Leveraging BIM Technology to Improve Construction Operations
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Leveraging BIM Technology to Improve Construction Operations

Kevin Rodenkirch, Associate Director and Agnieszka Szpara, AIA
Kevin Rodenkirch, Associate Director and Agnieszka Szpara, AIA

Kevin Rodenkirch, Associate Director and Agnieszka Szpara, AIA

Beginning in the 1990s, Architectural firms began removing drafting tables to make room for new desks, ushering in a digital workflow. It was this recent that an industry, thousands of years old, was transitioning from a system of 2D hand drawing to a digital platform. The software started as a digital form of hand-drafting, but it wasn’t long before computer-aided drafting programs began integrating 3D elements and components. Building information modeling (BIM) was the next evolutionary step in the industry, incorporating these new 3D digital elements with powerful information aggregate software.

While the idea of BIM is not brand new, the last ten years have seen a rapid expansion of firms incorporating information modeling in their practices.  Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill actually developed their own building information software back in the 1980s called AES. Whereas traditional drafting techniques involved using geometric elements transcribed onto a page, BIM is the combination of a set of integrated parameters and their relationship to 3D elements. The finished architectural product is the integration of designer-dictated data coinciding with software-generated 3D elements into a final visualization. BIM has expanded in use because it has allowed firms to work more efficiently by leveraging data altering tools to work more efficiently, rather than tediously revising drawings individually.

This new process has transformed the way firms work and has created a subset of required specialized skills. The revolution that CAD had on the architecture industry is being dwarfed by the shift to BIM. Beyond the traditional architectural training of designing spaces, BIM production requires a sophisticated understanding of how different software interpret and integrate data.

One of the largest advantages of using data over a geometric based drawing system is that coordination between disciplines can be done in real time and in 3D instead of periodic 2D drawing exchanges. Complex systems are worked through collaboratively and often with the inclusion of construction trades throughout the design process. Furthermore, models can be generated to include not just the aesthetics of the design, but can instantly incorporate multi-dimensional information, including sequencing, costs, and schedules. The real-time collaboration of information provides owners early insights to help inform decisions.

As the BIM industry has grown, primary software has been amplified by third-party plugins and compatible independent tools that work through the cloud and LAN-based networks. By having different programs working in tandem with each other, they allow for a central location of information so that each team member can access the portion of software most suited to their scope. For example, a single BIM model can contain all the information relevant to performance, including energy, solar and thermal analysis, panelization studies, and code compliance, etc. This allows a team member to focus on the components in a model that pertains to their portion of work without being required to find and review external models. This ability for software to talk to each other in real time is an ongoing challenge but one that is critical for an effective workflow.

What makes BIM platforms unique compared to previous methods is the dynamic nature of the models. As opposed to a fly-through movie that would be a snap-shot in time, a BIM model is shared continuously. Any saved changes made by a single team member updates the model for all other members, regardless of their location. These changes can be completed in a single model and spliced apart to create multiple scenarios, allowing each team member to perform iteration studies throughout the design process.

These multi-purpose models can be used in other ways beyond what a typical 2D drawing set can provide, including multiple virtual visualization formats that can be experienced in real time. Buildings can be experienced during the design phases via mobile devices, augmented reality, or virtual reality, allowing people to understand different components of the overall experience of the building in the way that helps them best. For example, a fabricator can compare a mock-up to an augmented reality model side by side and compare similarities, or an owner can virtually walk the site or present to potential tenants’ spaces within the building prior to the construction start.

These different scenarios within the model are not limited to just the design and construction phases. BIM models are becoming more advanced and are beginning to include post-occupancy information. Models can include building systems controls and be linked directly to property management systems and ownership manuals. These models provide more value to owners as the systems can be maintained in real time with better notification systems for onsite operations to quickly address issues that arise.

BIM brings owners, designers, and construction teams together which may prove to be increasingly challenging as time goes on. A major concern with all digital platforms, including BIM, is that each party is reliant on the accuracy of other people’s work, making a clear delineation of responsibility sometimes difficult. However, technology advances at a lightning pace, and safeguards are being implemented in firm procedures. As BIM expands its reach, companies are finding ways to protect their intellectual property while still maintaining shared models. Firms are beginning to include warnings that trigger upon inconsistent data within the model, notifying teams prior to proceeding.

The future of BIM will likely include the integration of another party into the process, the building users. BIM models are being tied to high-performing buildings, but the occupants still control the environments they inhabit. Hopefully, these models will start providing feedback in real-time throughout the life of buildings giving users real-time feedback on the performance, including engaging occupants from app integration to occupant behavioral analysis. Through this, BIM can move from being a tool of the construction industry to being a part of the building’s entire life cycle.

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