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Building Information Modeling

Across the commercial construction world, BIM (Building Information Modeling) has become necessary to ensure that the planning, design, and construction of buildings are efficient and collaborative. Read on to learn what BIM is, how BIM is used, and the maturity BIM levels mean.


Virtual design platforms used by design teams to improve productivity

Since the 1980s, architects and engineers have used design software to develop and test design plans for buildings and systems more efficiently. CAD and BIM are the two most widely used software tools used in virtual design, alongside point software solutions for estimating design costs, analyzing design performance, and identifying clashes. There are different maturities of BIM software from 3D BIM that offers common data environments for collaboration to more sophisticated BIM such as 6D BIM that provides capabilities for time scheduling, cost analysis, and energy simulations.

The BIM market is highly consolidated, and the major vendors include Autodesk, Bentley, Hexagon, and Vectorworks, to name a few.


From Paper Blueprints to CAD to BIM

Historically, blueprints and drawings on paper were used to express information about a building or project. This 2D approach, which dominated construction for decades, made it very difficult to visualize dimensions and requirements. In the 1990s came CAD (Computer-Aided Design), which helped drafters see the benefit of plans in a digital presentation. In recent years, CAD turned 3D and brought more realistic visuals to digital blueprints. Today, BIM (Building Information Modeling) is the standard— but it’s much more than just a 3D model.


What Is BIM?

Building Information Modeling, also known as BIM, is a collaborative process that allows multiple construction stakeholders to collaborate on the planning, designing, and constructing a project within a single 3D model. It can also extend to the operation and management of buildings using data that owners can easily access. The data is crucial because owners and stakeholders make critical decisions based on the model even after the construct is built and needs expansion or renovation.


BIM offers specialist design software for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems

Some mechanical, electrical, and plumbing design engineers use tools beyond BIM to support building systems’ detailed design. For example, ETAP Automation (ETAP) provides software specifically for designing, modeling, and simulating electrical power systems in buildings. Many of these software applications can integrate with BIM. For example, BIMPro is design automation software for Autodesk Revit users within fast-paced mechanical, electrical, and plumbing contractors. The software increases design quality, eliminates the bore of dimensioning and tagging, and improves productivity up to 10x current methods.


Shifting towards open BIM standards, enabling enhanced workflows and data exchange.

One of the most notable changes in the BIM segment has been the rise of OpenBIM standards that aim to improve the accessibility and management of data, software interoperability, and cross-platform workflows by breaking down data silos. Open BIM models not only allow for greater automation and collaboration in construction but a host of other benefits. 

That said, there is already evidence that a new phase of digitization is taking off as firms start to roll out new software solutions that aid better productivity in processes.


Improve the accuracy and speed of job site layout processes.

Firms are investing in technology tools to bring greater efficiency to the process of translating the design plans set out in CAD/BIM to the job site and marking the location of proposed structures. For example, air-conditioning and ductwork installer Worcester Air uses laser scanning robotic total stations (RTS) and Autodesk’s Point Layout software to help it install its systems in line with BIM drawings. Mechanical contractor Omega Mechanical uses Trimble’s Field Link software with an RTS to bring measurements from BIM models to the site via a laser that pinpoints specific locations. This replaces traditional methods of contractors using tape measures and printed plans leading to less labor and reduced rework.  


Improve design processes to avoid construction clashes and rework.  The uptake of BIM and CAD has been steadily growing as firms looking to benefit from using an online environment for design teams to collaborate, in real-time, on 3D or 2D building models. For example, Shanghai Tower Construction & Development implemented Autodesk BIM solutions, such as Revit and Navisworks, to construct the Shanghai Tower, allowing extended architectural teams spread across the globe to share design models and collaborate on them. 


BIM solutions pull together various design models, such as exterior design and MEP plans, to create a complete, detailed model. Engineers often leverage BIM clash detection capabilities to identify any independent model clashes to reduce costly delays.  


Facilitate real-time data flow between field teams and management teams. Construction sites can bring together a broad range of workers and contractors, each performing different activities.


