Seeing Tech's Potential
Building information modeling can streamline the design, development, and operation of properties of all types.
The construction industry has a reputation for not being the vanguards of adopting new technology. Many basic processes related to building an office space or warehouse, the thinking goes, haven't changed all that much in the past few decades. But that doesn't mean technology is totally unwelcome in turning blueprints into fully functioning properties.
Building information modeling, or BIM, is a visual design and construction process that allows designers, contractors, architects, investors, and operators to engage with an interactive 3D model of the potential building. These virtual designs can be broken down and examined by each expert to look for any opportunities or obstacles in the process from design to building management and operation. Ideally, the single BIM file can help the developer understand what the entire project will look like, while also delivering key information to a pipefitter or HVAC expert.
“BIM allows a level of detail to effectively communicate to different parties that helps them with visualization,” says Eric Holt, PhD, of the University of Denver's Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management. “Instead of a very detailed construction drawing that would have layer upon layer of lines, we can cut and paste to pull out just the information needed to show a construction worker.”
The depth and clarity of data simplifies the construction process. It also offers an immense ability to analyze performance in the planning phase. You can see what works best from a holistic view, which improves the coordination in construction. Instead of the installation of the mechanical system leading to problems for electrical, building can occur in logical, coordinated phases.
BIM virtual designs can be broken down and examined by each expert to look for any opportunities or obstacles in the process from design to building managements to operation.
The process also aims to reduce inefficiencies and waste by calculating what is needed and how much.
“BIM lets you get down to the exact number of elbows and Ts needed in a plumbing system,” says Holt, PhD. “You can calculate the exact number of imbeds in the concrete. You're getting a higher level of detail and accurate quality at takeoff, which will mean increased detail, improved scheduling, and more safety across a job site.”
Instead of multiple renderings or drawings from various parties, BIM provides an accessible model available to everyone involved in the project.
“Whereas CAD involves single, 2D drawings, BIM is an entire set of plans and construction documents coming from one file,” says Rolly Stevens, director of design technology at Ryan Companies, a Minneapolis-based builder, developer, designer, and real estate manager. “It allows architects to do less drafting and more designing. They don't have to worry about little circle icons and lines; they can think about how a building actually goes together and how different systems integrate.”
But the dynamic nature of BIM is what really streamlines the design and building processes.
“If you want to change the design, which is typical with a data model, you can instantly know the difference in your per unit cost,” says Brian Dyches, FRDI, growth director at CorbisStudio, an architecture, engineering, and software development studio. “If you're a multifamily developer, for instance, you can see what a particular alteration will do to decide if you can get that back on the sale price.
“BIM is a way to clean up inefficiencies. If you implement a strategy, you could examine constructability and run a clash detection. That's one of the easiest things to do - run a clash detection - so you know where the potential pitfalls are.”
The value of the many layers of information included in BIM hardly disappears once a ribbon is cut and a property is in use. Such a detailed accounting of all the whats, wheres, and hows is incredibly valuable to building managers and operators, too.
“Part of the idea of BIM is that when you're done designing a building, you have models with so much data, especially in terms mechanical and electrical information,” says Holt, PhD. “Building operators can take this information and include it in maintenance management systems. On Day One, you can have a complete inventory of all the equipment - including types of parts, dates of installation, etc.”
One potential benefit of BIM is especially crucial as business in various sectors begin to resume operations while handling new public health demands from COVID-19.
BIM includes dynamic, real-time visualizations.
“You can run simulations to see how many people can occupy a building while obeying social distancing,” Stevens says. “You can put six-foot radiuses around desks and develop reentry plans to ensure safety. With all that mechanical data, you can run simulations to test air changes in a building.”
On the whole, BIM represents a move to a more engaged, dynamic understanding of a particular property. Considering the sheer amount of data that a building can provide, it's only natural that forward-thinking owners and operators would want to leverage that information to improve operations.
“The life cycle of a building is circular - where the planning, designing, and building are just a small part that also includes, hopefully, years and years of operation,” Holt, PhD, says. “What we're trying to do is capture all that information upfront in a way that's actually useful, instead of the old paper-based systems that are antiquated and out of date quickly. We want to grab the information and use it for so much more. Operators will be able to look at energy use, run structural analyses, examine heating and cooling systems.”
Editor's note: This article was adapted from “Construction: Introduction to Building Information Modeling,” a course from CCIM Institute.