What did we learn from BIM Level 3?

by John Millar | May 13, 2022 |  5 min read

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In the UK, the legacy of Level 2 BIM can often be considered as having cast a shadow over the way in which the construction industry adopts digitalised information management.

Perhaps not surprising given the progress made in the region in the six years between the publication of PAS 1192 and how it was replaced by the ISO 19650 international standards. In addition to many of the industry’s SME’s having been slow on the uptake and the implementation of these standards due to lack of understanding.

However, although PAS1192 has been phased out Level 3 BIM still remains. Level 3 was originally UK government led but is no longer needed due to the stringent guidelines of the ISO 19650 series but yet it still appears to be in the industry’s consciousness. Taking a positive angle, the original program may no longer be relevant, but its few commonly agreed characteristics remain topical prompts for cross industrial reflection and innovation. There is thus still value in examining its characteristics.

What is BIM Level 3?

BIM Level 3 is an integrated working method using a common data environment (CDE), which enables better collaboration and model evaluation irrespective of the software solution used by each team member. It differs from Level 2, in that the geometry and the data of an asset are required to be combined and requires a structure to the data for the built asset which is achieved through collaboration across the supply chain. Level 3 also proposes the use of an integrated solution built around open standards such as IFC where a single server/software stores all the project data, i.e., the CDE.

How does Level 3 work?

Take, for example, the concept of whole-life asset management. Level 3 BIM sought to promote a more proactive approach in the management of built assets, leveraging measurement and data driven insights to empower owners and operators to get the best out of their assets. Moving forward from this, digital twin is enabling this approach. An increasing number of case studies continue to demonstrate digital twin’s immense value to owners and operators, bringing about considerable savings in time, cost and carbon whilst maximising efficiency and certainty during both the capital and operational phases of the asset lifecycle.

The ultimate realisation of this idea is in the smart city, when multiple digital twins are connected within a wider digital eco-system for portfolio level asset management – be this districts, cities or infrastructural networks. This is a concept explored in great depth by the Centre for Digital Built Britain and Digital Twin Hub in their work in establishing and implementing the Gemini Principles, which signpost the road towards the National Digital Twin; an ambitious digital representation of the UK’s built environment which will rely greatly on the foundational technology layer having sufficient scale and capacity to operate – both key concerns of the Level 3 BIM program.

Another technological consideration is that of the deeper linkage and interoperability of data. BIM as we have always known is centred on the federated model – the coordinated combination of individual disciplinary models – whilst one principal aim of Level 3 BIM was the integrated model; interoperable information models and structured data linked at the data level rather than file level. Promising developments such as Linked Data in Architecture and Construction (LDAC) indicate that this idea is not quite as far away as we might think, whilst buildingSMART’s openBIM campaign continues with larger and more complex projects having been delivered successfully to openBIM protocols and the IFC schema and other interoperable data exchange formats continuing to evolve.

What have we learnt so far?

Indeed, the current state of play shows an industry moving in the right direction, albeit a little slower than predicted. However, to fully step forward into the digital economy, a number of questions remain to be answered, including the technicalities of data provenance, the development of appropriate commercial models and the industry’s ongoing adjustment to fully digitalised methods of communication and collaboration. As well as these, there are also persistent cultural issues such as those of trust, transparency and accountability, which recent developments such as the Building Safety Bill and hot-topic technologies such as the blockchain look to address.

Now, some years later, these questions look towards shaping the future as originally envisaged by the Level 3 BIM program. But, when all is said and done, what’s in a name?

Ultimately, the specific terminology used is irrelevant in achieving project aims. In the practical delivery of projects, technology should always be a means to an end and never an end in itself, and regardless of the standards in use, the focus should always remain the same. A deep understanding of the client’s value case answered with a genuine response to their informational need.

Innovation begins with an understanding of which solutions are appropriate in which situations, with a proportionate response leveraging the tools available to bring maximum value to the client.

Level 3 BIM was always a short-term plan, set out to change the industry over 10 years – the industry has most certainly changed since its introduction and whilst the term may no longer be in favour, the practices deployed from the Level 3 program has brought us are still very relevant today.

If you would like to know more about BIM, contact John Millar at [email protected].