BIM data quality for meeting client requirements

A rising number of end-users – particularly from the airport, education, and hospital sector – are looking to construction and engineering firms to provide a complete as-built model at the end of the project to leverage the data in operations.  


What are the Nuts & Bolts of BIM?


BIM Objects

A BIM model is comprised of components called BIM objects, which have geometry, are intelligent, and store as data. If any element is altered or changed, the BIM software updates the model’s new structure. The model remains consistent and helps manage the entire collaboration process and environment. Stakeholders such as architects, structural engineers, MEP engineers, designers, project managers, and contractors can be on the same page of the entire project delivery. 


BIM Information 

BIM is technically a process for all stakeholders to work together for the entire construction project lifecycle. They work collaboratively on designed and built assets and share data. BIM Information is gathered – from conception to completion and actionable. Data is stored, but BIM Information improves deliverables’ accuracy and knowledge transfer from one stakeholder to another. It also reduces change orders, field coordination issues, and insights into existing structures – new and future renovation projects. 


Sharing BIM Information 

A mutually accessible online web page or space is known as a Common Data Environment (CDE) and available to stakeholders. An information model can be used at all stages of the construction project lifecycle – inception to operation to renovation or replacement. Specific sections of each project can be isolated and used by each contractor or other stakeholders. Many products in the market enable users to login via app or desktop to access the BIM Information. Access to any device from anywhere are common.    


Now that we’ve discussed what BIM is and how it’s shared let’s dive into the BIM levels and their scale. 


What are BIM Levels?

MEP Contractors can achieve different BIM levels gauged by how much information is shared and managed through the construction project’s lifecycle – process. BIM Levels represent specific criteria and degrees of maturity, starting with 0 and up to 4D, 5D, and even 6D BIMTo help you understand which levels you are at with BIM below highlights the first three levels of BIM and each stage’s criteria. 


BIM Level Zero

The lowest level of BIM refers to not operating collaboratively among other stakeholders. For example, by using 2D CAD and working with digital prints and drawings, you’re considered Level 0. Today, most of the construction industry is working above this level. However, there is still angst among some sensitive professionals to introducing a new process or willing to adopt new technology. 


BIM Level 1

Level 1 represents you’re using 3D CAD for concepting design work but still using 2D drafting production information and other documentation. CAD standards become a requirement of BS 1192:2007. The contractor usually manages the electronic sharing of data from a common data environment (CDE). Firms at Level 1 BIM don’t involve much collaboration between stakeholders since they publish and manage their data.  


BIM Level 2

The collaborative environment is introduced in BIM Level 2. As far as 2016, the UK introduced a mandatory requirement that all publicly tendered projects work at Level 2. In the US, there’s still not a mandate, but many projects leverage the following advantages. For example, 3D CAD models are used by all stakeholders, and multiple models may or may not be used. What separates Level 2 from its predecessors is how stakeholders exchange information in the CDE. The information about the design of a build structure or environment is shared through a common file format. When firms combine the files into their respective data, substantial time savings, reducing costs are achieved by mitigating rework on the jobsite that commonly occurs. The goal is to stay on the same page in terms of revisions made to designs. The CAD software used must export to common file formats, such as COBie or IFC.  


BIM Level 3

Collaboration at BIM Level 3 increases to all stakeholders using a single-shared 3D model for the construction project. The model is hosted in a central environment and accessible and edited by all stakeholders. At this level, Open BIM offers another layer of protection to prevent crashes, mistakes, and provides added value at every stage of the project’s lifecycle.  


The Future of BIM

BIM modeling has demonstrated clear economic, productivity, and collaborative benefits for MEP Contractors and Owners. Dodge Data recently produced a significant study on the impacts of BIM modeling and Prefabrication in the MEP Construction industry. BIM’s future will increasingly become more sophisticated with 4D, 5D, and 6D and systemic in the process. The construction is plagued with supply chain inefficiencies, clashes, and rework. Greater collaboration with BIM environments with help set the stage for lower costs, mitigated risks, and better quality projects delivered to owners.    

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