Accountability is a frequently touted term in the design and construction industry. Owners and developers want to eliminate finger-pointing between members of the design and construction teams and have confidence that everyone can work together to ensure a successful completion of their project.
New technologies are constantly emerging to make this challenge easier. One technology that is assisting design and construction professionals with the coordination and collaboration process is Building Information Modeling (BIM) — the creation and use of coordinated, internally consistent, computable information about a building project in design and construction. BIM allows elements of a building to be evaluated before the structure is ever constructed, which can increase project efficiency, decrease overall cost, improve the project delivery schedule and generate the best product possible. All of these benefits are critically important to owners and allow the entire design and construction team to be accountable.
What is BIM?
Although BIM is different for everyone, in its simplest form, BIM is the creation and use of computable information from design to construction.
"BIM is not an 'on-off' switch," said Neil Rosado, BIM Specialist at Saunders Construction of Centennial, Colo. "While the ultimate use of BIM is a digital file of as-built conditions for the owner, many are using BIM at a smaller scale to detect collisions or just model the project. The key to success with BIM is understanding that it is an information rich digital representation of a project."
For nearly two decades, many in the industry having been using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) for projects. BIM is the next evolution of CAD. BIM provides constant and immediate information on the project design, schedule and cost that is reliable, integrated and fully coordinated with the entire project team. Among the many advantages of BIM are increased speed of delivery of key project deliverables, better coordination efforts among all parties involved, and decreased cost due to reduction of errors.
The two key concepts of BIM are: 1) keeping all aspects of building design in digital form makes it easier to update and share information, and 2) creating real-time design data can save significant amounts of time and money and increase project productivity and quality. BIM also provides a digital picture of the building process to assist with the exchange and interoperability (the ability for complex systems to work together) of information in a digital format and data can be viewed as a 3D model or traditional 2D construction documents, depending on the user's needs.
BIM has grown in use in recent months as architects continue to drive team members to employ it on projects. Although many think of the tool as a benefit for architects and engineers, contractors are also realizing the benefits of the system. "Our team has used BIM for estimating, during coordination meetings and for constructability analysis," said Rosado. "When BIM is used successfully, there are less change orders, because design changes can be made before groundbreaking."
While there is an upfront cost to add the software to a firm's toolkit and train employees, the investment could pay tremendous dividends. "For projects where use of BIM is appropriate, I estimate that for every hour I spend in front of the computer modeling the project, our firm can save six hours in the field on potential issues," said Rosado. "This is a substantial benefit to owners in terms of schedule and cost."
Drawbacks of BIM
Just like with every new technology, there are pitfalls that needed to be avoided when working with BIM. "The main concern is the old adage 'garbage in, garbage out,'" said Rosado. "The model is only as good as the information that you input into the system."