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What is BIM?

BIM (Building Information Modeling) is one of the hottest topics in construction, and more and more projects are ‘doing BIM’. But what does that mean? And how can you make your BIM project successful?

There is a common misconception that BIM means 3D design. In fact, it's much more. BIM is a process for creating and managing all of the information on a project before, during and after construction. The output of this process is the Building Information Model, the digital description of every aspect of the built asset.  

Learn more: Aconex and BIM management

The Growth of BIM

The use of BIM in construction and engineering is not new, but the rate of growth becomes clear when you look at the number of BIM files stored on the Aconex collaboration platform. In 2009, fewer than 10,000 models were being managed on Aconex. By the start of 2013, clients were managing over 270,000 models – a growth of 2,600% in just three years.

And it’s not just that more project teams are adopting BIM. The size of the average model has almost doubled to 54MB over the past five years.

The benefits of BIM

When we think of BIM, we often think of better design coordination and improved constructability. But the real value can come after handover, when the owner or facility manager receives a complete and accurate set of information.  Even more than that, BIM provides a set of interrelated and cross-referenced information. For example, objects in the model are linked to related information including manuals, specifications, commissioning data, photos, and warranty details. This allows the owner or facility manager to efficiently and accurately manage the asset. Since 75% of the cost of a facility is incurred after handover, it's clear that the benefits of BIM continue to accrue after design and construction have been completed.

The challenges that BIM creates

For all its benefits, BIM brings new challenges around creating and collaborating on models:

  1. Taking the model beyond the design team – The true value of BIM can only be realized when it is taken beyond the design team – to subcontractors, the owner and facility manager. Providing access to the model and allowing them to contribute and link other information are key.

  2. Viewing the model (including in the field) – How can a subcontractor be given a view of a particular part of the model to resolve an issue without having to download and install software? How can people collaborate around that view quickly and easily? How can they view it on the tablet when standing on the site?

  3. Linking models to other data – A lot of project information, like drawings, RFIs and spec sheets, lives outside the model. How can these documents be linked for a more complete model? Owners may insist on receiving a 3D model but, for the full picture, it should be linked to all of the other data created and collated on the project.

  4. Tracking approvals and audit trails – Models are generated by different authoring tools and constantly changing, making it difficult to obtain and record approvals. With hundreds of decisions made around the model during its life, maintaining an audit trail of who did what and when can be almost impossible.

  5. Managing large file sizes – When BIM models can easily reach 50MB or more, distributing files securely and efficiently can be difficult, if not impossible. E-mail can’t handle the file sizes and FTP sites don’t provide the access control or audit trail you need.

  6. Model management – Typically, people on a project work with different authoring tools. The BIM Manager then compiles and distributes the federated model. This might happen on a weekly cycle, which can be too slow for a fast-moving project. Allowing each party to contribute its model as needed, while others access the information in real time, makes BIM more valuable to everyone.

  7. Dealing with long review cycles – Clash resolution usually takes place at set intervals, such as weekly or twice a month. But this creates a lag, where somebody addressing a clash has to wait for a whole cycle to complete before knowing whether it has been fixed or not. Immediate, real-time resolution of clashes is required.

  8. Publishing slices of models – No matter how advanced your 3D modeling is, there is still the requirement to publish, distribute and track the 2D plans which are needed for set-out and construction.

  9. Archiving point-in-time models – Even when a 3D software package can track changes, there still needs to be a way to save point-in-time models for sign-off and approval purposes. 

  10. Handover of a complete and accurate model – Owners want to receive a full set of information to run their facility. And contractors and consultants want to be sure they have met their contractual requirements in order to get paid. So understanding when this point has been reached is in everyone’s interest.

The importance of BIM Collaboration 

‘Doing BIM’ is much more than just model creation and using BIM software: communication and collaboration are equally important. The volume of information created and managed on BIM projects can create confusion if participants are not connected in a meaningful way. And like any construction or engineering project, a project that uses BIM requires an audit trail of every exchange, every decision and every approval point.

 BIM is as much about process as it is about technology.

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