Unlocking complex project solutions with BIM

by Paul Thorpe | March 1, 2024 |  6 min read

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There are several misconceptions about what Building Information Modelling (BIM) is, with many people believing it to be a magic solution to all errors – let me tell you, BIM is not a magic solution.

BIM is many things, but magic is not one of them!

BIM is, however, a problem solving enabler that allows us to unlock complex project solutions. It is a tool that can assist in identifying and resolving errors, but we need to remember BIM models can only be as accurate as the information inputted into them. Inaccuracies or errors in data can be carried through the entire project, and it is the user’s responsibility to ensure the information’s accuracy and completeness.

BIM is also not a one-time investment; it requires ongoing investment and maintenance to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information. Here, I look at some BIM basics, some BIM explainers, and reflect on many BIM benefits that are digitally driving the design, build and construct process.

What BIM is not!

BIM in not a 3D CAD model, piece of software or exclusively for designers. However, BIM does allow us to produce a model, it does introduce and align to new software, and it is a multidisciplinary process that involves collaboration and coordination between all stakeholders involved in a building project, including owners, contractors and facility managers, as well as the designer! BIM can be used throughout the entire lifecycle of a building – from the initial design phase through construction, operation and maintenance, and eventual demolition or retrofitting. It enables all stakeholders to access the same information, make better decisions, and, ultimately, deliver a better-performing building and infrastructure.

What is the importance of BIM?

The importance of BIM is really the I (information) part: the geometric data, non-geometric data, and documentation required to design, engineer, construct, maintain and demolish an asset.

The B (building) has nothing to do with restricting to buildings, it can also refer to other types of built assets we use in our day-to-day lives, such as infrastructure projects, e.g., linear assets: roads, rail, pipe networks, etc.

The M (modelling) means more than just modelling in 3D. It means the creation and structuring of information into a visual and coherent form, e.g., creating a spreadsheet in excel is a form of modelling.

BIM allows for integration. Information is pulled together using parametric, object-based modelling in which non-geometrical data is embedded within geometrical objects. This facilitates coordinated, reliable, shareable data which can be placed in a Common Data Environment (CDE) that is accessible to all relevant team members so the information can be shared and coordinated, rather than developed in silos.

It is also important to remember that BIM is not relevant at the design stage, BIM supports the whole lifecycle of a built asset.

BIM benefits

One of the key benefits of BIM is its ability to generate, store and share documentation about a building or infrastructure. Documentation refers to the written, visual or digital records that describe the different aspects of a building or infrastructure, such as its design, construction, operation or maintenance.

With BIM, we can use documentation to communicate and coordinate the work of different disciplines and stakeholders and to track and document the progress and quality of a project. We can also use documentation to comply with legal, regulatory and insurance requirements, and to document and demonstrate the performance and sustainability of a building or infrastructure.

BIM can generate different types of documentation, such as drawings, specifications, reports, schedules, budgets and manuals. BIM can also link documentation to other data and documents, as well as the 3D model of a building or infrastructure. BIM allows us to really understand a build, and the building process. BIM has the ability to capture and manage geometric information about a building or infrastructure.

What is geometric information?

Geometric information refers to the size, shape, location, orientation, and other physical properties of the building or infrastructure.

By using BIM we can create detailed and accurate 3D models of a building or infrastructure, including its geometry, materials, and systems. We can also use BIM to annotate and tag the different elements and features of the building or infrastructure, and to link them to other data and documents.

We can also use geometric information to understand and optimize the performance of a building or infrastructure, to detect and resolve potential conflicts or issues, and to communicate and collaborate with other stakeholders.

What is non-geometric information?

Non-geometric information refers to data and information that is not related to the physical properties of a building or infrastructure but is still relevant to its design, construction, operation or maintenance.

Some examples of non-geometric information stored and managed in BIM include material properties, system specifications, cost estimates, schedules, budgets, environmental impacts, sustainability goals, safety and accessibility standards, legal and regulatory requirements, stakeholder information, and process and policy information.

Non-geometric information is essential because it helps us to understand and optimise the performance, cost, and risk of a building or infrastructure. By using BIM, we can integrate non-geometric information with geometric information to create a comprehensive and consistent model of a building or infrastructure.

Documentation challenges

However, BIM also brings new challenges and responsibilities in terms of documentation. We need to ensure that the documentation generated by BIM is complete, consistent and accurate. We must adopt appropriate standards, protocols and tools for generating, storing, and sharing documentation in BIM.

To successfully use BIM for documentation, we need to clearly understand the types of documentation required for our project and use BIM to generate and manage this documentation efficiently and effectively. By doing so, we can improve the quality and value of our documentation and enhance the success of our projects.

BIM adoption

The NBS Digital Construction Report 2023 shows a solid 70% of construction professionals have embraced BIM. This figure has been consistent since 2018, showing steady interest in this technology. However, the adoption rates vary across different roles and organisation sizes.

Consultants lead the pack with a 73% adoption rate, while only 53% of clients have adopted BIM.

Interestingly, architecture and landscape firms are even more enthusiastic, with a 77% adoption rate. For multidisciplinary practices, especially in the UK, this number jumps to a remarkable 88%!

However, there’s a challenge for smaller organisations. Those with 25 or fewer staff show a BIM adoption rate of 60%, and it drops further to 56% for companies with 15 or fewer employees. Age also plays a role, with professionals over 55 less likely to adopt BIM.

While 18% of respondents plan to adopt BIM soon, 12% have yet to make plans to integrate it. This highlights ongoing barriers for some professionals, especially in smaller organisations. Factors such cost, time, and perceived lack of necessity for more minor projects are significant hurdles. But the future looks promising as we continue to see a growing interest in BIM globally.

This is just a snap shot into the BIM eco-system, what it does and how it does it. To understand this in more detail watch our LinkedIn Live event on demand with myself and Lewis Johnson on Unlocking complex project solutions with BIM.

About the author

Paul Thorpe

Director, BIM Academy

Paul is experienced in managing the digital delivery of large scale construction and infrastructure projects across the globe. Paul joined the BIM Academy team on his return to the UK after living and working in Hong Kong for several years.

Paul has specialisms in information management, BIM execution, digital twin development and delivery, and digital transformation. Paul is a Project Management Professional with the Project Management Institute (PMI) and a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB).

With a proven ability to build and lead high performing teams across major projects, Paul brings his experience in developing digital business plans and executing company wide digital strategies to BIM Academy.