When looking at the evolution of technologies, it’s interesting to see how the adoption moves from one group or use case to another. Something may start as a product intended for one team, then determined to be useful for another and expanded. Early advances in Computer Aided Drafting led to the development of new tools and industries such as Computer Aided Manufacturing. While the history of Building Information Modeling includes a few different tools that could have been the source of its origin, the general consensus is the Architecture, Engineering and Construction BIM tools evolved from the concepts and software used in manufacturing design.
Having features like a sortable database, intelligent elements and parametric design transitioned to the ability to work in multiple dimensions at the same time and more effectively produce deliverables. This laid the foundation for the tools that became the new standard. Though initially designed for architecture, these tools evolved to benefit other disciplines and trades in design, with the specific features and needs that their work entailed, including infrastructure and MEP.
Today BIM is quickly moving beyond the design side of the process to becoming the standard for design collaboration and is being applied to other phases now. This makes sense since the majority of a building’s costs aren’t a result of the design and construction phase.
Depending on the type, most of a project’s ownership or total lifecycle cost is attributed to the operational and maintenance costs of the property. Second are the construction costs that tend to be much higher than the price of the project’s design. It’s easy to see the potential for real ROI and growth in the industry with more effective use of the tools at hand and adopting or creating new ones to connect the dots of the phases of a project following the initial design.
Helping construction professionals do this are multiple cloud-based platforms to enhance coordination and team agility. Tools to assist designers better understand and track their designs have found great success in assisting construction teams fully comprehend and visualize the project and all its moving parts in multiple dimensions. The 3D BIM data enables construction teams to ensure project components fit together correctly with tools to aid in uncovering clashes between the many models.
Applying 4D or time to the project’s 3D elements ensures that not only will the building elements avoid clashes or interaction problems, but also enables savvy construction companies to guarantee the teams onsite aren’t stepping on each other and project sequencing is smooth. Sometimes referred to as 5D is the application of cost to project elements. Traditionally, estimating project cost for construction would be done by tracing and measuring drawings to determine sizes, counts and overall needs. This was time-consuming and would require a lot of re-work, if and when changes would take place.
When a BIM model is created and available, these model elements can be counted automatically to generate estimates, and can even use formulas to estimate for elements not modeled. This saves time and increases accuracy, especially when changes occur, as these takeoffs can be refreshed to update quantities and specifically show where changes have occurred. This helps teams quickly generate the numbers they need to competitively bid and budget project work.
In addition to the tools benefitting from access to intelligent models, there are services to ensure project teams can easily interact with their counterparts regardless of their jobsite location, to create and respond to RFIs, issues or project changes. These ensure the work always moves forward, and the needed data and information is available. While some may question the ROI on these tools, anyone in construction knows the costs change orders and work stoppages can bring. It’s the ability to get ahead of these issues and stop them before they occur which more than pays for them when tracking ROI.
When BIM is adopted and used during construction, it’s important to maintain momentum and take advantage of all data collected and used through the project’s coordination and commissioning. Traditionally, after a project completed construction, the owner would get stacks of books, papers and manuals for all the operational elements as part of the commissioning process. Then the owner would have to catalog the mix of drawings and cutsheets and train staff, hoping they could find what they required when needed.
Today, more owners use the benefits of BIM content to streamline or even avoid that process. They’re requiring as-built BIM and requesting a model including the intelligence and data of the project’s elements. This allows owners to integrate the model with services, such as Computerized Maintenance Management System tools to track and schedule maintenance and ensure the building is running efficiently. The most evolved version of this is referred to as a “Digital Twin.”
These twins are not just a BIM model for design or construction, but a virtual representation of the facility. They can be used for simulations and monitored with live feedback from sensors. Looking back to the early stages of BIM for manufacturing, it was easy to see examples like jet engines, which provided constant feedback on how they were running. Now that capability is realized in examples including buildings, highways and bridges. A well-crafted, all-encompassing model can become a digital twin for ongoing maintenance and operations.
While some view this as just using new tools because of the “hype,” the reality is they solve actual problems, reduce costs and can help save lives in some implementations like building bridges. In many places there isn’t enough budget or inspectors to be able to monitor and ensure all infrastructure elements are at the required level. Many municipalities only have periodic inspections, which can easily lead to failure events. The installation of sensors in a bridge can give live feedback and confirm everything is monitored within specified ranges. It’s also possible to automate maintenance or replacement procedures based on these results which can be tracked and used for procurement and predictive analysis.
When it comes to buildings, more owners are leveraging these technologies for time-consuming processes such as training building staff while construction is still ongoing, and monitoring and automating electrical and HVAC loads and maintenance tickets. Similar to the bridge example, the intelligent model can contain all the important data for the building elements, including parts and history. This capability leads to a more efficient use of time and resources, which results in legitimate value and ROI on the BIM work that took place during design and into construction.
This isn’t to say digital twins are limited to new BIM projects; owners of existing properties can also see these benefits and limit expenses by strategically choosing what to model and monitor. The key to this technology is to properly leverage it, planning for how to use it now and also see where it can grow to ensure it continues to develop ROI throughout the project lifecycle.