What Does the “I” in BIM Really Mean?

information

When AEC professionals talk about BIM, they tend to underemphasize one of its most important benefits.

Building information modeling (BIM) is at the heart of an ongoing conversation about the modernization of the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) practices. Especially in the U.K. — where the government mandated that, as of 2016, all publically-funded infrastructure projects must include a BIM component — this conversation has underscored significant strategic changes in the way buildings are constructed.

While as of 2010 only 13% of British AEC firms were using BIM, by 2014, 68% of British project owners required BIM, and a remarkable 98% of project owners reported being at least “moderately involved with BIM” (meaning 25% or more of their projects utilize BIM). Though we certainly have some catching up to do, BIM has made steady gains in the U.S. as well, with 25% of American project owners requiring a BIM component and a further 43% encouraging one.

Learning From the Manufacturing Industry

While other labor industries, such as manufacturing, have seen increased productivity in recent years, construction’s productivity has been on a slow but steady decline.

bim graph

This of course begs the question, what are these industries doing that construction isn’t?

Let’s use manufacturing as the example: offshoring — a strategy that’s more challenging in construction — has undoubtedly helped increase productivity, but the industry’s strong emphasis on end-to-end data integration has been an equally powerful driver.

Philip Bernstein and Jon Pittman explain, “Facing global competitive pressures on every front…manufacturers turned long-ago to model-based digital design processes based on data that supported engineering analysis, bill-of-materials generation, cost modeling, production planning, supply-chain integration, and eventually computer-driven fabrication on the factory floor.”

In other words, much of the manufacturing industry’s productivity depends upon each each of its specialized teams having access to digital designs backed by comprehensive data. Ultimately, this is where BIM offers the AEC industry the greatest value. Unless you are already a staunch advocate of BIM solutions, chances are that your immediate reference point for BIM is its 3D, 4D (incorporating time management), or 5D (incorporating budget calculations) modeling capabilities. These capabilities — what we might call the “M” of BIM — are tremendously helpful in their own regard; however, without the “I” — or information — component, they’re not particularly useful.

The Importance of Information Sharing

As buildings become more complex and construction equipment increasingly digitized, the amount of information — or data — implicated by the average AEC project will continue to grow. Going forward, the practices governing the collection, organization, and, critically, sharing of all of this data will determine whether the AEC industry will be able to match the level of productivity we’re seeing in other industries.

On a fundamental level, BIM solutions provide a common data environment — essentially a shared online repository housing all of the information related to a particular project — that is accessible to all stakeholders involved. The mere ability to share information quickly and easily is vital to boosting productivity, as it streamlines the review-comment-response cycle that underlies every AEC process.

What’s more, BIM’s ability to de-silo project information has the potential to not only improve existing workflows, but to open the door to more advanced projects as well. By facilitating digital collaboration on structural designs, BIM strengthens the partnerships among architects, engineers, contractors, and project owners. According to one architect, “BIM allows us to share [increasingly complex] geometries back and forth among the design team members much more easily.” Consequently, “BIM allows us to work on much more complicated structural engineering projects than were attempted in the past.”

For instance, by using 4D BIM modeling, a general contractor bidding on the construction of a high-profile apartment complex in Dallas, Texas, completed a proposal for the 47 floor, 960,000 square foot structure in just five days. This was accomplished by intensive collaboration among Revit modelers, P6 schedulers, Synchro 4D planners, and a general technology team — collaboration that wouldn’t have been possible without the information-sharing capabilities BIM provides.

The ability to provide consistent, coordinated, and accurate project data will play a key role in the industry’s effort to increase efficiency and productivity. There may not be an “I” in team, but in the AEC industry, there’s no doubt BIM’s almighty “I” plays a central role in facilitating teamwork and collaboration among key project stakeholders.

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