What if BIM never existed?

by Murillo Piazzi | November 18, 2022 | 5 min read

Home / Insights / Project Management / What if BIM never existed?

I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to notice subtle changes when I look myself at the mirror day after day. However, I am often flabbergasted when I find a 10 year old picture of my younger self (for some people these changes seem to be annoyingly minimal!).

If you allow me this somewhat broken analogy, I suspect the same happens in the world of building information modelling (BIM). Let me explain. It is difficult to notice the tiny improvements that happen on a daily basis. However, if we look 10 years back, we will probably be impressed with the transformation in processes, policies and technology. Have you tried to do what you do today in Revit 2012? Have you ever been curious to see how organisations used to specify BIM implementation a decade ago?

Despite the clear transformations we can identify in this exercise, I see many organisations that still have doubts about whether things have evolved, and the benefits brought by BIM implementation. Faced with this situation, I tried to carry out a more extreme version of the exercise described above and asked myself – what if BIM never existed?

Pieces of information wouldn’t be linked

The first most obvious gap left in an industry without BIM is the lack of connection between pieces of information. Traditionally, designers will represent the same piece of information in different ways. A door could be represented in a plan, an elevation, a section, described in specifications, quantity schedules, etc. These representations are included in hundreds of documents, which are then forwarded to the people who are responsible for tasks such as designing, manufacturing and maintaining.

In the past, coordination between these different representations was done manually. If the colour of the aforementioned door changed on the elevation, this would have to be changed in all other documents – manually!  Needless to say, this leaves room for lots of mistakes to be done.

In the busy lives we live, few people have time to check things twice, and uncoordinated information can be expensive. Once I saw an entire building being painted blue while it should have been painted white. Someone at some point forgot to update the colour code in the specification!

One of the first benefits enjoyed by early BIM adopters was the automatic coordination of information proportioned by new technologies. Have you changed the width of the door in plan? Don’t worry, elevations, sections and the parameters used in specifications will be automatically updated.

We would not have a reliable clash detection and coordination process

Some organisations are not aware that before BIM the construction industry had really poor clash detection and coordination practices. Despite working on the same project, architects, structural engineers and mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers worked in their silos – and they rarely came out of it to see what the others were doing. There was no culture of establishing a coordination and clash detection process at the outset of the project.

On top of that, as this process was carried out by a human (in lieu of a machine) there was always the likelihood that a few clashes were going to be missed. This meant, for instance, that whole MEP designs were developed referencing out of date information from the architects and other disciplines.

In some instances, some disciplines were not referenced at all. Results: pipes that clashed with beams, doors that did not have enough space to open and, above all that, very expensive problems to be solved on the construction site.

BIM did not make these problems disappear, but surely made things better. On BIM enabled projects the coordination process is discussed and set before the design is developed. Teams regularly gather to discuss coordination issues and find a compromise on what needs to be changed – it is very difficult to argue that there is no problem with the positions of your pipes when the clash is shown in 3D on a big tv display.

Collaboration would be much harder

Building up on the siloed approach I have mentioned on the previous point, people forget that, until not so long ago, it was rare to find organisations using collaboration platforms where people could go to consult the latest information that was produced by the different specialists working on the project.

The exchange of information (eg sheets with plans, list of products and quantities, documents with products specifications) was done mostly via email and sometimes, believe it or not, via post! In the beginning of the 21st century, the works for complex buildings like hospitals and nuclear powerplants were carried out referencing printed plans sent via post! This made it the management of document versions and the search for information a very, very difficult task. No one was 100% sure that the documents they had were the most up-to-date versions, and few had time to check.

With BIM we saw the arise of solutions that allow professionals to collaborate and share files in a much more efficient way. These platforms, conventionally called Common Data Environment (CDE), have functionalities that support the implementation of a revision control and reviewing tasks.  They also allow people to search the information they need much more easily. You want the latest version of a file? No problem, you know exactly where to find it: the CDE!

In summary

I appreciate that we went on a back to basics journey here, but sometimes we need to take two steps back to get the full picture of where we are at.

Other industries are going through their information management and digitisation saga. Public services, health care, shopping, you name it. There is a fairly widespread understanding that ‘digital’ is the way moving forward. In the construction industry we have conventionally adopted the term BIM to denominate our digital transformation. However, unlike other industries, there is still a lot of resistance to adopt digital processes – some say that the benefits are not clear.

I hope that the exercise we did here could demonstrate that we have indeed progressed a great deal and that while things might not be perfect with BIM, we would be in a much worse place without it!

For more detail on the adoption of BIM and how it can support your projects, adding value and minimising risk, contact Murillo at [email protected]