As Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology has proven to add value, the processes are expanding to include more phases of design, construction and project management. The original goals — effective collaboration and accurate documentation — are still essential, but now the scope reaches far beyond the 3D building model to incorporate information about cost, materials, schedules, maintenance and operations.       

Complexity Requires Collaboration

Any major construction or infrastructure project is complex, with numerous decisions that must be evaluated and compared to get the best possible result at the lowest cost. BIM provides the methodology necessary to map out the interactions and potential conflicts between multiple systems, such as mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP), while also providing supporting data about quantities and types of materials. Collaboration between teams responsible for different parts of a project is crucial for meeting deadlines, avoiding rework and maintaining high quality. 

Consider a large project such as Denver Water’s Operations Complex Redevelopment in downtown Denver, currently in its fourth year of construction and scheduled for completion in March 2020. The $201.8 million construction project covers 35 acres with seven new buildings and two renovations, including operations, administration, warehouses, fleet buildings and parking structure. Stantec, the master campus architect, is seeking LEED-NC (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - New Construction) Platinum certification and Net Zero Energy for the 195,000-square-foot administration building, and the entire complex emphasizes sustainability and water conservation. BIM processes are being used throughout all phases of the complicated project to enhance communication between multiple contractors and to encourage consistency and efficiency. 

“Stantec has benefited from the use of BIM on large and small projects for over a decade,” says Nathan Martin, senior project architect for Stantec. “BIM starts during design and programming, and continues throughout the life of a project. Relevant parts of the master models are shared with subcontractors who add ‘shop-quality’ details, which help with clash detection during design and pre-construction, and owners are more frequently asking for the models to help with operations, maintenance and future planning.

“A big advantage of using BIM is having a live working model that everyone can access,” Martin explains. “On the design side, we’re in the model, constantly updating the model with RFIs during the project. Realistically, construction documents are never 100 percent complete, but we get to the point where we can start building and then continue to adapt during the project. Modeling improves the decision-making and gets information out more quickly, so everyone is on the same page.” 

Development of BIM Platforms Spurs Adoption

Communication between people working on different parts of a project — like architectural design, electrical engineering, site engineering, structural engineering, drainage, water and wastewater, and soil remediation — can be difficult. In the past, teams worked in data silos on different software packages and struggled to stay up-to-date on the latest changes that might impact their work. Now, engineers may work in their preferred domain-specific software and incorporate files into a master model so that all data exist on a BIM platform, such as Trimble Connect, BIM 360 or Bentley ProjectWise. As the use of BIM extends its reach within the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry, its usefulness is being leveraged to produce better results in new areas.

“Interoperability is critical for customers because they have to use a combination of packages to get the work done — or subcontract some of the work to others who are using different solutions — but when everyone produces BIM-ready models, all of the information eventually resides in one place,” says Boris Skopljak, marketing director at Trimble Geospatial. “For example, Trimble’s solutions in the AEC space focus on a wide range of BIM project participants, from geospatial professionals responsible for providing as-built and control networks, to horizontal and vertical construction machine control and layout systems, all the way to specific trade solutions in the MEP space. Trimble Connect merges the outputs of all the different products into a master model so everyone who needs information has access.”

There are domain-specific software products from a variety of vendors that produce BIM-ready models, which can be combined within a single platform. The ability to incorporate data from more than one source provides flexibility for users to choose the best tool to meet precise design and construction requirements. 

“To address different needs, we have domain-specific BIM software products such as Tekla Structures for structural engineering and SketchUp for architectural design and remodeling projects,” Skopljak continues. “We are enabling surveyors to play an active role in the BIM process by providing tools and creating workflows, in the field using Trimble Access and in the office using Trimble Business Center (TBC). These packages allow working and interacting with BIM models produced in other packages, including Bentley or Autodesk.” 

No Limit to BIM Applications

BIM is already moving beyond 3D by linking additional information to the intelligent model. For example, 4D-BIM adds the construction schedule to the visual display, while 5D-BIM includes cost and scheduling. Then 6D-BIM takes it to another level with details to support operations and maintenance, such as materials information, maintenance/operation manuals, warranty data and photos. 

Drones are a useful source of data with adequate resolution and precision to provide frequent updates and analysis. Software such as TBC processes drone data to create BIM-ready models for monitoring construction, tracking volumes or locating equipment.

Advances in virtual reality are putting BIM in the field for real-time viewing of objects above and below the ground. 

“Virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) is going to have a huge impact in the construction space,” Skopljak says. “Instead of just being a cool demonstration of technology, VR/AR is now being used to make intelligent design decisions during pre-construction and planning, and for clash detection, progress monitoring and team coordination during construction.

“Overlaying the design model over real ground produces a visualization of what is really going on,” Skopljak explains. “A product like SiteVision is extremely easy to pick up as it works on an Android phone with Trimble Catalyst, overlaying a BIM model and geometry over existing terrain to show underground pipes and power cables. Trimble Connect for HoloLens utilizes mixed reality for project coordination by providing an image of the precise alignment of holographic data on the physical jobsite.”

The AEC community is taking advantage of the technology improvements to better support its customers. “Stantec is constantly expanding BIM applications throughout the company,” Martin says. “We have different departments that specialize in energy models and sustainability and best practices for importing models. BIM has changed the structure of our organization and improved our results.”