Building Information Modelling is on course to take the construction world by storm, but remains shrouded in mystery to many stakeholders involved. Common misunderstandings about what it actually is can lead to hesitation when it comes to making important strategic decisions about using BIM. When applied correctly, however, BIM can help companies make better decisions and reduce costs, so it is important to not be swayed by industry hearsay.
Some misunderstandings as to what BIM is likely stem from confusing definitions filled with complicated phrasing and industry jargon. ISO 19650 defines BIM as the “use of structured data and information to support the delivery of a project and operation of an asset” and PAS 1192 defines BIM as a “process of designing, constructing, or operating a building or infrastructure asset using electronic object-oriented information”. What does this mean? Other definitions often provided by software companies simply reduce BIM to a modelling tool, leaving out the valuable management component and providing an incomplete definition.
Myth 1 - BIM is a trend and will soon be gone
Simply put, BIM is the natural continuation of the evolution of modelling technologies. Paper-based, two-dimensional designs have long been a favoured method in construction for conveying project concepts to team members. The development of computer-aided design software brought with it the ability to visualise projects with the use of three-dimensional models. Whilst 3D modelling brought the industry into a new era, there was still a desire and need to go further. BIM has the capability to assign additional information to 3D models, such as measurements, colour, material and other specifications. It also has the option to display additional dimensions by including information about scheduling and time management (4D) and costs (5D). Of those surveyed in the German construction industry, 85% who are not using BIM yet plan to start as far out as 2019 or later1, suggesting that usage will only continue to grow in the coming years.
Myth 2 - BIM is just about 3D modelling
The term ‘building information modelling’ read in the most basic sense gives the impression that it simply refers to a 3D modelling programme. Whilst models are an important part of the concept, it is the ability to organise different types of information that can be applied to construction projects. These can include things such as partial models, viewpoints of models, 2D drawings, and additional documents. The real added value of BIM is that it makes all of these things easily accessible and sharable across company boundaries so that everyone working on a project is able to use them.
Myth 3 - BIM is just about software
BIM is about much more than simply having the right software. There are some companies out there offering authoring software to create building models and there are very specialised tools available that support only one aspect of BIM, such as checking for collisions. Whilst the software is important, it is how it is used that really can take a BIM-enabled IT infrastructure to the next level. BIM is bigger than just software and is a process that facilitates a more collaborative way of working by bridging company borders and making necessary information easily accessible for everyone working on a construction project.
Myth 4 - BIM can only be used for building construction
BIM can be used in a range of construction projects, and is not limited to building construction. The added value that BIM creates through the concepts of collaboration and strategically organised information can be applied throughout the construction industry and on a variety of project types. By making this information accessible to all stakeholders in the construction process, BIM creates a level of transparency that can be applied to all kinds of projects and companies through adapting the work method to meet their specific needs.
Myth 5 - BIM is only for the big players in the market
Investing in BIM may seem like a big commitment that has smaller companies shying away from taking advantage of this technology. In the German construction industry, a reported 56% of stakeholders polled said that investment was one of the biggest challenges limiting the use of BIM2. Whilst allocating the funds for this type of infrastructural development may be daunting, construction companies of all sizes can benefit from the streamlined workflows, collaboration, organised information, and planning foresight that BIM has to offer.
Myth 6 - BIM is just for planning, not execution
BIM plays an important role throughout the project lifecycle. No matter what phase a project is in, there is valuable information that can be contributed and a need for information shared by others. Each stage of a construction project is not a stand-alone part, but a piece of a larger puzzle. Information collected can be invaluable in the next step of the process so it needs to be documented and accessible in a way that makes it easy to use going forward, which is where BIM comes in. This can include information that will be beneficial for operation and maintenance.
These definitions of BIM may make it appear to be a complex concept, but it can be broken down into three easier to digest parts:
3D models and depth of data as the foundation
Whilst models are not the sole focus of BIM, they are a big part of it and help to form its foundation. BIM strives to provide an optimised representation of all relevant construction information at a glance. The depth of data created by the ability to attach additional information to the 3D models creates an extra layer of added value to BIM. Information can be added at all stages of the project lifecycle and can include valuable files and data about scheduling, cost, material during planning and execution phase, or notes and tasks essential for operation and maintenance – just to name a few.
Worth method for project collaboration
An aspect of BIM that is often not focused on heavily enough is that it is a management tool. Construction projects more often than not reach across company boundaries and a standardised process that allows people in different companies to easily collaborate is needed. An online accessible Common Data Environment (CDE) where this is possible is one of the most important building bricks for BIM. This is where information is structured, stored, and can easily be updated and accessed by all parties working on the project, including from the construction site. This helps to ensure that everyone working at each stage of the project lifecycle has the most up-to-date version of models and documents, and has easy access to any additional information that they may need. It can also help avoid duplication and mistakes and is a single shared space where all types of data from different software can be combined and organised.
Goal of making better decisions
The main goal of BIM is to help companies make better decisions throughout the construction process. It also allows for decisions that would traditionally be made between the planning and construction phases of a project lifecycle to be made earlier. Having all the information available and organised, plus the ease of collaboration, make it possible to make important decisions in the planning phase or before. This can help save companies money because changes can be made before spending even occurs in some cases.
So what is BIM in one sentence?
Simply put, BIM refers to a collaborative work method that enables project stakeholders to manage and connect available project information (graphical and non-graphical) throughout the project lifecycle in order to achieve greater transparency for all involved parties.
The many myths creating a blurred picture of BIM in the construction industry make it a confusing topic for some and lead to hesitation when it comes to implementation. However, it is important to look past these misconceptions in order to realise the true value of BIM. It goes beyond simple 3D modelling by creating the opportunity to attach additional information that may be beneficial to the project. Additionally, the use of a CDE in conjunction with BIM enables data sharing among all team members at various stages throughout the project lifecycle, ensuring that all necessary information is up-to-date and accessible. When used correctly, BIM can help construction companies make better decisions earlier through increased transparency and collaboration, ideally saving them money in the long run.