large, still using 2D paper based systems. In order for the construction and facilities industries to make the next quantum leap, there are legal, trust and cooperative issues to be addressed. In an industry beset by an abundance of contracts and legal disputes, the introduction of the ‘perfect’ BIM process is a mammoth challenge and one that may be a lumbering process.

In the halcyon days of the drawing board, quantity surveyors would count all the elements and components that went into a design to obtain a cost estimate for a project to ensure that client and constructor expectations were managed. Today, while BIM allows for those costs to be mined from the data inherent in the 3D model by anyone with access to the model, it is still the quantity surveyor that is responsible for ensuring that what is being designed will fall within cost expectations.

At Norman Disney Young, we have been implementing key elements of BIM well before it was even referred to as BIM. We use a combination of geometry and data in the BIM model to create the 2D content that industry still demands, yet we also supply the 3D content that the industry needs in key areas such to improve ‘constructability’ and coordination. However, innovation is king. At NDY we find new and effective ways to use the data and the geometry in the model to check our designs, consider safety and constructability of designs, check code compliance and even monitor changes in the model and determine and present how those changes will impact our designs and project delivery commitments.

The exciting part of this journey is that we continue to discover improvements in the way we utilise data and geometry in the BIM model to improve our internal processes and increase the quality of our external deliverables. And we continue to innovate with what BIM can offer without having to modify existing design processes: this is resulting in a steep upturn in the BIM evolution at NDY.

When we factor in the rapid advancements in the computer industry we continue to be amazed at new technologies such as 3D printing and location services with offer, we are fast approaching the summit: the point at which our designs, and the eventual built form, will only be limited by our imaginations. This is the real power of BIM.

Author avatar
Frank Italia
Frank Italia is the director of Information Technology and Building Information Modelling for leading engineering consultancy Norman Disney & Young. He has a 25-year history of leading IT direction that is business and work practice-focused including strategy, research and innovation in improving productivity and workflows in the built environment.
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