BIM now and forever

This Issue This is a part of the Technology feature

By - , Build 131

BIM has been proclaimed as one of the most exciting developments in the construction industry. The recent proliferation of BIM products has seen increasing numbers of companies joining the parade, but is it a passing fad or a new industry standard?

Figure 1: The future adoption of BIM in New Zealand. (Source: NZ National BIM Survey 2012, Masterspec – Construction Information Limited.)

In its simplest form, building information management (BIM) is a technology that allows information about a building to be represented in a more realistic way. Models can be created based on the elements or products that you think about when designing or constructing the building. Instead of information being based around geometry such as lines, points and faces, it is based around construction elements such as walls, windows, beams and columns, or manufactured products such as HVAC units, lifts or cladding systems.

Complete, consistent, up-to-date

This is an enormous step up from traditional ways of modelling a building in 2D and 3D CAD systems. Instead of the computer program reasoning being based only on building geometry, it can reason about the actual product that is being designed. If the BIM system knows that you are modelling a window, for example, it can ensure the right information is collected about that window and that it is properly inserted into the wall. Additional aspects can also be considered, such as calculating the impact of the window on lighting or heating in the space or ensuring the cost of the specific window frame and hardware is included in the costing.

The BIM system can collect information across the whole life cycle of a building to ensure that a complete record is always available for every part of the building – design intent, conceptual design, detailed design, engineering design, construction, as built, and facility management over its whole life. This means there is complete, consistent, up-to-date information for every aspect of the building for every project partner at all times.

BIM bringing many changes

BIM is going to change almost everything in the industry over the next decade.


Almost every software tool used in the industry will change to take advantage of the information-rich environment that BIM provides. We have already seen the transition from 3D CAD products such as Architectural Desktop through to full BIM-based products such as ArchiCAD and Revit. Alongside this, many simulation programmes, for example, Ecotect for environmental simulations, FDS for fire or SimTread for modelling pedestrian movement, are adapting to the richer information available from BIM to provide semi-automated simulations of building models as they evolve.

Project management and facility management software tools are also starting to adapt to the existence of BIM. In the future, new software tools are likely to become available to take advantage of the data captured within a BIM model, such as automated Code compliance checking. This is already used in Singapore and is being investigated by building consent authorities in New Zealand.

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Significant amounts of information are being made available electronically as internet applications expand into every discipline. Now we expect to find regulations, manufacturers’ product information, certificates and so forth online. With the advent of BIM, many of these information providers are ensuring that their data is compatible with BIM tools.

In the UK, the National BIM Library has just been launched, which publishes product data in a format suitable for all major BIM tools.

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Unlike the introduction of CAD, which essentially computerised the existing manual process conducted on drawing boards, the biggest positive impact of BIM occurs when existing processes change. IPD (integrated project delivery) and alliancing create more collaborative environments for design processes, and the proponents of these practices recognise that BIM is the underlying technological platform that supports this process change.

BIM is all about collating and sharing information about a building, so the greatest benefit is generated when processes change to allow more professionals to access the information and to be involved in decisions made about the information.

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BIM will be an integral part of education both for newcomers and experienced practitioners already working in the industry. Tertiary institutions are refocusing their attention on training professionals in the new environment that it will create.

Unitec is leading the way in New Zealand with its integration of BIM into the Bachelor of Construction degree, with other institutions expected to follow. In the US, groupings such as A+CA (Architecture and Construction Alliance) are universities where architecture and construction are taught in the same faculty in an integrated manner and where BIM is used as the technology platform to allow these disciplines to collaborate.

Some countries are also retrofitting their construction industries with BIM knowledge – the UK Government, for example, has announced that it will retrain its entire construction workforce in the use of BIM. While the New Zealand Government has not followed suit, there are many user groups to support those taking steps with BIM, including Revit User Group, ArchiCAD BIM User Group and Effective Prototyping, Interoperability and Communication Group.

Use spreading from large players

The early adopters of BIM have tended to be the large players in each national market, as they have the resources to take risks with new technologies. However, BIM adoption has gone beyond that stage to the point where many governments are starting to demand BIM information (see Figure 1).

The UK has already mandated the use of BIM for government projects but is also requiring BIM to be used in all projects by 2016, driving the need for workforce retraining. Similarly, in the US, the GSA (the procurement agency of the US Government) mandates the use of BIM on all projects it lets.

Clearly, many countries see a benefit from the use of BIM, not just for large companies but the whole industry. Whether New Zealand will move to mandate the use of BIM in any segment of the market is yet to be seen, but there will be incentives to use BIM for general practice with the introduction of new services that will only work for those who are BIM competent. As an example, when building consent authorities introduce online Code compliance checking, this will only be available for BIM models.

BIM just the beginning

It is clear that the momentum behind BIM has crossed the tipping point, and we will become a transformed BIM-dominated industry with changes no one has yet anticipated. What we do know is that adoption of BIM is not the end point.

The CIB (International Building Council), which represents over 500 research organisations internationally (including BRANZ, which is on the CIB Council), has launched a priority theme on IDDS (integrated design and delivery solutions) to explore what is needed after BIM, and to develop research trajectories that will ensure the benefits that BIM will deliver can grow for decades to come.

BIM is just the start of an exciting journey for this industry, moving it squarely into a central part of the knowledge economy.

Figure 1: The future adoption of BIM in New Zealand. (Source: NZ National BIM Survey 2012, Masterspec – Construction Information Limited.)

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Figure 1: The future adoption of BIM in New Zealand. (Source: NZ National BIM Survey 2012, Masterspec – Construction Information Limited.)