BIM: The future of construction

BIM (Building Information Modelling) is being hailed as the future of construction.  The process brings together every piece of information about a development into one place, whilst illustrating its life cycle from inception and design to demolition and materials reuse.  The aim is to ensure everyone involved in the building construction process is working to the same standards, allowing them to access information and integrate different design aspects more effectively and efficiently.  The hope is that through this process mistakes will be mitigated and conflict reduced.

BIM presents an effective way for manufacturers and suppliers to get their products in front of a much wider audience.  However, to make BIM a success and develop it even further, the industry as a whole must embrace it and engage with it correctly.

The first step is how to specify products in BIM. Fortunately when it comes to specifying products in BIM, there are a number of databases available. Possibly the best known of these is the National BIM Library although there are various smaller portals and individual company databases all of which hold details of BIM objects. 

Currently the information held in these databases is divided into four levels - 0 is the most basic with statistics being presented in a spreadsheet; level 1 contains simple objects; level 2 contains white objects and is now the mandatory level for products being used in Government projects; finally levels 3 and 4 are still in development and will produce fully collaborative project development platforms.

Communication is key

It is ironic that we currently have far better communications tools at our disposal than we’ve ever had.  However, our ability to communicate effectively has deteriorated, with many of us choosing to send numerous emails when one phone call would be sufficient.  Communication purely by email can be a lengthy process and often leads to misunderstandings and consequently, conflict.

BIM has the potential to remove this conflict.  Information about a project will be readily available to all of the parties involved, allowing them to see how they and their product or service fit into the bigger picture.  Concise product databases mean that specifications are presented in a clear and understandable way, removing any potential misinterpretation and disagreements.  BIM also enables the manufacturer to become an integral part of the integrated supply chain, providing a complete representation of the building process from conception to completion.  

However, again this is only achievable if everyone involved in the building process supports and contributes to BIM.

Potential product development

Although BIM is still in its infancy, developers are already looking at taking the next step with the introduction of Smart BIM.  Smart BIM will enable users to monitor the entire lifecycle of a building and its surrounding area, from how many toilet seats are used over a particular time period, to which area of the building is most hazardous in terms of trips and falls.  Not only will this information help to reduce costs, but it will also help to create safer, more efficient environments and may lead to new product development.

For example, through Smart BIM a manager of a supermarket may have noticed an increase in collisions in a particular area of the shop car park.  This will prompt them to investigate the problem and determine the cause, for example the car park layout or the surface material used.  In turn, this will lead to the development and installation of solutions to rectify the issue, such as higher skid resistant paving or traffic calming systems. 

Sustainable Drainage Solutions, or SuDS, is an example of where Smart BIM may come into its own. 

Prevention rather than cure

SuDs are a topical subject at the moment, with the floods of last year prompting an increased interest in the prevention of flooding.  Smart BIM should enable developers to establish where SuDS are needed, whether that is in a car park where standing water could potentially turn to ice and cause accidents, or in a new housing development where excess water could trigger localised flooding.

The benefit of identifying these risk areas at the outset is invaluable, allowing architects, contractors, suppliers and manufacturers to plan more effectively rather than having to retrospectively resolve an issue.

Again, all the above can only happen if information about a building or project is being fed back into the BIM system in the first instance.

BIM – the smart future?

BIM, particularly Smart BIM, has the potential to revolutionise the construction industry.  The complete integration of the supply chain and the ability to monitor a building’s life cycle from creation to conclusion will help to greatly reduce conflict and excess.  However, there is still a way to go.  As levels three and four of product specification have not yet been crystallised there is a potential risk that the system will get so far and then grind to a halt.  The speed at which BIM has been brought to market may also mean there are a few teething problems which need to be overcome.  However, ultimately the responsibility for BIM’s success lies with the industry and its ability to engage and utilise it correctly.  If this is achieved, the possibilities are endless.